Juliana Mello

Juliana Mello

The Brazil Business


I am arrested in Brazil, now what?

Juliana Mello

Juliana Mello

The Brazil Business


Assuming foreigners may not know that some actions in Brazil are illegal, here we are to avoid them from saying: “But I didn’t know!!”

Assuming foreigners may not know that some actions in Brazil are illegal, here is a guide to avoid them from saying: “But I didn’t know!!”

Brazil is known for warmly welcoming foreigners. Our immigration policies are very open, our laws towards foreign people are inclusive and tolerant and Brazilians are mostly fond of having the “gringos” around.

But of course, not everything is good news. When it comes to illegal or criminal activities, Brazilian law does not play easy with foreigners. Anyone caught acting illegally on Brazilian soil will be judged according to our country’s laws (territoriality principle).

In general lines, a foreigner acting against the law will be judged and serve their sentence in Brazil. After that, they will be expelled from the country. Depending on the circumstances, a lawyer’s interference may change it all, and get the foreigner to respond for their crime in their country of origin, for instance.

Anyway, to avoid headaches, it is better to know what can cause you trouble with the police here in Brazil.

Crimes against the tax order

The crime of fraud or tax evasion consists in using procedures that directly violate the taxation laws or its regulations. It is flagrant and configures a taxpayer's action that consciously opposes to the laws, omitting or forging information to the Revenue.

It is a criminal offense against the tax order to reduce or remove any tax or social contribution with the following practices:

  • Omit information or present false declaration to the Federal Revenue Service authorities
  • To fraud or alter invoices
  • To elaborate, distribute, provide, issue, or to use false documents
  • To deny giving or omit invoices related to sales or services provided to clients, in cases this is mandatory
  • Complete a false declaration or omit declarations of your incomes and assets (real estate, cars), with intentions to avoid IPVA, IPTU and Income Tax. Even foreigners living outside Brazil, but with assets in the country must pay these taxes

For the cases above, the penalty goes from 2 to 5 years of reclusion, plus fine and the payment of the evaded taxes, with interests and monetary adjustments.

Crimes against the economic order

Crimes against the economic order are numerous. We will concentrate on the most common ones.

  • Sales: Any sales activity must be regularised according to the product's category. It is not allowed to sell things on the streets without a proper license. If the person gets caught the police has the authority to confiscate the goods
  • Money laundering: It is a federal crime, with a penalty going from 3 to 18 years of reclusion
  • Copying books, cds, dvds and songs configures Copyrights crime, subjected to reclusion and fine penalties
  • Bribery: trying to pay any authority to get rid of consequences or paying people to get advantage over others are criminal practices for both the people who pay and receive the money. It is important to say that in Brazil, tips are not considered bribery
  • Cartel agreements have been forbidden in Brazil since 1988, under the penalty of 2 to 5 years of reclusion, plus a fine. Even though it is a forbidden practice, here in Brazil we have cartels of all kinds, at all places, involving several economic activities

If you are living in Brazil...

Here are few tips to avoid trouble in your daily life in Brazil:

  • Absence of a visa does not configure a crime, but if caught without a visa, the person will be given a period to get one, or else leave the country. Also, to work in Brazil you must have a labour visa. This means you cannot practice any activity that generates money or be paid while you are in the country
  • Driving is only allowed after you're 18, and with a proper license issued by a Detran jurisdiction. Drunk driving is a crime, with a penalty from 3 to 6 months of reclusion and a fine
  • Forget what you see in Carnaval. Going topless is considered indecent exposure. If you run into police, you will be asked to cover yourself immediately. The exposition of some body parts can end up in penalty of imprisonment from 3 months up to a year or a fine
  • Smoking marijuana is not a crime, but the drug is still not legal in Brazil. Carrying any drug in an amount for personal consumption is also not a crime. But, if caught, the occurrence will be registered and the person may be submitted to educational measures
  • Abortion is an illegal practice in Brazil, for both the mother and the doctor. This practice is only legal in cases of rape and fetuses growing without brain
  • Any demonstration of racism is considered a crime with no bail
  • It is allowed to drink alcohol in the streets at anytime, anywhere
  • Be aware that in some states, you cannot smoke in enclosed places, at the risk of being fined or expelled from the property
  • It is not illegal to contract the services of a sex professional in Brazil (as long as they are not a minor)
  • Brazil counts with freedom of expression: you can say, paint and write whatever you want, as long as you do not offend anyone
  • Brazil is a secular country, so the cult of any religion is allowed. However, the displaying of religious symbols must be contained in public buildings, schools and universities. The use of the Islamic headscarf is not forbidden

What if I get arrested?

The Brazilian criminal justice system is based on the presumption of innocence, one of the principles regarding pre-trial detention. In Brazil, you can only be taken to detention if:

  • Caught in flagrant practicing irregularities
  • You are considered a risk to society (this applies only for suspects of severe crimes such as murder, rape, kidnapping, smuggling, drug trafficking, extortion, robbery or similar)

Aside from these two cases and saving some exceptions, you have the right to be judged in freedom, which means that you cannot be held or detained.

Remember that a foreigner living in Brazil has the very same rights as Brazilians. So in case you get in trouble with the police, you have the right to defend yourself. You have the right to a lawyer, and if you cannot afford one, the State will provide you a public defender.

The same applies to foreigners with no visa, who also have the same rights as Brazilians, as one of the national principles says that all people are equal before the law.

People with a college degree have the right to stay in a private cell, away from other prisoners


The cases admitting bail in Brazil are:

  • All crimes that are not punished with detainment
  • Crimes punished with detainment when the minimal penalty is less than 2 years

For example, trafficking drugs is a crime punished with detainment that has a minimal penalty of 5 years and not more than 15 years. Therefore, in theory, drug trafficking does not admit bail. But if the quantity of drugs is small, the penalties can be reduced by the judge in the first offense.

As you can see, each case is a case. But in Brazil it is more like each court is a court. That is because the verdicts vary absurdly from court to court, which puts luck as a crucial element for those who are confronting judgments in the country. You have to keep your fingers crossed to get a nice, fast and merciful court.

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