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Brazil 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report: Sao Paulo

Western Hemisphere > Brazil > Brasilia; Western Hemisphere > Brazil > Sao Paulo

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Department of State rates the criminal threat for Sao Paulo as “critical.” Although statistics show that crime is decreasing in some areas, crime levels in the State of Sao Paulo remain high. Much of Sao Paulo’s crimes and violence can be attributed to mobile street gangs and organized crime groups operating throughout the state. Sao Paulo continues to experience violent crimes such as murder, rape, kidnappings, armed assaults, and burglaries. Every Sao Paulo neighborhood is susceptible to crime. Reports of armed robberies continue to occur regularly in the affluent residential sections of Jardins, Morumbi, Itaim Bibi, and Santo Amaro, where a number of government and business leaders and a majority of the U.S. Consulate employees reside.

Crime Threats
The crimes of most concern to Americans in Brazil include "express" kidnappings, virtual kidnapping, home/restaurant invasions, and carjacking. Express kidnappings occur when criminals force their kidnapped victims to extract their daily cash limit from an ATM machine or hold them hostage while they use their credit cards until they are de-activated. Virtual kidnappings are a telephone scam designed to coax potential victims to pay a ransom even though no one close to them has been kidnapped. Home invasions involve large groups of heavily-armed criminals who take over houses or apartment complexes and rob the owners or occupants. Home/complex invasions usually are well-planned and involve the assistance of a person on the inside or a scam (such as impersonating police, mail carriers, or potential homeowners) to gain access. Most criminals use weapons to carry out these crimes. Another recent crime trend has been the restaurant invasions around the neighborhoods of Moema, Jardins, and Campo Belo. A specific gang is tied to this type of crime, and they target all sorts of restaurants in the area. Statistics show that the gang has a propensity to go after less affluent restaurants with no security personnel and between the hours of 2100 to 2400 during the weekdays. The gang operates in groups of three to four armed personnel who strike quickly and decisively. The invasions do not last more than five minutes, and usually no patron is harmed during the act. Common practice in Sao Paulo is to not resist an attempted robbery. Victims of robberies who resist a criminal’s demands have often been harmed for their non-compliance. Many incidents of robbery and express kidnappings occur outside of banks and ATM machines. The wealthy or those who are perceived as financially affluent remain the most attractive targets for professional criminals.

Road Safety

Crime on the road remains a problem for both visitors and local residents alike, especially during evening travel and in traffic jams. Travelers are advised to use caution during evening travel to evade roadside robberies that target passing and stopped vehicles. It is important that drivers pay attention to their surroundings and keep doors locked and windows rolled up when stopped in traffic. 

Political Violence 

Historical Perspective

The threat of political violence remains a possibility, as Sao Paulo periodically hosts public demonstrations. While the vast majority of these protests are peaceful, violence can flare up, resulting in disturbances, property damage, and increased police activity. All visitors are urged to exercise caution when approaching crowds and avoid areas where protests are being held.

Regional Terrorism and Organized Crime

There are no known indigenous terrorist groups other than organized crime elements listed below operating in Brazil. Brazil is a non-aligned country with no significant enemies and is not targeted by any known radical groups.

In 2006, Sao Paulo prison gangs revolted against state security forces, and the conflict spilled out into the streets. The violence was mainly the work of one organization, the First Capitol Command (PCC), a violent prison gang that reputedly controls the majority of illegal contraband and drugs coming in and out of prisons in Sao Paulo. The civil unrest resulted in the deaths of over 40 police officers and hundreds of criminals. Although civilians were not specifically targeted, police stations and municipal buildings were attacked while public buses, gas stations, and ATMs were randomly burned throughout the state and city. Sao Paulo has not experienced this type of unrest since 2006, but the PCC is still considered to be actively involved in criminal and gang activity in the state. 

International Terrorism or Transnational Terrorism

Border areas of Brazil, including the Tri-Border Area (TBA) where the Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay frontiers meet, have been subject to illegal activity. Travelers should exercise caution when traveling to these areas. No incidents directed against official or non-official Americans have occurred in the TBA. It is recommended that American visitors to the area, including to Foz de Iguazu, remain vigilant. 

Post-Specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Natural disasters, such as earthquakes, are not a significant problem in Brazil; however, flooding over several recent years has plagued Sao Paulo State and many other parts of the country.

Severe rainstorms have occurred annually since 2006, causing flooding in Sao Paulo with fatalities, homes destroyed, and bridges and highways closed. As recently as January 2011, flooding caused deaths and millions of dollars in property losses in the Sao Paulo area. 

Intense rain can cause severe gridlock within the city. Roads in Sao Paulo are subject to flooding during rainstorms. Congonhas Airport in downtown Sao Paulo is particularly susceptible to heavy rainstorms.

Industrial and Transportation Accidents

As the economic and commercial center of the country, as well as the most populated city, Sao Paulo is subject to industrial and transportation incidents. Vehicle accidents involving hazardous chemicals are known to occur on the major highways of Sao Paulo, shutting roadways for significant periods of time until the area can be cleared and sanitized. The city’s underground rail system has also experienced mishaps throughout the years, including electrical outages and train stoppages. In addition, Sao Paulo has had a number of helicopter accidents. The city reportedly has over 400 helicopters in circulation, one of the highest rates of any city in the world.


The majority of kidnappings in Sao Paulo continue to be "express" events. The criminals will abduct someone, usually a Brazilian citizen, for a short time in order to receive a quick payoff from the family, business, or the victim's ATM or credit card. In some cases, they will take the victims shopping if their ATM cash limit has already been met. Foreigners, including Americans, are also vulnerable to this crime. 

Virtual kidnappings remain one of the most common scams perpetrated by criminals in Sao Paulo. In these cases, criminals make a random telephone call to an unsuspecting family, claiming that a family member has been abducted. They invariably demand a ransom. In reality, no family member has been taken, but the criminals often manage to elicit important information from the distraught family members, taking advantage of their emotional state to generate a ransom payment. In some cases, the criminals play recordings in the background of children or others crying for help.  

Drug and Narco-terrorism

Like many cities throughout the world, Sao Paulo experiences the harmful effects of illicit drug trafficking. Crack cocaine use is increasing in Sao Paulo. In 2011, the quantity of drugs captured by the police in the Guarulhos International airport reached a record high. Drug use contributes to criminal activity, such as street assaults and robberies, that users commit to support their addictions. Several Brazilian cities are transshipment points for illicit drugs, especially cocaine. 

Police Response

Police response, both from the military and civil police, varies. Police authorities cite a lack of resources among the key reasons why response times are not always optimal and why many crimes go unsolved. Brazilian law enforcement entities continue to look for creative policing strategies to overcome infrastructure challenges to crime prevention in some areas, such as community policing base stations in favelas (slums) and the use of motorcycle, helicopter, and even cavalry units. The government of Sao Paulo is engaged in a concerted effort to recruit and train more police officers in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympic Games.  

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Americans who are detained by the police should have an opportunity to contact friends or family. Take this opportunity to contact the U.S. Embassy Brasilia or the U.S. Consulates in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, or Recife. Harassment is not common with foreigners. Should it occur, you should report the incident to U.S. government authorities.

Where to Turn for Assistance if you Become a Victim of a Crime 

National Emergency Services

Medical Emergency (ambulância): 192
Fire Service (Corpo de Bombeiros): 193
National Police (Polícia Civil): 197
Military Police of Sao Paulo (Polícia Militar do Estado de Sao Paulo): 190
Federal Police (Polícia Federal): (11) 3616 5000
Sea Rescue (Salvamento Marítimo): (21) 2104 6119

Crisis and Helplines

Drug Abuse/Narcotics Anonymous (Narcoticos Anônimos): (11) 3101 9626
HIV/AIDS (Disque Saude), Monday to Friday 08:00-18:00: 0800 162 550
Alcoholics Anonymous (Alcoólicos Anônimos): (11) 3315 9333
Child Abuse (Centro de Referência da Criança e Adolescente - CECRIA): (11) 3104 4850
Defense of Abused Women (Delegacia de Defesa da Mulher): 180 or (11) 3976 2908
Suicide/Crisis Line (CVV): 141
Children's Helpline (SOS Criança): 1407
Poison Control/Anti-Poison Centre (Centro de Controle de Intoxicações): 0800 771 3733 or (11) 5012 5311

Sao Paulo Emergency Services and Useful Numbers

Sao Paulo Civilian Guard (Guarda Civil Metropolitana): (11) 3191 3300
Sao Paulo Traffic (Polícia Rodoviaria Federal): 1551 or (11) 2795 2300
Sao Paulo Red Cross (Cruz Vermelha Brasileira): (11) 5056 8710
Report a Crime (Denuncie): 181
Dengue Information Line (Disque Dengue): (11) 6224 5500
Funeral Service (Servico Funerario do Municipio de Sao Paulo (24-hours-a-day): 0800 109 850
Sao Paulo Prefeitura: 156
Human Rights Centre (Centro dos Direitos Humanos): (11) 3120 2890
Report Unsanitary Conditions (Vigilância Sanitária): (11) 3065 4600
Citizen Service Centres (Poupatempo): 0800 772 36 33
Lost and Found: 159

Sao Paulo Tourist Police (DEATUR): specialized service providing help and information to tourists
At: Rua Sao Bento 380: (11) 3107 5642 / 3107 8332
At: Av. Olavo Fontoura 1209, Parque Anhembi: (11) 6226 0653 / 6226 0664
At: Rua Dr. João Jamil Zarif s/nº,  Cumbica /Guarulhos: (11) 6445 3064 / 6445 2686

Medical Emergencies


HC Hospital das Clínicas  
At: Av. Dr. Enéas de Carvalho Aguiar 255 
Instituto da Criança do Hospital das Clínicas (Children's A&E department) 
Tel: (11) 3069 6000
Tel: (11) 3069 8500

Hospital Alemão Oswaldo Cruz
At: Rua Joao Juliao 331, Paraíso
Tel: (11)3549 0300

Albert Einstein Hospital
At: Av. Albert Einstein 627/701, Morumbi
Tel: (11) 3747 1233

Sao Luiz Hospital
At: Eng. Oscar Americano St. 840, Morumbi
Tel: (11) 3093 1100

Hospital Santa Cruz
At: Rua Santa Cruz 398, Vila Mariana 
Tel: (11) 5080 2000

Hospital Samaritano
At: Rua Conselheiro Brotero 1486, Higienopolis
Tel: (11) 3821 5300

Hospital Bandeirantes 
At: Rua Galvão Bueno 257, Liberdade
Tel: (11) 3345 2000

Beneficência Portuguesa 
At: Rua Maestro Cardim 769, Paraiso
Tel: (11) 3253 5022

Sírio Libanês 
At: Rua Adma Jafet 91, Bela Vista
Tel: (11) 3155 0200

Hospital Santa Catarina 
At: Av Paulista 200, Bela Vista 1
Tel: (11) 3053 661

Hospital Sao Paulo 
At: Rua Napoleao de Barros 737
Tel: (11) 5576 4621

Hospital Aviccena 
At: Rua Pe Adelino 901, Vila Verde
Tel: (11) 2605 3941

Pronto Socorro Infantil Sabará (Sabará Children’s Emergency Clinic)
At: Rua Dona Antonio de Queiros 505, Consolaçao
Tel: (11) 3155 2800

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

The crime threat in Sao Paulo is critical. Crime continues to be the principal threat to visitors to Sao Paulo. Armed street robberies are common in Sao Paulo. Taxis and private vehicles should be used when moving within the city of Sao Paulo. Even while driving, motorists can be vulnerable to armed bandits on motorcycles who prey on potential victims waiting at traffic lights or in traffic. Utilizing tinted windows, keeping windows rolled up, and keeping valuables out of sight are the best defenses against this type of random criminal activity.

Sao Paulo's International Airport is subject to crime. Reports of crimes against travelers along the road to the airport frequently occur, as criminals look to identify potential targets of wealth and affluence as they arrive and depart. Laptop computers are the number-one target of thieves and criminals in Sao Paulo. Travelers should seek to use alternative and more concealable means of transporting information, such as thumb drives or CD/DVD ROMs. If laptops are brought to Sao Paulo, they should be stored discretely in luggage and/or placed in the trunk of a vehicle. 

Also, avoid all Sao Paulo adult nightclubs. These clubs have been known to swindle patrons by tricking them into purchasing bottles of alcohol without disclosing the actual price of the drinks, at times running up to 1,000 USD per bottle. Patrons who refuse to pay have been physically harassed and their credit cards taken.

Visitors should practice common-sense preventive security techniques, just as they would in any large metropolitan city in the world where crime is prevalent. Below are some tips visitors should follow to avoid becoming a potential crime victim:

Do not carry or wear valuable items that will attract the attention of thieves. If you need to wear expensive jewelry or carry a camera, conceal it until you arrive at your destination.
Do not physically resist any robbery attempt. Statistics show that resistance can lead to severe consequences, such as injury or death.
Avoid city buses and other public transportation. Many pass through high crime areas, and patrons are susceptible to robberies. In 2006, a public bus was high-jacked near the Consulate, and all the occupants on board were robbed. The incident ended in a shoot-out with police. A similar incident occurred in 2010, but no shoot-out occurred. 
Only use taxis at taxi stands or have your hotel call one for you directly.
Be aware of the street environment and avoid contact with those looking for potential crime targets. Seek a safer location. Go into a store, bank, or simply cross the street and alter your route.
Use well-traveled, well-illuminated streets. Always plan your routes before you leave for your final destination. 

Further Information

U.S. organizations are encouraged to contact the Regional Security Officer (RSO) in Sao Paulo for specific inquiries concerning the local security situation. Information is also available from the OSAC Country Council operating in Sao Paulo.

United States Consulate General Sao Paulo
Rua Thomas Deloney 381
Chacara Santo Antonio
Sao Paulo-SP, 04710-110

Switchboard: (011-55) (11) 5186-7000
Regional Security Officer: (011-55) (11) 5186-7260
Fax: (011-55) (11) 5186-7099
Emergencies calls after normal hours to Post One: (011-55) (11) 5186-7000.

OSAC Country Council

The U.S. Consulate General has a vibrant and proactive OSAC Country Council with over 100 members, including major U.S. companies in many industries. The Council meets monthly at venues throughout Sao Paulo. The RSO attends all Country Council meetings to engage in roundtable discussions with members. The Council takes an active role on all issues of crime and security in Sao Paulo and surrounding areas, including outreach to public officials for speaking engagements, training seminars, as well as an extensive email network to promote ideas and facilitate the exchange of information and contacts.