What makes Uruguay a unique country to travel to?
Uruguay is a constitutional democracy with a large, educated middle class and a robust developing economy. The capital city is Montevideo. Tourist facilities are generally good with many five star accommodations at resort destinations such as Punta del Este and Colonia de Sacramento. Spanish is the national language. English is frequently understood in major tourist hotels or resorts but is not widely used outside those areas. The quality of tourist facilities varies according to price and location.
Street crime is common throughout Montevideo and criminals may resort to violence when the victims resist. Common targets for criminals may include tourists, individuals openly carrying valuable items, and motorists in unlocked vehicles stopped at busy intersections, including Montevideo's riverfront road known as the Rambla.
You should exercise reasonable caution to minimize your exposure to crime. Criminals are opportunists and prey on unwary people, particularly those carrying cameras, pocketbooks, laptops, or backpacks. Lock your valuables in secure hotel safes and empty your wallets of excess credit cards and cash. If dining at an outdoor restaurant, keep an eye on your belongings at all times. While driving, it is best to keep all car doors locked, windows open no more than one inch, and purses, bags, briefcases, and other valuables out of sight on the floor or in the trunk. Parked cars, particularly in the Punta Carretas and Pocitos neighborhoods, also have been broken into.
Parts of Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja are popular tourist attractions, but the only sections of Ciudad Vieja with continual police patrols are Plaza de la Independencia, the pedestrian street Sarandi, and the Mercado del Puerto. Muggings have occurred in other parts of Ciudad Vieja - particularly for travelers walking alone or couples walking at night. A smart alternative is to call for a taxi for evening travel between restaurants, bars, and hotels. Muggings and other street crime also have occurred in residential districts of the downtown area, including Pocitos and Punta Carretas.
Montevideo continues to experience armed robberies of patrons at crowded restaurants. Most of these crimes have occurred late at night, so you should exercise additional caution if you choose to dine late.Burglaries and attempted burglaries are increasingly common in upscale residential neighborhoods, including Carrasco, Montevideo. A combination of preventive measures including rigorous use of locks and alarms, strong grillwork on all windows, guard dogs, keeping a residence occupied as much as possible, and using a security service is recommended.
During the summer months (December-March), beach resort areas such as Punta del Este see an increase in the number of petty street crimes and residential burglaries.
Exercise common sense in your activities in Montevideo and in Uruguayan resort areas, and be attentive to your personal security and surroundings in these areas.
Uruguayan law enforcement authorities have increased the number of patrol cars in residential areas and of uniformed policemen on foot in areas where criminal activity is concentrated. Patrol cars are clearly marked and equipped with cellular phones. Most police do not speak English.
While you are traveling in Uruguay, you are subject to its laws. If you break the law in Uruguay, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is important to know what activities are legal and what activities are illegal wherever you go. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. Criminal penalties can be more severe than those in the United States for similar offenses. There are also some activities that may be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. Engaging in sexual conduct with children and using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country remains illegal in the United States and may subject you to prosecution in the United States.
Persons violating Uruguay’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Uruguay are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available, as you may be breaking local law.
The Uruguayan Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing strictly enforces all regulations regarding hunting permits, as well as seasonal and numerical limits on game. Visitors who contravene local law are subject to detention by the authorities and the seizure of their weapons. Under Uruguayan law, seized weapons can only be returned after payment of a sum equivalent to the value of the property seized. Hunters are also subject to stiff fines for hunting without all appropriate permits.
Arrest notifications in host country: Uruguayan law enforcement officers are trained to automatically notify the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the U.S. Embassy immediately if you are arrested or detained.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Facilities for medical care in Uruguay are considered adequate. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Safety and Security
Protests, some with anti-U.S. sentiment, are common in Uruguay, particularly near the Legislative Palace, City Hall, and the Universidad de la Republica (University of the Republic) in Montevideo. U.S. citizens visiting or residing in Uruguay should take common-sense precautions and avoid large gatherings or events where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest. If you encounter a protest, you should walk the other way or enter a commercial establishment until the protest passes and should avoid taking pictures.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in a foreign country, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The Uruguayan Ministry of Transportation is responsible for maintaining safe road conditions countrywide. The Uruguayan Ministry of Interior highway police (tel. 1954) are responsible for traffic safety on highways and other roads beyond city limits. In urban and suburban areas, transit police and municipal employees share road safety responsibilities.
You may drive using your foreign driver’s license in Uruguay. Driving is on the right-hand side of the road. Seat belts are mandatory. Headlights must be on when driving on highways and other inter-city roads 24 hours a day. Children under 12 years must ride in the back seat. Motorcyclists must wear helmets. The use of cellular phones while driving is prohibited. Right turns on red lights and left turns at most intersections marked with a stoplight are not permitted. Drivers approaching an intersection from the right or already in traffic circles have the right of way. Flashing high beams indicate intent to pass or to continue through unmarked intersections. Many drivers ignore speed limits, lane markings and traffic signs. If you plan to drive, use caution and drive defensively.
Drivers who are caught driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol will be fined and their license may be confiscated and retained for up to six months. Drivers who are involved in accidents that result in injury or death are brought before a judge who will decide if incarceration is warranted.
Uruguayan law requires drivers to have both hands on the steering wheel at all times while driving. Failure to do so may bring a charge of distracted driving ("imprudencia en el manejo"). This includes talking on a cell phone and drinking "mate" (a traditional Uruguayan herbal beverage) while driving. The fine charged is approximately $25.00 (U.S.). Speed limits are posted on highways and some main roads. Most taxis have no seat belts in the back seat. Cycling outside the capital or small towns is hazardous due to a scarcity of bike paths, narrow road shoulders, and unsafe driving practices.
Illumination, pavement markings, and road surfaces are sometimes poor. Route 1, which runs between Montevideo and Colonia or Punta del Este, and Route 2, between Rosario and Fray Bentos, are particularly accident-ridden because of heavy tourist traffic. The frequency of road accidents rises during the summer beach season (December to March), Carnaval (mid-to-late February), and Easter Week.
Within Montevideo, the emergency number for the police, fire department, rescue squad, and ambulance service is 911. In the rest of the country, dial 02-911 to connect with the Montevideo central emergency authority, which will then contact the local emergency service.
SEMM (tel. 159) and UCM (tel. 147), Montevideo-based ambulance services manned by doctors, have agreements with emergency medical units in other cities. Coverage in rural areas may be limited.
For emergency roadside assistance, call the Automobile Club of Uruguay at 1707, "Car Up" at 0800-1501, or the Automobile Center of Uruguay at 2-408-6131/2091.