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Safety Travel Safety: Americas: Brazil

Brazil: Federative Republic of Brazil
Capital: Brasilia
Population: 176,029,560
Currency: real (BRL)
Languages: Portuguese (official), Spanish, English, French
Religions: Roman Catholic (nominal) 80%
Argentina 1,224 km, Bolivia 3,400 km, Colombia 1,643 km, French Guiana 673 km, Guyana 1,119 km, Paraguay 1,290 km, Peru 1,560 km, Suriname 597 km, Uruguay 985 km, Venezuela 2,200 km

Brazil, a nation the size of the lower 48 United States, has an advanced developing economy. Facilities for tourism are excellent in the major cities, but vary in quality in remote areas. The capital is Brasilia.

Political and labor strikes and demonstrations occur sporadically in urban areas and may cause temporary disruption to public transportation. All protests have the potential to turn violent. While it is unlikely that U.S. citizens would be targeted during such events, U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Brazil are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid any large gatherings or any other event where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest. Individuals with ties to criminal entities operate along the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. These organizations are involved in the trafficking of illicit goods, and some individuals in the area are financially supporting designated foreign terrorist organizations. The three countries have notably stepped up cross-border law enforcement efforts and are working together, supported by the U.S. government, to combat illegal activities in that area. U.S. citizens crossing into Paraguay or Argentina in that area may wish to consult the Consular Information Sheets for those countries.

Colombian terrorist groups have been known to operate in the border areas of neighboring countries. Although there have been reports of isolated small-scale armed incursions from Colombia into Brazil in the past, we know of no specific threat directed against U.S. citizens across the border in Brazil at this time. Colombian groups, however, are openly targeting U.S. citizens for kidnapping in border areas of Venezuela, and have perpetrated kidnappings of residents and tourists in border areas of Panama. Therefore, U.S. citizens traveling or residing in areas of Brazil near the Colombian Border are urged to exercise caution. U.S. citizens are urged to take care when visiting remote parts of the Amazon basin. Recent cases of violence against U.S. citizens' interests, U.S. fishermen and other adventure tourists detained by angry indigenous people (or their Brazilian Government representatives - (FUNAI) for trespassing on protected land, and tourists lost in the forest for a week, underline the risks inherent in visiting one of the world's great wildernesses. U.S. visitors should ensure that their outfitter/guide is experienced in the Amazon.

Crime rates throughout Brazil have increased, but remain highest in the larger cities. The incidence of crime against tourists is greater in areas surrounding beaches, hotels, discotheques, bars, nightclubs, and other similar establishments that cater to visitors and is especially prevalent during Carnaval (Brazilian Mardi Gras). Occasionally, crime against tourists has been violent and has led to some deaths. While the risk is greater at dusk and during the evening hours, street crime can occur during both the day and night, and safer areas of the city are not immune. Incidents of theft on city buses are frequent, and such transportation should be avoided. Several Brazilian cities have established specialized tourist police units to patrol areas frequented by tourists. Recently, there has been a marked increase in crime in the capital, Brasilia. Armed robberies of homes and vehicles, some violent, and street crime are becoming commonplace. In Rio de Janeiro, efforts by jailed drug lords to exert influence over the city, has lead to a violent backlash against the local authorities and businesses (see separate section on Rio de Janeiro).

At airports, hotel lobbies, bus stations and other public places there is much pickpocketing, and the theft of carry-on luggage, briefcases, and laptop computers is common (including some reports of thefts on internal flights). Travelers should "dress down" when outside and avoid carrying valuables or wearing jewelry or expensive watches. "Good Samaritan" scams are common. If a tourist looks lost or seems to be having trouble communicating, he or she might be victimized by a seemingly innocent and helpful bystander. Care should be taken at and around banks and internationally connected automatic teller machines that take U.S. credit or debit cards. Very poor neighborhoods known as "favelas," often located on steep hillsides in Rio de Janeiro, are found throughout Brazil. These areas are sites of uncontrolled criminal activity, and are often not patrolled by police. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid these unsafe areas.

While the ability of Brazilian police to help recover stolen property is limited, it is nevertheless strongly advised to obtain a "boletin de ocorrencia" (police report) at a "delegacia" (police station) whenever any possessions are lost or stolen. This will facilitate the traveler's exit from Brazil and insurance claims. Carjackings are on the increase in Sao Paulo and other cities. 

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at

SAO PAULO: While similar incidents may occur elsewhere, all areas of Sao Paulo have a high rate of armed robbery of pedestrians at stoplights. There is a particularly high incidence of robberies and pickpocketing in the Praca da Se section of Sao Paulo and in the eastern part of the city. As is true of "red light districts" in other cities, the areas of Sao Paulo on Rua Augusta north of Avenida Paulista and the Estacao de Luz metro area are especially dangerous. There are regular reports of young women known as "Mickey Finn girls" slipping knock-out drops in men's drinks and robbing them of all their belongings while they are unconscious. Armed holdups of pedestrians and motorists by young men on motorcycles (�motoboys�) are an increasingly common occurrence in some parts of Sao Paulo. Victims who resist, risk being shot.

RIO DE JANEIRO: The city continues to experience a high incidence of crime. Tourists are particularly vulnerable to street thefts and robberies on and in areas adjacent to all the main beaches in the city. Walking on the beaches is very dangerous at night. Recent efforts of incarcerated drug lords to exert their power outside of their jail cells have resulted in serious disruptions in the city, violence directed at the authorities and incidents of crimes against property, including after-hours shootings and explosions set off outside hotels and restaurants frequented by tourists. While these occurrences have not resulted in any injuries to U.S. citizens, visitors and residents alike should be aware that inconveniences such as closed shops and disrupted municipal services are likely. In Rio de Janeiro City, motorists are allowed to treat stoplights as stop signs between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. to protect against holdups at intersections. All incidents should be reported to the tourist police, who can be reached at 511-5112 3399-7170/71/72/73.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Brazilian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Brazil are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Medical care is generally good, but it varies in quality, particularly in remote areas, and it may not meet U.S. standards outside the major cities. The Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo is regularly used by U.S. Government personnel and other expatriates from throughout Brazil. The hospital phone is (55-11) 3747-1301.

Travelers may consider obtaining an Inter-American Driving Permit, to carry along with their valid U.S. license, if they plan to drive while in Brazil. Such permits can be obtained through AAA or other sources. While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Brazil is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Good to Fair 
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good to Fair 
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good to Poor 
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Good to Poor

Road conditions in Brazil vary widely throughout the country. State roads (especially in the south) are often excellent, while federal, interstate highways (designated by �BR') are often very poor due to lack of maintenance. There are occasional stretches of modern divided highway (especially in Sao Paulo State ) that rival European or U.S. roads. In municipal areas, however, signs, shoulders, exits, and merge lanes tend to be haphazard. There are many potholes and surfaces are frequently uneven and bumpy. Some stretches of federal roads are so potholed that high-clearance vehicles are needed to traverse them. Many cities and towns have erected speed bumps, which are sometimes severe and may be unpainted and unmarked. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and horse-drawn vehicles all can be encountered, and pose hazards even on major routes. Travel after dark outside city centers is not recommended because of animals and broken down vehicles. Dirt roads are the rule in remote areas. These vary widely in quality and may quickly become more dangerous, even impassable, in rainy weather. Passenger car travel can be reasonably safe in most areas if one takes into account the prevailing conditions described above and exercises due prudence and caution. Passenger-bus hijacking, usually non-violent, occurs at random, most commonly in the Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro metropolitan areas.

Brazil's inter-city roads are widely recognized as among the most dangerous in the world. The Federal Highway Police reported 120,000 accidents in 1998, but this is believed to be a very conservative figure. As is the case elsewhere in the region, poor driving skills, bad roads and a high density of trucks combine to make travel considerably more hazardous than in the United States. There are no laws requiring truckers to take mandatory rest stops, and they often drive for excessive periods of time. All major inter-city routes are saturated with heavy truck traffic, and for the most part have only two lanes. Road maintenance is inadequate and some long-distance roads through the Amazon forest are impassable much of the year. While the government is encouraging the development of a cargo railway network to relieve road congestion, currently there are few railroads, and passenger train travel is almost nonexistent. Private cars and public buses are the main modes of inter-city road travel. Buses can range (depending on the route and the price) from luxurious and well maintained to basic and mechanically unsound.

The Brazilian Federal Government maintains a (Portuguese language) website with up-to-date information on road conditions throughout the country ( It also has downloadable state roadmaps. A private Brazilian company, Quatro Rodas, publishes road maps that contain local phone numbers to ascertain the current conditions of roads on the map. They are available at Apart from toll roads, which generally have their own services, roadside assistance is available only very sporadically and informally through local private mechanics. There is a group called the "Angels of the Pavement" that provides roadside assistance on the main highway between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The fastest way to summon assistance in an emergency anywhere in the country is to dial 193, a universal number staffed by local fire departments. This service is in Portuguese only. Many motorists in major urban areas and more developed parts of the country carry cellular phones, and can be asked to assist in calling for help. 

A new Brazilian highway code strengthening and consolidating Brazilian traffic laws entered into force on January 22, 1998. While the law establishes a system of sometimes severe penalties for a number of old and new traffic offenses, enforcement ranges from sporadic to non-existent, so motorists should not assume that others will necessarily follow even the most fundamental and widely accepted rules of the road. Some important local rules and customs include the following: - Seat Belts: All states have seat belt laws, but enforcement varies from state to state.

Child Car Seats: Some states require child car seats, but they are not universally available or affordable, and enforcement is also lax. As a result, most children are not secured in car seats. 

Speed Limits: The maximum speed limit on major, divided highways is 120kmph (74 mph). Lower limits (usually 60kmph (40 mph)) are often posted in urban areas, depending on the road and the nature of the neighborhood. Speed limits are widely ignored and rarely enforced. Many towns and cities have marked electronic/photographic devices ("Fiscalisacao Electronica"), which verify speed and snap photos of violators' cars and license plates as a basis for issuing speeding tickets. 

Yielding the Right of Way: Drivers must yield the right of way to cars on their right. Stop signs are rarely enforced, so many motorists treat them as yield signs. 
Driving Under the Influence: Drivers are in violation of the law if blood/alcohol level reaches 0.6 percent. 

Turns on Red Lights: Not permitted, except for right turns where there is a sign with an arrow pointing right and the words "Livre a Direita". 
Penalties for Drivers Involved in an Accident Resulting in Injury or Death: In addition to possible criminal charges and penalties, compensatory and punitive damages may also apply. 

Local Driving Customs: Drivers often use flashes or wave a hand out of the window to signal other drivers to slow down. Drivers will often break suddenly to slow down for the electronic speed traps mentioned above. In addition, pedestrian "zebra" crossings are strictly observed in some places (e.g., Brasilia ) and ignored most everywhere else. 

For specific information concerning Brazilian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please contact the Brazilian National Tourist Organization offices in New York via the Internet at For additional information from other sources in Brazil about road safety and specific information about accident statistics, Brazilian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please see the following web sites: (Brazilian Federal Highway Police, in Portuguese only), and (Ministry of Transportation, in Portuguese only).

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Brazil's civil aviation authority as Category 1 - in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Brazil's air carrier operations. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone (618) 229-4801. Foreigners are required to carry their passports for internal flights.

Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

October 14, 2004

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