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Portugal 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Europe > Portugal

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Lisbon 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 LISBON AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

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

Portugal is a developed and stable democracy with a modern economy just emerging from several years of economic crisis.

Crime Threats

Portugal has a relatively low rate of violent crime, but low-level street crime is common. While Portugal is a generally safe country, travelers should exercise appropriate care. Petty thefts and other crimes of opportunity (muggings, purse snatchings, vehicle theft, pickpocketing) occur frequently, particularly in the major cities. Thieves often loiter in tourist locations, near beaches, and transportation hubs to take advantage of disoriented/distracted travelers. Pickpockets take advantage of crowds getting on/off of all forms of public transportation, using the jostling of the crowd as a distraction. Thieves tend to “rush” the entrances to the buses/trams and can work in pairs or groups to offer distractions while the real thief steals your belongings. At restaurants, items that hang over the backs of chairs or are placed on the floor are particularly vulnerable. Unattended luggage can be stolen at the airport. Wallets and cellphones are particularly vulnerable. Crime reporting typically increases during the summer and over the winter holidays, primarily due to the increase in tourism.

Be careful walking into train/metro stations at night; only enter well-illuminated and well-traveled stations. Avoid parks during the late evening/early morning hours due mainly to vice activities.

Criminal incidents occur with less frequency in the Azores and Madeira as compared to mainland Portugal.

Vice activities (gambling, prostitution, narcotics) exist. Organized crime is not a major issue. Eastern European criminal organizations are present and predominantly engaged in racketeering, extortion, and vice-related criminal activity. Other gang activities are generally limited to immigrant ethnic groups and focused on narcotics, petty crimes, and turf protection.

Small groups of adolescents/young adults/women occasionally commit petty thefts and vehicle burglaries around common tourist spots (plazas, beaches, cafes).

When parking on the street or in an unmarked lot, often men will be there to assist in parking your vehicle, and they ask for one-two Euros. If the driver does not pay, often the vehicle gets scratched or damaged.

If when returning to a parked vehicle, a flat tire is observes with someone volunteering to assist with repairs, use caution. While a helpful citizen distracts the traveler, an accomplice will steal unattended items.

ATMs are widespread and accept most U.S. ATM cards for withdrawals. Use ATMs inside bank alcoves with a friend standing watch while you secure everything before departing the bank area. Many local establishments will only accept credit cards with a chip or cash.

Notify someone who is not accompanying you of your intended travel plans, to include a detailed itinerary.

Use hotel safety deposit boxes usually kept behind the hotel front desk – hotel room safes offer marginal levels of protection. Do not get off on your floor or go to your hotel room if you feel you are being followed. Go back down to the lobby and report the incident to the front desk. Check with the front desk for verification if someone claims to be hotel staff. Know all entry and exit points in case of a fire.

When renting vacation lodging, make sure to assess the accommodation’s security systems.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime, in the form of online extortion and IT scams are on the rise.

Other Areas of Concern

Pickpocketing and purse snatchings in the Lisbon area are most likely to occur in buses, hotel lobbies, restaurants, the airport, trains, train stations, and trams. Take special care in the Oriente, Santa Apolonia, Entrecampos, Marques do Pombal, and Rossio metro and train stations, the Sete Rios bus station, the Alfama, Baixa and Bairro Alto districts, and the tourist areas of Belém.

Outside Lisbon, thefts have been reported in the popular tourist destinations of Sintra, Cascais, Mafra, Obidos, Fatima, Coimbra, Setubal, Porto, and in the Algarve. Take special care when parking in the areas around the castles and palaces in Sintra and at the beachfront areas of Peniche, Nazaré, Guincho, Cabo da Roca, and Boca do Inferno. In the Algarve, there have been some reports of robberies in vacation homes, and tourist vehicles have been broken into while shoppers were visiting local shops. Pickpocketing, while infrequent, may occur in the Old Town and Santa Catarina Park areas of Funchal in Madeira.

On São Miguel Island, Azores, the areas between Ponta Delgada and Lagoa, and Ribeira Grande, while infrequent, have reports of crimes of opportunity and drug use/sale.

While recent law changes have increased regulation of private security activities (to include bouncers at bars/night clubs), patrons should exercise caution in dealing with nightclub security. They are prone to violence, and police often struggle to find evidence or witnesses to any events related to an escalation of force by security.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Highways are exceptional, and secondary roads are generally of good quality and well maintained. In remote locations and in historic city centers, traffic lanes are very narrow and can be difficult to navigate. Traffic enforcement is limited, but the use of speed cameras is on the rise. The police in continental Portugal have the authority to fine on-the-spot, and most of their vehicles have portable ATMs to facilitate immediate payment. Particularly problematic are failures to properly merge, yield, and safely change lanes and drivers disregarding traffic control signals. Motorists, especially motorcyclists, often drive excessively fast and violate traffic codes. Motorcyclists/scooters are permitted to drive between the lanes and go to the front of traffic at stoplights, all of which can be disconcerting for unexpected drivers. All highways have tolls, and most require an electronic device or pre/post payment when using.

Incidents of serious traffic accidents in the Azores and Madeira are rare. However, high speeds, bad weather, and unskilled drivers contribute to accidents, including rollovers and those involving multiple vehicles and often resulting in serious injuries/fatalities. In the Azores, driving can be challenging due to narrow cobblestone streets, blind curves, blind corners, and livestock on country roads. Payments for traffic fines are not made on the spot; traffic violations are registered by radar and forwarded to the offender via the postal service.

Lower speed accidents predominantly occur in the cities and urban areas, and particular caution should be exercised when traversing intersections, as motorists often accelerate to beat traffic lights, or they become impatient and disregard the traffic light altogether. While traffic congestion is notable and predominantly in Lisbon, Porto, and surrounding metropolitan areas, long queues during rush hours are commonplace, yet incidences of road rage are rare.

Drivers and passengers are required to wear seatbelts, must use hands-free headsets for cell phones (if using headsets, one ear must remain uncovered/unobstructed), and are encouraged to drive defensively. Small children under 12-years old and less than 1.35m must be in child safety seats in the rear seat; if the vehicle has only two seats or is not fitted with seat belts in the back, then a child less than three-years old can sit in the front seat using a rearward-facing restraint system and the airbag deactivated in the passenger’s seat.

Rental cars and vehicles with out-of-town/foreign license plates are frequent targets for break-ins, particularly when parked at popular tourist destinations and beaches. In Lisbon and other large cities, be mindful of beggars or street performers at intersections.

For traffic accidents and emergencies, dial 112. Portuguese law requires you to leave your vehicle where it is and immediately notify the police. Drivers involved must exchange details and parties complete the Declaração Amigável (Friendly Agreement, accident report), which is submitted to each driver’s insurance company. It is required for all drivers to maintain third-party insurance coverage. Other safety precautions are necessary – please refer to local laws.

Public Transportation Conditions 

Be careful when using public transportation. Electronics and unattended luggage are particularly vulnerable to theft. When walking into train/metro stations at night, only enter well-illuminated and well-traveled stations.

Taxis are a reliable means of transportation, though be alert to possible discrepancies between the meter fare and the amount requested by the driver. Always ask the taxi driver to use the meter. Taxis can charge additional fees related to baggage, not including handbags. Always use a taxi from the queue or kiosk; do not utilize someone who walks up to you and offers you a ride.

In the Azores, taxis do not have meters; the fare consists of a base fee plus a posted rate per kilometer traveled.

Public buses are inexpensive. Bus services begin at 0700 hrs and generally operate until 2000 hrs, depending on the destination.

Buses and train/metro system are reliable.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Portugal’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.

High winds can temporarily close airports in the Azores and Madeira.  

Other Travel Conditions

Under Portugal’s new rules, drones may be used only during the daytime, in the line of sight of the operator, up to an altitude of 120 meters (400 feet), and are subject to restriction in proximity to airports, military installations, and commercial aircraft.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED LISBON AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

While Portugal has been largely free of major terrorist incidents, it maintains open borders with its neighbors, allowing the possibility of terrorist operatives to enter/exit with anonymity. Law enforcement and security officials, in close cooperation with neighboring countries, maintain an effective anti-terrorism effort and a welcoming environment for tourism and business.

Authorities remain alert to recruitment and radicalization of religious converts, and they work closely with U.S. and European partners to counter associated risks.

The call for self-radicalization, whether disseminated on extremist forums or via the broader approach via social media, continued to be a global concern. It is difficult to determine which message will inspire a violent extremist or sympathizer.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

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

Civil Unrest 

Prior police approval is required for all public demonstrations, and police are present to ensure adequate security for participants and passers-by. Portugal has experienced a notable period of political and social tranquility; however, recent economic uncertainties have resulted in civil discontent manifesting in generally peaceful protests, on average about five or six protests a month, according to government statistics. Even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable; you should avoid them if at all possible.  

Sometimes fights occur leading up to and following a soccer match. Be cognizant of local culture and team colors when traveling in the area of or when attending a game.

Religious/Ethnic Violence 

Portugal is a multi-ethnic/religious country, and a harmonious relationship generally exists between all groups. Occasionally, inter-ethnic disputes may arise in depressed neighborhoods owing more to socio-economic pressures than an ethnic conflict or clash of political/religious ideologies.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Quakes measuring 3.5-6.7 have been recorded on land and in territorial waters. The implementation of improved modern construction techniques in accordance with contemporary EU seismic protocols for large, multi-storied structures are noteworthy; however, many smaller buildings and dated residential dwellings do not incorporate such features and are susceptible to collapse in an earthquake. Consult with the U.S Geological Survey (USGS) for information on earthquakes including preparedness.

Mainland Portugal and the Azores and Madeira are prone to occasional storms. Storms in the islands created flash floods that can cause deaths, significant damage, and considerable erosion. For updated local weather, consult the Institute for Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA) English page.

Fires, especially in the summer, can be devastating and occur with little warning. Stay on top of local media weather reporting or refer to the National Authority for Civil Protection (ANPC).

Critical Infrastructure

Two main bridges connect Lisbon to the southern part of Portugal, which if damaged, could cause major disruptions to movement in and out of the city.

A Galp refinery is in Sines, which is the fifth largest port in Europe (about 1.5 hours south of Lisbon).

Economic Concerns

Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal to bring back into the U.S., you may also be breaking local law. 

Privacy Concerns

Portugal has strict privacy laws that govern the release of personal information. Portugal places a premium on privacy rights and individual freedoms.

Personal Identity Concerns

If you are a woman traveling abroad, please review the Consular Bureau’s travel tips for women travelers.

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex relations or the organization of LGBT events. For more detailed information about LGBT rights in Portugal, you may review the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015. For further information on LGBT travel, please review the Consular Bureau’s LGBTI travel information page.

Individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from those in the U.S. Public transportation vehicles have specially reserved seats for individuals with disabilities, but some vehicles may not be equipped to load/secure wheelchairs.

  • The State Railway Operator, Comboios de Portugal (CP), has an integrated mobility service (SIM) aimed at helping passengers with reduced mobility. Customer service representatives can be reached at 351 707 210 220. SIM staff provide for train and station accessibility; assistance during boarding/exiting or during the train ride; and they also assist with trip planning. Some train stations are equipped with elevators. While SIM service is free of charge, requests for information or assistance must be made at least 48 hours before travel. CP offers discounts to residents of Portugal of up to 75% upon presentation of the cartão do deficiente (disabled person’s card). The card is available from CP ticket offices and is valid for two years. For additional information, please visit CP’s website.
  • Some 36 of Lisbon Metro’s 56 stations offer full accessibility to people with disabilities. There are no reduced fares for passengers with disabilities. There are elevators and moving walkways at main stations that provide access from the platform to street level and payment machines adapted for passengers with disabilities and/or visual impairment. Passengers with visual disabilities can travel with leashed and muzzled guide dogs. Check Lisbon Metro’s website for more information.
  • Porto’s metro system affords accessibility for passengers with disabilities system-wide with a network of elevators, ramps, and spaces for wheelchairs onboard metro cars. Check Porto Metro’s website for more information about accessibility.
  • All airports provide wheelchairs and bathrooms to accommodate disabilities.
  • Parking for people with disabilities, designated with a wheelchair symbol, is available in most supermarkets and commercial centers. Some lots offer free parking to vehicles displaying a disabled parking sign. There are no discounts for street parking.
  • The National Help Line for the Disabled (Linha Nacional de Apoio à Deficiência) is 351 800 208 462. Assistance is in Portuguese.


Drug-related Crimes

Portugal is a gateway for drugs entering Europe, particularly from South America and western Africa. In addition to direct shipments from South America, traffickers use former colonies (Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde) as transshipment, refueling, and storage points for cocaine-laden vessels from South America en route to Europe. While cocaine is the most significant drug threat, ecstasy, hashish, and heroin are also readily available.

Drugs or mixtures appearing to be drugs are often sold at night, in the downtown area, especially near the bars and restaurants, and travelers may be approached by drug dealers. Do not be surprised if you are offered drugs on the street.

Drug trafficking of any amount is illegal. Drug possession is prohibited even though since 2001 personal use quantities have been decriminalized. Individuals found to have personal use amounts are referred to the Drug Addiction Dissuasion Commission, consisting of multi-disciplinary teams charged with assessing users and deciding the appropriate sanction and referral to educational or treatment programs.

Police Response

Portuguese law enforcement authorities are professional.

Portuguese law requires that everyone carry official identification. This ID must be displayed upon request to any police official. U.S. citizens who are not residents need to present a U.S. passport.

Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own, and criminal penalties will vary. It is against Portuguese law to record police or military personnel, unless part of a special ceremony or at a tourist location. It is also against the law to take photos or record images of the general public without their permission. It is always best to ask prior to taking a photo or video. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.”

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Reports of unlawful detention, intimidation, harassment, and graft, etc. are rare. Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements, and customary international law, if you are arrested, you have the right to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy/Consulate of your arrest and to have communications from you forwarded to the Embassy/Consulate. To ensure that the U.S. is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the U.S. Embassy or nearest Consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained.

If improprieties are encountered, seek legal counsel for appropriate assistance and report incidents to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

In an emergency involving a U.S. citizen after normal business hours, please contact the Embassy by calling the main switchboard at 351-21-727-3300 or 351-21-094-2000 and press 0 to speak directly to an Embassy official.

Crime Victim Assistance

If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the police and the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate. The emergency number is 112, and English speaking operators are available. For social welfare emergencies (domestic violence, child abuse) dial 144. English-speaking operators are available.

The government takes crime against tourists/visitors seriously and makes attempts to reinforce the presence and visibility of all law enforcement entities in the streets and within the communities.

The U.S. Embassy can:
Replace a stolen passport;
Put you in contact with police authorities and assist in contacting family members/friends; and
Help you understand the local criminal justice process and direct you to local attorneys; although authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime.  

Portugal has a crime victim’s assistance program, administered through an organization known by its acronym, APAV.

APAV – (Lisbon)
Rua José Estêvão, 135 A, Pisos ½
1150-201 Lisboa, Portugal
Tel. 21 358 79 00
Email: apav.sede@apav.pt

Serviços de Sede (Porto)
Rua Aurélio Paz dos Reis 351 
4250-068 Porto 
tel. 22 834 68 40 | fax. 22 834 68 41
Office hours in Lisbon are weekdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 2 to 5:30 p.m.; tel: 351 21 358 79 00, and in Estoril, near Cascais, the office hours are weekdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 2 to 7 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; tel: 21 466 42 71.  English speakers are available to help you. 

There is also an SOS immigrant line with English speaking operators ready to help you in case of emergency. You may contact them at 351 808 257 257 between 0830-2030 hrs.

Police/Security Agencies 

Law enforcement is the main responsibility of five bodies:

  • Polícia de Segurança Pública (PSP, Public Security Police). PSP is a civilian police force that works in larger urban areas and has tourist units to provide additional assistance. PSP is tasked with safeguarding internal security and the rights of citizens. The PSP is the leading agency responsible for maintaining public order, countering violent acts, and performing tactical intervention.
  • Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR, National Republican Guard). The national guard is a military police office with civilian policing responsibilities (gendarmerie) that work predominantly in rural areas too small to warrant the PSP, and they provide a national highway patrol.
  • Polícia Judiciária (PJ, Judicial Police). Overseen by the Public Ministry, the PJ’s mandate focuses on prevention, detection, and investigation of violent, organized, and financial crime.
  • Policia Maritima (PM, Maritime Police). They primarily focus on law enforcement operations on the waterways, but they have jurisdiction along the waterfront and the assorted bars and restaurants located near the river.
  • Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF, Immigration and Borders Service). SEF’s fundamental objectives within the internal security policy include border control of persons, permanence and the activities of foreigners in Portugal, and the study, promotion, coordination and execution of measures and actions related to these activities and migratory flows. 


Medical Emergencies

Quality medical facilities are widely available. Hospitals may not have staff members who are fluent in English. Calls to 112 emergency centers are free from any phone. The operator will put you in contact with the emergency service that you require.

Medical emergency (ambulances): 112
National Police/Security Police/Fire Service: 112
Sea Rescue: 214 401 919 
Maritime Police (plus pick-up boat service): 210 911 100
Maritime Police (24hrs emergency): 210 911 155/49
Pan-European emergency number: 112

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

The Embassy's Consular Section maintains a list of English-speaking doctors.

Available Air Ambulance Services

National Authority for Civil Protection (ANPC)
Portugal under the Ministry of Interior
Av. do Forte de Carnaxide  2794-120, Carnaxide
Telephone: 21 416 5100 

Insurance Guidance

It is very important you ask your insurance company prior to departure if your policy applies when outside of the U.S. and if that insurance covers emergencies or an evacuation. In many places, doctors and hospitals expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors' and hospital visits.

Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs do not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the U.S. If it does not cover you abroad, it is a good idea to consider purchasing a short-term policy designed specifically to cover travel. Many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including medical evacuations. The names of some of the companies offering short-term health and emergency assistance policies are listed under insurance information on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

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

OSAC Country Council Information

There is currently no active Country Council in Portugal. Please contact OSAC’s Europe team if you are interested in private-sector engagement in Lisbon or have questions about OSAC’s Country Council programs.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

U.S. Embassy Lisbon
Av. das Forças Armadas, Sete-Rios
1600-081 Lisbon, Portugal

Hours of operation: Mon-Fri, 0800-1700 (except for American and Portuguese holidays)

Embassy Contact Numbers

Tel: + (351) (21) 770-2122
Emergency After-Hours Tel: + (351) (21)-770-2122 or + (351) (21) 727-3300
Fax:+(351) (21) 727-2354
Email: conslisbon@state.gov
http://www.facebook.com/AmCitsinPortugal 
Website: https://pt.usembassy.gov/

Consular coverage for multi-post countries

The Embassy’s area of responsibility includes mainland Portugal, the Azores Islands, and the Madeira archipelago.

Nearby Posts

Consulate Ponta Delgada: http://pontadelgada.usconsulate.gov/

Embassy Guidance

All travelers should enroll in the STEP. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  

Additional Resources

Portugal Country Specific Information