Crime & Safety While Traveling in Brazil

Traveling throughout Brazil is generally safe. The large disparity however between the well-to-do and the poor has lead to areas of poverty which in turn creates petty crime. Larger cities in Brazil can be traversed safely given you follow the same guidelines employed when traveling (or living for that matter) in larger metropolitan areas of the U.S. Traveling around the countryside and visiting smaller cities and towns is quite safe but it never hurts to employ good protective safety habits.

Consider the following:
In the larger cities robberies and thefts usually occur at nighttime so additional caution should be taken then. Day or night though it is never a good idea to flash your money or flaunt expensive jewelry or valuables. Stowing away your Rolex in favor of a cheap street corner watch and leaving behind your designer handbag may eliminate you as a potential crime victim.

Dressing down for a casual evening out will not only make you more comfortable but will also serve to deflect any unwanted attention. If you feel the urge to take a romantic stroll to your destination (we recommend a taxi, but if you’re truly compelled) avoid back streets and streets which are poorly lit or deserted. And never take your valuables to the beach where even for the shortest amount of time they may be unattended.

Some of the beach sidebars may store items for you, but even then be a little cautious. Moonlit strolls on deserted beaches are also not a good idea. If you must take valuables with you try to utilize a money belt or some sort of concealed internal pockets. Keeping some cash accessible (preferably with in a zipped purse or buttoned pocket to ward off the picks, especially during Carnival) with the larger balance hidden is a clever way to thwart a potential ugly situation and not lose everything, as even the dumbest criminals may not believe you have nothing and become agitated. Carrying valuables in fanny packs or hanging from ones neck (this goes for expensive cameras also) is not advised.

When setting out for the day take only as much money as you’ll need for that day. Utilize the hotel safe for the balance of your valuables such as your passport, credit cards, airline tickets and travelers checks. With the exception of cash, these items could all be replaced, but not without significant hassle. In the unfortunate event that you are engaged by a criminal demanding your valuables, do not resist. It is your money they want, not your life and assaulting a tourist is bad business for a thief. That’s not to say they won’t do it if aggravated. It’s simply not worth the risk.

If traveling to a destination overnight (probably by bus) the luggage compartments are reasonably secure but be sure to keep the claim ticket issued to you as you’ll need it to reclaim your baggage. (seems odd to have to do that on a bus) but that’s the rules. Overhead bins on overnight busses are not the most secure place to store valuables. Keep them near you at all times and be alert to anyone going through the bins while traveling.

Items are known to have been stolen out of the bins while the bus was parked at a rest stop and the passengers out of the bus freshening up. Cameras, laptops, etc., store them down below or take them with you. And don’t even think about taking something illegal aboard a bus. It is commonplace to have them searched when crossing state lines. The Federais are known to stop and almost dismantle busses heading toward the borders of Bolivia, Columbia and Peru. And if you’re considering actually crossing the border by bus into Bolivia, reconsider. Cases have been cited where drugs were planted on unsuspecting tourists.

Be aware of scams at the larger cities airports. English speaking, official looking men who flash cards at singled out tourists will identify themselves as police and attempt to get you outside for the purpose of robbing you. Be suspicious of anyone venturing this advance. Real police generally ignore tourists. If approached, find your way to a security guard, travel desk, information center, anywhere inside where the validity of their intent can be verified. These con men will almost never cause a stir inside the terminal, for fear of being caught, if you demand to see someone else first. Do not go outside with them or entrust them to any of your belongings.

In the unlikely event that for some reason you do need to contact the police there are different kinds. In Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Salvador there is actually a Tourist Police or Policia de Turismo. These crime fighting organizations were developed to be more in tune with problems associated with the tourists and they most often speak English and other foreign languages. If the phone number is prominently displayed at your hotels front desk, a good idea would be to write it down.

More common are the green uniformed Policia Militar, they have little interest in the traveling tourist. The Civil Police or Policia Civil in their plain clothes will also assist you if the Tourist Police are not around at the time. Similar to the U.S. FBI the Federal Police or Policia Federal would handle matters dealing with your Visa (not the credit card) or lengths of stay in the country. These offices are located in airports and state capitals.

Following the basic recommendations given, the average tourist can travel to Brazil with the peace of mind and assurance that safety and security should not be jeopardized.

– Never flash money, jewelry, or valuables around
– Always attend your bags
– Use the hotel safes
– Utilize the police for help or information
– Ask hotel personnel about the safety of your destinations

Emergency Numbers:
These would apply in most of Brazil:

Police – 190
Fire – 193
Ambulance – 192

Tourist Police:
Rio de Janeiro – (21) 511-5112 or 511-5767
Sao Paulo – (11) 214-0209
Salvador – (71) 322-7155 or 322-1188

American Consulates:
Embassy in Brasilia: (61)321-7272
Consulate in Rio de Janeiro: (21) 292-7117
Consulate in Sao Paulo: (11) 881-6511
Consulate in Recife: (81) 421-2441
Consular Agency in Belem: (91) 223-0800
Consular Agency in Manaus: (92) 633-4907
Consular Agency in Salvador: (71) 345-1545
Consular Agency in Fortaleza: (85) 252-1539
Consular Agency in Porto Alegre: (51) 226-3344