Street Crime in Rio: Tips for Travelers to Stay Safe

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Street crime might be normal for locals in Rio, but here's what first-timers traveling around the city need to know.

Escadaria Selaron Steps, Rio de Janeiro Photo © Getty Images/Pintai Suchachaisri

A few years back, this shocking video surfaced in the lead-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Rio. In the video, you can see a street gang come down from the favela to target shoppers on a busy main street.

They brazenly grab jewelry off people's necks, snatch mobile phones, music players and headphones. They even try ripping backpacks off the shoulders of people walking by.

The most shocking thing is almost nobody tries to stop them – although watch closely for one man who manages to land a good punch, and the police officer who draws his weapon. Cariocas (Rio locals) seem to accept this criminal activity as normal, or at least they realize there's nothing they can do about it.

Crime areas in Rio?

There are many dangerous places in Rio, but downtown Rio in the Centro district is one of the most notorious areas. Other areas to avoid in Rio are clustered in the north zone of the sprawling city, generally above Centro and spreading west and north.

The good news, there's not much in these areas to attract visitors, so it's unlikely you'll go there. Stick to the south zone of Rio – the tourist zone – and the west zone across to Barra De Guaratiba.

How to avoid street crime in Rio

Always try to stay within the safer tourist areas. Cross into the wrong part of town in Rio and this is the trouble you can expect. Downtown/Centro is just one of many places where it's best to simply not go. Ask at your accommodation staff about areas to avoid. Check with a trusted local, and share your plans for sightseeing to make sure you're aware when you're going into a dodgy area.

Leave the bling at home. You saw in the video how many chains and necklaces the gang took, so don't make yourself a target, don't wear any jewelry. Put your smartphone and cameras away on the streets of Rio. Forget about listening to music with your earphones in, the white earbuds are a giveaway that there's a valuable piece of technology on you.

But, the real question is, should you resist? As you saw in the video, a couple of people did resist. But this could have turned very nasty, very fast. No matter how good you think you might be at Brazilian jiu-jitsu or boxing, there is absolutely no reason to fight back. You have no idea if the gang members or criminals are armed with weapons – which is highly likely.

Do as the locals do – most do nothing and hand over their belongings to avoid injury. If this happens to you, find a police station right away and report the crime.

Are you insured for theft?

Well, first of all, you need to purchase a travel insurance policy. Theft is covered by most travel insurance policies, but don't take that as an excuse to be careless. If you fail to take proper precautions to avoid theft, it could have a negative effect on your claim.

You're also covered for medical costs arising from an incident where you are injured.

If you are robbed, you will need to file a police report as soon as the incident is known, and your travel insurer will also need some proof of ownership of the item – such as the sales receipt – to go with your claim. Without this, your claim is highly unlikely to be paid out.

There are limits on individual items and overall amounts you can claim, so read your policy documents carefully and make sure you understand the wording. If you want to know more about your coverage and how you can make a claim, contact your insurer.

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  • Gustavo Molina said

    Being Brazilian, I can explain why no one tries to stop them.

    ALL minors (<18 yo) are immune to any criminal sanction. That means they can do whatever they want, even killing, and they'll have commited no crime at all, and if caught by police they get back to the streets in the very same day. Yes, there are some rare cases where after killing they become interns in some institution for minors for some months. But that only happens in extreme cases, like when one raped and killed. A normal crime, like robbery, gets no sanction at all.

    And if someone punhces them, this one can be charged for violence against minors.

    So, yes, the laws in Brazil are completely lax for minors. and even cops can't do anything about them. Sometimes when the cop is arresting someone, he says to the cop: "Stop. I'm a minor."


  • Tina said


    I was just there in July 14-18, 2016. I was in the touristic areas and with a local guide. STILL, my phone almost got stolen, but luckily it bounced out of my selfie stick. So the guy on a bike got only my selfie stick on a broad daylight while walking by the beach. He was so comfortable in stealing, he even looked back at me.
    Thought that was it, but during our private tour, on our own van, my whole backpack was stolen with my camera lense, battery pack, new havaianas, etc.
    If Ive seen this before I went, I wouldn't have gone there.


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