Staying safe n' sound in Brazil: Safety Advice for Foreign visitors
Brazil is a beautiful country with great people living in it. Unfortunately, there are serious
safety issues in Brazilas well.
In a country with such incredible differences between rich and poor, it is almost inevitable that the desperate are doing extreme things in order to survive.
Also the poor legal system and corruption in Brazilian police and judiciary do not help much in the field of safety. Crime and violence are, unfortunately, part of Brazil’s culture.
Crime rates are high in Brazil, especially in the big cities. Many people living in Brazil can tell you stories of muggings - or worse -, experienced by themselves or someone they know. Media only too willing to bring the news on crime with all the gruesome details do no good in restraining public paranoia.
On the other hand, people who get in trouble still belong to a minority. Moreover, hardly any violent crime is targeted at tourists. If you take precautions, use common sense and are aware of your behaviour and surroundings, you will probably have a great time in Brasil without any hassle.
It is also important to note not to generalize: in such a large country as Brazil there are many differences, also in the field of crime. For example, small towns and the countryside are considerably safer than the metropolitan areas.
In order to make your visit to Brazil as safe as possible, we have composed a comprehensive list of general safety advice. For more specific city information, we would refer to the individual safety monitors under Cities in Brazil, for example Safety monitor Rio de Janeiro.
• Before you head out for Brazil, make a few colour photocopies of the most important documents.
Put the photocopies in several places (suitcase, daypack, wallet etc.).
If you need a visa for Brazil, also make a photocopy of the visa.
• Scan your documents and send them to your own e-mail account; you can always reproduce them at any internet shop.
• Write down all important numbers (like passport, cash cards, driving licence, traveller’s cheques and phone numbers of emergency, insurance, banks, consulates etc.). Put the list in a safe place and in case everything gets stolen, also send it to your own e-mail account.
• Before touchdown you should already have arranged accommodation for at least the first night and preferably also transport to the accommodation: if you are disoriented because of arriving in the dark or being in a dozing state after a long flight while carrying all your luggage, you are more vulnerable.
• Do not forget to arrange travel insurance.
• Very important: Relax and just accept the fact that it might be possible that you get robbed or pick pocketed in Brazil. But do not get paranoid: if you stay cautious, take precautions and do not resist in the unlikely event of an assault, you will most likely not come across any crime let alone serious violence.
• As a foreigner, you stick out by definition. However, try to blend in as much as possible.
Dress like the locals (yes, even if you have to wear those shorts, T-shirt and white socks…).
Simple things like hiking boots and carrying a water bottle will give you away; wear walking shoes or sneakers and drink fluids on the spot.
• Another thing that gives you easily away from miles, is speaking English (or other foreign languages) in loud voices. When you are in a group (i.e. two or more persons), limit conversation and keep your voices down when walking in the streets.
• Do not wear jewellery or watches, even if they are cheap by your standard: shiny stuff attracts unwanted attention.
• The same goes for cameras, mobile phones and other flashy electronics; leave them in your country. Otherwise, leave them in your hotel or use them very discretely. Using a disposable camera is also an option.
• Before you go out, study the area map of where you are going thoroughly, so you know roughly where you go (and know where you do not want to end up). In case you are lost nonetheless, always try not to appear disoriented; this will attract unwanted attention.
• If you have a map or guidebook with you, go somewhere inside like a café or shop to study it, never read a map in the street.
In case you are lost and do not have a map with you, always stay on main streets with plenty of other pedestrians and traffic.
Do not wander off in side streets or empty looking parks; before you know it you are in the middle of a bad area.
• When going out, only bring stuff for the day with you. If a bag is not necessary, leave it in your hotel room. If you have to bring a daypack, carry it on your chest instead of on your back when moving in crowds. Keeping your belongings in a nondescript plastic bag (of a local supermarket for instance) is also an option.
• Only bring money that you need for the day, preferably not in a wallet (this attracts attention). At least have a few coins and banknotes of small denominations at the ready for small purchases.
• If you have to carry larger amounts, you can consider distributing the money about your person (shoes, underpants, money belt etc.). Some locals carry a decoy wallet with a small amount of money which can be handed over in case of a mugging; muggers easily become frustrated (and therefore unpredictable) if the target does not have anything of value with him.
• It is obligatory in Brazil to carry identification. On day trips, instead of heading out with your passport, bring a photo copy and another form of ID with photograph of less value (a student card for instance).
• Try to make sure you know where the
favelas(shanty towns) are located (in the large cities this can be complicated as favelas are often intertwined with more upscale neighbourhoods).
Do not walk into the favelas, unless someone reliable who knows the area by heart will escort you.
Ask at reception of your accommodation if there are any areas around which you should stay clear of.
• Diversionary tactics are a common way to separate you from your belongings. This can be accomplished by something simple as ‘accidentally’ bumping into someone or asking for a light. Also, many thieves work in pairs or groups. Spilling stuff on your clothes by someone while a ‘friendly’ accomplice will help you cleaning (and robbing you at the same time) is also a popular method. Be very alert when things out of the ordinary occur.
• Do not take a stroll in deserted parks or empty looking streets.
• Be wary of pickpockets, especially in crowded places and during Carnival.
• A special last note in this section: be able to swallow your pride.
Brazilians are a cheerful, outgoing people as a whole but it does not mean everyone is always happy and good at heart. Also, not all Brazilians are pleased to meet peeping, ‘cocky’, snobbish gringos at ‘their’ party or ‘their’ beach. Hedonism, egocentrism, machismo and ‘survival of the fittest’ are as much part of Brazilian culture as happiness, being laidback and joie-de-vivre.
For example: in Brazil it is common to claim seats at terraces, swimming pools, discotheques etc. So while you think a spot is free, do not be surprised an agitated lot turns up claiming the spot as theirs, because they left a tiny towel or a half-empty glass you had not even noticed… Do not argue in situations like these but just walk away, otherwise things can turn very grim in an instant.
Conclusion: modesty is the way to go for the foreign visitor of Brazil, even at parties like Carnaval. Always keep in mind that in a somewhat lawless country like Brazil more than ever the expression applies: ‘being right is not the same as being put in the right’.
• If you need to use an ATM, always use the ones inside a bank building or shopping mall.
This also means that you have to plan ahead your spending in order to avoid liquidity problems when the banks are closed.
• Before entering a bank, make a quick scan of the surroundings. If you see any suspicious character observing the bank or the ATM, move on to another.
• Cash card fraud is a common problem in Brazil, so only use ATMs which see a lot of traffic. Naturally, make sure nobody sees your PIN.
• If you really have to use an outdoor ATM, better use it during daylight in a busy street than at night in an empty street (note: some ATMs do not even function at night-time).
• Bring more than one cash card with you on your trip to Brazil, in case one gets lost or stolen (so do not take both with you when going out; always leave one in the hotel).
• Only change money at banks or reputable, guarded exchange offices. If strangers offer exchange rates too good to be true, they usually are.
• Always keep the receipts of traveller’s checks in case of any dispute.
• If possible, do not walk in the streets at night, unless it is a designated/ guarded nightlife area. Always take a cab, even when your destination is at a few blocks’ distance.
• Unfortunately, in the streets but also in bars some testosterone driven characters are preying on picking fights, just for the fun of it. And a fight in Brazil does often not fizzle out like at home; violence in Brazil is too many times fatal. Avoid aggressive (looking) people at all costs. If approached, walk (or run) away, do not even think about defending your honour.
• Be very wary of drinks, opened bottles, cigarettes, candy etc. offered by strangers. Chances are high they are spiked.
• For the same reason, never leave your drink unattended.
• Do not get drunk or otherwise intoxicated and walk home alone; you will be an obvious prey.
• Never go to the beach between dusk and dawn.
• If you arrive at night in a new city, make sure you have booked accommodation and know where to go and how to get there. Use a cab, even when your accommodation is close to the bus terminal or airport.
• Before checking in, always check hinges and locks of your room thoroughly. Do not hesitate to ask for another room when something is wrong.
• When you stay at a reputable hotel, leave valuables in the hotel safe, preferably in a sealed, taped envelope; do not forget to ask for a receipt. In other cases leave your valuables in your locked suitcase in your locked hotel room, preferably in a locked wardrobe.
• Do not leave valuables in plain sight in your hotel room; it might tempt your underpaid chambermaid to do silly things.
• Do not leave windows open while you are away or asleep.
• If there is any, use the peep-hole for confirmation of the visitor at the door.
Safety at the beach
• Do not bring any valuables to the beach or even a bag, especially not to the beaches of the large cities. If you do so and go into the water leaving your stuff unattended, for sure it will be gone when you come back. A swimsuit, towel, sunscreen and money for the day are the only things you should bring.
• Do not be smart by putting valuables in the front of your shoes while going into the water:
Shoes are the most wanted object by beach thieves, because they often hold hidden treasures...
• Do not wander off to quiet areas. Staying around other people makes you less vulnerable.
• Never go to the beach between dusk and dawn.
Safety at Carnaval
Carnavalis the highlight of the year for party animals but unfortunately for pickpockets as well. Also for Carnaval applies: only bring money and belongings for the day, leave everything else in the hotel.
• If you want to participate in street parades (blocos), stash the little money you brought in your shoes and a photocopy of your passport somewhere private.
• Try to team up in small groups when heading out, especially lone women should seek (male) companions.
And leave skirts in your suitcase, ladies: wear a pair of trousers while in street parades!
• Remember Carnaval is a party for the masses. Especially the street parades attract all kinds of folk, among them thieves and thugs: blending in and modesty is the way to go for the foreign visitor of Brazil, also at parties like Carnaval.
Specific safety advice concerning Rio de Janeiro Street Carnival
Specific safety advice concerning Salvador Street Carnival
• Unfortunately a lot of petty theft occurs in public transport; in general, taking a cab is the safest option of transportation within the big cities, especially between dusk and dawn.
• Always take official taxis (look for the licence behind the windscreen), do not get in the car of crawlers.
• Never share a taxi with random people. If you are approached to do so, most likely it is a trap to rob you.
• If you do take a local bus, make sure you have change at hand, so you do not have to flash your wallet in front of everyone.
• In a local bus, try to sit as close to the driver as possible; the more in the back, the more chances for petty theft.
• When travelling on long-distance busses, especially when making many stops, do not put your belongings in overhead lockers but keep them at your lap or stashed under your legs.
• Never leave your luggage out of sight at metro stations and bus terminals.
• While driving yourself, always keep the windows of your car up and the doors locked.
• If driving at night, only stop at red traffic lights if necessary.
• In the unlikely event you do get mugged, stay calm and do whatever the mugger asks of you.
However, try to play it cool and do not hand him over all your valuables at once:
The robber might be satisfied with just your decoy wallet.
• While being mugged, do not look the attacker straight in the eye.
• Do not count on any help from passers-by – not even the police – and do not be bold by defending your belongings or your honour; when you cooperate there is less chance things get badly out of hand.