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Personal Safety & Security in Brazil

Visitors to Brazil are often scared of the reputation that the country has in terms of personal safety and security. Much of this reputation has been earned of course, but in the days of 24 hour rolling news channels and worldwide internet coverage, there is also a tendency to dramatise dangers, and Brazil is no different to anywhere else in this respect.

This is not to say that Brazil is a trouble-free country of course, and it never will be while such a huge gap between rich and poor continues to exist. Visiting foreigners will always be seen as rich by most Brazilians, and even the most hard-up, spent-up backpacker will still be comparatively wealthy by local standards, and may be a target for those locals who need some quick money and are prepared to use violence or the threat of it.

The best advice to give somebody visiting Brazil is to avoid making themselves a target as much as possible, to first minimize the chances of encountering trouble.

The first step then is to leave valuables behind as much as possible, don’t wander the city streets wearing expensive watches and jewellery, as the small amount of clothes you are likely to wear in Brazil will leave them permanently on show.  Leave them in the hotel safe or in your hosts’ residence. Better still, leave the real valuables at home. Even little tips such as removing your expensive sunglasses from your head after sundown, putting them away in your bag, may help. Money belts are also a good idea for carrying hidden cash and other smaller valuable items when carrying them is necessary.

Technology-wise, Brazil still trails a little behind most of Europe, North America and Far-East Asia. State-of-the-art cell-phones, cameras and laptops are more expensive to buy in Brazil so they will always be very valuable commodities here. Keep them hidden away in zipped bags when not in use, and certainly don’t ever walk around city streets with cameras hanging around your neck, or iphones in hand checking online maps. A few sensible precautions, such as always being aware where you are using such equipment, and you lessen the risks greatly. Laptop bags are obvious to most people, so perhaps even covering them with a canga (beach sarong) might fool people into thinking you have nothing but a beach bag on your shoulder. If carrying laptops, then taxis are the best idea to safeguard your equipment.

This advice applies to all of the large Brazilian cities, the state capitals usually, not just Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The busy periods of New Year and especially Carnaval are especially times to take care when moving amongst large crowds. Tourists do stand out in crowds at such moments, and will always be the first target of pick-pockets and people prepared to use violence to steal such items as cameras. The crowds dancing behind moving blocos at Carnaval time are generally very friendly, everybody is enjoying themselves as the truck moves through the streets with the band playing from the back of it. There will be people there for different reasons though. If somebody is bumping through the crowd dancing too ostentatiously, they may have an accomplice on the other side of you trying to pick your pockets as your attention is distracted. There are also more blatant muggings as hiding amongst large crowds afterwards is easy. Take out only the money that you need to use during the day, leave all valuables at home and if you must take your camera out, then take it in a zipped bag. Most of the blocos do have security holding the rope that guards the section for those who have bought the bloco t-shirt immediately behind the truck. If you must take photos, then it is probably wise to do it from close to security.

Equally though, there are many places just a few hours’ drive or less from metropolitan areas that are completely at odds with Brazil’s rough reputation.  Within an hour or three of these cities, you may find places so relaxed that the only shooting that concerns you is for shooting photographs, and you may find yourself wandering around with your camera around your neck without a care in the world. The basic rule is if you see holidaying Brazilians walking with cameras around their necks, then you will likely be ok.

Contrary to popular belief, many such places still exist in Brazil, and you can be carefree in Praia do Forte or Morro do Sao Paulo two hours after leaving Salvador, or in Porto de Galinhas from Recife. Even the two World Cities of Brazil, Rio and Sao Paulo, have tranquil escapes close by in Buzios, the mountains around Itatiaia and along the entire Costa Verde - the scenic route between the two metropolis which includes Maresias, Ilha Bela, Ubatuba, Paraty, Trindade; Angra dos Reis and many others. You will find it difficult to believe that 30 million people live within a few hours’ drive of these places, especially so on Ilha Grande.

While the solitude of jungle trails and empty paradise beaches is highly recommended here, solitude in the city is not generally recommended. Avoid walking down quiet streets and empty parts of the city beaches, especially at night. Taxis are cheap enough and found easily enough to make this unnecessary.

With regards to money, the best tip is to only take out the amount of local currency that you might need for the day or for the evening. Avoid carrying large amounts around with you. With travellers cheques becoming obsolete, and carrying large amounts of cash not recommended, the best method to manage your money in Brazil is probably to use the ATMs at banks. Please check our Money & Banks blog for further information on using them, but with regards to your safety, please remember that banks in Brazil only allow small withdrawals between 10pm and 6am for safety reasons. Try to use them for withdrawing money during working hours when security is present. Always put the cash into your wallet, purse or bag immediately and leave the building. Do not stand at the machine counting money and waving notes in the air for everybody to see.

Another tip with regards to digital cameras is to remove the memory card when travelling and not using your camera. This way, if anything does happen to it, then at least you don’t lose the photos. Similarly, a full back-up of your laptop or tablet and all its files before travelling is wise.

Of course, the very best advice that we can give for anybody travelling to Brazil is to make sure that you buy travel insurance before you leave home. This way if anything bad does happen, you may be far less inclined to resist a robbery of goods that can be easily replaced on your return home. If anybody wants to steal from you, it is definitely wise to hand over what they seem to want immediately rather than risk a confrontation on the streets of Brazil. Your valuable goods should of course be insured anyway, as you do have Travel Insurance... right?

There are many little ways to improve your personal safety and security while travelling in Brazil, and thus giving yourself the best chance of returning home safe and sound. Most people return home with nothing but wonderful memories of a wonderful country, and perhaps the worst thing that you can do is to arrive with so much fear that it stops you enjoying all the incredible experiences that Brazil has to offer. 

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