Stay Safe in Brazil
The law requires everyone to carry a piece of photo identification with them at all times. For a foreigner, this is your passport. However, the police will usually be pragmatic and accept a laminated colour photocopy.
Even the most patriotic Brazilian would say that the country’s biggest problem is crime. Brazil is one of the most criminalised countries in the world; as a result, the crime rate is high, even for a developing nation. Pickpocketing and robberies are common, but perhaps even more frightening to visitors – and also sadly common – are the robberies at gunpoint that target both locals and tourists. Armed criminals sometimes rob hotels (from guesthouses to luxury resorts) and even tourist buses, or commit armed robberies in broad daylight in busy areas.
Most visitors to Brazil travel without incident, and a few precautions can greatly reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime. However, even with these precautions, the likelihood of a bad incident may not be negligible. Read the articles on different cities/regions for advice on specific cities or locations. In general, with the exception of some wealthy rural areas and small towns (especially in the south of the country), most parts of Brazil are not particularly safe. It is therefore advisable not to display valuables in public places, to avoid deserted streets at night, and especially to avoid poor, run-down towns or neighbourhoods. Brazilians and tourists are sometimes shot without warning as they enter certain areas, either by car or on foot. If you wish to visit a favela (shanty town) or an indigenous village, use a reputable, licensed tour operator.
Intercity buses are generally safe, but in large cities, intercity bus terminals are often located in run-down and unsafe parts of the city. It is therefore advisable to take a taxi to and from the terminal rather than walk. In tourist areas, tourists are often seen as “fair game” for criminals, so it is best not to look like a tourist. For example, avoid being seen with a large camera or guidebook (leave them in a backpack and use them discreetly only when necessary), or dressing in a way that is radically different from the locals. It is perfectly normal to stop locals sometimes to ask questions, but avoid looking distressed and vulnerable in public.
Murder is probably the number one fear of visitors to Brazil, but traffic fatalities are in fact almost as common as murders. In fact, the risk of a traffic fatality in Brazil is comparable to that of countries with a poor road safety record, such as Malaysia or Vietnam. This may come as a surprise, as traffic in Brazil, especially in the big cities, seems relatively well organised compared to these countries. Brazil has its share of irresponsible drivers who do not respect speed limits, drive under the influence of alcohol and sometimes ignore traffic lights. So always keep your eyes open when crossing the road, even if the pedestrian lights are green and the cars have stopped – you never know when a motorbike might pop up between two cars.
In some parts of the country, especially in the north, roads are often poorly maintained and traffic enforcement is rather lax. Although sometimes unavoidable, very long road journeys within the country should not be neglected if it is possible to fly instead.
Stay Healthy in Brazil
Food from street and beach vendors has a bad reputation for hygiene in Brazil. The later in the day, the worse it is. Bottled or canned drinks are safe, although some people insist on using a straw to avoid contact with the outside of the container.
Be aware of heat and humidity when storing perishable foods.
Tap water varies from place to place (it can be contaminated, salty or chlorinated, or simply drinkable) and Brazilians themselves generally prefer to have it filtered.
Water fountains (bebedouro) are often found in airports, bus stations, cheap hotels and shopping centres, but they are not always safe. In hostel kitchens, look for the tap with the cylindrical filter attached. More expensive hotels often don’t have publicly accessible fountains, and rooms have minibars that sell you mineral water at extremely inflated prices – buying bottled water from the shop is always the best alternative.
Yellow fever vaccination and anti-malarial medication may be required if you are travelling to the central-western (Mato Grosso) or northern (Amazon) regions. If you are arriving from Peru, Colombia or Bolivia, proof of yellow fever vaccination is required before entering Brazil. Some countries, such as Australia and South Africa, require proof of yellow fever vaccination before allowing entry if you have been in any part of Brazil in the previous week. Check the requirements of each country you will be travelling to from Brazil. The Brazilian coast is also at risk of dengue fever, and the ongoing (since 2016) outbreak of the Zika virus in Latin America has hit Brazil hard, with over 60,000 confirmed cases.
Public hospitals are generally overcrowded and terrible, but they treat all kinds of people, including foreigners. Most cities with at least 60,000 inhabitants have good private health care.
Dentists are numerous and much cheaper than in North America and Western Europe. In general, the quality of their work is consistent, but ask a local for advice and recommendations.
The emergency number is 190, but you must speak Portuguese.
Note that the air conditioning in airports, intercity buses, etc. is often very strong. Take long-sleeved clothing for air-conditioned places.
Although Brazil is widely known as a country where sex is freely available, it is sometimes misunderstood when it comes to HIV. Brazil has one of the best HIV prevention programmes and, as a result, a very low infection rate compared to most countries. Condoms are heavily promoted through government campaigns during Carnival and distributed free of charge by local public medical services.