Brazil: How to Survive the Rio Olympics in 2016

A rendering of Maracana stadium in Rio, one of the many venues for the 2016 Summer Olympics. This story details how to stay safe at these games.
A rendering of Maracana stadium in Rio, one of the many venues for the 2016 Summer Olympics. This story details how to stay safe at these games.

Advice from a local to never stop being careful and other tips

By Monica Mastrantonio

The following list of advice aims to be a way of keeping you and your mates’ safe during the Rio Olympic Games in Brazil. It does not mean that these things will ever happen, but they arethe best preventable way to avoid them.

At the Copacabana beach in Rio, always wear sunglasses, in fact, the author recommends wearing them all of the time in Brazil.

They are not exclusively addressed to tourists because we have already adopted them in our everyday lives and systems. The author is a resident of Rio de Janeiro, who can share these tips from her own experience of growing up in Brazil.

These safety acquired habits are intrinsically part of Brazilian customs in such a way that it is quite hard to separate them from normal local behavior. Brazilian people go to the beach and continuously keep their arms and eyes on all their belongings; whenever entering a car, they immediately lock all doors and windows.

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It has come to the point of being unthinkable for a Brazilian to drive a car with open windows, or their arms holding a watch on their pulse.

Other Safety Actions

The same can be described to many other safety actions that are common to Brazilian residents; for instance, they never open a wallet in public or allow people to take a look at it. They simply take minor actions into account to avoid all sorts of danger they could be exposed to.

In a certain way, they have been trained to think just like thieves would; and from that, they try to get protected on their own style. They build daily strategies to dismantle thieves´ plans. Some of these ways are as follows, others you will have to work out on your own. Keep safe, keep sound!

Don’t look like a Tourist

By all means, this is a main issue whenever someone visits a new country, not the least of which, Brazil. We usually do look like tourists, no matter how hard we try not to. In many aspects, some details may reveal we are not local. Not only because we might be carrying a camera, a colored shirt, socks with, (typical Brazilian brand of summer sandals), and a map; but also, because we easily can signal that we are not at all familiar with the local money, and even the way we walk or cross the streets.

One good piece of advice, would be looking more tanned. In Brazil, people are tanned. Though this may sound a bit complicated if you come from a cold country and are crystal white, remember there is the option of getting self-sun-tan lotions that can give the color and shine you need to visit to Brazil. This will surely not be enough but at least may put you in better conditions to avoid being easily spotted as an easy prey. Thieves will first look after the white or pink ones.

Dress Like a Brazilian

Havaianas are inexpensive flip flops that are a good shoe to wear so you don’t look like a tempting robbery target in Rio during the summer Olympics.

Another tip is trying to dress like a Brazilian. They wear plenty of jeans, t-shirts and polo shirts are also fine, tennis shoes are perfect or Havaianas. Please do not dress like a priest or a nun. It is a sexy country below the Equator, so it is useful to learn some local strategies on being sexy and with a style. Plus, smile, always or they will know you are a foreigner.

Always wear Sunglasses

This has been common advice among policemen and guards in Brazil for local civilians for years. Thieves are less willing to assault people who are wearing sunglasses.

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Part of the local police data reveals this information and the fact that thieves avoid people walking in groups and gangs; so teaming up is your best choice.

This happens because thieves cannot predict where the victim might be looking and groups are always harder to surround. Adding to that, they do not like people with caps because that is their local outfit, and they tend to distract their actions.

Carry a Small Purse

Do not carry all your money, credit cards, passport, and documents with you. Take note of all your information in a separate piece of paper and keep all locked up, even inside hotels. Everything locked up, all the time. In case you have been robbed, it must be easy for you to cancel everything and to inform authorities if needed.

It is preferable to wear a discrete handbag or backpack, not fashionable, expensive or anything. Do not call their attention or they might get the bag with everything inside it.

If you have doubts about what kind of bag or clothes you should be wearing, go to a camelô (typical Brazilian street shop) and see what is being sold there. That is what most Brazilian people have and its best disguise around.

Another strategy Brazilians find useful to disguise them belongings from thieves is taking an extra handbag with them. Local people sometimes carry both around, so if they get assaulted, they have a spare one to happily hand the thief. It might sound weird, but is a local habit.

If the thief recognizes that and asks for the other one, hand out everything and save your life. This is the country of bullet proofed cars and do not dare risking your life to protect your belongings: remember that! It should not be so because it is a wonderful country, but meanwhile, watch out for everything.

Never leave Anything Unattended

If thieves do take away the attended things imagine what they do with the unattended ones. They simply disappear. So hold up to your belongings 24 hours a day, 60 seconds per minute. Keep everything close to your body or safely locked.

You may even find unusual ways to carry things. I have once carried money inside my shoe, inside my bra, inside my socks. Use your imagination and creativity; and just do not forget where you have hidden it. People are so used to these things that even in banks after withdrawing money; clerks may wait until you have hidden the money before calling next customer.

Watch out for Everything All the Time

Keep your attention high, full time. Everyone can be a good friend and also the most enchanting thief you will ever meet. There are charming thieves too, so keep eyes wide open at all times. It is also advisable to get to know people better before you share private details about your life, full name, hotel address, etc.

Please do not get drunk or use any kind of drugs because both can lead to bigger problems. Not being entirely conscious can make you an even easier prey for thieves, so keep and learn to be happy with no additives.

It is also best to carry your hotel card and medical information in your pocket. Watch out for people asking you for information, maybe they are trying to distract in order to assault you. Pay attention if you are not being followed and much more if you withdraw money. Check out if anyone is constantly near you or following you and disguise them beforehand. Apart from that, keep your mood high and learn the power of attentive relaxation. There are awesome places, beautiful views and amazing people around in Brazil.

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Last but not Least

This is the country of “caipirinhas” (typical Brazilian drink with sugar cane alcohol, fruits, ice and sugar), nice people hanging out and singing “samba”, wonderful beaches and a relaxing life-style; so keep it up: the best of it with the safest of it.

Once you have mastered that, congratulations you are close to being a native!

Monica MastrantonioMonica Mastrantonio holds a PhD in Social Psychology; she is a writer, lecturer and social entrepreneur. She loves travelling, jogging and reading and is absolutely passionate about her 3 kids, life and her tattoos.

Megan and Henry of The Borderless Project
Megan and Henry of The Borderless Project

Additional Safety Tips from “The Borderless Project”

About using Credit Cards and ATMs in Brazil

“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).

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. Read more at the Borderless Project blog.