Background Personality disorders are now internationally recognised as a mental health priority. Nevertheless, there are no systematic reviews examining the global prevalence of personality disorders. Aims To calculate the worldwide prevalence of personality disorders and examine whether rates vary between high-income countries and low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Method We systematically searched PsycINFO, MEDLINE, EMBASE and PubMed from January 1980 to May 2018 to identify articles reporting personality disorder prevalence rates in community populations (PROSPERO registration number: CRD42017065094). Results A total of 46 studies (from 21 different countries spanning 6 continents) satisfied inclusion criteria. The worldwide pooled prevalence of any personality disorder was 7.8% (95% CI 6.1-9.5). Rates were greater in high-income countries (9.6%, 95% CI 7.9-11.3%) compared with LMICs (4.3%, 95% CI 2.6-6.1%). In univariate meta-regressions, significant heterogeneity was partly attributable to study design (two-stage v. one-stage assessment), county income (high-income countries v. LMICs) and interview administration (clinician v. trained graduate). In multiple meta-regression analysis, study design remained a significant predictor of heterogeneity. Global rates of cluster A, B and C personality disorders were 3.8% (95% CI 3.2, 4.4%), 2.8% (1.6, 3.7%) and 5.0% (4.2, 5.9%). Conclusions Personality disorders are prevalent globally. Nevertheless, pooled prevalence rates should be interpreted with caution due to high levels of heterogeneity. More large-scale studies with standardised methodologies are now needed to increase our understanding of population needs and regional variations.