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

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Uruguay 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Uruguay. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Uruguay 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 Uruguay at Level 2, indicating travelers shouldexercise increased caution due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Montevideo as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Crime Threats

Crime remains the primary security concern in Uruguay. Since 2016, Uruguay has experienced a dramatic increase in crime to include armed robberies, carjackings, homicides, vehicle break-ins, theft, residential break-ins, and assaults. Criminals are well-armed, brazen, and do not hesitate to resort to violence if victims resist or if the police attempt to intervene. According to the Interior Ministry, within the past five years the homicide rate has increased by 46% and armed robberies by 53%. The Ministry’s official crime statistics for 2019 show a rise in armed robberies and a slight drop in homicides and theft after a significant spike in 2018. While the rate of homicides fell slightly to 11.1 per 100,000 people, it remains among the highest in South America’s southern cone. The government asserted that half of all murders were due to increasing conflicts among criminal gangs and drug traffickers. Most criminal incidents occurred in Montevideo, followed by the Departments of Canelones and Maldonado.

Since the beginning of 2019, there has also been a wave of violent attacks on police officers and private guards, many with the intention of stealing their service weapons and bulletproof vests. There were at least 80 reported crimes against police officers between January 1 and February 5, 2020, according to a Ministry of Interior report, ranging from assault to homicide. Review OSAC’s report, Law Enforcement Targeted in Uruguay Crime Trend.

During the summer tourism season, crime will typically migrate with the population to other popular vacation destinations (e.g. Punta del Este, Colonia del Sacramento). Criminals prey on targets of opportunity: tourists openly carrying valuables, motorists stopped at traffic lights with valuables visible within the vehicle, vacant homes, and unattended parked vehicles. Criminals operate in all parts of Montevideo, including popular tourist areas such as Ciudad Vieja, Avenida 18 de Julio, Plaza Independencia, and Mercado del Puerto, as well as other high-traffic areas within the country. Police increase patrols during periods of high tourist activity in these areas, especially during the visits of cruise liners in the summer.

Travel in pairs or in small groups, especially in tourist areas such as Ciudad Vieja, Mercado del Puerto, and Plaza Independencia. Though Uruguayans are very friendly, visitors should be alert for people who might be intent on creating distractions for pickpockets.

Criminals commonly use a motorcycle when committing a robbery in Montevideo. “Motochorro” is the term used to describe a criminal who uses a motorcycle to commit a robbery, combining the local Spanish words for “motorcycle” and “thief.” Motochorros generally work in pairs. The driver will approach a victim while the companion steals wallets, purses, phones, or other items and rapidly escapes. During recent incidents, motochorros targeted victims at stoplights, parking lots, and ATMs, and outside of hotels while waiting for transportation. Motochorros have also targeted vehicles traveling to Punta del Este by puncturing a victim’s vehicle tire and waiting for them to pull over to change the tire to rob them.

Towards the end of 2017, Uruguay also began experiencing a significant increase in gas-induced ATM explosions affecting international and Uruguayan banks. In response to this criminal trend, some banks in Uruguay have implemented countermeasures such as removing funds from their ATMs between 1900 and 0700, as well as establishing agreements to collocate ATMs with local police stations. Exercise increased caution when using ATMs, especially during non-daylight hours. Review OSAC’s report, ATM Robbery Trend: Gas-Induced Explosions in Uruguay.

Residential burglaries remain a problem in Uruguay. Single-family residences are more vulnerable to burglary than apartments. The neighborhoods of Carrasco, Punta Carretas, and Pocitos have recently been targets of residential burglaries due to the affluence of residents. Most incidents occur while the occupants are away, both day and night, though burglaries of occupied residences are not uncommon.

Other Areas of Concern

While there are no "off limits" areas in Uruguay, there are neighborhoods within the Montevideo metropolitan area where most violent crimes (e.g. homicides, carjackings, armed robberies) occur. According to the Interior Ministry, neighborhoods in Montevideo that suffered the highest crime rates in 2019 include Casavalle, Nuevo Paris, Cerro, Villa Garcia Manga Rurual, La Paloma Tomkinson, Union, Colon Centro, Penarol Lavalleja, Paso de la Arena, Belvedere and Bella Italia.

Cybersecurity Issues

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

Uruguay continues to experience a high rate of transit-related fatalities, which are among the most common causes of death in the country. According to the World Health Organization, Uruguay’s rate of traffic deaths is 16.6 per 100,000 people, nearly 50% higher than that of the United States. According to the Uruguayan National Road Safety Unit, motorcyclists and bicyclists account for 70% of transit-related fatalities.

Poor lighting, inadequate pavement markings, and substandard road surfaces are contributing factors to traffic accidents throughout the country. Several of the main highways are particularly accident-ridden because of heavy tourist traffic speed-related accidents including: Route 1 (between Montevideo and Colonia), the Ruta Interbalnearia (between Montevideo and Punta del Este), Route 9 to the east (that leads to Punta del Diablo, La Paloma, La Pedrera, and Cabo Polonia), and Route 2 (between Rosario and Fray Bentos). The frequency of road accidents rises during the summer beach season (December to March), Carnaval (mid-to-late February), and Easter week due to an increased volume of tourists and holiday-related alcohol consumption.

Exercise extra caution when traveling outside of Montevideo. There is a reduced level of police patrols and first-responder availability in rural areas.

You may drive using your foreign driver’s license in Uruguay. If you plan to obtain a Uruguayan driver’s license, you must apostille your U.S. driver’s license in the state that issued your driver’s license, as the U.S. Embassy cannot provide consular certificates attesting to the validity of a U.S.-issued driver’s license.

Use caution and drive defensively. Driving in Uruguay is on the right side of the road, as in the United States. Seat belts are mandatory. Always use headlights. Children under 12 years must ride in the back seat. Motorcyclists must wear helmets and reflective vests. The use of cellular phones, as well as texting, while driving is illegal. Drinking maté (a popular, caffeine-rich infused hot beverage) while driving is also illegal. Right turns at red lights are illegal. Drivers approaching an intersection from the right generally have the right of way, but drivers do not always respect this right. Drivers already in traffic circles generally have the right of way. Flashing high beams indicates intent to pass or to continue through unmarked intersections. Drivers often ignore lane markers, change lanes and make turns without signaling, ignore speed limits and disregard traffic signs. Motorists may make frequent and sudden stops on any road, especially when driving along Montevideo’s riverfront (Rambla). Motorcyclists often drive the wrong way down one-way streets, use sidewalks to avoid lengthier routes, or drive between vehicles when traffic stops.

Those in an accident involving injury should stay in place until a police officer arrives. The insurance company will generally respond to the scene as well. Some major roads are centrally monitored via live camera feeds and emergency response may arrive quickly. Contact 911 immediately to report an emergency, and notify your rental company if in a rental car. For emergency roadside assistance, call the Automobile Club of Uruguay at 1707 or "Car Up" at 2628-1555. Even non-members can use this fee-based service.

Uruguayan law requires your vehicle to contain a specific road safety kit (e.g. hazard cones, flares, reflective vest, fire extinguisher), which you can find at most grocery stores or gas stations. Rental vehicles should have these basic kits.

Cycling outside the capital or small towns is hazardous due to a scarcity of bike paths, narrow road shoulders, and unsafe driving practices.

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

Taxis, ride share car services, and remise (private car) services are safe to use. Use clearly marked taxi stands, phone-taxi service at 141, and online apps such as VoyenTaxi and Uber over hailing a cab on the street. These options are usually reliable during mass shutdowns of public transportation. Most taxis do not have functioning seat belts in the back seat. There have been no issues reported with the use of Uber.

Public buses are safe to use but can be crowded, and pickpockets and bag snatchers sometimes target patrons. The public bus system utilizes pre-determined routes and is generally dependable. Regular labor strikes can halt public transportation with minimal advance notice. Review OSAC’s report, Safety and Security in the Share Economy.

Aviation Security

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Uruguay, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Uruguay’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Montevideo as being a LOW-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Montevideo as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Demonstrations, some expressing anti-U.S. sentiment, occasionally occur in Uruguay, particularly near the U.S. Embassy, Legislative Palace, Independence Plaza, City Hall, Batlle Park, Liberty Plaza, and the universities in Montevideo. While most demonstrations are peaceful and non-violent, travelers should avoid large gatherings or events where crowds have congregated to demonstrate, protest, or cause damage as a byproduct of celebrating an event, such as after soccer matches. Although public law requires a permit to demonstrate, local police typically do not enforce this rule. 

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

While there is anti-U.S. sentiment in some circles, this sentiment rarely, if ever, takes violent form. Occasional political protests target the U.S. government, but political violence against the Embassy or other U.S. interests has been non-existent in recent years.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Uruguay experiences seasonally high winds (the pampero is a chilly and occasional violent wind that blows north from the Argentine pampas), droughts, and floods. Because of the absence of mountains, all locations are particularly vulnerable to rapid changes from weather fronts.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

Uruguay’s telephone system is fully digitalized. The country has one of the highest broadband penetrations in Latin America, with high fixed-line and mobile penetrations.

Visitors to Montevideo should stay at reputable hotels in the Punta Carretas, Pocitos, or Carrasco areas of Montevideo. Outside of Montevideo, use reputable hotels. The hotel should provide private security and rooms with safes, and adequate locks on all doors and windows. Although the quality of hotel safes varies, always secure extra cash, credit cards, and passports in the safe. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Personal Identity Concerns

Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

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

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Uruguayan law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but the government does not effectively enforce these provisions. Transportation services generally are not equipped for access by persons with disabilities. Sidewalks and crosswalks are often in need of maintenance and/or accessibility ramps and can present challenges to persons with disabilities. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crime

Recent changes in legislation allow Uruguayan citizens and permanent residents of Uruguay to purchase limited amounts of marijuana at government-approved pharmacies, join a registered marijuana club, or grow a limited amount of marijuana for personal use. It remains illegal for tourists and other foreign visitors in Uruguay to purchase and consume marijuana. Anyone who purchases or consumes marijuana, and who does not fit into a legal category of use, may face arrest and prosecution under Uruguayan law.

Uruguay is a small-scale transit country for drugs mainly bound for Europe, often through sea-borne containers. Smuggling of firearms and narcotics continues to be an issue along the Uruguay-Brazil border due to weak border control. There is increasing consumption of cocaine base and synthetic drugs in the country.

Other Issues

Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation or exportation of certain items. These include precious jewels, gold, firearms, pornography, inflammable articles, acids, prohibited drugs, plants, seeds, and foodstuffs as well as antiquities and business equipment. Uruguayan Customs also prohibits the importation of subversive materials aimed at overthrowing the government or promoting anarchy, genocide, or other globally condemned practices. 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 in Uruguay is 911. The Uruguayan National Police has a well-trained and capable response force. It has significantly increased the use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras throughout the country to monitor for potential criminal activity. Under the former administration the National Police’s general approach to policing was largely reactive rather than taking proactive steps to deter street crime and burglaries. Since Uruguay’s Presidential inauguration in March 2020, the new administration has taken measures to launch security operations increasing street patrols.

Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Medical Emergencies

The emergency ambulance services lines in Uruguay are 133 (SUAT), 147 (UCM), and 159 or +598-2-711-1111 (SEMM). Medical care facilities in Uruguay are adequate, and most are comparable to U.S. standards. The responsiveness of emergency, personal ambulance service is generally within U.S. standards, but there may be service delays if questions about health insurance coverage arise. Ambulances contain a medical doctor, enabling advanced treatment/care en route to the local hospital. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy Medical Assistance page.

Travelers on cruise ships with stops in Uruguay should verify their overseas health insurance coverage. Most health care providers in Uruguay accept cash and credit card payments. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

Carry prescription medication in original packaging with your doctor’s prescription. There is no restriction on types of medication you can import for personal use. Some medications may not be available in Uruguay, so bring a sufficient supply for your stay. Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.

While rare, the Uruguayan summer can bring about an increase in diarrheal illness and mosquito-borne diseases, so use insect repellent. There are no special vaccination requirements for Uruguay. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Uruguay.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, 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

The OSAC Uruguay Country Council initiated in 2019. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Latin America Team with any questions or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

1776 Lauro Müller, Montevideo 11200

Hours: 0800 – 1730

Switchboard: +598-2-1770-2000

Website: http://uy.usembassy.gov

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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