Living in Latin America, As Safe as You Make It
You’d have to be living under a rock to not know about the recent gun-related tragedies in the US. Canada too has its share of incidents, but they don’t usually make it to news stations south of the border, and tend to be on much smaller scales. And consider Mexico, for a while it seemed as though every tourist was in danger because of several media stories covering ‘brutal attacks’ and ‘murders’.
Don’t be mistaken, these are all horrific crimes and should not be taken lightly whatsoever. But if you scour the internet or local newspapers, you are unfortunately going to see serious wrongdoings committed around the world on a daily basis. It’s true that no matter what, innocent people get hurt, or worse; but in many other cases people put themselves into compromising positions that could have been avoided.
Enter Latin America, and all the unfortunate stereotypes that are tagged to this part of the world. That being said, there is usually a shred of truth associated with these stereotypes… non-violent crimes do happen throughout Latin America and can be more rampant then your home in suburban North America.
You see… many expats living in Latin America are coming from charming suburban or rural settings, because they felt those were safe, stable environment to raise their families; not having to worry about locking doors, or leaving their bicycles on the front lawn.
Then, they move to a new country and end up in a city, because the city has the modern conveniences they’re used to such as movie theatres, decent shopping, public water and cable TV. It’s not to say that rural areas don’t have these conveniences, but they tend to be on a much smaller scale.
This is where problems can occur. It’s not that Latin America has more non-violent crime then North America; it’s quite often that these folks have moved from a rural or suburban setting into an urban one.
The truth is: a city is a city, regardless of whether you’re in Toronto Canada or San Jose Costa Rica. It will be as safe as you make it. What’s important is to keep your wits about you and pay attention to your surroundings.
Talking to other expats is a great resource in a new city as well. As a newcomer, it’s hard to tell what a bad neighborhood looks like, while tourist areas tend to be hot spots for petty criminals to hang out.
It’s amazing, but people know to avoid the bad areas of New York and Miami, but will walk right through the slums of São Paulo with their camera around their neck and their purse on their shoulder. In these areas, it’s important to only carry with you what you need and not showcase what you have.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a retired expat – just living out their dream – in Latin America that has been threatened with violence. These countries don’t experience hate crimes, violence just for the fun of it or serial killers. Theft in these countries usually happens to help keep a roof over a family’s head or put food on their table, because there’s no such thing as welfare or disability, employment insurance or a pension plan.
Ultimately, when you’re considering a move to a Latin America country, (or any country for that matter!) it’s important to exercise caution and maintain an awareness of your surroundings, and don’t carry more then you require for that specific outing. Just like in any country, the majority of people in Latin America are extremely friendly and generous. Make friends; try to learn the native language… before you know it you’ll be giving advice to other newcomers.
If living in the city isn’t your cup of tea and you’d rather consider options that are a bit more off the beaten track, check out our Discovery Weekend options.