Argentina 2014 Crime and Safety Report
Travel Health and Safety; Transportation Security; Stolen items; Theft; Fraud; Kidnapping; Burglary; Rape/Sexual Violence; Assault; Carjacking; Financial Security; Counterfeiting; Cargo Security; Anarchist; Improvised Explosive Device; Riots/Civil Unrest; Bombing; Floods; Earthquakes; Drug Trafficking
Western Hemisphere > Argentina; Western Hemisphere > Argentina > Buenos Aires
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Officially reported, countrywide, full-range crime statistics are not available; however, when an occasional statistic is released, the information varies widely.
Crime is a serious problem. Urban crime includes: pick-pocketing/purse snatching, scams, mugging, express and virtual kidnappings, residential burglary, home invasion, thefts from vehicles (including “smash-and-grab”), sexual assaults/rape, car theft, and carjacking. There are also occasional high-profile assaults on armored cash carriers. Crimes reported to the U.S. Embassy by U.S. citizens reveal they are most often victims of theft or non-violent robbery, principally in the tourist neighborhoods. Although an increase in robberies at exchange houses has been noted.
Street and residential crime appears to be increasingly common,is more violent than in the past, and is often perpetrated with a firearm or other deadly weapon. Many criminals are armed and ready to use their weapons at the first sign of resistance. American tourists routinely report stolen U.S. passports to the Embassy. Some are stolen in a violent manner, including at gunpoint. Crimes occur at all hours, and armed robberies often take place during business hours. Favorite targets for armed robberies are banks and businesses dealing in cash or high-value merchandise. Entire restaurants have been victims of armed robberies.
Short-term visitors to urban areas are subject to street crime and should exercise appropriate levels of caution. Visitors have reported robberies while in tourist areas, at banks and change houses, and on the subway and other public transportation. Thieves specifically target expensive looking jewelry, watches, cell phones, cameras, and backpacks/bags. They regularly nab unattended purses, backpacks, laptops, and luggage and will often distract visitors to steal valuables. This includes robbing purses and bags from occupied tables at restaurants.
Criminal activity is concentrated in urban areas, especially Greater Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Rosario, and Mendoza. The wealthier parts of metro Buenos Aires experience high rates of property crime, with high income neighborhoods often registering twice as many complaints as some of the poorer parts of town. This may be a result of better or more frequent reporting by the citizens living in these areas.
Criminals frequently use a version of the “mustard on the back” scheme in which a helpful person informs the victim of a susbstance on their person and offers help to clean it off. While the victim is distracted, a partner robs the victim of valuables.
Long-term residents have greater exposure to criminal activity while walking on the streets, driving, traveling, and at home. Reports of home invasions and robberies are being received frequently. Most cases reported to the RSO have involved firearms.
Criminals regularly employ target-of-opportunity tactics. Apartment invasions and burglaries occur, and occasionally entire buildings are taken hostage. One trend is for criminals to go through neighborhoods and apartment buildings waiting for occasional delivery people bringing food to the doors of the tenants. Many home invasion gangs seek cash that many Argentines are thought to keep in their homes. The tactic most commonly used is to attack victims upon entry or exit of their residence, forcing their way back inside. The RSO office has received reports of victims being followed home from popular restaurants or school events. Criminals have targeted individuals withdrawing cash from bank ATMs and are also known to target customers when exiting banks or change houses. The normal tactic used is either an overt act where the criminal challenges an individual directly or a scam that involves altering basic ATM functions causing the individual to believe the machine failed to dispense the cash and may be out of order.
There have been robberies in isolated areas and occasional burglaries of hotel rooms in resort areas.
A significant amount of counterfeit Argentine pesos are in circulation. Fake notes typically look and feel wrong upon close inspection. Visitors should lift suspect bills to the light and look for watermarks. One should see a defined watermark of the face of the ex-president that is printed on the bill, and the initials of the name of the president should appear below the printed face. A vertical silver line will appear. When held to the light, the silver line will turn solid black and have micro printing upon it. On fake notes, the black line will become dotted. Naturally, serial numbers should be different on all notes.
Despite the negative perception of various U.S. government policies, Argentines are friendly to Americans, and visitors are unlikely to experience anti-American sentiment.
Overall Road Safety Situation
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road conditions are moderate, but traffic is fast throughout the country and congested in the big cities. Almost all highways are two-lane with no separation between traffic travelling in opposite directions. Drivers are very aggressive and often oblivious to lane designations and many other traffic laws. Traffic accidents are common, especially in Buenos Aires. Pedestrians should be vigilant when crossing streets and remember to look in both directions, even if the street is designated one way.
Traffic laws are not routinely obeyed, and vehicles often travel at excessive speeds. A report produced by the non-governmental organization Luchemos por la Vida (www.luchemos.org.ar) states that for the third consecutive year there was a decrease in traffic deaths throughout the country; 7,517 people died in vehicle accidents during 2011 compared to 7,485 deaths in 2012. In the city of Buenos Aires, the number of fatalities also decreased from 141 deaths (2011) to 98 (2012). The province of Buenos Aires has the higher rate of traffic-related deaths at 2,354.
The following, in order of preference, is recommended: a) Call for a remise or taxi, b) take one from an established stand, c) hail one on the street (but not in front of a bank). Remises (hired car and driver) are the best and safest form of public transportation. They normally charge by the kilometer and are reasonably priced. Hotels, many restaurants, and shopping centers can call one from an established service. A number of remise companies have stands inside Ezezia Airport that offer a set fee for transport into the city. They can be hired just as you exit Customs. The fee is paid at the airport and not to the driver. These companies are well established and used by a number of embassy employees. Radio taxis are the next best choice. Taxis are black and yellow in the capital and are white with blue lettering in the provinces. Avoid black and yellow taxis with "Mandataria" on the door; these taxis are rented on a daily or hourly basis and are often involved in criminal acts.
Use the seatbelts, lock the doors, and keep windows up. Do not place your purse or other valuables on the seats, in plain view from the outside, or unattended. Subways, buses, and trains are safe but watch out for pickpockets and be ready for work stoppages. Do not take rides offered by people on the street or outside an airport.
Highway robbery largely affects commercial vehicles. Hijacking of inter-city buses is uncommon.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
Neither the government nor its agents have committed any known politically motivated killings.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
There is no recent or significant operational terrorist activity in Argentina, but international terrorists used car bombs to destroy the Israeli Embassy in 1992, killing 29 persons, and a Jewish cultural center (AMIA) in 1994, killing 85 persons and injuring hundreds.
There have been several minor bombings since August 2009 that purportedly involved indigenous anarchist groups that share ideological similarities with Chilean and Greek anarchist groups. These bombings occurred during the early morning hours and resulted in one death and two injuries.
Individuals and organizations providing financial support to extremist groups reportedly operate in Ciudad del Este and along the tri-border area between Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina.
There are frequent demonstrations in most major cities; most are related to domestic economic and political issues, including labor disputes and inadequate utility services. U.S. interests are occasionally targeted based on current events, such as U.S. policy toward Cuba or Syria. U.S. companies are sometimes the targets of labor protests. The largest and most disruptive protests, ranging from dozens to tens of thousands of participants, usually feature "piqueteros" (a collection of social activist groups whose main tactic is to block roads).
In Buenos Aires, demonstrations most commonly occur downtown and often end up at the Plaza de Mayo, Casa Rosada, Congress, or the obelisk on Avenida 9 de Julio. Protestors generally come from labor unions, unemployed/underemployed/landless movements, student groups, and the political left. While most protests are peaceful, there are hooligan elements that periodically show up to fight the police and/or engage in vandalism. Furthermore, the use of sound systems, fireworks, and musical instruments is a common occurrence, as is the burning of tires, effigies, and flags.
Since December 2001, there has been seasonal looting of stores. In December 2013, Argentina saw some of the most violent string of looting incidents since 2001. Numerous people were killed and injured, as police were on strike in various Argentine provinces. Please see the OSAC report on this subject.
In 2013, there was only one bomb-related attack; an improvised explosive device detonated outside of a social security office after hours in Buenos Aires city, resulting in minimal property damage and no casualties. Pipe bombs or incendiary attacks attributed to, or claimed by, anarchist groups have been used occasionally. Targets have included bank branches, municipal or public utility offices, and other commercial businesses.
In 2012, there were three bomb-related attacks: two in Buenos Aires city and one in the suburbs. In Buenos Aires city, the European Union Offices and the Federal Department of Corrections were the targets of low-power bombs that resulted in property damages, both during early morning hours. A third explosive device was rendered safe by the Federal Police EOD Team in a theater located in the downtown area of Buenos Aires city, where former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe was to deliver a lecture. The explosion in the suburbs (a municipal office in Greater Buenos Aires) was the most serious bombing. A member of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police EOD Team who was trying to disable a IED was injured.
In 2011, there were four known anarchist-related attacks in Buenos Aires city and one in a suburb. The majority of the explosions result in property damage and generally occur during the very early morning hours.
Personnel are always advised to maintain vigilance while paying particular attention to any unattended items and suspicious behavior.
Argentina experiences heavy rains and flooding along the coast, including parts of Buenos Aires, and in low-lying parts of the interior, such as Santa Fe Province.
Western/northwestern provinces -- San Juan, Mendoza, Salta, Jujuy, and Tucuman -- periodically have earthquakes.
Industrial and Transportation Accidents
In early 2013, a container fire in the Port of Buenos Aires released a chemical cloud over the parts of the city, highlighting potential health risks from industrial accidents.
There is evidence of increasing use by traffickers of light aircraft to bring drugs into the country from Bolivia and Paraguay. The 2013 United Nations Office of Drug Control (UNODC) World Drug Report named Argentina as the third “most frequently mentioned countries of provenance for individual drug seizure cases, by drug type (all modes of transportation), 2001-2012.”
Marijuana, the bulk of which is imported from Paraguay and used for domestic consumption, continues to be the most widely abused illegal drug in Argentina.
Cocaine use has risen sharply. Argentina is a transshipment route for cocaine from Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia to Europe and elsewhere. Large seizures of cocaine in Europe have been linked to Argentina, and individual carriers of small quantities from Argentina to Europe are discovered regularly. Cocaine remains by far the leading drug for which Argentines seek help at treatment centers, and the use of cocaine base is a growing problem among economically disadvantaged members of society. Cocaine trafficking is the most challenging drug threat faced by authorities. A cheap, readily available, and mentally debilitating drug “paco” (a derivative of cocaine production similar to crack) is consumed in Argentina’s poorer neighborhoods. The UNODC World Drug Report 2013 placed Argentina cocaine abuse at just under one percent for users 15-65 years of age. However, according to the same report in 2011, Argentina had the highest prevalence of cocaine use (2.6 percent) in South and Central America among the same age group. Based on UNODC estimates, Argentina is home to 25 percent of the cocaine users in South and Central America (675,000 users), second only to Brazil.
Express kidnapping (short duration abduction/forcible withdraw of cash) occurs but is not considered a growing trend. Kidnapping for ransom is relatively rare and mostly affects wealthy Argentines. The true rate of kidnapping is unknown but is believed to be considerably lower than elsewhere in the region.
However, virtual kidnapping, a telephone scam in which the caller claims to have kidnapped a loved one or significant other, occurs frequently. There are many variations of the virtual kidnapping scam. One variation, which appears to be on the rise, is when the caller claims that a family member has been involved in a horrific accident, and personal information is needed by on-scene medics. Once personal information is divulged, the caller becomes more aggressive and uses the newly acquired information to extort valuables. These calls often come from jails, and the callers ask for prepaid phone cards, which are a form of money inside prisons.
There were reports that police were involved in killings involving unwarranted or excessive force. Authorities investigated and, in some cases, detained, prosecuted, and convicted the officers involved.
In Buenos Aires, the Tourist Police (office within the Argentine Federal Police) are generally very responsive and assist many tourists with language services to file police reports.
Checkpoints are common, especially around Buenos Aires, and drivers must have all documentation, including passport or Argentine identification card, driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of third-party liability insurance.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Argentine law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the goverment generally observes these prohibitions; however, there are reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. Expatriates can generally expect better police response and less harassment than in many other Latin American countries. Individuals detained by the police should ask to contact the Embassy or consulate.
Any irregular police procedures (demands for bribes, etc.) should be reported to the Embassy.
Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime
For all police emergencies (Capital Federal and Buenos Aires Province): 911
Various Police/Security Agencies
Argentine Federal Police: 4383-1111/2-9; Av. Moreno 1550, Capital Federal
Prefectura (Coast Guard): 4318-7558 or 4318-7400; Av. Macacha Guemes 150, Capital Federal
Tourist Police: 4346-5748; Corrientes 436, Capital Federal
Bomberos (Fire Department): 100 or 4951-2222, 4381-2222, 4383-2222; Av. Moreno 1550, Capital Federal
Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics
Capital Federal (City of Benos Aires)
- SAME (Municipal Emergency Medical Service, for transport to a public hospital):
107 or 4923-1051/9
- SUME (For-fee ambulance service, for transport to a private hospital):
0810-222-5222 or 4860-7000
- Hospital Fernandez: 4808-2600; Cervino 3356, Capital Federal
- Hospital Aleman: 4827-7000; Pueyrredon 1640, Capital Federal
- Sanatorio Trinidad: 4127-5555; Cervino 4720, Capital Federal
Buenos Aires Province (San Isidro, suburbs):
- San Isidro: 4512-3700; JJ Diaz 818, San Isidro
- San Lucas: 4742-8888; Belgrano 369, San Isidro
- Sanatorio Trinidad: 4898-6700; Av. Fondo de la Lengua 851, San Isidro
CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
For vaccines and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/argentina.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
MUSTARD ON THE BACK SCAM: Unknown to you, a liquid is squirted on your back. After a few steps, someone, often a middle-aged woman, will inform you that you have something on your back and offer to help clean it off. Meanwhile, she or an accomplice picks your pockets. This scam has been used regularly in tourist areas such as San Telmo, La Boca, 9 de Julio, Recoleta, and Florida Street. This is one of the least confrontational crimes; just say "NO" and walk away.
Best Situational Awareness Practices
Most crime can be managed with common sense precautions. Do not wear flashy or expensive jewelry that draws attention; do not show cell phones, cameras, or other expensive equipment. Do not flash large amounts of cash, or carry expensive-looking bags, briefcases, or laptop cases in public. Do not carry all of your important documents in your wallet or purse. Carry a photocopy of your passport. Women should safeguard their purses while walking and when eating in restaurants or cafes. Watch your bags at airports, bus, and ship terminals. Criminals are often well-dressed, and crime can occur anytime during the day at any location. Use common sense and remain vigilant. Travel in groups when possible. Always stay in well-lit, populated areas and avoid parks after dark. Be alert to pick pocketing in tourist and shopping areas. If you are in a restaurant or other business that gets robbed, follow the instructions of the robbers and hand over valuables on demand. Criminals frequently resort to violence if they perceive a victim is being uncooperative. If confronted, offer no resistance and immediately hand over everything demanded.
Use ATMs located in public places like the hotel, shopping mall, or event venue. If the booth has a door, make sure it closes behind you. Visitors should use banks and ATMs and avoid street money changers; be aware of the fake peso exchange that usually occurs in taxis. This happens when the customer pays the driver, who quickly exchanges the good note for a fake one and then declares that a fake note has been passed to him. Visitors should watch the driver’s hands at all times and avoid paying with large bills. Pay with exact change as much as possible. If you pay for a small item with a large bill, you risk being shortchanged or getting counterfeit in change. Only take pesos as change. Use credit cards only at the hotel and major stores and restaurants. Watch your bills carefully for fraudulent charges.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
Av Colombia 4300, C1425GMN Buenos Aires, Argentina
Working hours: Monday - Friday from 8:30 am to 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm, except U.S. and Argentine holidays and administrative days
Embassy Contact Numbers
Regional Security Officer (RSO) Kristen Sivertson: Tel: 54-11-5777-4298/4535; email: RSOBuenosAires@state.gov
Consular Affairs: 54-11-5777-4310; BuenosAires-ACS@state.gov
Embassy Operator: 54-11-5777-4533/4534
OSAC Country Council Information
Buenos Aires has an active OSAC Country Council. For information on upcoming meetings and how to join, please contact the RSO Kristen Sivertson at 54-11-5777-4298/4535 or RSOBuenosAires@state.gov or OSAC’s Program Officer for the Western Hemisphere.