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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Portugal 2019 Crime & Safety Report

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.


Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Lisbon does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Portugal-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 moderate risk from crime in Lisbon, and minimal risk in Ponta Delgada. Portugal has a relatively low rate crime, 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 of 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.

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 have received a few reports of theft of belongings from vehicles parked at turn-outs by walking trails.

Theft of belongings from inside vehicles has risen significantly as the number of tourists to Portugal has increased. Thieves will 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 there. 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. For more information, 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. Eastern European criminal organizations are present, and predominantly engage in racketeering, extortion, and vice-related criminal activity (e.g. gambling, prostitution, narcotics). Other gang activities are generally limited to immigrant ethnic groups and focused 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. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

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.

There have been increasing reports from all over mainland Portugal of robberies in vacation homes and online rental apartments. Lock doors at all times, secure belongings, and close windows while away or sleeping. When renting vacation lodging, be sure to assess and use available security features. For more information on home sharing, review OSAC’s Report, Safety and Security in the Share Economy.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime, in the form of online extortion and IT scams, is on the rise.

Transportation-Safety Situation

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

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. The police in continental Portugal have the authority to issue on-the-spot fines, and most of their vehicles have portable machines to facilitate immediate payment.

Particularly problematic are drivers who fail to properly merge, yield, and safely change lanes, as well as drivers disregarding 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. All highways have tolls. Most allow cash payment, but some smaller connecting highways only take electronic methods.

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.

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, blind curves and corners, and livestock on country roads. Fines for speeding violations registered by radar arrive to the offender via the postal service.

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

Always drive with your windows up and doors locked, especially when stopped at intersections. In Lisbon and other large cities, be mindful of beggars or street performers at intersections.

For traffic accidents and emergencies, dial 112. Portuguese law requires you to leave your vehicle where it is and immediately notify the police. 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.

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

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 are a reliable means of transportation, though you should 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 buses are inexpensive. Bus services begin at 7 a.m. and generally operate until 8 p.m., depending on the destination. Bus and train/metro systems are reliable.

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. Find further information on the FAA’s safety assessment page.

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

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Lisbon and Ponta Delgada. 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

Civil Unrest

There is minimal risk from crime in Lisbon and Ponta Delgada. 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, recent economic uncertainties have resulted in civil discontent manifesting in generally peaceful protests, on average about five or six protests a month, according to government statistics. Even peaceful demonstrations can become violent and unpredictable; you should avoid them if possible.

Sometimes fights occur leading up to and just following soccer matches. Be cognizant of local culture and team colors when traveling in the area of 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 tremors up to 5.0 in magnitude. A 5.2-magnitude earthquake hit 150 miles off Portugal’s Atlantic coast in September 2018. 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. 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

Two main bridges connect Lisbon to the southern part of Portugal that, if targeted (i.e. protest activity), could cause major disruptions to movement in/out of the city.

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. It is always best to ask prior to taking a photo or video. 

Personal Identity Concerns

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBT events in Portugal. For more detailed information about LGBT rights in Portugal, review the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016.

Individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different than in the U.S. 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.

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 provide for train and station accessibility; assistance during boarding/exiting or during the train ride; and with trip planning. Some train stations are equipped with 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 residents of Portugal 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 as long as 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, Cape 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.

Drugs or mixtures appearing to be drugs are often sold at night, in the downtown area, especially near the bars and restaurants; drug dealers sometimes 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

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. citizens who are not residents will need to present a U.S. passport. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own, and criminal penalties will vary. If you break local laws, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements, and customary international law, you have the right to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy/Consulate of your arrest and to have communications from you forwarded to the Embassy/Consulate. To ensure that the U.S. government is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the U.S. Embassy or Consulate upon arrest or detention. Seek legal counsel for appropriate assistance for improprieties, and report incidents to the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate.

Crime Victim Assistance

If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime, contact the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate. The emergency number is 112, and English-speaking operators are available on request.

Victim assistance information and resources are available on the U.S. Embassy website.

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.

APAV – (Lisbon)

Rua José Estêvão, 135 A, Pisos ½

1150-201 Lisboa Portugal

tel. 21 358 79 00

fax. 21 887 63 51

email: apav.sede@apav.pt

Serviços de Sede (Porto)

Rua Aurélio Paz dos Reis 351

4250-068 Porto

tel. 22 834 68 40

fax. 22 834 68 41

Office hours in Lisbon are weekdays, 1000 to 1300, and 1400 to 1730

tel: 351 21 358 79 00

In Estoril, near Cascais, the office hours are weekdays, 1000 to 1300, and 1400 to 1900 and on Saturday from 1000 to 1300

tel: 21 466 42 71. English speakers are available to help you.

There is also an SOS immigrant line with English speaking operators ready to help you in case of emergency. You may contact them at 351 808 257 257 between 0830 and 2030.

Police/Security Agencies

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 work predominantly in rural areas too small to warrant the PSP; they provide a national highway patrol.
  • Polícia Judiciária (PJ) - Judicial Police. Overseen by the Public Ministry, the PJ’s 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.

Medical emergency (ambulances): 112

National Police/Security Police/Fire Service: 112

Sea Rescue: 214-401-919

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

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

Pan-European emergency number: 112

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

National Authority for Civil Protection (ANPC)

Portugal under the Ministry of Interior

Av. do Forte de Carnaxide 2794-120, Carnaxide

Telephone: 21-416-5100

Insurance Guidance

Ask your insurance company prior to departure if your policy applies when outside of the U.S., and if that insurance 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. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy does not go with you when you travel, you should take out another one for your trip. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs do not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the U.S. The names of some of the companies offering short-term health and emergency assistance policies are listed under insurance information on the Department of State website.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Lisbon Av. das Forças Armadas 1600-081 Lisbon

Hours of operation: Monday-Friday, 0800 to 1700 (except for U.S. and Portuguese Holidays).

Embassy Contact Numbers

Tel: + (351) (21) 770-2122

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

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

Consular coverage for multi-post countries

The Embassy’s area of responsibility includes mainland Portugal, the Azores Islands, and the Madeira archipelago.

Nearby Posts

U.S. Consulate Ponta Delgada (São Miguel Island, Azores): https://pt.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulate/ponta-delgada/

Note that the Azores time zone is one hour ahead of continental Portugal.

Embassy/Consulate Guidance

All travelers should enroll in the STEP. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Additional Resources

Portugal Country Information Sheet

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