Monday, May 12, 2014

Personal Security at the World Cup - Brazil


As of today, there are thirty-one days left until the opening of the World Cup. However you feel about the money wasted, the terrible treatment of those less fortunate, or FIFA, the Cup comes anon. It won't be canceled by the recent dengue outbreak, by the demonstrations or by the lack of water. Who needs a shower anyway?  This last input from my 7 year olds who are looking forward to the taps running dry.

This blog is specifically directed to those coming to Brazil for the first time for the Cup or for business related to the Cup, or because you are clearly insane since you have chosen to come here at a time when Brazil is least like Brazil. This is a mega-event and has little to do with the friendly, easy-going style that normally is around here (okay, not in São Paulo which is a stressed city).

So, here we go. I am giving my personal advice on your security. I am not a security consultant but I've lived here for 9 years and I think I get it. I have been to World Cup games in South Africa and I've seen the madness southern hemisphere style. Please be aware that this blog post is not designed to scare you but only to give you some ideas of what MIGHT happen while you are here. How you choose to react is up to you.


My strong advice here is to leave nothing to chance. Don't arrive here without a hotel room or without an idea of where the official taxi stand is, or without a few words of Portuguese (please and thank you go a long way). Know the number to call the police (190) and your consulate in your area (up to you to research). 

Do not expect to use dollars here. This is not Argentina (cambio! cambio!). Do not carry wads of cash. Use an ATM in the airport to withdraw what you think you will need, but keep an eye out to see who is watching you use the ATM. (*Numerous reader comments are coming back that airport ATMs are NOT safe. I don't know what to say here--it's never happened to me. To be safe, head to a currency exchange there and do it that way). Separate cash into individual pockets. Do not be distracted. Do not chat with people in line. Do not tell them where you are staying, how you are getting there or take any offered rides (see Arrival below).  

Take more than one credit card. Keep one back at your hotel or in a different place. Be aware that there are places here that still take only Visa or only MasterCard. Amex is less accepted and forget Diner's and some of those others. Remember you are in a mostly cash society so have some on hand at all times.

Pack light. The less baggage you have to maintain control of, the happier you will be.  I wouldn't necessarily attempt to dress like a Brazilian because everyone will know you are a gringo anyway--just don't dress flashy. Leave A&F home (or better yet, burn it), bring a few non-brand t-shirts and jeans and call it a day.  Tevas and Crocs will identify you as gringo at 200 meters. Be very aware of the weather where you will be--it will be cold in Sao Paulo (most likely), warm in Salvador and hotter than an inferno in Manaus. Be aware that Sao Paulo is colder than it looks in print--there is no central heat in most places (not counting chic hotels) so bring a pullover, jumper, sweater or whatever you call it in your home country.

Do not carry a laptop case or a backpack that looks designed for a laptop. Be aware that there will be bad guys in the airport and they will probably be figuring out which taxi to follow. Sorry, but true.  It's happened to a few of my friends.

Do not wear or bring any jewelry. Yes, I am authorizing your husbands to remove their wedding bands but not to go to the putarias. Don't carry a purse. Money belts are great.  You will need to carry ID for many places in Brazil--museums, many buildings, stadiums. I don't know if FIFA will require an original document to get into the stadiums or if a photocopy will do. I suggest carrying copies, notarized preferably, for places OTHER THAN the stadiums. At the stadiums, go original and go money belt.

I used to suggest leaving smartphones at home but I've changed my mind--those are going to help you navigate the countryside here and make sure your taxi is not taking you to Zimbabwe before getting to your hotel. Note: sometimes the Zimbabwe rides are necessary to avoid traffic. The airport taxis are normally highly reliable--I mean Guarucoop here in São Paulo which has a fixed fee for rides and it is not in their interest to lollygag you about. On the reverse side, the name Guarucoop on the taxi door means you are coming from the international airport and you may become a target.You do the risk analysis.

On the major warning side of smartphones: these allow you to become distracted. The more distracted you are, the more likely you will be the first victim of a robbery. If you must look at it while out and about, step into a doorway or a store where you can check it in peace. I can tell you from many conversations with the military police here in São Paulo, the bad guys select victims by who is paying the least amount of attention to what is going on around him/her.


On your arrival, expect big lines.  Be patient. Bring a snack. Smile, you are in Brazil. What, your luggage is taking two hours? At least it's coming. Maybe. There should be official helpers around and you can trust those...I will post what they are wearing once I know it. You must have a visa to visit Brazil from the US and from Canada at least, not sure about other countries -- make sure you check that before you leave!  

Once out in the arrival hall, you may want to hit the ATM or go directly to the taxi stand. I am guessing lines at the taxi stand will be terrible and you will think about accepting the offer of someone hanging around saying "taxi, taxi?". Don't do it. Wait in line at Guarucoop (in Sao Paulo) or the private taxi stand in Rio, or wherever you are. You do not tip taxis in Brazil though you can round up or if they were particularly good, giving a R$5 or R$10 bill (depending on distance) is always nice.  Carry a google map printout of where you are going and let them know you know. Have the address written on a piece of paper and try to do the minimum of waving your iPhone around.

Do not hop into private vans unless you have contracted them through hotels or private agencies. Bad stuff has happened to American co-eds. They cannot be trusted. Buses in Rio and buses in São Paulo are fine (watch for pickpockets, of course, and the distract-and-grab is the most common). Try to stay as close to the money-taker as possible or away from the exit door. Always figure out your route before you go--I suggest Moovit for public transport which is available in Rio and in Sao Paulo, not sure about the other cities. 

Getting to the stadium

Go early. If you have a chance to go by official transfer, do it. If you can go by metro, do it. I can't imagine what traffic will be like near these stadiums but I'm willing to guess that it will be a parking lot LONG before you get near it. Taxis will overcharge, for sure, even if it is illegal.  The earlier you go, the less stressed you will be about it. Enjoy the atmosphere. Eat some "churrasquinho de gato."

Stadium gear. I realize that you are all coming because you support a country team. I suggest that if that country team is NOT Brazil, you be somewhat careful outside the stadium during the big games. If you cheer for say, Uruguay, and they are playing Brazil in the semi-final match, do not wear your Forlán shirt to the stadium. Put it on when you get inside, paint your face when you get inside, do your happy dance inside. If the "worst" happens and your team beats Brazil, get out of that team's shirt and wear black. I am not kidding.  I have seen fans at a qualifying match verbally abuse the 10 Equadorians who were there cheering on their team. Things can get ugly. Especially when alcohol is involved.

More information about security in taxis and public transportation is here.

Inside the Stadium

BH brought to my attention this weekend that the security forces within and immediately outside the stadiums are actually privately contracted by FIFA. In a blog post last week, Juca Kfouri, arguably the biggest expert on football in this country, pointed out that the federal police had yet to find out who these personal security forces are (20,000 officers, apparently).  And Mr. Blatter of FIFA  has now stated that FIFA is not responsible for any security issues within the stadiums. What? And what are the military and federal police doing--are they inside or outside or what? Confused? Me too.

The important part of this for you, the fan in the stadium, to be aware that there does not seem to be a great deal of the coordination between the private and the Brazilian security forces within the stadium. If you feel uncomfortable with something in the stadium, go with your gut and get out of the situation or area.

If the Worst Happens and you are held up

Remember: bad guys here do not want to hurt you. They simply want your money because they are desperate. You are not. You are here because you care about goals and penalties. You care about your life. If you are held up at gunpoint, or threatened with a gun or knife or whatever, you need to follow these instructions from this past blog. Do NOT resist. You are too important. 

I hope and expect this will not happen to you, but it has happened to my husband, to other ex-patriates here so it CAN happen. Before all the Brazilians jump on me about talking negatively about their country, I do know it happens everywhere. But I don't want it to happen in Brazil because I care about it. 

All crime should be reported to the local police station. You will need to ask where that is, or call 190 from any phone. There are English-speaking attendants. The reason you want to report it is that then the police will be tracking crime concentrations and may put more men and women on the street there to stop the next crime from happening. Be part of the solution.


Bring any medication you may need with you. Tough tummy? Bring that Immodium or Gas-X or whatever. You don't want to try to explain that to the pharmacist in English. Wait, just call me first because I think I'll enjoy that.  

Bring bug spray. Everywhere. There is a very serious dengue outbreak in a lot of Brazil. Prevention by covering yourself by bug spray is HIGHLY recommended. Bring sunblock if you are Canadian or as white as one.

If you should get seriously ill, get yourself to the best private hospital you can find in your host city. In Sao Paulo, I recommend Albert Einstein or Sirio Libanese. Not only for the standard of care, but for the fact that there will be someone there who speaks English. Of course, if you do not speak English, what are you doing reading this blog anyway? Contact your consulate if you need more assistance.

Street smarts

We've covered this in a prior blog here, but it's worth reviewing. Be aware, don't be paranoid. Be most aware of the distraction trick where someone seemingly nice wants to chat you up about the exchange visit they did to your fine country while their accomplice is making off with your unattended whatever. Happened to BH. Only has to happen once. Try to keep all your cash separated into different pockets and cards in your money belt. Always have some cash on hand--if you say you have nothing, you might piss someone off.

There will undoubtedly be protests when you are here. There was a lot of corruption and a lot of bad things that happened  locally on our way to hosting the Cup. The anger is not directed against the tourists so I believe that you will be safe from that. But don't join any "parades" okay? And ask your hotel before leaving in the morning if they are aware of any pressure spots, so to speak.

In Sum.

I really don't want to scare anyone here. Brazil is filled with wonderful things to do: get out there and do them! Visit the parks, the museums (I can meet you at the spider and snake museum in SP any time!), the beach, the shopping centers, the historic downtown. Know where you are going when you leave your hotel, and know how you are going to get there. Don't read your smartphone. Go sit at the local bakery and watch the people go by. Find out where your country team fans hang out and hang out at the bar. Smile. Brazil does indeed welcome you. Unless you are Uruguay and then the ghost might just be too big.

Cheer for Brazil! I don't mean just the team.


  1. Do NOT take your money out from ATM at the airports in Brazil, especially in Rio and SP and change your money at your home country/airport.

    1. Hmmmm, interesting. I have lived here 9 years and have never had an ATM problem, even at the airport. Want to tell me why you believe that? You're asking people to show up with a wad of money which is not safe, in my eyes.

    2. No, I am just saying that you should use your Credit Card inside of the bank, not ATM at the airport at Guarulhos Airport or GIG. I have been 3 times in Brazil and never used a Credit Card or Debit Card, I heard/read of many cases where CC was copied in Brazil mostly at airports in Brazil.

    3. Chip cards are hard to copy but for those of you without chips in their credit cards, your risks are higher. I used to work for credit card risk management and security at Visa so I do actually know some of this. I have chips in my debit and credit cards (Brazilian) and I much prefer to use those than non-chip cards (from the US). I would use a non-chipped credit card much sooner than a non-chipped debit card as your responsibility in case of loss/copy of card is US$50. Stored value cards are also an option, but I don't know if those work in all ATMs here. As I said, I've lived here 9 years and never had the bad stuff happen that you have heard/read about, though I know Americans to whom it has happened (cards without chips!)

    4. I agree. Don't use the card at the airport. My husband's card was copied there (he was in town on business and we no longer had our Brazilian acct with the chipped card). Chips aren't quite as common in the US as they are in Brazil.

    5. I know of three is currently staying with me and it happened last week, it was the only ATM he had used, some guy in Peru got over £500, he's got the money back but lots of hassle and he now waiting for a new card to arrive in Brazil... all their cards had been cloned from using Rio airport ATM's and all different banks... I've read about it on other blogs too. It seems the problem appears to just be at the airports. I live in tranquil describe a Brazil I don't know...I've never had any issues at all even in Rio, feel safer here than Europe.

    6. Okay, I am going to have to change that recommendation. I am very sorry to hear about all the cloning etc. That's terrible to start out that way.

      I have studied security here for the past year--we had three kidnappings in front of my sports club, neighbors were getting held up with their kids in front of schools, and I made an effort to understand what is going on. I am sure there is a large difference between Saquarema and Sao Paulo. We have more than 11 million residents here. It is a large city by any standards, and has the security risks that come with it.

      I personally go to only one ATM in all of Sao Paulo. It's inside the sports club and relatively safe. All my cards have chips. Anyway, I thank you for your input and I'm going to put in a note above so no one, hopefully, gets cards cloned at the airport.

    7. I visited Rio in Nov.2013 and stayed in a tourist area. I had to got to 4 or 5 banks to try to get money from an ATM. Ridiculous!

  2. Nicely done! Although... I believe A&F makes you look more Brazilian, not less. :D

  3. É inacreditável a que ponto chegamos, ter que levar dinheiro para não desagradar o ladrão, orientação inclusive feita pela autoridade de segurança oficial PM.

    I'm sure you and your family will miss Brazil but it is a lot better to miss it from a safer place. If I had the chance I would also move my family to a better place.

    1. Hi Renato,

      I completely is unbelievable that we have reached the point of having to "please" the robber. I only hope that they won't be pissed off when they see I have a iphone 4 not even 4s or 5!! It is truly sad.

      I will miss Brazil, yes. And I wish it well...I wish I could see the way out of the corruption and crime...

    2. But I can see the way out: Guarulhos Int'l or Galeao Int'l

      Best of luck to you and your family and please keep writing.

  4. Got word a friend's co workers were robbed at gunpoint WHILE inside a cab today in SP. How common is that? Is that a known Brazilian thief technique?

    1. Well, I don't know the circumstances so it's hard to know if they were watched getting in the cab with laptop cases and then followed. That is not uncommon. It is fairly rare for random robberies of taxis because there is no way the robber can know if they are getting a person with nothing or a person with something. I would say that if you are getting into a taxi at a shopping mall and you are carrying bags from Coach and whatever, you may be a target. If you get in the taxi at a corporate location with a computer bag, you had better be careful. Do you know any details?

      By the way, even taxi drivers get held up once in a while. Talking to one a few weeks ago, he says there are places he will drive people anymore because the risk is too high.

  5. This is some great information. Everyone traveling to Brazil for the World Cup should read it. Like many Americans, I won't be in São Paulo. Any advice or ideas of what to expect in Natal or Recife?

    Many thanks.

    1. Hmmm, well, your team is in São Paulo! Yeah, yeah, just the training center, poor kids get to fly around a bit.

      Bring your rain gear. It's rainy season in the northeast--we would seriously love to have it here but no, it's for you.

      Until recently I would have said that you will be more than fine in Recife. From my security research, Recife was one of the safest cities in the northeast--queen of the pigs as it were, as the northeast has the worst homicide rate in the country. Nah, that shouldn't worry you--that is mostly drug war stuff. Recently Recife suffered from a police strike that resulted in mass mayhem in the streets--you can pull up an AP article on it from last week here: That being said, the police has already promised not to strike during the Cup.

      My English student is from Recife. She says to be as cautious as in São Paulo and to just dress down. You are American, and probably there's much you can do to hide your gringo-ness. That's not an insult--the same is true of this blonde, blue-eyed tall person writing this. She (and I) do not believe that the tourists are targets so you should be fine. Be aware that fewer people speak English there than here so a few phrases in Portuguese will be helpful.

      I am sorry to say that I can't help on Natal. Never been there. Seems nice. Also rainy at this time of year.

      Have TONS of fun!