For more insights into Sao Paulo, see American Exbrat in São Paulo.
Brazil in My Eyes and Born Again Brazilian will be co-hosting a seminar about safety in São Paulo on Thursday, September 26th that will include a Q&A with local security experts. For more information, contact the International Newcomers Club at firstname.lastname@example.org. This week’s installment on crime-avoidance in São Paulo focuses on staying safe in and outside your home.
Safety in your home is something that most of us know something about. Some of us grew up in small towns where we rarely locked the front door and often left the keys in the car parked in front of the house. Some of us grew up in bigger towns and cities that require more safeguards. Most of the below advice is similar to precautions who might have taken in previous cities. However, São Paulo does have nuances you’ll want to know about when securing your home.
House vs. Apartment
Probably the most common question we get about living in Brazil it safer to live in an apartment or in a house. Unfortunately, there is no straight answer. It depends on many factors: the neighborhood security in general, your safety precautions, and the precautions of your neighbors.
An apartment building provides 24-hour security. Generally you have a guard or two at the gate and a security holding cage for both residents/guests and cars. You also have a sense that as one of only one apartment of many, the odds are in your favor. Some buildings are stricter on security than others: making cars entering roll down tinted windows so they can make sure it is you in the car, having garage remotes that are harder to clone, checking IDs of all who enter and leave. When finding a place to live, make sure you ask about security procedures.
A house does not have 24–hour third party security unless you hire it yourself, although some neighborhoods have guards on street corners to monitor the area. On the other hand, you do not have to worry about who your neighbor has just buzzed into the building, or who they’ve rented their apartment to, or if they’ve handed over their garage remote to a friend. You are in control of security. There are many options for protecting your home: electric fences, barbed wire rolls, video cameras, etc. Do what you feel is appropriate in your neighborhood—you don’t want to stand out as Fort Knox so the bad guys wonder what kind of treasure you are protecting, nor do you want to be the easiest place on the block to break into.
A good security practice for both a house and apartment is to know your neighbor. It is not very common in Brazil to have an organized “Neighborhood Watch” type association as in the US, although neighborhoods often chip in on condo fees to add extra guards on the streets or for a“ronda” service, which allows you to call a number when you are approaching your home to have an unarmed security person follow you. But take the time to know who has the apartment next to you or the house across the street. They may end up being your savior one day if they notice someone different coming out of your house or apartment carrying a stack of laptops, an iPad or two and/or a large TV. So it may be in your best interest to introduce yourself to your neighbors.
In a house, your biggest vulnerability is at the points of entry and exit. When your front door or garage door is open, you are at your most vulnerable point. So keep careful watch, and as recommended in previous post, try and vary your routine so that no one can anticipate opportunities. If you are in a house, try to park your cars so you do not have to back out. If you leave facing out to the street, you have a better visibility for what is going on outside. Also, if you are near a construction site (someone building a new house), be aware that the contractors may not paid for good security. Someone may be able to get into the site for easy access to your property. In this case, be sure to secure your perimeter.
Security Procedures at Home
Be sure to train your household staff on your security procedures, especially if you live in a house. Review at least once a year or more. Don’t forget to instruct them that if someone calls asking for you, do not answer “she is not home” but rather “she cannot take the call at this time.” Work out passwords that will alert you or them when someone is facing (literally) trouble.
All workers in your house should provide their document (RG) and you should make a copy of it. You should also know where your staff lives. All empregadas and babás (long-term employees) should have their antecedencias checked–basically their criminal records. It is also important to report crime committed by your help so it does not happen to someone else.
Be careful in handing out keys to staff. If it is possible to buzz them in and out on arrival instead of passing out keys, that may be the best. You are not suggesting that these individuals could be criminals, but instead acknowledging the possibility that your keys could be stolen from them. My maid was held up at a bus stop two years ago with our keys in her purse. We changed all locks by the end of the day as a “just in case.”
What to Know When You are Hiring
The very best way to get household help in Brazil is to get a referral from someone who has hired that individual in the past. While some friend-of-friend referrals (like your empregada says that her friend’s sister is available) may work out, it is not ideal. Even if a staff member claims to know their referral well, he or she may not be aware of specifics like their mental history (we’ve had friends who took on the cousin-of-a-friend-of-an-aunt situations, only to discover some disturbing details while employed).
These basic measure are ones that you’ll want to consider no matter where in the world you live. Next week we’ll share some of the statistics we have about safety in São Paulo, how the emergency number 190 works, and even tell you about how a tattoo can tell you a lot about a person.