We get asked this question often, when we discuss doing business in Latin America with companies from all over the world. This question comes up particularly when we organise market visits for clients.
And it’s not a straightforward question to answer, mainly because the concept of “safety” is not the same for a Glaswegian than for someone living in the Cumbrian countryside, let alone when we compare the experiences and expectations of someone coming to the region from South Africa as opposed to Oman. “Safety” is very subjective and how safe you feel will not necessarily be directly linked to how safe you are. It also depends on your previous experience of business travel (have you been to India, Russia, Lebanon or Afghanistan?), and where exactly you go to (the country border between Colombia and Venezuela is not the same as visiting Bogota, going to a favela in Rio is not the same as going to Copacabana), as well as your budget (your level of security might be slightly better in the Marriot than at a local city-centre hostel).
However, I personally wanted to come up with at least a first answer to this question, and the FCO travel advice site was my place to start. So we extracted the main “safety related” statements from this site for all Latin American countries and then ranked them according to the 2015 Global Peace Index, so you’re getting 2-for-1 on this blog post!
Here’s what we’ve found, so judge for yourself, remember that Latin America is a region, no a country, and take the necessary precautions.
These are the countries that we’d class as “pretty safe”…
“Around 80,000 British nationals visit Chile each year. Most visits to Chile are trouble-free. Opportunistic street crime can be a problem in towns and cities, and in areas popular with tourists. Take care of your personal belongings at all times and be aware of your surroundings. Carry a photocopy of your passport and keep the original document in a safe place.”
“Around 81,000 British nationals visited Costa Rica in 2016. Most visits are trouble-free, but incidents of violent crime against tourists have increased.”
“Around 20,000 British nationals visit Uruguay every year. Most visits are trouble-free.
Most criminal incidents occur in Montevideo, where opportunistic street crime is on the rise. Take care of your personal belongings at all times and be aware of your surroundings. Take particular care in and around the downtown and port areas. Don’t walk through these areas alone or at night; consider taking a taxi if necessary.”
“Most visits to Panama are trouble-free. If you travel to the Darien province you should do so only with an organised group and to recognised tourist destinations protected by the Panamanian police.”
“102,151 British nationals visited Argentina in 2016. Most visits to Argentina are trouble-free, but you should keep a close eye on your personal belongings in public places.”
“There’s no British Embassy in Nicaragua. If you need emergency consular assistance, you should contact the British Honorary Consul in Managua by calling via the British Embassy, Costa Rica. Around 15,600 British tourists visited Nicaragua in 2014. Most visits are trouble free.”
And then it gets a bit complicated… I have to say I’ve travelled to Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Brazil and have always felt safe, but check out the FCO advice, particularly for certain areas.
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel within the 20km exclusion zone along the border with Colombia except for the official border crossing town of Tulcan in Carchi province.
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the areas of Tarapoa and the Cuyabeno reserve outside the 20km zone in Sucumbios
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the areas of El Angel Ecological Reserve inside the 20 km exclusion zone in the province of Carchi.”
“Cases of armed robbery are increasing and petty crime is common. Around 26,600 British nationals visited Ecuador in 2016. Most visits are trouble free”
“A small number of British tourists visit Paraguay every year. Most visits are trouble-free, but violent crime is increasing”
“Social conflict is common in Bolivia and blockades may occur along the main roads. Public transport can be disrupted at very short notice and strikes may result in widespread road blockades, including on roads to and from airports. You should never try to cross a blockade. You should avoid large crowds and demonstrations.
There is a risk of ‘express kidnappings’. Take care when travelling around Bolivia, particularly when you first arrive. If you take a taxi, use a registered company.
18,300 British nationals visited Bolivia in 2015. Most visits are trouble free.”
“Demonstrations are common in Peru and can turn violent quickly.
Around 66,000 British nationals visit Peru every year. Most visits are trouble free.
Drug trafficking is a serious crime and drug smugglers face long terms of imprisonment.
There may be a higher risk to your safety in areas where there is organised crime and terrorism linked to the production of drugs. There are serious risks involved in flying over the Nazca Lines. There’s risk of robbery by bogus taxi drivers, especially to and from the airports and at bus terminals.”
“142,083 British nationals visited the Dominican Republic in 2015. Most visits are trouble-free, but there are incidents of crime and violence.
Take extra care on the road between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. There have been incidents of armed robberies of foreign nationals in 2016 on the Dominican side of the border by criminals dressed as police officers.”
“Protests take place regularly, often without warning, in Brazilian cities, including Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Brasilia and Belo Horizonte. There have been violent incidents and injuries. Levels of crime and violence are high, particularly in major cities. You should be particularly vigilant before and during the festive and Carnival periods. Bank card fraud is common. You should remain vigilant, follow local advice and monitor local media.”
Some countries are more notorious for their lack of safety… that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel, but be extra cautious. Of these countries, I have travelled to Colombia only and have always felt very safe in cities like Bogota, Medellin or Cali.
“There is no British Embassy in Honduras. If you need emergency consular assistance, you should contact the British Honorary Consul in Tegucigalpa or Roatán, or the British Embassy in Guatemala City. Crime and violence are a serious problem throughout Honduras and the country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. You should exercise a high degree of caution. Avoid travelling on public buses (repainted US school buses). Private inter-city coach services are safer but not immune from attack.
Demonstrations can occur throughout Honduras, often with little or no notice. You should avoid all demonstrations.
8,000 British nationals visited Honduras in 2015. Most visits are trouble free” (that seems to be a bit contradictory, doesn’t it?)
“Most visits to El Salvador are trouble free. However, El Salvador has one of the highest crime rates in Latin America so you should take extra care. Take particular care in downtown San Salvador and on roads outside major towns and cities at night. Avoid wearing expensive jewellery or displaying valuable items. Safeguard your passport, mobile phone and cash against pickpockets.” (again, one of the highest crime rates but trouble-free visits…)
“Guatemala has one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America. Take care in all parts of the country, including Guatemala City. You should carry personal ID when travelling (certified copies are fine) Avoid travelling on public buses (repainted US school buses). Private inter-city coach services are safer, but not immune from attack. Large demonstrations occur throughout Guatemala, often with little or no notice. There may be disruptions to traffic and public transport. You should avoid all demonstrations 16,526 British nationals visited Guatemala in 2015. Most visits are trouble free.” (again, trouble-free but highest violent crime rates…)
“There was a shooting incident at the state prosecutor’s office in downtown Cancun on 17 January. This follows a separate shooting at a nightclub in Playa del Carmen on 16 January. There is currently an increased police presence in the Cancun area, including in the hotel zone. The situation in the hotel zone is calm. You should continue to follow the advice of the local authorities and your tour operator.
Illegal roadblocks have been reported more frequently, particularly in the states of Guerrero and Chiapas. If you’re driving in these states, travel during daylight hours and use toll roads, although you may still encounter disruptions. If possible, travel by air if you’re visiting a major tourist destination in Guerrero. Due to an increase in violent crime in recent months, you should exercise a high degree of caution in Acapulco and surrounding areas.
Over 513,800 British nationals visited Mexico in 2016. Most visits are trouble-free.The security situation can pose a risk for foreigners. Be alert to the existence of street crime as well as more serious violent crime like robbery, assault and vehicle hijacking. In certain parts of Mexico you should take particular care to avoid being caught up in drug related violence between criminal groups.”
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to within 80km (50 miles) of the Colombian border in the states of Zulia, Tachira and Apure. The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the remainder of Tachira state. Drug traffickers and illegal armed groups are active in these states and there is a risk of kidnapping.
Political protests are common. You should remain vigilant and avoid protests and demonstrations. There’s potential for travel disruption.
There is a high threat from violent crime and kidnapping throughout Venezuela. Take care at all times, including when arriving in the country.”
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to:
- the port of Buenaventura in the department of Valle de Cauca
- the port of Tumaco in the department of Nariño
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to:
- the departments of Putumayo, Arauca, Caquetá, Guaviare, Guainía, Vichada, and Norte de Santander (except their capital cities, as indicated on the map)
- the department of Cauca (except its capital Popayán and the road between the tourist site of the San Agustin ruins in Huila and Popayán city)
- the department of Chocó (except its capital Quibdó, the whale-watching towns of Nuquí and Bahía Solano, and the tourist site of Capurganá)
- the department of Nariño (except its capital Pasto and the Ipiales border crossing)
- the department of Meta (except its capital Villavicencio, and the tourist site of Caño Cristales); visitors travelling to Caño Cristales should only do so with a reputable tour company travelling by air to and from the town of La Macarena
- within 5km of the Venezuelan border in the departments of La Guajira, César and Boyaca
- rural areas in northern Antioquia, southern Cordoba, southern Valle de Cauca, and southern Bolivar (as indicated on the map) “
“On 19 February 2017, there was an explosion in the La Macarena area of Bogota, near to the bullring, injuring about 30 people. It followed repeated public demonstrations in that area. You should monitor local media and avoid all demonstrations.
Social protests are common in Colombia and can become violent and lead to disruption to road and transport networks. You should avoid protests and follow the advice of local authorities if you’re in an area where a protest is taking place.
The security situation can change very quickly in many areas of the country. You should pay close attention to warnings issued by the Colombian authorities. In general, the more remote the area, the greater the potential threat to your safety. You should be particularly cautious and vigilant during any major events and in crowded places.
Despite the high levels of crime, most visits to Colombia are trouble-free.” (I think this means “if you avoid conflict zones and take the necessary precautions, you’ll be ok”, that’s my personal experience, at least!).
Needless to say, we are not liable for any interpretation of this information, but we think that summarising FCO travel advice for Latin America was long due. What’s your recent experience of travelling across Latin America on business? Most of our clients have found their visits totally trouble-free (except for the odd food poisoning incident), leave us your comments below!
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