The Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil are coming up. Student excitement is escalating in anticipation, simultaneously citizens in Rio are demonstrating against the government. Americans should become aware of the risks to their safety before booking. Luckily, there’s a comprehensive, updated resource to rely on.

The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) was created by the Secretary of State as a means for the U.S. government to communicate to the private sector about safety conditions abroad. The reason: thousands of United States companies and organizations have interests overseas, and plenty of reason to protect those interests. OSAC published regular reports on the ever changing safety climate abroad so the private sector stays in the know.

This travel information is equally relevant to students planning on going abroad. There is a wealth of supportive information and a full list of local organizations available when American students need them – like crime victim assistance and medical services.  

Suppose a student wants to go to Rio for the 2016 Olympic games. Here’s what the OSAC has to say about travel conditions in Brazil.

Critical crime rating

Brazil’s 2016 OSAC report calls the country’s crime rating “critical,” and here’s why:

Police and press in Brazil report that crime is becoming more widespread, especially when it comrades res to robbery, assault, burglary and theft. Violent crimes like murder, carjacking and kidnapping also occur regularly. Many criminals, the report said, are targeting civilians and using “weapons and often gratuitous violence.”

There is also an entry in the report about narcotics trafficking in the favelas. A systematic “favela pacification program” has been underway in Rio for a while now in preparation for the games, but police intervention has led to large-scale gun battles in the past.

Students going to Rio should be most vigilant in public transportation hubs, hotel sectors and tourist areas – which is where they are most likely to be.

To try and avoid risk, OSAC advises use of taxis rather than public transportation whenever possible, “Do NOT, however, use “Gypsy vans,” the common unofficial cab service used by Rio locals. Think of them as the Brazilian Uber. These cabs are not regulated, nor are they recommended. Travelers should also use caution when traveling at night or carry or wear any valuables that might attract unwanted attention. OSAC advises Americans, “If something bad happens and there is a robbery incident, the victim should NOT try to resist.”

Protect yourself and your digital footprint

Brazil is one of the Latin America’s leading digital nations. That being said, cybersecurity and online fraud are becoming big risks in terms of crime. According to the report, even Brazil’s local government websites have been vulnerable to cyber attacks. Travelers should use every precaution to protect their online assets and identities. Use only secure internet connections and use physical transactions and correspondence whenever possible.  

Criminals also target financial hardware, like ATMs and card readers. While they’re still vulnerable to an extent, chip and pin cards tend to hold up better against this kind of theft and fraud.

Medium political violence rating

Brazil is experiencing its share of civil unrest, especially in major cities like Rio. Protests are held for many reasons – among them low wages, poor work conditions, the degrading environment and, most recently and most notably, government corruption. Most of these protests are nonviolent, but some have resulted in property damage and minor injuries.

The OSAC recommends that travelers avoid areas where large groups of protesters are gathering. It’s an interesting cultural experience, but it can be unsafe to get caught up in an angry crowd.

The OSAC report also includes a full list of reputable hospitals and medical facilities in Rio alone, and recommends that travelers purchase their own air medical evacuation insurance before traveling.

Go prepared
The OSAC reports are invaluable resources for risk factors in other countries. No matter where you’re going – whether it’s to Rio for the games, or any other corner of the globe for study abroad programs – go informed and go prepared. Use the OSAC’s country-by-country reports, or just Google OSAC and the name of the city for specifics. The United States Department of State’s travel information page is helpful, registering at step.state.gov and you’ll get alerts. A wise traveler knows how to depart smart stay informed of potential threats.