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Despite the country’s natural beauty and friendly people, Brazil continues to experience challenges with social inequality and poverty. An unfortunate consequence of this has been the country's continuously high crime rates. Safety and security in Brazil is, therefore, a concern for many expats contemplating a move there and a reality that cannot be ignored.
Crime in Brazil
Crime levels are high in Brazilian cities. This is especially true in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. These cities experience regular incidents of pickpocketing, robbery, assault, burglary and murder. Crime rates are slightly lower in other cities, such as Brasília and Recife.
Mobile street gangs and organised criminal groups generally operate from within densely packed and typically low-income parts of the city known as favelas. Foreigners have traditionally been advised not to enter, but with an increasing police presence and improvements in general safety, it isn't uncommon for expats to visit or even live in a favela.
Most crimes are opportunistic, taking place in popular tourist areas and on crowded public transport. Hotspots for these crimes include beaches, hotels, bars and nightclubs. Expats should keep their valuables out of sight when driving, as incidents of smash-and-grabs and carjackings are also common.
For safety reasons, many expats in Brazil’s larger cities live in apartments or houses in secure closed compounds that have 24/7 security.
Kidnappings in Brazil
Incidents of kidnapping have been known to occur in Brazil, particularly 'express kidnappings'. This type of crime involves the victim being held at gunpoint for a short period and taken to an ATM to withdraw cash or to shops to use their credit cards. A variant of express kidnappings that has more recently emerged is 'flash kidnapping', where criminals force an individual to use a common cash transfer app to send them a large amount of money. The best tactic to avoid becoming a victim is to be aware of one's surroundings and only use ATMs in well-populated places during daylight hours.
Road and transport safety in Brazil
Brazil has an extensive road network. Road conditions are generally excellent, though road markings and lighting are variable across the country.
Brazilian drivers are notorious for driving aggressively, however. Expats driving in Brazil should do so with caution and drive defensively. Due to the safety concerns and driving conditions, expats may want to reconsider their need to drive, and rather make use of the public transport system if possible, or hire a local driver better acquainted with the surroundings.
Using the Brazilian public transport system is generally safe, but expats should still be aware of the risk of pickpocketing at crowded transport hubs and on buses and trains.
Safety tips for Brazil
Here are a few basic safety tips to help expats stay safe in Brazil:
Expensive jewellery and equipment should be kept out of view. These items make a person an attractive target for criminals.
Avoid ATMs in isolated areas, especially at night. It’s best to choose an ATM in a hotel or convenience store.
Avoid walking alone at night. If travelling at night, rather use a taxi over other forms of public transport.
Be careful when leaving and arriving home. Before leaving, expats should make sure there is no one outside who could pose a threat, and when arriving home they should make sure that no one has followed them.
Avoid using mobile phones in the street and keep cameras out of sight when they are not in use
When stuck in traffic or stopped at traffic lights, be vigilant as carjackings and hold-ups may occur at intersections
►For more about adjusting to life in Brazil, see Culture Shock in Brazil
"The best rule to adopt in Brazil (and anywhere else, in that matter) is to always be aware of your surroundings and never flash any expensive belongings or draw too much attention to yourself. Stay humble and alert whenever you are on the street." Estonian Dona shares her expat experiences in Brazil.
"The city is safe if you’re educated about the security of certain places at certain times. You can’t carelessly wander around here like in many Western cities. I feel safer in certain favelas than I do in some of the more touristy neighbourhoods such as Lapa and Copacabana, especially at night." US expat Elliot runs a favela tourism company. Read more of his experiences of expat life in Brazil.
Are you an expat living in Brazil?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Brazil. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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