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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Brazil 2020 Crime & Safety Report: Brasilia

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Consulate General in Brasília. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in central Brazil. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s  Brazil country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Brazil at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime. Do not travel to any areas within 150 km/100 miles of Brazil’s land borders with Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and Paraguay due to crime. (Note: This does not apply to the Foz do Iguacu National Park or Pantanal National Park.) Do not travel to informal housing developments (commonly referred to in Brazil as favelas, vilas, comunidades, and/or conglomerados) at any time of day due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime & Safety Situation

Crime Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Brasília as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Crime, from petty to violent, is the primary security concern for visitors to Brazil, particularly in the country’s larger cities, to include Brasília. Exercise more caution in December and January. During the holiday season, Brazil experiences an increase in crime due to a number of factors. These include Brazil’s system of prison furloughs, which allows for prisoner leave during the holidays; a higher percentage of police officers on annual leave during the Christmas season; and the reality that citizens receive a “13th month” salary bonus in December and are in possession of more disposable income during these months. Burglars target vacant homes and apartments during these two months with a greater frequency than the rest of the year. These crimes affect foreign visitors, who are targets on occasion due to perceived wealth.

Typically, criminals gain entry to a property via the vehicle gate while the residents are leaving or arriving, or they threaten local staff into compliance. General countermeasures and situational awareness are strong criminal deterrents. Proper use of alarm systems to give first responders early warning, and properly checking surroundings when entering/exiting homes, have proven most effective.

Residences should feature solid-core entry doors with quality deadbolts, peepholes, security grilles on all windows, adequate front and rear security lighting, and a monitored alarm system. Business and home surveillance camera systems are worthwhile investments in Brasília, and are effective deterrents against property crime.

Most residential properties, especially single-family homes, also use security alarm systems. These systems allow local security companies to contact local police directly. Some neighborhoods employ static guard posts to monitor activity on adjacent streets. Larger properties and commercial sites generally employ 24/7 security guard services. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Public transportation hubs, hotel sectors, and tourist areas are the locations with the highest crime rates, ranging from petty theft to armed robbery, especially at night. Bus stations in and around downtown Brasília remain a concern; pickpocketing and armed robberies occur in these locations more frequently than in other areas of the city. Remain alert to surroundings, especially at large markets. The informal housing areas around Brasília are unsafe at night; avoid them during those hours. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Many criminals use weapons such as knives and handguns when conducting illicit activities. Exercise caution when traveling at night through more rural areas and informal housing areas due to the significant potential for roadside robbery.

Foreign visitors may be more susceptible to targeting for certain crimes because they may be less likely to file a police report and/or return to testify at criminal proceedings, should police apprehend the perpetrators. Be careful of cash transactions on the street; a hurried transaction often leaves the customer with shoddy/counterfeit goods or with counterfeit money.

Do not accept drinks from strangers, and always watch your drink for scopolamine, GHB, or a similar drug. Victims have woken up robbed of their valuables or sexually assaulted after accepting doctored drinks. Review OSAC’s Report Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

Practice commonsense preventive security techniques, just as you would in any large city. Do not walk on beaches or in parks after dark, where assaults are common.

While crime is the principal threat to visitors in Brazil, criminals use a variety of scams to rob victims, including:

  • An unknown caller claims to have kidnapped a person you know, possibly a family member. Unless you immediately pay the ransom, they will harm the person in question. It only becomes clear that the kidnapping never occurred after you pay a ransom.
  • An unknown caller states an employee or family member has been in an accident and needs immediate medical attention. You must provide payment for the injured individual to receive treatment—a common requirement in Brazil. This scam often targets household staff who react without verifying with their employer.
  • Scams involving credit cards are common as well. Travelers using personal ATM or credit cards sometimes receive billing statements with unauthorized charges after using cards in Brazil, or discover their cards cloned or duplicated without their knowledge.

In addition to the high volume of online banking, the World Bank reports that Brazil has one of the highest concentrations of ATM terminals worldwide. Local criminals and cybercriminals target hardware – like the terminals – to obtain credit card and banking information. Increasingly common are instances of criminal groups using explosives, primarily dynamite, to destroy ATMs in public areas at late hours of the night to gain access to money stored within.

There is a heightened risk to credit card information in Brazil. Cybersecurity companies often note that, while still vulnerable, chip-and-PIN cards are more secure and harder to clone than magnetic swipe cards. Monitor credit card usage during and after your trip for transaction inconsistencies. Commonsense practices to guard against card fraud include inspecting the façade of an ATM for unusual or suspicious devices or equipment, and if using a credit card at a restaurant or store, making sure the employee brings the credit card reader to you. Never let anyone walk off with your credit card. Always use an ATM in well-lighted, public areas, and never let someone “assist” you with your transaction. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Cybersecurity Issues

Brazil is one of Latin America’s leading digital nations. Approximately 62% of Brazilians are active internet users. Brazilian financial institutions were early pioneers of online services, and continue to invest heavily in evolving IT security solutions. Next-generation biometric identity technologies are common features in Brazil’s consumer banking sectors. Nevertheless, cybersecurity and online fraud are persistent concerns, with annual losses reaching billions of dollars. Hacktivists have defaced government websites and taken them offline in recent years.

Brazil continues to rank as one of the most pervasive cybercrime environments in the world. Brazilian cybercriminals have grown more brazen despite new legislation and official efforts to stop malicious activity online. The banking sector has been the primary target of these operations; however, cybercrime in Brazil also affects daily Internet users, private-sector organizations, and short-term travelers. Maintain awareness of popular schemes to avoid becoming a cybercrime victim. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Damaged roads and poor road engineering in Brasília can cause significant damage to vehicles during the rainy season. Lighting, traffic signals, and road markings vary from good to poor.

Throughout Brazil, road conditions outside of the main cities vary greatly. Accidents are always a concern, particularly in rural areas. Conduct road travel during daylight hours, and be aware of weather conditions that may affect roadways. Police do not strictly enforce traffic rules and regulations. Drivers frequently disregard stop signs and other signage. Brazil uses automatic photo-ticketing systems to discourage speeding; authorities send tickets by mail to the owner of the vehicle. While traveling in rural areas, as well as informal housing areas, potholes and speed bumps are often unmarked and difficult to detect in low light conditions. Exercise extreme caution always.

Some U.S. companies use armored passenger vehicles to transport visiting senior executives who they deem to be targets due to their high profile or high-value status.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Consider avoiding public buses while traveling in and around Brazil due to mechanical issues and high crime rates. Crime statistics indicate that passengers face an elevated risk of robbery or assault using public, municipal bus transportation throughout Brazil. In Brasília, one of the areas that sees the most crime is the Estação Rodoviária (central bus station).

Only use legitimate, well-marked taxis, which are white or silver with green and yellow stripes. Private car services (e.g. Uber) also provide a relatively safe option for travelers. Review OSAC’s report, Safety and Security in the Share Economy.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Reports of cargo theft, from maritime shipments, overland transport, and storage facilities occur frequently. Airport authorities in Brazil also attempt to counter criminal activity targeting aviation facilities with supplemental security measures.

Airports countrywide have inaugurated supplemental security measures, in part to thwart criminal activity targeting aviation facilities. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Brasília as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.There are no known indigenous terrorist groups operating in Brazil. Brazil is a non-aligned country with no significant enemies, and is not a target of any known radical groups. However, during the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, Brazilian authorities disrupted a terrorist cell whose members may have self-radicalized. While Brazilian authorities considered the cell “amateur,” this incident belies mounting concern of possible terrorist-influenced events.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Brasília as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Political violence is possible in any of the major cities of Brazil, but generally uncommon. There have been numerous protests during the past year in Brasília, generally relating to domestic political issues. Economic conditions in Brazil have the potential to contribute to civil unrest, protests, and strikes. After its longest and deepest recession since the 1930s, Brazil’s economy began to recover in 2017; it has posted GDP growth for two consecutive years. However, in Brasília and other cities, protests over inflation, living conditions and labor relations are common. A massive, nationwide strike by truck driver unions that began in 2018 protested diesel fuel prices, tolls, and the need for tax reform related to the truck industry. The resulting roads paralysis caused nationwide shortages of food, medicine, and oil.

While most demonstrations remain peaceful and well controlled by local authorities, acts of violence and confrontation with police occurs. Protests can form with little notice, and often result in clashes with police, deployment of tear gas, and destruction of property, to include burning city buses and attacking private business establishments. Within the Federal District, most protests and demonstrations take place in the city’s large, open public Esplanda area. Remain alert to potential demonstrations in this area and avoid protests whenever possible. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Religious and ethnic violence are not common in Brazil. Brazil is home to a diverse range of indigenous and immigrant cultures and is home to a wide range of faith communities that generally coexist without violence.

Anti-U.S. Sentiment

Most Brazilians regard U.S. nationals in a positive manner, and are friendly to foreigners.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

While hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornados are not common in Brazil, significant flooding occurs in several regions, and can trigger catastrophic mudslides. Visitors to remote areas, or areas lacking infrastructure, should exercise caution and study weather patterns before traveling during the rainy season.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

The Brazilian army is responsible for defending critical cyber infrastructure. Brazil’s Computer Emergency Response Team monitors and addresses general cyber security incidents. Given Brazil’s highly networked economy and the fact that authorities still are developing cyber doctrine and capabilities, analysts note continued critical infrastructure risks.

Economic Concerns/Intellectual Property Theft

While data on economic espionage threats to U.S. companies is scarce, intellectual property rights (IPR) crimes continue to impact U.S. companies. After a period of dormancy, the Brazilian National Council to Combat Piracy and Crimes Against Intellectual Property approved a three-year National Plan to Combat Piracy and coordinated activities among multiple government and private sector organizations. The Brazil Film Agency established a Technical Working Group to Combat Piracy, which focused on educating the public and developing policies to address IP protection. Notable successes include a record level of seizures of counterfeit and pirated goods, as well as enforcement against illegal telecommunication products, set-top boxes, and piracy websites. Nevertheless, levels of counterfeiting and piracy in Brazil, including online piracy, use of unlicensed software, and illicit camcording, remain unacceptably high, leaving Brazil on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 “Watch List” in 2019. Many Brazilian cities have markets selling counterfeit material. The U.S. Government has provided the key authorities in these actions with technical support.

Illicit goods enter Brazil over its extensive land and sea borders, with the Tri-Border Area near Paraguay and Argentina a particular concern. Some local police forces make concerted efforts to combat sales of counterfeit and pirated goods in open marketplaces. Concerns also persist with respect to Brazil’s protection against unfair commercial use of undisclosed test and other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical products. Highly organized criminal gangs have also targeted several medical cargo fleets for expensive and rare medications.

Personal Identity Concerns

The law prohibits racial discrimination, specifically the denial of public or private facilities, employment, or housing, to anyone based on race. It also prohibits the incitement of racial discrimination or prejudice and the dissemination of racially offensive symbols and epithets and stipulates prison terms for such acts. The 2010 census reported that, for the first time, more than 50% of the population identified themselves as belonging to categories other than white. Despite laws and a high representation within the general population, darker-skinned citizens, particularly Afro-Brazilians, frequently encounter discrimination and are underrepresented in national government positions.

Brazil’s federal law now prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Enforcement, however, is weak, and violence against LGBTI+ persons still occurs regularly, particularly against the transgender community. According to the 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, violence against LGBTI individuals remains a serious concern nationwide. There were 141 killings of LGBTI individuals in the first 135 days of 2019. Transgender individuals were particularly at risk; there were 163 killings of transgender persons nationwide in 2018, and police arrested suspects in only 9% of the cases. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

The law also prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment, transportation, education, and access to health care; the federal government generally enforces these standards. It is common for the elderly, pregnant women, and disabled individuals to receive priority treatment at public and private establishments. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Brazil is the second-largest powder cocaine consumer in the world, and the largest crack cocaine consumer. The critical crime rates in Brazil’s major cities are inextricably tied to the country’s drug trade, from common street assaults by addicts, to wars between drug cartels that manifest violently in the prison systems and marginalized communities. All of Brazil’s major cities experience the effects of drug use. In 2019, the national homicide tally in Brazil exceeded 41,000, a dynamic largely attributed to the drug trade.

Kidnapping Threat

While Brazilians are most often the targets of kidnapping, foreigners are also vulnerable. Vary routes and times of travel. Household help should not allow anyone to enter the residence without identification and prearranged appointments. Report suspicious persons or activities in the neighborhood to the police immediately. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Brazilian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporarily importing or exporting items such as firearms, antiquities, mineral samples, tropical plants, wildlife, medications, and business and communication equipment. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The emergency line is 197 for Civil Police, 194 for Federal Police, and 190 for Military Police. Local police in Brasília are generally well equipped and responsive to requests for assistance from U.S. and other foreign visitors. However, disparities do exist across Brazil’s 27 states in terms of response capability and law enforcement resources for public security.

Brasília Emergency Services

Telephone

Rio Branco Battalion/Federal District

(61) 3190-0500/0511 or 99611.5377

Police Precinct/Lago Sul

(61) 3207-6971

Police Precinct/Asa Sul

(61) 3445-2017 or 99609-3325

Police Precinct/Asa Norte

(61) 3342.1922/1006 or 99609.6768

Civil Police

197 or 3207.4021

Fire Department

190 or 193

Ambulance

192

 

Police/Security Agencies

The Military Police of the State of Rio de Janeiro have their own formations, rules, and uniforms, and are responsible for maintaining public order across the state. Polícia Militar is the country’s military police and is not associated with the Brazilian Armed Forces; they are the Brazilian equivalent of U.S. uniformed state police officers. Deployed solely to respond to or act as a deterrent against the commission of crime, these units do not conduct criminal investigations.

The Civil Police (Polícia Civil) acts as the state bureau of investigation. Each state has its own Civil Police Department to undertake detective work, forensics, prosecutions, and internal investigation, while the Military Police performs preventive police duties.

The Federal Police (Polícia Federal or DPF) are responsible for crimes against federal institutions, to include international drug trafficking, terrorism, cyber-crime, organized crime, public corruption, white-collar crime, money laundering, immigration, border control, airport security, and maritime policing. DPF is subordinate to the federal Justice Ministry.

Medical Emergencies

The medical emergency line is 192. For fire emergencies or sea rescue, call 193. Medical care is adequate at private clinics, where you need to pay cash in advance for medical care. Public hospitals provide a lower standard of care and are often overcrowded and understaffed, but they generally do not require pre-payment and are experienced at dealing with medical emergencies, including trauma injuries. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the Consulate’s Medical Assistance page.

Bring prescription medicine sufficient for the length of your stay, be aware that Brazil's humid climate may affect some medicines. Some prescription medicines (mainly generic) are available.

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

Brazil is experiencing an ongoing threat of mosquito borne illnesses, and has indicated that it will continue to work toward mitigating the threat in 2020. For information on mosquito mitigation, review OSAC’s report, What’s Bugging Your Staff: Mosquito-borne Diseases - Mitigation Tactics.

Mosquito-borne viral infection is a significant health risk throughout Brazil. Such infections include chikungunya, dengue fever, yellow fever, malaria, and Zika. While chikungunya and dengue fever have become endemic countrywide, yellow fever and malaria are more prevalent in the non-urban areas. There are no prophylactic therapies for dengue and chikungunya. The most prudent strategy is to prevent mosquito bites through repellants, treated bed nets, window screens and air-conditioning.

All U.S. government personnel obtain yellow fever vaccination prior to travel to Brazil. Travelers should carry a documented yellow fever card.

The CDC has issued a Level 2 travel alert for countries affected by the Zika virus. Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that causes flu-like symptoms (e.g. fever, headache, joint pain, rash) for two to seven days. Because of concerns about an association of Zika virus infection during pregnancy with microcephaly, a congenital brain deformity, pregnant women and those who may become pregnant may want to avoid unnecessary travel to the region or special precautions.

Incidences of water-borne diseases increase during periods of flooding. Only consume bottled or purified water, and take special precautions when eating fruits and vegetables, especially during the rainy seasons.

Leptospirosis, while not common, is a bacterial infection spread via rodent droppings and waste. Given the limitations of the sanitation system in non-urban areas of Brazil, exercise caution including vigilant hand washing after outdoor contact, and vaccinate pets that may contract the disease from food bowls and other exposed surfaces rodents may traverse. Early manifestations of the disease present a flu-like symptoms.

Pay special attention to HIV/AIDS prevention. In addition to elevated infection rates among high-risk populations such as commercial sex workers and mobile populations such as miners or loggers, World Health Organization data shows that Brazil has among the highest prevalence HIV rates in Latin America and the Caribbean. WHO recommends preventive sexual practices to include of use of condoms.

Several U.S. citizens have died while seeking medical care from non-traditional “healers” and practitioners. Ensure you have access to proper medical care if seeking such services.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Brazil.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

Brasília does not have an active OSAC Country Council. However, there are active OSAC Country Councils in several other Brazilian cities. Contact OSAC’s Latin America team for more information or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

Av. Das Nações Sul, Quadra 801, Lote 3.

Hours of Operation 0800 – 1700 Monday to Friday.

Switchboard: +55 (61) 3312-7000.

Emergency calls after normal business hours: +55 (61) 3312-7400.

American Citizen Service Section: +55 (61) 3312-7571.

Other U.S. Diplomatic Posts in Brazil

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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