Amongst the glittering beaches, lively samba music and friendly Carioca locals of Rio de Janeiro, unfortunately crime has always also been an issue for travelers visiting the “The Marvelous City”. Some people even ask if it’s safe to visit Rio at all. First of all, yes, it is!
Transportation Safety In and Around RIo
From Airports/Bus Terminals
From the international airport (Galeao Tom Jobim International Airport), you have the options to take a radio taxi, normal yellow taxi, or blue shuttle bus. The radio taxi is monitored and therefore the safest option, and we found it was worth it when we first arrived as the ride from this airport is quite long and passes through some of Rio’s rougher neighborhoods.The area surrounding is not the best either. If you’re a more seasoned traveler or very familiar with Rio and simply want the cheapest deal, you do have the option to take a yellow cab for about half the price, but we’ve found most everyone finds the radio taxis from here worth the additional cost.
Please don’t let greatly outdated stereotypes stop you from exploring this wonderfully unique city. But, as any smart traveler should, we definitely recommend reading up a little before you do so you can wander with peace of mind, and can make sure that you leave with only positive memories of this Marvelous City. Here are our most important safety tips and advice that every traveler to Rio de Janeiro needs to know!
Read more: Transportation in Rio de Janeiro: How to Get There & Around
From the regional airport, Santos Dumont, radio taxis are also available, but it is perfectly safe to take a normal taxi from here as you are already in the South Zone where all tourists stay and no more than 10 minutes from Copacabana. From both airports, you can also catch the blue charter bus that will deliver you to several spots throughout the South Zone and is also completely safe. Read details on how to get to and from the airports in Rio de Janeiro here.
For getting around Rio, it is perfectly fine to take yellow taxis off the street, unlike in some surrounding countries. Radio taxis are also available if this makes you feel more comfortable, and we’ve listed several below. City buses are safe even as they run until about 2am, but do not take the white shuttle-looking vans driving around. They have been banned from the South Zone, but still stop sometimes. Do not use these. Below some taxi companies:
From the bus terminal, you will see another smaller terminal across the street where all of the city buses stop. These buses are perfectly safe, but the area around the bus terminal is not the best. If you are arriving late at night with lots of luggage, make sure there are other people on the street before walking from one to another. At almost all times of day, this will be the case so don’t worry. If it is very late at night and there are no people around, it may be best to just snag a taxi as you don’t want to wander around or wait for a bus in the open-air terminal in the dark. You can order a radio taxi from inside, but most everyone just grabs a yellow one off the street here. Make sure they put the meter on.
Coopatur // Cootramo // Coopertramo // Transcoopass // Transcootour
The “Zona Sul” (South Zone) is the most tourist-friendly zone with the safest neighborhoods in Rio. These neighborhoods (Ipanema, Copacabana, Leblon, Botafogo, etc.) are safe to walk around at night, are safe for bringing cameras and cell phones, and are where you can find very secure hostels and hotels. You’ll often see police stationed in busy areas. However, some argue that you’re more likely to have things stolen here, as they are wealthier areas and the residents and tourists generally have more worth stealing. After months here, we’ve never had issues but we’ve heard that foreigners walking alone on empty streets late at night (often in Copacabana) have been asked to hand over wallets and phones, but nothing further.
Favelas (slums) are also popular areas to visit, but of course are the more impoverished areas of the city. Read our specific tips for favelas and which are safe to visit here.
Lapa, the bohemian nightlife center of the city, is safe during the day (despite having a slightly grimey appearance and a share of homeless people), but is best known for being home to many swift pickpockets at night who prey on drunk tourists. The rest of downtown (Centro) should be avoided at night as it is completely empty past 7 or 8pm, and those unfamiliar with the city should not wander the empty streets on the weekends, even in the day.
Santa Teresa, a beautiful neighborhood on the hill above Lapa, is a very nice area but the geography makes it a bit tricky. We recommend taking cabs up, as the windy shaded streets aren’t the best for walking with your cameras and iPhones, day or night. Buses and motortaxis also operate, and are also safe options. Wandering around the bars and restaurants during the day is fine, and at night is okay if you stay in the crowded areas, but do not wander the tiny streets alone with valuables.
Using ATM & Credit Cards in Rio
When you need to use an ATM to withdraw money, your biggest concern will be avoiding having your card copied. Card skimming happens when something very discreet is attached to the card reader and copies it as you slide it in the machine. Avoid standalone ATMs, often found in bus stations and pharmacies, as they are the most common place this happens. When you use any ATM, yank on the part where you will put your card in. If it twists or seems loose, it is clearly not part of the original machine and therefore a card copier. Move to a new ATM. Whenever you enter your PIN, even if you yanked it and it was sturdy, always cover the keypad with your hand as you type your number in. If someone is lingering near your machine, use a different machine.
While you are in Rio, check your balance regularly. Online banking is a lifesaver here. If you see irregular charges, put it on hold immediately. Without online banking, you’ll find it’s a nightmare to get a hold of your bank from Brazil, so we can’t stress this enough. We know from experience. Also, the people who skim cards here are brilliant…They know how to charge on it so that charges go undetected until way too late, so don’t completely rely on your bank to notice. Make sure you do not travel with only one card for accessing money in case you do need to cancel it. Luckily, most foreign banks are very accomodating with resolving fraud issues, it’s just very inconvenient in the middle of your trip.
This is perhaps the biggest thing you need to be aware of. Card theft and fraud are out of control in Rio de Janeiro, and excessively inconvenient to deal with while in the country. Ideally, use cash everywhere to avoid having to worry (and additional charges!). It’s also best to leave cards in your hotel and only carry cash on the streets. Whenever you use a credit or debit card at a restaurant or bar, they will bring a little card machine to your table. Never let them take the card in the back. Or, go up to the counter to pay. This is standard though, so it’s very unlikely any restaurant would even attempt to use a card not in front of a customer any more. But at a bar at 4am you might forget, so drill it into your mind if you’ll be using cards (but again, life is much easier if you stick with cash).
Hostel Safety and Security
Rio de Janeiro is home to some great, very secure hostels and hotels. The most popular areas to stay are usually Ipanema, Copacabana and Lapa, and all are safe to stay in. When you arrive, just make sure to ask the receptionist about the area and any safety tips they have for you. They can warn you if a certain street is known for mugging at night, or if there is an ATM nearby known for skimming cards.
Inside of hostels, safety precautions are the same as anywhere. Always ask if the hostel has lockers before you book, and always use the lockers. Even if you step out of the room for a minute. Travel with a lock and never leave valuables unattended. Girls: Consider expensive cosmetics, perfumes and clothing as valuables as well that shouldn’t be left out. Unfortunately, a common problem in hostels here is cleaning staff stealing items like this that often go unnoticed until the guest has left the hostel. Keep cosmetics and such in your locker, and clothes you care about should be put in your locker or kept packed up in your backpack or suitcase during the day.
Take to the beach only what you need for the day. Try to just bring cash and keys, and leave cards and smartphones at home. If you want to take photos, try to just bring cameras or phones one day so you can leave them at home the other days and not have to worry. When the beaches are packed in summer, it’s easy for someone to pick up a beach bag next to someone tanning facedown without being notice. You’ll see many Brazilians putting belongings inside the top of the umbrella while sitting under it, and nothing is ever left unattended. If you are alone and want to go in the water, it’s very common to ask someone sitting next to you to hold your bag, and beachgoers are always looking out for each other so you can trust them with your stuff.
Read more: How to Experience Rio de Janeiro’s Beaches: Like a Local
How Safe Is It to Live in Rio de Janeiro?
If you’re bringing a wad of cash back from the ATM, it’s wise to separate it into different pockets or sections of a purse so if you are asked to hand things over, you can empty a pocket and show there’s nothing left without losing everything. Smartphones shouldn’t be flashed out bus windows or used late at night on the streets, you’re simply calling unnecessary attention. But is is safe to live in Rio de Janeiro?
For those of you foreigners considering moving here and wondering if it’s safe to live in Rio- again, our answer is yes, but with a couple words of advice that shouldn’t be left unsaid. We both moved to Rio despite fears of the stereotype we had long heard about, and just trusted advice of others on how safe it was. Violence, crime, drug traffickers, it all played a role. The truth is that, while these things still exist, as we described in the “Neighborhoods” section, most of it is removed from the safe South Zone, which is realistically where almost all foreigners live (or they live there first, get more comfortable, and then maybe move elsewhere). If you move to the South Zone, you can relax.
You’ll be among many, many expats and exchange students peacefully living in this city, and under the careful watch of police who, corrupt or not, don’t want anything happening to foreigners. You should wrap your head around muggings, though. Don’t wait nervously for it to happen, but take precautions against it just in case. After almost a year here, we’ve had no incidents whatsoever, but if something’s going to happen, that’s almost for sure what it will be. You learn to never carry credit or debit cards unless you are going to the bank and back to withdraw money.
Yes, yes, yes. Take these precautions. Stay in neighborhoods you know. You’ll find it quite easy to tell where is safe and where isn’t, and the less you carry on you, the less you have to worry. Watch Brazilians, and learn from them, and ask other foreigners you meet for their tips as scamming techniques are always changing. Make sure to read all of our sections here, especially on ATM and Credit Cards, and remember that it never hurts to be prepared, but you should absolutely not live in fear here. Chances are you’ll be totally fine. Worst case, you go through a couple cheap phones and have to cancel a credit card or two. Once outside the South Zone or in the favelas, all the rules change and you should be familiar with Rio or going with a guide so you know where and where not to go in these areas.
Remember, that like any city Rio de Janeiro has it’s good and bad- just don’t let the bad overshadow the good, and make sure to give this place a chance! Stereotypes are hardly ever what they’re supposed to be. If you have any questions or you own safety advice for Rio de Janeiro, please comment below!
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How to Stay Safe in Rio’s Carnival
Busy times such as Carnival and New Years’ are peak times for pickpocketing in the city. How to be safe during Carnival largely boils down to not getting so drunk that you’re a prime target, and not flashing your smartphone around on the streets. Be very careful with smartphones in crowds, and again, only bring what you need to the street parties: try to leave credit cards, phones and anything expensive-looking at home. Also, if you are going to the Sambodrome, make sure to take taxis to and from the venue as it’s not in the safest area and shouldn’t be wandered alone once the event has ended. For more information on Carnival, read here.
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