An important strategy in primary prevention of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) is the early identification of high-risk individuals. Effective implementation of a strategy to identify these individuals in a clinical setting is reliant on the availability of appropriate CVD risk-assessment models and guideline recommendations. Several well-known models for CVD risk assessment have been developed and utilized in the USA and Europe, but might not be suitable for use in other regions or countries. Very few reports have discussed the development of risk-assessment models and recommendations from a global perspective. In this Review, we discuss why risk-assessment methods developed from studies in one geographical region or ethnic population might not be suitable for other regions or populations, and examine the availability and characteristics of predictive models in areas beyond the USA or Europe. In addition, we compare the differences in risk-assessment recommendations outlined in CVD clinical guidelines from developed and developing countries, and consider their potential effect on clinical practice. This overview of cardiovascular risk assessment from a global perspective can potentially guide low-to-middle-income countries in the development or validation of their own CVD risk-assessment models, and the formulation of recommendations in their own clinical guidelines according to local requirements.