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Brazil 2017 Crime & Safety Report: Recife

Western Hemisphere > Brazil; Western Hemisphere > Brazil > Recife

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Consulate General Recife does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED RECIFE AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Brazil-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

Street crime incidents (muggings, pickpocketing, armed robbery) are indicative of Brazil’s elevated levels of violence and are the greatest risk to Consulate employees and visitors to northeastern Brazil. The capital cities of the northeast are ranked as some of the most dangerous in the world, with higher than normal incidence of violent crimes, most notably murders and armed robberies. In 2007, the then-Governor of Pernambuco created a crime-fighting program called Pacto Pela Vida (Pact for Life). One of the Governor’s goals was to annually reduce the number of homicides by 12%. For the first several years, as Brazil was experiencing an economic boom, the program was considered effective. The Secretaria de Defensa Social de Pernambuco (SDS), the senior body for law enforcement in the state of Pernambuco, reported that the overall rate of homicide decreased by 58% between 2007 and 2014 in the Recife metropolitan area. However, the Pernambuco state report showed an increase in homicides of 13% in 2015 and more than 13% in 2016. The press and public questioned the effectiveness of Pacto Pela Vida, and as a result, the SDS was relieved of his duties while the Governor was criticized that the rate of violent crimes increased for two consecutive years.

A UN report ranking the 50 most dangerous cities in the world based on homicide incidence included all eight capital cities of northeast Brazil: 12. Fortaleza, 13. Natal, 16. João Pessoa, 18. Maceio, 21. São Luís, 30. Teresina, 37. Recife, and 38. Aracaju. Brazil’s criminal justice system is marked by low conviction rates. An acute shortage of jail space in Brazil and resulting prisoner furloughs contribute to the cycle of violence. Despite laws that regulate firearms, weapons (handguns, rifles, military-grade weapons, blades, improvised weapons) are frequently used to carry out criminal activities, which can include gratuitous violence.

The incidence of crime against tourists is greater in areas surrounding the airport, hotels, bars, nightclubs, Recife Antigo (the historic center of the city), public transportation centers, metro stops, and other establishments that cater to visitors. Petty street crime is the greatest risk in Recife. Although the risk is greater at night, street crime occurs during the day. Incidents of theft on city buses and metro trains are frequent. Brazil’s criminals often use motorcycles in street crimes to evade police. Visitors are strongly advised to comply with demands for valuables and not resist. Resisting increases the likelihood of serious bodily harm, and statistics show that resistance can lead to serious injury/death. Visitors are advised to travel in groups of two or more persons. Exercise heightened situational awareness, especially at open markets or crowded areas.

Arrastões (mass robberies) occur when criminals sweep through public places and rob pedestrians, beach-goers, patrons, customers, and vehicle drivers/occupants stuck in traffic. An arrastão can occur day or night, regardless of location. Police struggle to react and capture criminals. Do not walk on beaches or in parks after dark. 

Do not accept alcoholic drinks from strangers and always watch your drink. Scopolamine, or a similar drug, may be added to your drink causing you to pass out.

Consider renting/purchasing a cellular phone, which are widely available, inexpensive, and generally reliable, especially in the major cities. Cell phone users are reminded to remain alert. Cell phones users are frequent victims of theft.

In the Recife metropolitan area, there are over 645 surveillance cameras to monitor and deter crime. These surveillance systems are monitored by the SDS, which can dispatch police. In neighborhoods near Boa Viagem (where U.S. Consulate staff housing is located), there are static guards posted in some areas. Larger apartments and commercial sites often employ 24/7 private, unarmed security guard services. Although there have been no reports of residential break-ins and burglaries against U.S. employees, residential burglaries pose a constant concern. RSO ensures that direct-hire residences have enhanced security countermeasures.

Bank robberies and assaults on ATMs by criminal gangs increased dramatically in 2016. These incidents were marked with the use of heavy weaponry and explosives. Police, particularly in rural interior towns, have reported being overwhelmed by the criminals' superior firepower. The use of explosives against ATMs has increased. Attacks on armored money trucks by heavily armed gangs coincide with this alarming trend. Travelers are advised to withdraw money only from reputable money exchanging services, in addition to using only trusted ATMs in Recife. It is recommended to use ATMs at major banks, hotels, or shopping malls.

There is significant, sustained organized criminal activity throughout Brazil, particularly in major cities.

Cybersecurity Issues

A growing area of concern is the rise of cybercrime. Brazilians are frequent victims of stolen identity involving credit/debit cards. Police have reported that some merchants are involved in the theft of credit/debit card account information at point of sale (PoS) machines at stores, banks, ATMs, etc. These devices steal card information wirelessly or by employee accomplice. Recent ARSO-I investigations have revealed that hackers compromised banks' security measures, resulting in the theft of thousands of account numbers. Visitors are advised to use cash instead whenever possible. Extreme caution should be used when using a credit/debit card. If using credit cards, never allow waiters/clerks to walk away with your card, and ensure they only swipe your card once. Travelers are encouraged to monitor their accounts for the duration of their visit in Brazil. Travelers should also inform their banks of their travel plans to Brazil to monitor for any unusual charges.

Other Areas of Concern

All favelas (slum neighborhoods), especially those that do not have around the clock police presence, should be avoided. 

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions vary greatly throughout northeastern Brazil. Most roads in large cities are paved; however, many roads outside urban areas are in very poor condition with large potholes. Defensive driving is a requirement, as traffic can be congested and unpredictable. The level of driver training and safety awareness does not reach minimum U.S. standards. Brazil uses automatic photo-ticketing systems to discourage speeding, and tickets are mailed to the owner of the vehicle. Crime on the roads remains a problem, especially during evening travel, when stuck in traffic jams, and travel into rural areas. Although there have been no reports of carjacking incidents by U.S. employees in Recife, this poses a constant concern because perpetrators are often armed and may quickly escalate the violence. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Some roads may become impassable during the rainy season. Recife has poor water drainage systems that are easily clogged, and potholes appear suddenly and remain unrepaired for weeks. Many rural roads are unpaved and can also be impassable during the season (April-August).

Brazil has a zero tolerance for drinking/driving and has enacted a law to combat drunk driving known as Lei Seca (Dry Law). Frequent unannounced checkpoints are set up in most cities, including Recife.

Street lighting is unpredictable, vehicle accidents are common, and accidents involving motorcycles, pedestrians, and bicyclists are frequent. In Recife, there is a severe lack of parking resulting in informal parking that blocks roads and sidewalks. Peddlers and beggars create a further hazard, as do horses or horse drawn buggies on the roads.

Public Transportation Conditions

Personnel are discouraged from using public transportation because of a high threat of crime. Avoid city buses and only use legitimate taxis. Taxis are the safest method of travel.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED RECEIFE 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 RECIFE AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Civil Unrest

Extremist groups occasionally conduct acts of civil disobedience and may enter into violent confrontations with police. There have been political protests in 2016 throughout the country. While the majority of protests in Recife are peaceful, they can become confrontational. Visitors should avoid large crowds or ongoing protests.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Flooding and mudslides are a seasonal problem in Recife. Visitors should monitor weather conditions especially during the rainy season. Many streets and neighborhoods lack drainage systems, exacerbating flooding.

Recife beaches can be hazardous due to sharks; two non-fatal shark attacks were registered in 2015. Visitors are strongly advised to adhere with the shark danger warning signs posted along the beaches.

Economic Concerns

Cargo theft remains a major security issue on the roads throughout Brazil; many companies employ countermeasures, including armed security escorts for high-value loads and the use of satellites to track truck movements.

Be careful of cash transactions on the street. A hurried transaction for merchandise may leave the customer with shoddy/counterfeit goods or with counterfeit money.

Drug-related Crimes

Brazil is the number two consumer of cocaine in the world, behind the U.S. Brazil is a heavy importer of cocaine and is part of international drug routes to Europe and Africa. According to local police contacts in Recife, marijuana is the drug of choice and cocaine is a close second. In the state of Ceara, cocaine is the predominate drug and its distribution is controlled by one of Brazil’s powerful prison gangs, Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC). 

Kidnapping Threat

While kidnappings for ransom have become less common, these incidents do occur. One tactic of organized gangs is to target individuals observed withdrawing money from ATMs or exiting banks. Using ATMs located in secure locations (shopping malls, major hotels) to reduce the chances of being targeted by criminals.

In virtual kidnapping cases, an unknown individual calls to say that a person you know, possibly a family member, has been kidnapped and demands immediate ransom payment immediately or else the person will be harmed. The ransom is paid, and it then becomes clear that the kidnapping never occurred.

Police Response

Police response varies in Recife. Police officials frequently cite lack of resources, staffing/equipment shortages, and low morale as reasons for widely varying response times and unsolved crimes. When police do respond, victims are asked to go to the police station and file a report and complete other investigative formalities. Public confidence in police is low due to perception of heavy handedness, ineffectiveness, and corruption.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Visitors should request for assistance from the U.S. Consulate General, American Citizens Services unit if they encounter problems, including detainment or arrest by the police.

  • American Citizen Services (ACS) : M-F, 7:00AM to 4:00PM, (+55) (81) 3416-3080
  • After hours Duty Officer Emergency Line : 4:00PM to 7:00AM and on weekends: (+55) (81) 99916-9470


Crime Victim Assistance

Recife Emergency Services

Phone #

Medical Emergency (Ambulância)

192

Fire Service / Sea Rescue (Corpo de Bombeiros)

193

Tourist Police Station (Delegacia do Turista)

(+55) 81-3322-3122

Civil Police (Polícia Civil)

197

Federal Police (Polícia Federal)

194

Traffic Police - CTTU

0800-081-1078

Transit Department - DETRAN

154

Airport (Guararapes)

(+55) 81-3464-4188

Military Police (Polícia Militar)

190

Police/Security Agencies

 

Emergency Officials

Numbers

Military Police

20,155

Civil Police

5,000

Fire Fighters

2,614

Forensic Investigators

371

Emergency Vehicles

Numbers

 

Helicopters

3

 

Police Cars

95

 

SWAT vehicles

71

 

Police Motorcycles

697

 

Other Police Vehicles

194

 


Medical Emergencies

Medical care at private clinics in Recife is quite good. Cash payment in advance is normally required for medical care at private facilities. Public hospitals provide a lower standard of care and are often overcrowded and understaffed, but they generally do not require pre-payment and are experienced at dealing with medical emergencies.

Medical scams are possible, in some cases an individual calls and states an employee/family member has been in an accident and needs immediate medical attention. The individual states that payment must be provided in order for the injured individual to be treated. This scam often target household staff who react without verifying with their employer.

Visitors are advised to bring prescription medicine sufficient for their length of stay and should be aware that Brazil's humid climate may affect some medicines. Some prescription medicines (mainly generic) are available. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Real Hospital Portugues – Avenida Governador Agamenon Magalhães, 4760, Paissandu, Recife. Tel : (81) 3416-1122.
Hospital Santa Joana – Rua Joaquim Nabuco, 200, Derby, Recife. Tel: (81) 3216-6565.
Hospital Esperança – Rua Antonio Gomes e Freitas, 265, Ilha do Leite. Tel: (81) 3131-7878.
Hospital Unimed Recife – Av. Lins Petit, Nº 35, Praça Chora Menino, Ilha do Leite, Recife. Tel: (81) 3231-3111.

Available Air Ambulance Services

For air medical evacuation services, visitors may wish to purchase private air medical evacuation insurance before travelling to Brazil.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Travelers should consult with their medical providers regarding immunization and vaccination requirements prior to traveling to Brazil.

Incidences of water-borne diseases increase during periods of flooding. Only bottled or purified water should be consumed, and special precautions should be taken when eating fruits and vegetables, especially during the rainy seasons. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?.”

Leptospirosis, while not common, is a viral infection spread via rodent droppings and waste. Given the limitations of the sanitation system in Brazil, one should exercise caution including vigilant hand washing after outdoor contact and vaccination of pets that may contract the disease from food bowls and other exposed surfaces.

Mosquito-borne viral infection is a significant health risk throughout Brazil. Such infections include chikungunya, dengue fever, yellow fever, malaria, and Zika. There are no prophylactic therapies for dengue and chikungunya. While chikungunya and dengue fever have become endemic, yellow fever and malaria are more prevalent in the interior. Personnel traveling to regions one, seven, eight, nine, and ten are advised to use malaria prophylaxis. Travelers should have a documented yellow fever card. All U.S. government personnel are advised to obtain yellow fever vaccination prior to travel to Brazil. The most prudent strategy is to prevent mosquito bites through repellants, treated bed nets, window screens, and air-conditioning.

On January 15, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a Level 2 travel alert for countries affected by the Zika virus. More information can be found on the CDC website.

Special attention should be paid to HIV/AIDS. In addition to elevated infection rates among high-risk populations, data from the WHO shows that Brazil has among the highest prevalence rates in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Recife Country Council currently meets once a year and has approximately 20 members. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions or to join.  

U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

Rua Gonçalves Maia, 163
Bairro Boa Vista
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil 50070-065

The U.S. Consulate General in Recife is open Mon-Fri, 0700-1600, except Brazilian and U.S. holidays.

Consulate Contact Numbers

Regional Security Officer (RSO): (+55) (81) 3416-3114

American Citizen Services (ACS): (+55) (81) 3416-3080

After hours Duty Officer: (+55) (81) 99916-9470

Emergencies and calls after normal business hours may be directed to Post One Brasilia: (+55) (61) 3312-7400.

Website: https://br.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/recife/

Nearby Posts

Embassy Brasilia: https://br.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/embassy/
Consulate Rio de Janeiro: https://br.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/riodejaneiro/
Consulate Sao Paulo: https://br.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/saopaulo/

Additional Resources

Brazil Country Information Sheet