It’s easy to be overly paranoid about crime and scam artists when visiting Latin America. Here’s some tips to make your trip a little bit safer.
1. Always carry a little money on you. By that I mean always have at least $10 or so on you. If you’re unfortunate enough to get mugged, just hand it over. If you’re even more unfortunate and don’t have any money on you when you get mugged, you’ll be in a lot more trouble. If you have a small amount of money to hand over, your mugger will just take it and run. If you’ve no money, he/she will almost certainly get angry and aggressive - not want you want.
2. Where sunglasses. Bodyguards where sunglasses all the time - they’re trained to do so as it is intimidating to others. Where sunglasses of the type that other people cannot see your eyes - that way others can’t tell whether you’re scoping them out as you’ve spotted them sizing you up. Sleep on buses with sunglasses on for the same reason.
3. Take a money belt, one that is hidden around your waste/ under your trousers. Keep your passport, credit cards and larger sums of money there. Keep money that you envisage using that day in your pocket, ideally not using a wallet, but loose in a pocket. That way, if you buy something, you’re not waving credit cards and wadges of cash around when you pull out your wallet.
4. Telephone call for a taxi rather than pick one up on the street when possible (often this is not an option, but if it is do so).
5. Take care at airports. You’re most likely to be scammed at an airport, just after you’ve arrived in the country. Use designated taxi ranks or transfer services, and confidently ignore any people touting for your business.
6. Heed local advice. If you’re told you shouldn’t visit a certain area, don’t.
7. Don’t get drunk and then stagger home at 3 a.m. through a poor neighbourhood and expect yourself to arrive without problems. This is asking for trouble, especially in cities. Do it at your peril.
8. Shave your head. Ok - quite drastic, but if you have short hair anyway, get it cut just before you travel. You’ll look a little tougher, more militaristic, and dodgy folk will be less likely to mess with you.
9. Act confidently - act like you”re local. How would an expat who’s lived in X country behave? Copy that. If you wander around looking lost, confused or otherwise weak, you’ll appear any easy target.
10. Always cover your pin when you enter it into a banks ATM machine. Put your hand over your pin when you enter it - a remarkable number of ATMs have secret cameras installed directly above the key pad, looking down to steal your pin. Don’t get caught - it happens a lot - and it’s happened to me (in Quito, Ecuador, plus I spotted such a camera in Spain).
I know, have met, and have heard about plenty of people who’ve been robbed or otherwise scammed in Latin America. In almost every case, it’s because they weren’t following one of the points I’ve made above. Have safe travels…. and don’t be paranoid - in over 2 years of travelling and living in Latin America, only point 10 has every happened to me