Is Brazil a safe place to visit?
Brazilian police and media report that the crime rate remains high in most urban centers, including the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and is also growing in rural areas within those states. Brazil's murder rate is more than four times higher than that of the United States, and rates for other crimes are similarly high.
Street crime remains a problem for visitors and local residents alike. Foreign tourists, including U.S. citizens, are often targets, especially in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Recife. While the risk is greater during the evening and at night, street crime also occurs during the day, and safer areas of cities are not immune. Incidents of theft on city buses are frequent. You should keep a copy of your passport with you while in public and keep your passport in a hotel safe or other secure place. You should also carry proof of your health insurance with you.
The incidence of crime against tourists is greater in areas surrounding beaches, hotels, discotheques, bars, nightclubs, and other tourist destinations. It is especially prevalent prior to and during Carnival (Brazilian Mardi Gras), but also occurs throughout the year. Several Brazilian cities have established specialized tourist police units to patrol areas frequented by tourists.
Use caution when traveling through rural areas and satellite cities due to reported incidents of roadside robberies that randomly target passing vehicles. Robberies and "quicknappings" outside of banks and ATMs occur regularly. In a "quicknapping," criminals abduct victims for a short time in order to receive a quick payoff from the family, business, or the victim's ATM card. Some victims have been beaten and/or raped. You should also take precautions to avoid being carjacked, especially in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, and other cities.
In airports, hotel lobbies, bus stations, and other public places, pick pocketing and the theft of hand-carried luggage and laptop computers is common. You should "dress down" when in public and avoid carrying valuables or wearing jewelry or expensive watches. "Good Samaritan" scams are common. If a tourist looks lost or seems to be having trouble communicating, a seemingly innocent bystander offering help may actually be a participant in a scam. Take care at and around banks and ATMs which accept U.S. credit or debit cards. Travelers using personal ATM or credit cards sometimes receive billing statements with unauthorized charges after returning from a visit to Brazil, or discover that their cards were cloned or duplicated without their knowledge. If you use such payment methods, carefully monitor your bank records for the duration of your visit.
While the ability of Brazilian police to help recover stolen property is limited, we strongly advise you to obtain a "boletim de ocorrencia" (police report) at a "delegacia" (police station) if any of your possessions are lost or stolen. This will facilitate your exit from Brazil and assist with insurance claims. Be aware, however, that the police in tourist areas are on the lookout for false reports of theft for purposes of insurance fraud.
Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. These goods are illegal in the United States, and if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
Brasilia: Brasilia has significant crime problems. Reports of residential burglaries continue to occur in the generally affluent residential sections of the city. Public transportation, hotel sectors, and tourist areas report the highest crime rates, but statistics show that these incidents can happen anywhere and at anytime. The "satellite cities" that surround Brasilia have per-capita crime rates comparable to much larger cities. Police reports indicate that rates of all types of crime, including "quicknappings," have risen dramatically in Brasilia in the last two years. Brasilia's Central Bus Station or "Rodoviaria" is a particularly dangerous area, especially at night. This location is known to have a large concentration of drug dealers and users. Illegal drugs such as crack cocaine and "oxi" (a derivative of cocaine base produced with cheaper chemicals) have become very common in the "Plano Piloto" area and satellite cities.
Rio de Janeiro: The city continues to experience high incidences of crime. Tourists are particularly vulnerable to street thefts and robberies in the evening and at night especially in areas adjacent to major tourist attractions. There have been attacks, including shootings, along trails leading to the famous Corcovado Mountain and in other parts of the Tijuca Forest. If robbed, do not attempt to resist or fight back, but rather relinquish your personal belongings. At all times, pay close attention to your surroundings and the behavior of those nearby. There have been reports of thieves and rapists slipping incapacitating drugs into drinks at bars, hotel rooms, and street parties. While crime occurs throughout the year, it is more frequent during Carnival and the weeks prior.
Choose lodging carefully considering location, security, and the availability of a safe to store valuables. Do not answer your hotel room door until you positively confirm who is on the other side. Look out the peephole or call the front desk to confirm the visitor. There have been several recent incidents where mass holdups of guests have occurred at hotels and hostels in the city.
Rio de Janeiro's favelas are a subject of curiosity for many U.S. travelers. A favela pacification program, instituted in 2008, installed police stations in some favelas, primarily in the Zona Sul area. However, most favelas exist outside the control of city officials and police. Travelers are urged to exercise caution when entering any "pacified" favelas and should not go into favelas that are not "pacified" by the state government. Even in some "pacified" favelas, the ability of police to provide assistance, especially at night, may be limited. Several local companies offer "favela jeep tours" targeted at foreign tourists. Be aware that neither the tour company nor the city police can guarantee your safety when entering favelas.
Be vigilant while on the roads, especially at night. There have been shootings and carjackings on the Linha Vermelha that links the airport to the Southern Zone of the city. In Rio de Janeiro, motorists should be especially vigilant at stoplights and when stuck in traffic. Carjackings and holdups can occur at intersections, especially at night. Incidents of crime on public transportation are frequent, and at times have involved violent crimes. When traveling by yellow taxi, tourists are recommended only to use taxis openly displaying company information and phone numbers as well as red license plates. Tourists are also advised not to use public vans.
Visitors should also remain alert to the possibility of manhole cover explosions. There have been multiple manhole cover explosions in Rio de Janeiro in the past few years, with a higher incidence in the Centro and Copacabana neighborhoods.
Report all incidents to Rio's tourist police (DEAT) at (21) 2332-2924. The tourist police have been very responsive to victims and cooperative with the U.S. Consulate General.
Sao Paulo: All areas of Greater Sao Paulo have a high rate of armed robbery of pedestrians and drivers at stoplights and during rush hour traffic. The "red light districts" of Sao Paulo, located on Rua Augusta north of Avenida Paulista and the Estacao de Luz metro area, are especially dangerous. There are regular reports of young women slipping various drugs into men's drinks and robbing them of all their belongings while they are unconscious. Armed holdups of pedestrians and motorists by young men on motorcycles ("motoboys") are a common occurrence in Sao Paulo. Criminals have also begun targeting restaurants throughout the city, frequently between the hours of 10:00 pm and 4:00 am, at establishments in the upscale neighborhoods of Jardins, Itaim Bibi, Campo Belo, Morumbi and Moema. Victims who resist run the risk of violent attack. Laptop computers, other electronics, and luxury watches are the targets of choice for criminals in Sao Paulo.
Efforts of incarcerated drug lords to exert their power outside of their jail cells have resulted in sporadic disruptions in the city, violence directed at the authorities, bus burnings, and vandalism at ATM machines, including the use of explosives. Be aware of your surroundings and exercise caution at all times. Respect police roadblocks and be aware that some municipal services may be disrupted.
As in Rio de Janeiro, favela tours have recently become popular among foreign tourists in Sao Paulo. We advise you to avoid Sao Paulo's favelas as neither the tour company nor the city police can guarantee your safety when entering favelas.
Recife: As in Rio de Janeiro, tourists in Recife should take special care while on the beaches, as robberies may occur in broad daylight. In the upscale Boa Viagem neighborhood, carjackings can occur at any time of the day or night.
Individuals with ties to criminal entities and traffickers operate along all the Brazilian borders. These organizations are involved in the trafficking of illicit goods and drugs. U.S. citizens crossing into bordering countries should consult the Country Specific Information on the relevant nation.
Colombian terrorist groups have been known to operate in the border areas of neighboring countries. Although there have been reports of isolated small-scale armed incursions from Colombia into Brazil in the past, we know of no specific threat directed against U.S. citizens across the border in Brazil at this time.
Colombian groups have kidnapped residents and tourists along the Colombian border. If you are traveling or residing in this area we urge you to exercise caution when visiting remote parts of the Amazon basin, and respect local laws and customs. You should ensure that your outfitter/guide is familiar with the Amazon region.