Brazil is a safe destination for tourists.
Often, Brazil´s reputation is exaggerated in the media and by the public, especially when it comes to crime and the safety of foreigners and tourists. Parts of Brazil do have high crime rates, but in general, if you stick to some essential information, you should have no more problems with personal safety in Brazil, than you would have in other tourist destinations. On most occasions, tourists will not encounter any crime, even if they do, in most cases it is petty crime like pickpocketing.
Personal Safety in Brazil
Check the Area
Firstly, if you decide to go exploring you should be aware of what kind of area you are in/going to. Most serious crime is concentrated in the outskirts of the big cities, namely Sáo Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Recife and does not affect the level of travel safety in Brazil because tourists do not frequent these areas as part of their tours.
In the outskirts and “favelas”, poverty is rife so naturally there is more crime. It can sometimes be deceiving to rely on metrics such as city crime rates. Certain areas can inflate the figure of the entire city. We advise that you do not venture into these areas alone, or without a local person or guide.
You may come across some tourist organizations that advertise “favela tours”, where they will take you into one of these favelas to show you around. You should be weary of who these people are and try to check their credibility. If in doubt, check with Brazil Selection (Contact) or your tour operator. It can also be thoughtful to ask the guides whether they are local people or not. If you do decide to take one of these tours, remember, some of these places may be beautiful, interesting and full of life but they are also family homes and everyone should respect this. It is unsavory to enter any residential area with the intention of looking “at” people. Instead be open and you will be welcomed!
In the favelas around Rio de Janeiro, (where tourists are most likely to want to explore them) security can be uncertain. There are favelas located in almost every area of the city, including close to the “Zona Sul” where most of the tourist activity is. You can check this map to see where they are. If you are exploring the city alone, it is advisable to be aware of where the favelas are located so you do not wander into one without realizing. If you do, more often than not, the locals will be happy to help you find your way again! It is just that getting lost in a favela can be intimidating for tourists because the narrow, mazelike streets can be complicated to navigate. It is common for tourists to accidentally wonder into favelas and get lost while using GPS navigation. Again, if you are in doubt about the route you are taking, check it out with your tour operator or hotel.
Criminals sometimes like to target both locals and tourists at airports. Because of heavy police and security presence, these are normally petty scam artists. Don´t leave your luggage unattended and use registered taxis to avoid risk of being scammed/overcharged.
It can be quite tempting to wonder onto a deserted part of the beach at night, but this is uncommon in Brazil and not even the locals do it. Unless you are certain that there is a low risk of crime (as is the case in some areas) it is best to avoid doing this. Instead, look for an area where there are plenty of other people, or open bars or clubs. When going to the beach, try to limit the valuables you bring with you and keep your possessions close by, they can be a favorite spot for pickpockets, especially in Rio de Janeiro.
Common areas for pickpockets
In terms of pickpocketing, you should be a little more careful in the following areas. In Rio de Janeiro pickpocketing is more common in areas such as Copacabana Beach, Ipanema Beach, Santa Theresa and Lapa. In São Paulo, the Avenida Paulista, Rua Augusta and Praça Republica are pickpocket hotspots. In the Northeastern cities such as Fortaleza, pickpockets may target any tourist area like Beira Mar, just be careful and follow the guidelines outlined on this page.
Be wary of the time
The time of day is important as regards your safety in Brazil. If you are planning activities or exploring an area, be sure to check what time you will be in which areas. In general, if you plan on going out at night, stick to the busier areas where there is more footfall. Avoid going to darker and quieter locations, if you are alone. Your tour guide will let you know the best places to enjoy at night! If in doubt, you can always check with the hotel. In general, anywhere with high tourist presence will also have high police presence at night and during the day. It is advisable to take a taxi to your location and avoid walking too much between different areas at nighttime, especially after having had something to drink. Be careful on public transport at night if you have any valuables, usually everything is fine but it´s much better to get a taxi instead; they are much faster and more reliable, especially in Brazil!
Swimming in Brazil
Many of Brazil´s beaches offer the chance for a fantastic swim in beautiful scenery and this is certainly something you cannot miss on your holiday. However, some beaches in Brazil have strong rip currents that can be quite hard to spot. It is advisable that you pay close attention to the signs in the area and advice from locals and the hotel you are staying at. If in doubt, swim only where there is a lifeguard or other swimmers. If you plan on taking watersports lessons, make sure the school you are with is certified by the proper organization, this would be IKO for kitesurfing for example. Sharks are not common, but have been known to appear especially off the coast of Recife, be wary of where you are swimming here and if in doubt seek local advice. Lastly, remember that the power of the Brazilian sun is multiplied in the salt water. If you plan to spend a long time swimming, consider using a zinc based, waterproof sunscreen to protect you from sunburn.
Driving in Brazil
U.K and U.S citizens can drive in Brazil for up to 180 days provided they carry their original driving license. An international driving permit is useful as well. Brazilian driving standards may be poor compared to what you are used to. Be extra vigilant on the roads and avoid stopping at the roadside at night, if you need to do so, look for a petrol station or a well – lit public area. In some areas, you may drive through red lights after 11pm. Be careful with people approaching you to ask for directions and try to use the middle lane where possible. In the cities there may be a lot of cyclists on the road, take extra care in looking out for them!
Practical Advice for Personal Safety in Brazil
Pickpocketing is common in tourist areas, especially during festivities like carnaval; do not keep valuables in a pouch around your neck or in your back pocket. In the busier areas, there may be more “snatch and run” kind of crimes, but these are uncommon in tourist areas where police presence is always high.
You can greatly reduce the risk of falling victim to crime by following these guidelines to personal safety in Brazil.
- Make sure you lock your passport in the hotel safe as well as any other important documents and money.
- If you bring your driving license as a form of ID, keep it in a concealed pocket or in a money belt.
- Don´t bother wearing flashy or expensive jewellery when going to walk the streets.
- Keep just the right amount of cash you need for the day and avoid leaving your accommodation without any money.
- Make a copy of all your documents and send them to us before coming to Brazil!
- When not in use, it is better to keep cameras and mobile phones out of sight.
- Avoid unnecessary trips into dark, deserted or poverty – stricken areas alone.
- Travel home at night by taxi.
Brazilian Emergency Service Numbers
Emergencies – Military Police (Policia Militar) – 190
Ambulance (Ambulância) – 192
Fire Brigade (Corpo de Bombeiros) – 193
Overall, Brazil is absolutely a safe destination for tourists!
In summary, there are certainly some things to look out for as regards personal and travel safety in Brazil. However, Brazil is no more dangerous for tourists than other common holiday destinations. The punishment for causing trouble to a foreigner in Brazil is severe and almost not worth the time of any criminal. All you have to do is exercise common sense to avoid putting yourself in a risky situation. Remember, Brazilian people are some of the happiest, most welcoming and friendly people in the world! Enjoy your time here and don´t be hesitant to interact with the locals!