Safety and Emergencies for Expats in Brazil

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: May 2014

Safety – Natural Hazards

Natural disasters are not particularly common in Brazil. The major hazard is flooding, which causes mostly economic damage. Floods are most common in the Amazon basin, which most expats will only encounter on short trips. A related hazard resulting from torrential rain comes from mudslides. These caused more than 500 deaths in Rio de Janeiro state in 2011. Hardest hit were hillside favelas. It is important to monitor the weather and condition of hilly areas that may be vulnerable to mudslides.

In high summer, in most parts of the country, there is a risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. To avoid these conditions, it is important to make sure you drink enough water and wear loose, lightweight clothing. Above all, try to arrange your day so you are out of the sun in the middle of the day when it is especially hot, taking breaks in cooler places whenever possible.

If you are considering swimming in the sea, you should be aware that sharks and riptides are possible hazards. Follow all the local advice and do not swim when advised not to.

Safety – Man-Made Hazards

It cannot be ignored that Brazil has a major problem with crime, not only in the metropolises of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, but in most Brazilian cities, and especially in the North-East. Cities such as Recife and João Pessoa regularly appear in the world’s top 50 for violent crime.

Crime is especially prevalent in the shanty towns known as favelas; these should generally be avoided. Many criminals operate during festivals and carnivals. In the run-up to the World Cup, and the 2016 Olympics, Rio de Janeiro state and the national government have launched crime reduction programmes. These have had some success in reducing crime in the worst affected areas. Nevertheless, it is important to take all necessary cautions.

Violent crime such as muggings and carjacking can occur in the favelas and other areas. Muggers sometimes form gangs and often have guns. If you are held up, you should hand over your money quickly – if they think you are resisting, they may shoot you. Another common crime is ‘express kidnapping’, in which you are directed at gunpoint to the nearest cash machine or shop, then relieved of some of your money.

Petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and bag-snatching are also common, especially in the busier cities. These and other forms of theft are most likely to occur in crowded tourist areas, on beaches, in bars and on public transport.To prevent such crimes, it is important to stay aware of what is going on around you and keeping valuables such as money, jewellery, mobile phones and laptops out of sight as much as possible. Avoiding isolated cash machines is also recommended.

The threat of sexual assault is generally low, but harassment and assault can and do occur on public transport, with buses being less safe than metros. There have been reports of the use of ‘date rape’ drugs. Make sure at all times that your drinks are supervised, and do not accept unattended drinks from strangers.

The risk from terrorism has increased in the last year. It is therefore prudent to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity. Recently also, there have been frequent, well-attended protests in many large Brazilian cities. As some of these demonstrations have turned violent, they are best avoided. You can use the local media to help you keep aware of them.

For more information on how to be safe in Brazil, see our Staying Safe and Healthy article.


The emergency numbers that can be used in Brazil are given in the table below. The emergency operator will answer in Portuguese.

Emergency Service No. Areas
State Civil Police 190 Everywhere in Brazil
Federal Police 194
Ambulance (SAMU) 192
Fire Brigade 193


Alternatively, you can use the Mercosul (South American Common Market) emergency number, 128 for any emergency. If dialled from a mobile phone, the international emergency number 112 (also 911) will be redirected to 190.