Argentina Crime - What to Watch Out For

Argentina is one of the safest countries for travelers in Latin America, but petty crime does occur. Here's what to look out for to stay safe in Argentina.

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Mendoza Bus Stop Photo © iStock.com/holgs

Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, is one of the safest cities in South America, but that doesn't mean you it's crime-free. Exercise a little common sense and you will have a safe and enjoyable time in one of Latin America's most vibrant cities.

Petty crime is most common in and around public transport hubs in Buenos Aires and Mendoza. Recently, thieves have been targeting passports.

Be aware, criminals have been known to use force if they encounter resistance from travelers, so it's advisable to immediately hand over all cash and valuables when confronted or cornered.

Here's a list of the most common types of petty crime and where they occur most frequently.

Scams in Argentina

Distraction Theft

Thieves rob tourists while an accomplice pretends to help remove tomato sauce or mustard that has been 'accidentally' sprayed on them.

More straightforward thieves will simply slit the handbags of travelers in crowded or public places such as cafes, on the subway system, and on train and bus stations.

Bar Scams

One scam works by enticing a traveler into a wiskeria (bar) with a flyer for a shopping discount or free show. Once inside, the traveler is not allowed to leave until they agree to pay an exorbitant amount for a drink.

Pickpockets in Argentina

These opportunists are rife on public transport and around transport hubs. They are often neatly dressed and will often try to grab bags from between people's feet. Some will even come cruising past you on a skateboard or motorcycle, grab what they want and take off.

You can reduce the chance of being targeted if you avoid wearing expensive watches, jewelry or carrying cameras that are tempting targets for thieves. 

Electronic goods such as smartphones and iPads are expensive in Argentina, so they are highly prized goods for thieves. Avoid using them in public spaces or leaving them unsecured. Travelers have reported having their phones snatched from their hands while using them.

Only carry the cash you need for the day, and be careful when withdrawing cash from ATMs, as it's common for thefts to take place. Stay alert at all times and if possible only use ATMs in banks or hotels.

Crime Hot Spots

Buenos Aires

Travelers should be cautious in touristy areas, including La Boca, San Telmo, downtown, and in the Retiro bus terminal, where robberies are common. Avoid shady neighborhoods including Villa Lugano and Villa Riachuelo, especially after dark. In La Boca, stick to the main tourist precinct, even during the day.

The U.S Bureau of Diplomatic Security also warns travelers to be alert in the northern affluent suburbs of Buenos Aires including Vicente Lopez, Olivos, Martinez and San Isidro, as well as the neighborhoods of Palermo, Belgrano, and Nunez.

Mendoza

Be alert around transport hubs, especially the bus terminal, where distraction thefts are the method of choice for most thieves. General San Martin Park is another spot where thieves like to hang out.

Taxi Safety

When using taxis, if possible, book in advance. Only use radio taxis or a remise (a private car with driver).

Radio taxis have a clearly visible company logo on the rear passenger doors.

Taxis are a common place for counterfeiters to ply their trade. Unscrupulous taxi drivers, and sometimes street vendors, pretend to help ttravelers review their pesos, then trade fake bills for good ones.

When you leave your taxi, be aware that many people in the street and in the subway hand out small cards with horoscopes, lottery numbers, pictures of saints, or cute drawings on them. If you take the card, the person will ask for payment. You can simply return the card along with a ‘no, gracias‘.

Carjackings in Argentina

Crimes against car passengers, particularly when stopped at traffic lights, occur occasionally. Keep windows closed and doors locked in major cities.

Traveling by car in regional areas can be dangerous. Care should be taken when driving in the Province of Misiones, close to the borders with Paraguay and Brazil. The area is used to smuggle goods, particularly marijuana and other drugs and weapons, across the borders. It's also a hub for human trafficking and money laundering. Seek local advice if you intend to drive in this area or better still, avoid it all together.

Luggage Theft

Thieves regularly nab unattended purses, backpacks, laptops or luggage, with thieves distracting visitors for a few seconds to steal valuables. Yes, they are that quick.

Argentinean officials have acknowledged the systematic theft of valuables and money from checked baggage at Buenos Aires airports.

Authorities are working to resolve the problem, and have made a number of arrests, but travelers should exercise continued care and caution.

Needless to say, don't pack valuables or important documents in your checked baggage, always keep them on your person. Always keep your bags locked while transiting or even just hanging around in the airport or transport hub.

Where to Get Help

The Argentine police operate a 24-hour police helpline in English for visitors in Buenos Aires, which can be accessed by dialing 101.

Another option is to contact the Comisaria del Turista (Tourist Police Station) at Av. Corrientes 436, or on the multi-lingual toll-free number 0800 999 5000 or by dialing directly on 4346 5748.

In Mendoza, you can seek assistance from the Tourist Police, San Martin 1143, by calling telephone 0261 4132135.

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6 Comments

  • Lucie said

    Most of your advices are useful, but it has been reported not even one kidnapping of tourists... Who would they call for the rescue money? As in every very large city, you have to stay out of potentially dangerous places. That's all, do take precautions and enjoy.

  • Rimbob said

    Do be careful, especially in BsAs. Do not believe you will detect a pickpocket. They are good, and I personally know several people (including me) who have had things stolen from their front pockets on the subway -- think iPhones, wallets, passports. <br>Never leave bags or purses unattached to your person, never place anything you care about on a table top in a public place.<br>In Mendoza, also true. Just as in BsAs, thieves will take a cell phone from your hands while you are using it -- on a bench in a park, esp on the sidewalk, or outdoor cafe, you name it. Learn to listen for skateboarders and roller skaters. Don't use your cell phone or iPod in a public place unless you are absolutely certain that no one is or will be near you. <br>Remember also that replacing electronics in Argentina is punitively expensive (2x to 3x the cost in the US).<br>Enjoy the other Argentines.<br><br>

  • Cathy said

    I work in the courts system in Ontario, Canada. Recently, a court officer told me that in 2013, as he was going through customs upon arrival by air, a @#$% CUSTOMS OFFICER asked my friend to open his bag, discovered an personal iphone and said, "There's a $750.00 tax on that to bring it into the country". The customs officer even had a card-processing machine with him for payment, which he pulled out while looking left and right to make sure he wasn't seen. (So there must be SOME attempt to control such thefts at the airport!) My friend coughed up this outrageous scam -- I was surprised that he didn't ask to speak to a supervisor as I would have done -- then immediately reported his card stolen when he arrived at his hotel. My friend said that the people in Argentina are great but the scams and harassments weren't.

  • Bart said

    Right now, the police is reoganizing and as part of this, the Tourist Police station is closed and unavailable by telephone.

  • David from TravelScams.org said

    Thanks for sharing Phil, many useful tips here! If I may add for fellow travellers to Argentina, do watch out for some scams (http://travelscams.org/south-america/common-tourist-scams-argentina/) such as the Mendoza sob story scam, the black widow scam, the banknote switcheroo and really many others. Stay alert and use some common sense and you should be fine :)

  • Cris said

    We travel extensively yet Buenos Aires has been the only country in the world where we were robbed or our belongings were stolen. This happened on three different occasions during a 10 day stay. The worst was our hotel (725 Continental Hotel) that arranged our bag to be snatched (the bag was placed behind the reception counter instead of the luggage room. Next the receptionist and the guard leave. A minute later a thief walks in, obviously aware of where to pick up the bag, and walks out with our belongings. Just like that). It's a beautiful city but we'd just recommend to avoid it. We're not newbies in trying to blend in but being pretty white you stand out no matter how well you try to camouflage yourself. The authorities don't care about your stuff so you're lucky if you still have your passport at the end of the trip and can get out of the country.

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