Safety and security
Favelas (Portuguese for ‘slum’ or ‘shanty town’) are urban neighbourhoods of high density informal or unplanned housing. They exist in all major Brazilian cities, range in size from a few blocks to large sprawling areas, and can border areas frequented by tourists and visitors.
The security situation is many favelas is unpredictable, particularly in Rio de Janeiro. Any visit to a favela can be dangerous. We recommend that you avoid these areas in all cities, including ‘favela tours’ marketed to tourists and any accommodation, restaurants or bars advertised as being within a favela.
In Rio de Janeiro, there are favelas located around the city, including close to the tourist area of Zona Sul, as displayed in this map showing approximate locations of many favelas. If you’re unsure about a location, seek local advice from your hotel or the local authorities.
Violence in Rio de Janeiro favelas increased in 2017. Armed clashes and shootouts between police forces and gangs are a regular and unpredictable occurrence, and in October 2017 a tourist on a favela tour in Rio de Janeiro was accidentally shot dead by police. Armed clashes have also occurred on major thoroughfares, including the main highway to and from the international airport in Rio de Janeiro which runs alongside a large favela.
There is a risk of violence spilling over into nearby areas, including those popular with tourists. There have been injuries and deaths as a result of stray bullets in and near favelas.
Take extra care in all Brazilian towns and cities, especially Rio de Janeiro. If you’re using GPS navigation, whether by car or on foot, make sure that the suggested route doesn’t take you into a favela. Avoid entering unpaved, cobbled or narrow streets which may lead into a favela. Tourists have been shot after accidentally entering a favela. Check with your hotel or the local authorities if unsure.
There are high levels of crime, particularly robberies, within Brazil’s cities and the murder rate can be very high. However this can vary greatly within a city and we recommend that you familiarise yourself with the geography of a city and take local advice to identify the riskier areas. Crime, including violent crime, can occur anywhere and often involves firearms or other weapons. Pickpocketing is common. You should be vigilant, in particular before and during the festive and carnival periods. We recommend that you do not go on to city beaches after dark.
If threatened, hand over your valuables without resistance. Attackers may be armed and under the influence of drugs. Don’t attempt to resist attackers – this increases the risk of injury or worse.
Don’t wear expensive jewellery and watches. Don’t carry large sums of money and consider wearing a money belt. Don’t use your mobile phone in the street and keep cameras out of sight when not in use. Leave your passport and other valuables in a safe place but carry a copy and another form of photo ID, if you have one, with you at all times. Thefts are particularly common on public beaches and include ‘arrastões’ where large groups of thieves run through an area of the beach grabbing possessions. Keep your possessions close and avoid taking valuables to the beach.
The most common incidents affecting British nationals in Rio de Janeiro are thefts and pick pocketing around Copacabana Beach, Ipanema Beach and the areas of Lapa and Santa Theresa.
Tourists in Rio de Janeiro frequently report armed robberies on the Corcovado walking trail to the Christ the Redeemer statue. We recommend that you don’t use the trail at this time.
The most common incidents affecting British nationals in Sao Paulo are thefts or pickpocketing around Avenida Paulista and the historical downtown area. The red light districts located on Rua Augusta (north of Avenida Paulista) Catedral da Sé, Praça da República and the Estacao de Luz metro area (where Cracolandia is located), are especially dangerous.
In Brasilia, the central bus station area has the highest incidence of robberies and robbery of pedestrians occurs in the Federal District area. Particular care should be taken at these locations.
The most common incidents affecting British nationals in the North East of Brazil are theft from hotel and motel rooms and muggings. Reduce the risk of being mugged by avoiding quiet or deserted streets and / or areas and by using taxis after sunset instead of walking.
Robberies on buses are common in many cities. According to police statistics the most stolen items are mobile phones and the period in which the greatest number of robberies occur is between 4pm and 9pm.
Thefts from cars are common; keep valuables out of sight.
Carjacking can occur, particularly on major thoroughfares and in tunnels. Approach your car with your keys in hand so you can get into your car quicker. When driving, keep doors locked and windows closed, and take particular care at traffic lights. Where possible, use the middle lane. Avoid deserted or poorly lit areas, except under reliable local advice. Be aware of people approaching to ask for information, especially at night. If driving at night outside the city, avoid stopping at the roadside – if you need to do so try to find a petrol station/other well lit area in which to stop.
Rape and other sexual offences against tourists are rare, but there have been attacks against both men and women. Some have involved ‘date rape’ drugs. Buy your own drinks and keep them within sight at all times.
Bank and credit card fraud is common, including card cloning from ATMs. Keep sight of your card at all times and do not use an ATM if you notice anything suspicious. Notify your bank in advance of your trip to avoid your card being blocked. If you withdraw cash at an ATM and it has any sort of pink marks, speak to the bank (or police) straight away to get it changed as it may have been marked as damaged or counterfeit.
Demonstrations and civil unrest
Demonstrations and occasionally strikes take place in cities across Brazil with reports of arrests and clashes between police and protesters. More common in urban areas, they can disrupt transport. Even events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Police have used rubber bullets and tear gas extensively to disperse protesters. The effects of tear gas can be felt several hundred meters beyond the immediate site of demonstrations.
General elections are due to take place in October 2018. There is an increased risk of political and social unrest during the campaign period, particularly in the border region with Venezuela where tensions are running high over immigration. On 17 and 18 August 2018, demonstrations in the city of Pacaraima turned violent with the crowds attacking refugee dwellings and property.
In Sao Paulo, protests take place regularly and often without warning. Roads and public transport are frequently disrupted and there can be delays along the main road to Guarulhos International Airport.
Popular locations for demonstrations in major cities are: Avenida Paulista, Largo da Batata and the historic downtown area in Sao Paulo, Esplanada dos Ministerios in Brasilia and Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro.
If you’re travelling or residing in Brazil, take common sense precautions, follow local news reports, avoid large gatherings, political rallies or other events where crowds have congregated to demonstration or protest, and comply with the instructions of local authorities. If you encounter a demonstration, leave the area immediately.
Victims of crime
If you or another British citizen becomes the victim of crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest British embassy or consulate. You can find more information on how we can support you in our Support for British Nationals Abroad guide.
The following websites are maintained by the Brazilian authorities and contain useful information about travelling to Brazil:
Check the integrity and safety standards of any adventure travel companies before you use them.
Public transport is likely to be disrupted during demonstrations or civil unrest. Be vigilant when using public transport, especially during rush-hour as petty crime is common. Generally, the metro systems in Rio and São Paulo are safer than buses. Criminals often work in gangs robbing large numbers of people concentrated in the same place: public transport hubs can be particular hotspots. There have been incidents of hijacking and robbery of tour buses in recent years.
Only use licensed taxis. You can pick up a licensed taxi from the many recognised taxi ranks around Brazilian cities. Always check your taxi has the company details on the outside. Taxi apps are also a useful way to call a registered taxi; request your taxi inside if possible to avoid displaying your smartphone on the street. If your app allows this, share your journey with friends or family so they can track you.
Be aware that some taxi apps are reliant on GPS and run the risk of entering a more dangerous area of the city, in particular favelas.
Most airports have licensed taxi desks inside the baggage reclaim areas. You can pay for your taxi in advance using a credit card or cash inside the airport rather than in the street.
Most major cities in Brazil have facilities adapted for disabled travellers, including easy-access public buses and lifts to tube stations and platforms.
You can use your UK driving licence to drive in Brazil, but an international driving permit is recommended. When driving on federal motorways (BR roads) you must turn on your headlights or face a penalty. Always observe the speed limit.
Brazil has a high road accident rate. In 2016, 6,405 people died in accidents on federal roads. Overall standards of driving are poor. Travellers should be vigilant on the roads and avoid riding bicycles. In many rural areas the quality of roads away from the main highways is poor. Bus and coach crashes are frequent.
Brazil has a zero tolerance policy on drink driving. If you’re caught driving under the influence of alcohol, you will be prosecuted. Penalties range from fines and a suspension from driving for 12 months, to imprisonment for up to 3 years.
All accidents involving personal injury should be reported immediately to the police by calling 190 or by attending to a police station to file a police report. Medical help can be obtained with the fire and rescue brigade at 193 or with the local emergency services (SAMU) at 192.
Call the police on 190 if the vehicles involved are obstructing traffic and you need help.
In Rio de Janeiro, go directly to the nearest police station (DEAT – Tourist Police station call 2332-2924 or 3399-7170 or 2334-6804) to register the accident.
Always use recognised national air carriers. There have been accidents involving light aircraft, which sometimes have poor maintenance standards. A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety Network.
We can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
Allow plenty of time to arrive at the airport for your flight. Traffic in the main cities, especially São Paulo and Rio, can be very heavy, particularly during rush hour.
Foreign nationals can travel on domestic flights with a valid photo ID or a police report in case of a lost or stolen passport.
Safety concerns have been raised about INSEL AIR. The US and Netherlands authorities have prohibited their staff from using the airline while safety checks are being carried out. UK government officials have been told to do the same as a precaution.
The railway infrastructure is limited and there have been safety and security incidents on this system.
Sea and river travel
Be aware of safety procedures on board vessels and check the location of life jackets, including for children if travelling with them. Boat accidents on the Amazon river are not uncommon.
Southwest river routes in the Amazon & Solimões river basin are commonly used for drug trafficking and by pirates. Both drug traffickers and pirates are likely to be armed and you should avoid travelling by river in this area. If travel is necessary seek the advice of the local authorities and take an escort.
There have been armed and unarmed attacks on merchant vessels, including British flag vessels off the Brazilian coast and in some Brazilian ports.
Strong currents can be a danger off some beaches. Take local advice before swimming including paying attention to warning flags on beaches and the location of lifeguards if present on the beach. Shark attacks are a danger particularly on the beaches around the north eastern city of Recife. You should pay attention to warning signs and consult lifeguards if unsure. Do not enter the water where warning signs are present; sharks have been known to attack in waist deep water and fatalities have occurred.