As far as really big cities go, Buenos Aires is not particularly dangerous although if you listen to the many residents of this port city or the excitable tabloid media, you may come to believe it’s something akin to downtown Baghdad. For the 2019 Crime Index Rate, Buenos Aires comes in at number 43, between Dar es Salaam, Tanzania at 42 and Surrey, Canada at 44. Nine American cities such as Detroit, Albuquerque, and Saint Louis are considered more dangerous than Buenos Aires according to the data.
The truth is that petty theft is a problem in Buenos Aires but violent crime is less common. Incidents of armed robbery have increased in the last few years, but the chances are slim that a short-term visitor will be a victim.
The longer you stay in Buenos Aires, the more likely it is you will be a victim of crime, although that can also be offset as one spends time in the city and blends in more. Tourists are a target for crimes of opportunity.
The Most Common Crimes in Buenos Aires & Around Argentina
The most common crime in Buenos Aires and around the country is petty theft, specifically pick-pocketing. In Buenos Aires, pick-pocketing hot spots are Florida Street, around Plaza de Mayo, the Retiro train station, busy streets of Palermo, on the subway and buses and sometimes inside dining establishments. Anywhere where there are crowds of people on the street, jostling from the crowd could be someone trying to reach into your bag or even slice it open with a razor. Pickpocketing is the reason that visitors will notice locals carrying their backpacks in front of them like kangaroos.
Former U.S. president, George W Bush’s daughter Barbara famously had her purse and cellphone stolen in 2006 in a San Telmo cafe — despite the fact that she was accompanied by a bunch of Secret Service agents.
One thing to be aware of is that the pickpocketers are often women and are not always adults. Although it is seen less in recent years, sometimes children are sent out by their parents to beg or to pose as beggars in order to pickpocket
The second most common crime are snatch and grab robberies — usually of cellphones but also purses. Often the victim is using their phone on the street or on public transportation and someone comes up and grabs it and runs. It happens quick, and usually the perpetrators are able to run through traffic or crowded areas to get away. The obvious solution is to not use a phone much in public — visitors will notice that many travelers on the subway and buses simply read good old-fashioned books.
As mentioned on the post Safety For Female Travelers, we recommend an over-the-shoulder type bag instead of a purse for women.
In Mendoza city pickpocketing is a problem around San Martín Park and transportation hubs.
The most common crime aside from pick-pocketing is ‘motochorro’ robberies. “Moto’ means motorcycle and ‘chorro’ means robber in Argentine slang.
In the following video you can see a tourist fight off a ‘motochorro’ who jumped off the motorcycle to try and rob the traveler’s backpack. While the usual advice is to not resist and turn over whatever is asked for, there are lots of stories in Buenos Aires of successfully fending of robberies among travelers.
It’s worthwhile to keep in mind that those who cooperate usually don’t get hurt. Basically, you are more likely to get killed or carjacked in Boston than Buenos Aires, but more likely to be pick-pocketed in Buenos Aires. Outside of the country’s capital province violent crime rates are low.
Tips to Stay Safe While Traveling in Argentina
Tourists in Argentina usually realize that they need to be careful, but when you’re having fun it’s easy to forget to pay attention. When possible, try not to look like a foreigner. Obviously this is not always the easiest thing for a foreigner to do, but there are certain steps you can take. In a country where approximately 30% of the population lives below the poverty line, and the local currency is valued at less than one quarter of a US dollar and one-sixth of a Euro, it is a sad fact that certain people view foreigners as nothing more than a potential source of money (kind of walking ATMs with sunburns).
The good news is that Argentina is unlike many other countries in South America, in that the population is a bit of a melting pot. This means that if you are tall, blonde and blue eyed, or Asian, you could still pass as a local here. Those of African descent will blend in the least, but if you are low-key most people will assume you’re from Brazil or Uruguay, i.e., not a ‘neo-colonist’ with wads full of cash. Across the board, the chances that you will be a victim of crime depend more on your attire and conduct rather than just your physical appearance.
Look at what the locals are wearing and try to imitate them to a certain extent. When you are walking around the city, for example, it may not be necessary to wear your Machu Pichu hiking gear and floppy hat when casual clothes and comfortable shoes would probably suffice. Likewise, try not to talk louder than is necessary in public, as that is another way of drawing attention to yourself. Resist the urge to shout at your wife in English that she is walking in the wrong direction when she is half a block in front of you.
Similarly, avoid looking lost. If you are lost, it’s a bit hard to pretend otherwise, but it’s best to advertise it as little as possible. Standing on a street corner staring open-mouthed at a phone, guidebook or a giant foldout map is a none-too-subtle hint to potential thieves that you are disoriented. Although very analogue, a Guia-T (the compact transport guide with maps of the whole city) as the locals of years past use is abundantly more low profile.
You can always head into a quiet bar for a coffee and pour over you map while sitting down at a table as well. If you are comfortable in Spanish you can also just pop into a ‘kiosko’ (convenience store) and ask for directions.
Carry as few valuables with you as possible, and pay attention! If you only have one small bag with your camera, money and credit cards hold it close to your body when walking, hugged to your belly while on crowded public transport, and on your lap or looped around the chair when you are sitting in a cafe or restaurant. Take care when using cameras or cell phones — it’s not unheard of for people to have them snatched out of their hands in the middle of the street by someone running past, or riding by on a bike or motorcycle.
Pickpockets are especially adept at taking advantage of crowded public places – a moment of inattention and your wallet could vanish. Barbara Bush (George W.’s daughter) kindly demonstrated this fact for us when she somehow managed to have her bag snatched at a humble San Telmo restaurant, despite being accompanied by a posse of secret-service agents. (Apart from not keeping an eye on her bag, we can only assume she was also living up to her family name by breaking our next rule…)
Don’t get too inebriated! All of the points above are easier to comply with if you are sober. Buenos Aires is a great city in which to party into the wee hours of the morning, but if you are going to do so (and it would be a shame to miss the nightlife) keep your wits about you and don’t carry too many valuables. The cash you need for the evening’s festivities, your phone if you have one, a piece of paper with your the address of where you’re staying written on it (to show the taxi driver if you are too ‘tired and emotional’ to remember) and possibly your bank/credit card kept in a separate place from your cash is all you should need.
All of these points seem obvious, and apply to most places you travel to in the world, but are still often forgotten among all the merriment of being in one of the world’s most exciting cities. Most visitors never experience any kind of problem, but it pays to be just a tad paranoid, or at least remain cautious and attentive at all times.
Argentina Safety Round-Up
• Be aware
• Only carry what you need for the day
• Don’t walk around with a DSLR camera around your neck in the city
• Don’t wear a nice watch such as a Rolex
• Try to keep a low-profile
• Avoid looking lost and looking at your phone on the street
• Watch your bag closely on public transport and in restaurants
• Don’t get too wasted!
• Be aware of common street scams. (See article)
If You Are a Victim of a Crime in Buenos Aires
If you are a victim of a crime in Buenos Aires you can seek help from any police officer or call the national emergency number of 911 for an emergency or call 101 for a 24-hour English helpline. The Buenos Aires tourist police are a special police department specifically designed to help visitors who fall victim to crime in Buenos Aires. Av. They can offer help interpreting in English, Portuguese, French, Ukrainian and Japanese.
Tollfree number: 0800-999-5000
Tel: (+54 9 11) – 5050 3293 / 9260
Email: [email protected]
See here for a list of locations of all police stations in Buenos Aires.
Mendoza Tourist Police
San Martin 1143
Tel: 0261 4132135.