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Brazil 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report: Rio de Janeiro

Western Hemisphere > Brazil > Brasilia; Western Hemisphere > Brazil > Rio de Janeiro

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

In 2011, significant progress was made in reducing Rio de Janeiro’s legendary, critical crime rates. The centerpiece of this effort is the Favela Pacification Program (FPP) whereby specially recruited and police officers trained in community policing enter Rio’s favelas (slums), expel drug gang members and other armed criminal elements, and establish a permanent presence, called a Unidade de Policia Pacificadora (UPP). Municipal authorities can then enter the favela and safely deliver much needed social services and economic assistance to residents. The long-term goal of the FPP is to integrate the favela residents into mainstream society, a process that is ongoing and currently exceeding expectations.

Rio de Janeiro has over 1,000 favelas. Since the early 1980s, nearly every Rio favela was controlled by violent drug gangs or criminal organizations who operated outside the rule of law. Favelas became a de-facto safe haven for criminal elements. Senior civilian leadership prohibited police from entering the favelas. Criminals filled this power vacuum and ensured that for nearly 30 years criminal organizations controlled large areas of Rio de Janeiro. Armed drug gang members, many only teenagers, walked openly with shoulder weapons without any fear of police action. The FPP has changed this paradigm.

The first phase of the FPP is now complete. Since November 2008, there have been 20 major pacification efforts. The result is that police have reasserted permanent control in dozens of previously unpacified favelas, home to nearly a million people. The two major Rio de Janeiro drug gangs, the Commando Vermelho and the Amigos dos Amigos, have permanently lost their base of operations in the Complexo do Alemao and Rocinha favelas. The senior leadership of both gangs are now in custody or on the run as fugitives. Police effectively control every major favela in Rio from the downtown financial district, extending south to the affluent Zona Sul (South Zone) and west to the Barra da Tijuca. This includes the area near the Maracana Stadium that will host the 2014 World Cup finals and the Barra Da Tijuca where the 2016 Olympic Games will be based. The goal until 2016 is for more than 20 additional pacification efforts to stand up, requiring the hiring of thousands of additional police officers. This is will bring nearly all of Rio’s favelas under the effective control of the police by 2016 when Rio hosts the Olympic Games.

The State Department has rated Rio de Janeiro “critical” for crime for the past 25 years. Foreigners visiting Rio for business or on vacation, especially those who do not speak Portuguese, fall in a high risk category for being targeted for crime. Criminals are aware that if robbed, foreigners frequently do not file a police report and will probably not return to testify against them, and this makes foreigners an attractive target for robbery. For these reasons, it is imperative to not display or walk openly with expensive valuables or walk alone at night in isolated areas. Expensive watches, high profile jewelry, and any electronic device will immediately attract unwanted attention from criminals. 

Street robberies continue at a high rate even in affluent neighborhoods. Cell phones and electronic items (personal laptop computers, iPads, and electronic tablets) are targets. One tactic of organized gangs is to target individuals observed withdrawing money from ATMs or exiting banks after making a withdraw. These gangs frequently operate in teams and are armed. Using ATMs located in discreet locations, especially those in major tourist hotels, will reduce the odds of being targeted for this type of crime.  

Another trend for robbery is to target individuals in vehicles stopped at stoplights, especially at night. Areas especially at risk for this type of crime include the Zona Norte (North Zone) and the Centro (downtown) area of Rio, but this can happen anywhere in Rio de Janeiro. If you find yourself in a carjacking situation, you should surrender your vehicle and offer no resistance. Attempt to not be taken away by the assailant; odds are you will be assaulted and/or killed. Never give rides to a hitchhiker or accept rides by unknown persons. Women have been assaulted accepting rides by men purporting to be helpful.   

If confronted by an assailant displaying a lethal weapon or threatening violence, attempt to de-escalate the situation by immediately turning over your valuables without comment. In two recent high profile cases in Rio de Janeiro, two individuals were shot dead for not turning over their valuables: a motorcycle and Rolex watch. Criminals are fully prepared to use deadly force against those who resist.  

Credit card fraud is a major problem for banks and financial institutions. You should only use your credit card at major hotels and formal, established restaurants and shops. Secure your credit cards in your hotel room so hotel staff does not have access to them. Do not allow your credit card to be taken out of your sight. Check your balance online regularly, and limit the numbers of cards you use.  

Some tour operators in Rio offer favela tours by jeep. It is strongly recommended to only enter pacified favelas. Entering unpacified favelas is dangerous and unwise. Drug gang members walk openly with weapons in unpacified favelas, and you will be at their mercy. Police only enter unpacified favelas in large numbers during specific operations. 

The high level of residential security has made most Carioca residents opt to reside in apartments where a porteiro (doorman) ensures 24/7 access control for the building. Having effective access control is critical. RSO recommends apartments over single family homes unless a reliable 24/7 guard service is employed. Residences should receive a high level of physical security upgrades including solid core entry/service doors with high quality locks and sliding deadbolts, installation of a peephole in all entry doors, grilling windows up to the second story, perimeter lighting, monitored alarm systems, and the installation of a safe room inside the residence to retreat to in the event of an emergency situation. In an apartment, the safe room is usually a bedroom and is protected by a solid core door, deadbolt lock, and a viewing device (peephole).

Road Safety

Riding the inter-city bus system during daylight hours is usually safe, but beware of pickpockets. Exercise extreme caution if you ride public buses at night. Take extra care with your personal belongings on the public bus. Commercial bus service between cities and states throughout Brazil is generally safe and efficient. 

The metro system is clean, efficient and safe. 

Avoid the small vans that operate throughout the city. 

Taxis are generally plentiful and safe. Ensure that the cab has a functional meter after you enter the vehicle, and never negotiate a price. Always go by the meter or immediately exit the taxi and find another one.  

Political Violence

Historical Perspective

Rio de Janeiro has a relatively low level of political protests, and those that do occur are generally driven by economic reasons and are non-violent. In any event, you should avoid all political rallies or any protests. Depart the area immediately if you see a large concentration of people.

Regional Terrorism and Organized Crime

There are no known indigenous terrorist groups operating in Brazil. Brazil is a non-aligned country with no known enemies and is not known to be targeted by any foreign radical group. 

There is significant and sustained organized criminal activity throughout Brazil, especially prevalent in the major cities. All unpacified favelas should be avoided.

International Terrorism or Transnational Terrorism

The tri-border area, comprised of the border region where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay merge, is home to a large Arab community. To date, no incidents directed against official or non-official Americans have occurred in this area. While the embassy does not specifically discourage travel to the area, some anti-American sentiment has been expressed in the region. American visitors to the area, including Foz de Iguazu, should remain vigilant and maintain a low profile.
Civil Unrest
Extremist groups such as the Movimento Sem Terra (MST) and other domestic political groups with an extremist agenda occasionally conduct acts of civil disobedience and have confronted police violently. The threat of violence by political groups is always possible throughout the major cities and in the rural areas of Brazil. 

There have been protests in the past year throughout the country. While the majority of these protests are peaceful, they can become confrontational. All visitors should avoid large crowds or on-going protests. Depart the area immediately. 

For further updated information, please contact the Consular Section of the American Embassy in Brasilia, or consult the web sites of the Consular Bureau of the Department of State or of the United States Embassy in Brasilia. 

Post-Specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Every year during the summer months (November-March), torrential rains cause flooding and landslides throughout Brazil. In January 2011, one of the worst storms in a century killed several hundred people and left several thousand people homeless, due to torrential rain storms in the interior mountains of Rio de Janeiro state. The rains created massive landslides on hills, and entire towns were underwater for weeks. Flooding destroyed several thousand homes. Never attempt to cross rising water, either by foot or vehicle.    
Industrial and Transportation Accidents

Road conditions range from very good to poor, especially on secondary and rural roads. Brazil has a very high level of vehicle accidents and death rates due to accidents. Drive with caution, and always wear your seatbelt. 


While kidnappings for ransom have become rare in recent years, these incidents continue to occur.  

Drug and Narco-terrorism

The major cities of Brazil, like many cities throughout the world, experience the effects of persons addicted to illicit drugs, especially crack cocaine. This includes criminal activity -- street assaults and robberies -- that are used in support of their addictions. Large numbers of impoverished people live on the periphery of most major cities. Officials express frustration with the difficulty in addressing the social problems, including the inability to police these populations.

Intellectual Property Threat

Cargo theft remains a major security issue on the roads throughout Brazil. Organized criminal gangs target trucks and vans carrying finished goods, primarily for resale on the black market. Cargo theft has made many companies employ expensive countermeasures to reduce this type of loss. 

Police Response

Police response and support is generally adequate. Police officials frequently cite the problematic and ongoing lack of resources, significant staffing shortages, and unmet expectations for salary increases and basic equipment as reasons for widely varying response times and the high rate at which serious crimes are not solved.
Visitors should inform the nearest U.S. consulate in the event they encounter any problems while traveling in Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro Emergency Phone Numbers
Federal Police: (21) 3213-1400
Military Police: 190
Fire Department: 193

The civil police have a special tourist police precinct located in Leblon (Zona Sul – South Zone). The address is Afranio de Melo Franco, 159. The phone number is: (21) 2332-2924, 2334-6802. This precinct specifically investigates crimes committed against tourists and has English speaking police officers. 
Medical Emergencies

Ambulance: 192

Contact Information for Local Hospitals and Clinics

The Consulate has identified the following local hospital as suitable for use by visitors to Rio de Janeiro for any major medical emergency:
Hospital Samaritano
Rua Bambina, 98, Botafogo
Zona Sul 
Telephone number: (21) 2537-9722
Air Ambulance Services
The Consulate recommends visitors consider purchasing private air medical evacuation insurance before traveling to Brazil.

CDC guidance

Travelers should consult with their own medical providers regarding immunization and vaccination requirements prior to traveling to Brazil. Travelers should have a documented yellow fever card.  

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

It is imperative to maintain the highest level of security awareness at all times and follow special security precautions while visiting Rio. These include:    

While in public, refrain from wearing expensive jewelry or expensive looking watches, anything that contains gold, silver, precious stones, or diamonds. Gangs specifically target people who wear high end (Rolex, Cartier etc.) watches. Wearing any more jewelry than a simple gold wedding band will raise your profile. However, U.S. government employees have been robbed of their gold wedding bands.  

Verify with the front desk who is at your hotel room door before you open the door. 

Never accept a ride from someone you have just casually met, even if they seem helpful and friendly.

Keep a minimal amount of cash with you, and limit the number of credit cards you carry.

Stay with a group of people as much as possible, and limit the times you venture out alone. Avoid isolated areas on the beach or in the rainforest. Always let someone know where you are going. Never swim in the ocean alone.

Avoid walking the streets at night – take a taxi to your desired location and return in a taxi. Public buses should be used with extreme caution at night.  

Do not openly display any electronic device especially expensive cameras, video cameras, laptops, or iPads while in a public setting or walking on a public street. These are high theft items and will attract unwanted attention.

If you make purchases, return to the hotel and secure the items in your hotel room. Do not walk on the street with the items you just bought.

Stay near people/populated areas as much as possible. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, immediately seek safe haven in a building with people.

If confronted by an individual who has a weapon, stay calm and hand over your valuables. Do not resist. Death may result from resistance. Many muggers have weapons and may be under the influence of crack cocaine. They will not hesitate to harm you if you resist.

Further Information

U.S. organizations are encouraged to contact the RSO at the U.S. Consulate General Rio de Janeiro for specific inquires concerning the local security situation. Information is readily available from the RSO in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo who have active OSAC chapters or from the American Chambers of Commerce in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo. 

RSO Rio de Janeiro can be contacted at:
U.S. Consulate General Rio de Janeiro
Av. Presidente Wilson, 147 Bairro Castelo

Telephone number: (011-55) (21) 3823-2000

Emergencies and calls after normal business hours may be directed to U.S. Consulate Rio de Janeiro Post One: (011-55) (21) 3823-2029.

RSO: (011-55) (21) 3823-2908; fax number (011-55) (21) 2524-1356.

OSAC Country Council 
The Rio de Janeiro Country Council meets regularly. U.S. organizations are encouraged to contact the RSO in Rio de Janeiro for specific Country Council questions.