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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
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Portugal 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Portugal. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Portugal 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 Portugal at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lisbon as being a MEDIUM-threat location and Ponta Delgada as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Portugal has a relatively low crime rate, but non-violent street crime is common. Petty thefts and other crimes of opportunity (e.g. vehicle break-ins, pickpocketing, surreptitious bag snatching) occur frequently, particularly in the major cities. Thieves often loiter in tourist locations, near beaches, and at transportation hubs (e.g. metro, bus, train stations) to take advantage of disoriented/distracted travelers. Pickpockets take advantage of crowds getting on/off all forms of public transportation, using the jostling of the crowd as a distraction. Wallets and cellphones are particularly vulnerable. Crime reporting typically increases during the summer, primarily due to the increase in tourism. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Pickpocketing in the Lisbon area is most likely to occur in buses, hotel lobbies, restaurants, the airport, trains, train stations, and trams. Take special care in the Oriente, Santa Apolonia, Entrecampos, Marques do Pombal, and Rossio metro and train stations; the Sete Rios bus station; the Alfama, Martim Moniz, Baixa, and Bairro Alto districts; and the tourist area of Belém. The 28 Tram is particularly notorious for pickpocketing; pay very close attention to all belongings while waiting for or riding on the 28. Surreptitious purse snatchings occur in restaurants and bars from bags left on the backs of or underneath chairs.

Criminal incidents occur with less frequency in Madeira and significantly less in the Azores than in mainland Portugal. Pickpocketing, while infrequent, may occur in the Old Town and Santa Catarina Park areas of Funchal in Madeira. On São Miguel Island, in the Azores, petty crime is more likely in the areas of Ponta Delgada and Rabo de Peixe. In the Azores, police occasionally receive reports of theft of belongings from vehicles parked at turnouts by walking trails.

Theft of belongings from inside vehicles continue to be a problem as the number of tourists to Portugal continues to increase. Thieves will often pop locks on vehicle doors and trunks, taking all personal belongings found in the vehicle, even if those belongings are out of sight. The tourist area of Sintra reports a particularly high rate of these break-ins; take special care when parking in the areas around the castles and palaces nearby. Thefts are common in the popular tourist destinations of Cascais, Mafra, Obidos, Fatima, Coimbra, Setubal, Porto; in the Algarve; and at the beachfront areas of Peniche, Nazaré, Guincho, Cabo da Roca, and Boca do Inferno.

Sexual assaults against women are rare. However, there have been reports of women having their drinks drugged in bars in the Bairro Alto area. Do not take a drink from someone you do not know, and never leave your drink unattended. Review OSAC’s Report Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

While recently updated laws have increased regulation of private security activities (to include bouncers at bars and nightclubs), exercise caution in dealing with nightclub security. Bouncers are prone to violence, and police often struggle to find evidence or witnesses to any events related to an escalation of force by the security staff.

Organized crime is not a major issue. Criminal organizations are present and predominantly engage in racketeering, extortion, and vice-related criminal activity (e.g. gambling, prostitution, narcotics). Other gang activities generally focus on narcotics, petty crimes, and turf protection.

ATMs are widespread and accept most U.S. cards for fund withdrawals. Avoid using ATMs in isolated or poorly lighted areas, or on open sidewalks; instead, use machines inside bank alcoves, and secure cash and belongings before departing the bank area. Many local establishments will only accept cash payments or credit cards with a chip. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

The increase in tourism has also sparked increased reports of thefts from hotel rooms. Lock all valuables in hotel safes, not just in locked suitcases. Use hotel safety deposit boxes usually kept behind the hotel front desk; hotel room safes offer only marginal levels of protection. Do not get off on your floor or go to your hotel room if you feel someone is following you; go back down to the lobby and report the incident to the front desk. Do not open your hotel door to anyone you do not know; check with the front desk for verification if someone claims to be hotel staff. Know all entry and exit points in case of a fire. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Reports from all over Portugal of robberies in vacation homes and online rental apartments have been increasing in frequency. Lock doors at all times, secure belongings, and lock windows while away or sleeping. When renting vacation lodging, be sure to assess and use available security features. Review OSAC’s Report, Safety and Security in the Share Economy.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime, in the form of online extortion and IT scams, continue to rise. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, and Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Highways are in exceptional condition, and secondary roads are generally of good quality and maintained well. In remote locations and in historic city centers, traffic lanes are very narrow and can be difficult to navigate. Traffic enforcement is limited, but the use of speed cameras is on the rise. Fines for speeding violations registered by radar arrive to the offender via the postal service, often months after the violation has occurred.The police in continental Portugal have the authority to issue on-the-spot fines; most of their vehicles have portable machines to facilitate immediate payment.

Particularly problematic are drivers who fail to merge, yield, and change lanes properly and safely, as well as drivers who disregard traffic control signals. Motorists, especially motorcyclists, often drive excessively fast and violate traffic codes. Motorcyclists/scooters may drive between the lanes and go to the front of traffic at stoplights, all of which can be disconcerting for drivers not used to this practice. Most highways in Portugal require toll payments, which you may pay by cash or credit card. However, some smaller connecting highways may only take electronic payment methods. Please note that all toll booths do not always accept international credit/debit cards.

Exercise particular caution when traversing intersections, as motorists often accelerate in an attempt to beat the traffic lights or become impatient sitting in line and disregard the traffic light altogether. While there is traffic congestion in Lisbon, Porto, and surrounding metropolitan areas, particularly during rush hours, incidents of road rage are rare. In Lisbon and other large cities, be mindful of beggars or street performers at intersections.

Drivers and passengers must wear seatbelts. Drivers must use hands-free headsets for cell phone; if using a headset, one ear must remain uncovered/unobstructed.

Incidents of serious traffic accidents in the Azores and Madeira are rare. However, high-speed driving, bad weather, and unskilled drivers contribute to accidents, including rollovers and those involving multiple vehicles, sometimes resulting in serious injuries or fatalities. In the Azores, driving can be challenging due to narrow cobblestone streets, thick fog, blind curves and corners, and livestock on roads.

For traffic accidents and emergencies, dial 112. Drivers must keep a reflective vest and triangle in their vehicles and deploy it in the case of an emergency. Police can fine those found without this required safety equipment. Portuguese law requires you to leave your vehicle where it is and notify the police immediately in the case of an accident. The drivers of the vehicles involved must exchange details and both/all parties complete the Declaração Amigável (“Friendly Agreement” accident report), which each driver submits to their own insurance company. All drivers must maintain third-party insurance coverage.

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

Be careful on public transportation. Electronics and unattended luggage are particularly vulnerable to theft. When walking into train and metro stations at night, only enter well-illuminated and well-traveled stations.

Taxis and ridesharing companies (e.g. Uber) are a reliable means of transportation. When using taxis, always be alert to possible discrepancies between the meter fare and the amount requested by the driver. Always ask the taxi driver to use the meter. Taxis can charge additional fees related to baggage, not including handbags. Always use a taxi from the queue or kiosk; do not drive with someone who walks up to you and offers you a ride. In the Azores, taxis do not have meters; the fare consists of a base fee plus a posted rate per distance traveled.

Public transportation is inexpensive and reliable. Bus services begin at 0700 and generally operate until 2000, depending on the destination. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government’s Civil Aviation Authority as compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Portugal’s air carrier operations.

High winds can temporarily close airports and seaports in the Azores and Madeira.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lisbon and Ponta Delgada as being LOW-threat locations for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. While Portugal has been free of major terrorist incidents, it maintains open borders with its neighbors, allowing the possibility of terrorist operatives to enter/exit with anonymity. Law enforcement and security officials, in close cooperation with neighboring countries, maintain an effective anti-terrorism effort and a welcoming environment for tourism and business.

Authorities remain alert to recruitment and radicalization of religious converts, and work closely with U.S. and European partners to counter associated risks. The call for self-radicalization, whether disseminated on extremist forums or via the broader approach via social media, continues to be a global concern. It is difficult to determine which message will inspire a violent extremist or sympathizer.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lisbon and Ponta Delgada as being LOW-threat locations for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

All public demonstrations require prior police approval; police are present at protests to ensure adequate security for participants and passers-by. Portugal has experienced a notable period of political and social tranquility; however, economic and labor related protests and demonstrations are not uncommon and are generally peaceful. Even peaceful demonstrations can become violent and unpredictable; avoid them if possible. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Sometimes fights occur leading up to and just following soccer matches. Be cognizant of local culture and team colors when traveling near or attending a game.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Portugal is a multi-ethnic/religious country, and a harmonious relationship generally exists among all groups. Occasionally, inter-ethnic disputes may arise in depressed neighborhoods owing more to socio–economic pressures rather than an ethnic conflict or clash of political/religious ideologies.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Mainland Portugal, the Azores, and Madeira are all in earthquake risk zones. Portugal regularly experiences earthquakes and tremors up to 5.0 in magnitude, primarily off the Atlantic coast. The implementation of improved modern construction techniques in accordance with contemporary EU seismic protocols for large, multi-storied structures are noteworthy; however, many smaller buildings and dated residential dwellings do not incorporate such features, and are susceptible to collapse in an earthquake. Consult with the U.S Geological Survey (USGS) website for information on earthquakes, including preparedness.

Mainland Portugal and the outlying islands of the Azores and Madeira are prone to occasional storms. Storms in the islands have created flash floods that can cause deaths, significant damage, and considerable erosion. For updated local weather, consult the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA).

Rip tides are a serious hazard on many waterfronts in mainland Portugal and the Azores. Take local advice and learn the system of colored safety flags on supervised beaches: green means safe to swim; yellow means swim with caution; red means swimming forbidden. A blue-and-white checkered flag means the beach is temporarily without a lifeguard. In the Azores, lifeguards only staff public beaches during the tourist season. Rogue waves can appear from nowhere, and can sweep people out to sea or into sharp rocks, even right from the water’s edge. Be cautious when turning your back to the sea.

Fires in Portugal, both on the mainland and on the islands, especially in the summer, can be devastating and occur with little warning. Stay on top of local media weather reporting or refer to the National Authority for Civil Protection (ANPC).

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

Two main bridges connect Lisbon to the southern part of Portugal that, if targeted (e.g. by protest activity), could cause major disruptions to movement in/out of the city. This past year, two significant strikes by gasoline truck drivers impacted fuel supplies throughout Portugal, resulting in fuel shortages at gas stations and airports. The shortages only lasted a few days; however, it is important to monitor local media to keep track of current events that could impact your travel.

Privacy Concerns

Portugal has strict privacy laws that govern the release of personal information. It is against Portuguese law to record police or military personnel, unless part of a special ceremony or at a tourist location. It is also against the law to take photos or record images of the general public without their permission. Always ask prior to taking a photo or video. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Personal Identity Concerns

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBT events in Portugal. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different than in the United States. General information is available on the website of the Portugal Tourism Board. Public transportation vehicles, in general, have specially reserved seats for individuals with disabilities, but some vehicles may not be equipped to load and secure wheelchairs mechanically. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

The State Railway Operator, Comboios de Portugal (CP) has an “integrated mobility service” (SIM) aimed at helping passengers with reduced mobility: Tel +351 707 210 220. SIM staff ensure train and station accessibility; assistance during boarding/exiting or during the train ride; and with trip planning. Some train stations have elevators. While SIM service is free of charge, you must request information or assistance at least 48 hours before travel. Additionally, CP offers discounts to Portugal residents of up to 75% upon presentation of the cartão do deficiente (disabled person’s card). The card is available from CP ticket offices and is valid for two years. To qualify, applicants must have a Portuguese taxpayer ID number and provide certified proof of both disability and annual income. For additional information, visit CP’s website.

At least 36 of Lisbon Metro’s 56 stations offer full accessibility to people with disabilities. There are no reduced fares for passengers with disabilities. There are, however, elevators and moving walkways at main stations that provide access from the platform to street level, as well as payment machines adapted for passengers with disabilities and/or visual impairment. Passengers with visual disabilities can travel with their guide dogs if their service animals are leashed and muzzled. Check Lisbon Metro’s website for more information. Porto’s metro system affords accessibility for passengers with disabilities system-wide with a network of elevators, ramps, and spaces for wheelchairs onboard metro cars.

Drug-related Crimes

Although neither a center of drug production nor a significant source of drugs destined for the U.S., Portugal is a gateway for drugs entering Europe, particularly from South America and western Africa. In addition to direct shipments from South America, traffickers use former colonies (e.g. Guinea Bissau, Cabo Verde) as transshipment, refueling, and storage points for cocaine-laden vessels from South America en route to Europe through the Iberian Peninsula. While cocaine is the most significant drug threat, ecstasy, hashish, and heroin are also readily available.

Dealers often sell drugs or mixtures appearing to be drugs at night in the downtown area, especially near the bars and restaurants. Drug dealers sometime approach travelers. Do not be surprised if dealers offer you drugs on the street. Drug trafficking of any amount is illegal.

Since 2001 “personal use” quantities of drugs have been decriminalized, but drug possession is still prohibited. Law enforcement officers refer individuals found to have “personal use” amounts to the Drug Addiction Dissuasion Commission, consisting of multi-disciplinary teams charged with assessing users and deciding the appropriate sanction as well as referral to educational or treatment programs.

Police Response

The emergency line in Portugal is 112, and English-speaking operators are available on request. Portuguese law enforcement authorities are professional. Portugal places a premium on privacy rights and individual freedoms. Reports of unlawful detention, intimidation, harassment, and graft are rare.

Portuguese law requires that everyone carry official identification at all times; police officials may request to see your identification at any time. U.S. nationals who are not residents will need to present a U.S. passport.

Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

For social welfare emergencies (domestic violence, child abuse), dial 144. English-speaking operators are available. Portugal has a crime victim’s assistance program, administered through an organization known by its acronym, APAV. Victim assistance information and resources are available on the U.S. Embassy website.

Law enforcement is the main responsibility of five bodies:

Polícia de Segurança Pública (PSP) - Public Security Police. PSP is a civilian police force that works in larger urban areas and has tourist units to provide additional assistance. PSP safeguards internal security and the rights of citizens. PSP is the leading agency responsible for maintaining public order, countering violent acts, and performing tactical intervention.

Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR) - National Republican Guard. The GNR is a military police office with civilian policing responsibilities (gendarmerie) that works predominantly in rural areas too small to warrant the PSP. GNR provides a national highway patrol.

Polícia Judiciária (PJ) - Judicial Police. Overseen by the Public Ministry, the PJ mandate focuses on prevention, detection, and investigation of violent, organized, and financial crime.

Policia Maritima (PM) - Maritime Police. PM focuses on law enforcement operations on the waterways, but also has jurisdiction along the waterfront and the assorted bars and restaurants located near the river.

Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) - Immigration and Borders Service. SEF’s fundamental objectives within the internal security policy include border control of persons, permanence and the activities of foreigners in Portugal, and the study, promotion, coordination and execution of measures and actions related to these activities and migratory flows

Medical Emergencies

Quality medical facilities are widely available. Hospitals may not have staff members fluent in English. Calls to 112 emergency centers are free from any phone. The operator will put you in contact with the emergency service that you require.

Sea Rescue: 214-401-919

Maritime Police (plus pick-up boat service): 210-911-100

Maritime Police (24-hour emergency): 210-911-155/49

Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy/Consulate website.

Ask your insurance company prior to departure if your covers emergencies like a trip to a foreign hospital or an evacuation. In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Lisbon is active, meeting biannually. Contact OSAC’s Europe team for more information or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

Av. das Forças Armadas, 1600-081 Lisbon

Business hours: 0800 – 1700, Monday – Friday (except for U.S. and Portuguese Holidays)

Telephone: +351 (21) 770-2122

Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +351 (21)-770-2122 or +351 (21) 727-3300

Website: https://pt.usembassy.gov/

Other U.S. Diplomatic Posts In Portugal

U.S. Consulate Ponta Delgada (São Miguel Island, Azores), Príncipe de Mónaco, 6-2 F, 9500-237 Ponta Delgada. +351 296 308 330.

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

·         OSAC Risk Matrix

·         OSAC Travelers Toolkit

·         State Department Traveler’s Checklist

·         Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

 

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