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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
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Brazil 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Brasília

 

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 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 use public buses in and around Recife due to crime;
  • Informal housing developments (commonly referred to in Brazil as favelas, vilas, communidades, and/or conglomerados), at any time of day due to crime;
  • Brasilia's administrative regions (commonly known as "satellite cities") of Ceilandia, Santa Maria, São Sebastiao, and Paranoa during non-daylight hours due to crime; and
  • Recife's Pina Beach from Dona Benvinda de Farias Street to the Brasilia Teimosa neighborhood after dark due to crime.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Brazil does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services Unit cannot recommend a particular individual service provider or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.  All statistics provided are derived from local law enforcement or government authorities.

Review OSAC’s country-specific 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.

Crime Threats

There is serious risk from crime in Brasília, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. 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 perceived wealth.

The Federal District has experienced an aggregate decline of about 25% in total crime, according to statistics for 2018. All categories of crime saw a significant reduction during this period, with the exception of a limited spike in mass transportation crimes. In Brasília there were several incidents of armed home invasions in the affluent area of “Lago Sul.” although these incidents declined by more than 60% in comparison to 2017. 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. Properly using alarm systems in order to give first responders early warning, and properly checking surroundings when entering/exiting homes, have proven most effective.

The Regional Security Office recommends that residences contain 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 crimes.

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.

Public transportation hubs, hotel sectors, and tourist areas are the locations with the highest crime rates, ranging from petty theft to armed robbery. In particular, 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. In 2018, over 1,400 general crimes occurred at bus stations or on buses, including pickpocketing, cell phone theft, and assault. 

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

Foreign visitors may be more susceptible to targeting for certain crimes because visitors 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. For more information, review OSAC’s Report Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

Visitors to Brazil should practice commonsense preventive security techniques, just as they 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 the ransom is paid.

  • An unknown caller states an employee or family member has been in an accident and needs immediate medical attention. You must provide payment in order 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. However, travelers in Brazil should monitor their credit card usage during and after their 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. Finally, always use an ATM in well-lighted, public areas, and never let someone “assist” you with your transaction. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Cybersecurity Issues

Brazil continues to rank as one of the most pervasive cybercrime environments in the world. Rampant cybercrime costs Brazil more than USD $12 billion annually. 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. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Cybersecurity Basics.

Post-Specific Concerns

The areas in and around the hotel sector can be dangerous, especially at night.  Remain alert to surroundings, especially at large markets. The informal housing areas around Brasília are unsafe at night; avoid them during those hours.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

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 at all times. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Public Transportation Conditions

Consider avoiding public buses while traveling in and around Brazil due to mechanical issues as well as high crime rates. Crime statistics indicate that passengers face an elevated risk of robbery or assault using public, municipal bus transportation throughout Brazil. In 2018, reports of petty theft on public transportation rose 45%. In Brasília, one of the areas that sees the most crime is the Estação Rodoviária (central bus station). For more information on ride sharing, review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report Safety and Security in the Share Economy.

Only use legitimate, well-marked taxis, which are white or silver with green and yellow stripes.

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.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Brasília, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. There are no known indigenous terrorist groups operating in Brazil. However, during the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, Brazilian authorities disrupted a terrorist cell whose members may have self-radicalized and pledged allegiance to ISIS. While Brazilian authorities considered the cell “amateur,” this incident belies mounting concern of possible ISIS-influenced terrorist events. This incident represented one of the first prosecutions under Brazil’s recent 2016 counter-terrorism law.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest 

There is moderate risk from civil unrest in Brasília, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. 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 May 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 the vast majority of 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, the vast majority of 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. 

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. 

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

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. The Brazilian army is responsible for defending critical cyber infrastructure, and 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, local analysts assess critical infrastructure in Brazil as vulnerable to cyber threats.

Economic Espionage/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. Brazil remained on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 “Watch List” in 2018 due to counterfeiting and piracy concerns. The country made significant progress in enforcement initiatives, resulting in seizures of over $150 million worth of counterfeit goods during the same period. Many Brazilian cities have markets selling counterfeit material. In 2018, authorities seized 800 tons of goods from the Shopping 25 de Marco market in São Paulo, and the city placed the market on probation. Authorities have created an on-site compliance office, although rights-holders remain skeptical of their commitment to rooting out counterfeiters. 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 market places. 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

Brazil’s federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, but several states and municipalities have administrative regulations that prohibit such discrimination and provide for equal access to government services.

The law 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

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 is 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 2017, the national homicide tally in Brazil exceeded 64,000, a dynamic largely attributed to the drug trade.

Kidnapping Threat

While Brazilians are most often the targets of kidnapping, foreigners are also vulnerable. In Brasília, robbery, assault, burglary and theft are more common crime concerns. 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 should be to the police immediately.

Police Response

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 general public security. 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Inform the Embassy or nearest consulate in the event you encounter problems with police, including arrest or detainment.

Crime Victim Assistance

 

Brasília Emergency Services

Telephone

Rio Branco Battalion/Federal District

(61) 3190-0500/0511 or 99611.5377

Police Precinct/Lago Sul

(61) (0900-1900) 3207-6971

Police Precinct/Asa Sul

(61) 3445-2017 or 99609-3325

Police Precinct/Asa Norte

(61) 3342.1922/1006 or 99609.6768 (24HR)

Civil Police

197 or 3207.4021

Fire Department

190 or 193

Ambulance

192

Police/Security Agencies

Military Police units, which have their own formations, rules, and uniforms depending on the state, are responsible for maintaining public order in each of Brazil’s 27 states, and are subordinate to state governor authorities through a State Secretariat for Public Security. Military Police units have no investigative authority, and deploy solely to patrol, act as a deterrent against the commission of crimes, and respond to crimes in actual progress.

Detective work, forensics and prosecutions are undertaken by a state's Civil Police. Each of Brazil’s 27 states has its own Civil Police Department, which carries out investigative work, forensics, and criminal investigations to supplement the police duties of the Military Police.

The Federal Police are responsible for crimes against federal institutions, interstate crimes, international drug trafficking, transnational crimes, terrorism, cyber-crime, organized crime, public corruption, white-collar crime, money laundering, immigration, border control, airport security, and maritime policing. The Federal Police are subordinate to the federal Ministry of Justice and Public Security.

Medical Emergencies

Contact Information for Available Medical Services:

  • Hospital Santa Lucia, W3 Sul 716, Conjunto C in the Asa Sul Section. (61) 3445-0000
  • Hospital Brasília, SHIS QI 15, TR. 5, Lote G in Lago Sul. (61) 3704-9000
  • Hospital de Base (Trauma Care), SMHS 101, Bloco A, in the Asa Sul Section. (61) 3315-1200
  • Hospital Santa Helena, Shln Quadra 516 Conjunto D - Asa Norte, (61) 3215-0000
  • For private, ground-ambulance service, call Vida Ambulance, (61) 3248-3030.

 

Available Air Ambulance Services

For air medical evacuation services, consider purchasing private air medical evacuation (medevac) insurance before travel. The Embassy can assist visitors with further information about obtaining services available. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, Medical Evacuation: A Primer.

Insurance Guidance

The Embassy strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

OSAC Country Council Information

Brasília does not have an active OSAC Country Council. However, there are active OSAC Country Councils in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. To reach OSAC’s Latin America team, please email OSACWHA@state.gov.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

Av. Das Nações Sul, Quadra 801, Lote 3. Hours of Operation 0800 – 1700 Monday to Friday.

Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers

  • The telephone number +55 (61) 3312-7000.
  • Emergency calls after normal business hours: Post One +55 (61) 3312-7400.
  • The American Citizen Service Section, +55 (61) 3312-7571.
  • The Embassy’s fax number is +55 (61) 3322-4224.


Nearby Posts

 

 

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Brazil should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

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