Portugal Petty Crime: How to Avoid It

Portugal is by far one of Europe's most popular and safe travel destinations but there are still things to keep an eye out for like scams and petty crime. Here are some tips to avoid becoming the next target.

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Portugal is by far one of Europe's most popular travel destinations. From beautiful architecture to breathtaking beaches, great food and exciting nightlife, you'll never want to leave. But although Portugal is considered a relatively safe place for visitors, there are still things to look out for while you're there.

Portugal's Low Crime Rate

Portugal boasts one of the world's lowest crime rates with violent crime a relatively rare occurrence and typically isolated to certain bad areas.

However, non-violent crime is an ongoing problem, particularly in the Capital city of Lisbon. Petty thieves are known to frequent areas where visitors can be found, looking to steal anything of value, from cash to passports to jewelry.

Here are some of the things to watch for and some tips to help you avoid becoming a victim.

Pickpocketing in Portugal

One of the most frequently reported crimes in Portugal is pickpocketing.

These thieves are good at what they do, and they often work in teams (sometimes using small children as a distraction) so it's important to always be aware of your surroundings.

Public transportation, airports, and hotel lobbies are prime locations for this petty crime because they are very crowded and usually full of tourists.

One place in particular where pickpockets seem to be quite active is aboard Tram 28, a popular tourist attraction that brings visitors to the famed Castle of São Jorge. Its frequent stops and crowded environment make it a perfect location for thieves to target their victims so if you're hitching a ride be sure to keep your valuables well concealed.

Bag Snatching

Another popular activity among Portuguese thieves is bag snatching.

Women who carry bags should be aware that if they leave them in plain sight, chances are a thief is interested. This is particularly true at restaurants, where women may hang their bags over the backs of their chairs or place them on the floor, leaving them vulnerable to crooks.

Bags should always be in sight, preferably on your lap or with the strap wrapped around either your leg or arm.

When walking, always hold your bag in front of you with a firm grip. Luggage is also a prime target for petty thieves, especially when left unattended in hotel lobbies or at the airport, so be aware.

Car Theft in Portugal

There have been a number of reported cases involving theft of personal items from vehicles.

Parked cars left unlocked or with the windows down are easy targets, especially in lots that are close to tourist attractions and near restaurants.

If you hire a vehicle, make sure it doesn't have stickers identifying it as a rental car. Keep your car doors locked at all times, whether you are moving or not.

Areas where visitors should be particularly cautious include the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace in Sintra, and at the beachfront areas of Guincho, Cabo da Roca and Boca do Inferno.

Another popular crime involves thieves approaching an occupied vehicle under the guise of asking for help or information, then stealing the occupants' personal items while they are distracted.

Don't Be Scammed

Criminals in Portugal have been known to target tourists with various scams so visitors should be wary of anyone approaching them on the street attempting to sell them something.

Ticket Scam

One popular scam involves crooks selling discounted tickets to area attractions, such as the Torre de Belem, only to find out afterward that the tickets are not valid. Remember the old adage, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Restaurant Scam

Some restaurants charge exorbitant prices for dishes which would normally be cheap or fairly priced. The prospective diners see the menu outside the restaurant showing reasonable prices and decide to dine there. A waiter will come along to attend to the diners, mentioning the daily specials and emphasizing how good they are and why. Diners choose the specials only to find out later how expensive the specials are when presented with the bill. When querying the bill, the diners are presented with a different menu showing the prices which they didn't see before.

Authorities generally can't do much about these overcharging restaurants but social media plays a vital role in naming and shaming the restaurants. So check reviews on Google or TripAdvisor before dining. Ironically, some of the Lisbon-based restaurants which are scamming people are run by a former pickpocket who used to ride Tram 28.

Accommodation Scams

There are reports that accommodation scams are on the rise in Portugal. Always book your accommodation through reputable vendors who use secure payment facilities and websites.

Crime Hot Spots in Portugal

Some areas to be cautious in include the Alfama and Bairro Alto districts, the Castle of São Jorge and train stations including the Rossio, Oriente and Santa Apolonia.

Lisbon tends to have more crime than the rest of Portugal, particularly in the Belem neighborhood.

Outside Lisbon, the towns of Mafra, Fatima, Sintra, and Cascais have their share of thefts and scams, as does the Algarve.

And in Madeira petty crimes have occurred in the Old Town and Santa Catarina Park areas of Funchal, although it's rather infrequent.

Tips To Avoid Petty Crime

Some ways to avoid being a victim of a petty crime are obvious - don't carry a lot of cash, keep valuables well concealed and stay alert. But there are a few other suggestions that will help you enjoy a safe, crime-free trip to Portugal:

  • Invest in a money belt and wear it in the front, under your clothing.
  • If you use a shoulder bag, choose one with a sturdy strap (preferably metal-lined), and wear it across your chest.
  • Carry backpacks on your chest rather than your back and keep zippers securely locked.
  • Never carry more money than what you need for the day.
  • While sitting in a restaurant, keep purses and bags on your lap. If this is not possible, keep them in your sight and firmly wrap the straps around either your arm or your leg. And always keep them zipped. Never leave a wallet sitting on your table. Gives thieves an easy snatch and grab the opportunity.
  • Avoid wearing visible jewelry.
  • Prior to traveling, make copies of all important documents (passport, ID, visa) and store the copies in a secure place. Keep originals on you, stored securely in your money belt.
  • If you need to check your guidebook or map, try to do so while sitting in a restaurant or cafe. If this is not possible, lean against a nearby wall while you consult your paperwork.

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1 Comment

  • Candido Silva dos Santos said

    I do spritiate that you work of making travelars aware of they well being

    I think is very important to use the right words

    like Portuguese thieves. not say that there no Portuguese thieves but is important to highlight that 94% percent of crimes targeted to tourist and Portuguese a like are committed by emigrants not Portuguese locals....

    thank you

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