Personal Safety in Latin America: Traveling safely
How can you Travel to Latin America Safely?
If you are wondering about safety abroad, follow these 12 tips to have a safe trip and/or family adventure.
You may ask, how safe is Latin America? This is actually the #1 reason we chose to have our Spanish Immersion Programs based in Costa Rica & Ecuador, and why we continue to travel with our family. Not only do Costa Rica & Ecuador have a long history of peacefulness and political stability, tourism is a very large portion of the countries economies, which means that in general tourists are treated very well. The countries are very safe.
When traveling to Latin America, it is important to be aware of your surroundings. Don’t worry, but be smart and follow the tips below to be safe abroad. It is important to understand that violent crime is not rampant, but petty theft can happen in the blink of an eye and its best to be prepared. Our motto is, better safe than sorry!
Tip #1: Leave your valuables at home
You may be used to wearing your diamond earrings or wedding band on a daily basis, but is it really worth it to lose one in an ocean dip or on a zip line tour, or have it disappear from where you carelessly left it on your vanity counter or in the bathroom? Consider leaving your costly (or sentimentally significant items) at home.
Tip # 2: Don’t take more than you need on your trip
We often pack much more than necessary, even duplicate many items. Only take what’s truly necessary on your trip, and if its valuable and you’ll miss it if it’s gone, consider leaving it in the safety of your home. Check out our Family Packing List!
Tip # 3: Always lock doors and gates (and arm alarms if possible) at night and while you’re away
Think about this for a second; the gates and alarms at your place exist for a purpose. If they weren’t needed, they wouldn’t be there. So, use them to their full potential. Better safe than sorry!
Tip # 4: Keep your belongings in a safe if available
No explanation needed. Take 10 minutes to figure out the safe and use it. This is especially true for passports, credit cards, cash, electronic devices, and jewelry. But, make sure you check and empty the safe before checkout!
Tip # 5: Double check the taxi and bus seats before you get off
It’s easy to drop things during the hustle and bustle of getting around town like a local. Take an extra 15 seconds to check your seat and the floor near your feet to make sure you didn’t drop anything important before you get out of your cab or get off your bus. The most commonly forgotten item is your umbrella! Just do a quick double check.
Tip # 6: Use a copy of your passport while in country, don’t carry around the real one
We’ve been in the habit of carrying copies in our wallets for some time now. It sure makes things easier to not have to figure out how to get an emergency passport issued at your local US Embassy. Make a copy or two before your trip and keep one in your wallet/ purse and another copy in a separate piece of luggage.
Tip # 7: Focus on getting your debit card first out of the ATM (not the cash or the receipt)
Over the years several clients have had their debit cards eaten by the ATM machine. They successfully got their cash, but they were so focused on putting it away perfectly into their wallets that they didn’t retrieve their debit cards from the machine in time. In areas that have high rates of petty theft, the ATM machines are programmed to swallow your card back in if you don’t retrieve it within 5-10 seconds. Of course you can get your card back if you can go inside the bank, speak the language and you’re available to return during business hours…but it’s a ton of hassle and totally avoidable. Just stuff your money into your pockets or deep in your purse and focus on getting your card. Grab the receipt last and you can organize your money just how you like after you get back to your hotel room.
Tip # 8: Never leave your bag, backpack, or personal items unattended
I don’t know about you, but I walk away from my computer and work bag at my local coffee shop all the time. I may have to use the restroom or grab something from my car real quick, but it’s not a real concern. In Latin America, however, you never want to have your eyes off your stuff nor be separated from it … EVER! This is going to sound crazy to you, but you don’t even want to drape things off the back of your chair while you’re sitting down at the restaurant. Keep your personal belongings on your lap, or between your feet, at the table and no one will be able to slyly slip it away from you.
Tip # 9: Valuables on the Beach
The previous is also true on the beach. Only take to the beach or pool the things you need to take. Never leave your items unattended on the beach or at the pool, they can disappear in the blink of an eye!
Tip # 10: Back up your electronics and make sure all data is saved in a separate location just in case you need to replace your device
It’s one thing to lose your things, but it’s salt in the wounds to have to waste time recreating work that you could have saved. Do a quick back up before you travel.
Tip # 11: Stranger danger
It seems unfair to say, but it’s better safe than sorry. Always be cautious of strangers trying to get close to you, who seem overly chatty and friendly, or who run into you while walking. A simple nudge can distract you while something goes missing from your back pocket. Keep your valuables tucked away and not in outside pockets, keep your purses close to your body, and move wallets or cell phones from your back pockets to your front pockets. Keep your zippers closed on your travel bags and purses if you have them.
Tip # 12: Crowd awareness
The same goes for crowds as for strangers. In a crowded area keep your valuables close to your body or in sight. This may even mean keep your purse on your lap or while walking keep your purse or backpack on the front of your body.
Personal safety is extremely important for you to be intentional about. We run Spanish immersion programs in Costa Rica and Ecuador several times a year for adults and high school clients and most of the time we see a disconnect between “street smarts” in Latin America and “street smarts” in the USA. It’s definitely not hard to stay safe during your travels, but it does require a little extra effort and a drastic perspective shift to make sure that you don’t open any doors for someone to commit a crime against you.
Here is a related post on Street Smarts in Central America. We had our things stolen out of a beach house in Nosara, Costa Rica in the summer of 2015 – what a surprise that was!
Here is the video we use in our pre-departure course for all Common Ground travelers. Feel free to comment below with any questions, concerns or doubts: