Prior to arriving in Brazil some consideration should be given to the extent of travel expectations within the country. Should your plans include hopping from city to city (remember Brazil is a big country) one might consider utilizing the large network of Brazilian domestic airlines, operated by both national and regional carriers, by buying an in country air pass. The air pass should save you a considerable amount of money compared to the standard fares.
Checking with your authorized travel adviser prior to traveling to Brazil is highly recommended as typically these passes must be purchased prior to arrival. Check-in times are similar to those found in other major cities throughout the world, a minimum of one hour for domestic flights and two hours for international. There is a very popular shuttle flight between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo which departs from 6:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. every thirty minutes.
Once arriving in Brazil you’ll be confronted with the issue of which mode of ground transportation best suits your needs. If your hotel provides an airport shuttle that is certainly the most economical, but you’ll still need to figure out how to get from your hotel to wherever it is you’re going from there.
When utilizing taxis it’s good to know that in most cities they are regulated by the city administration and in major cities are outfitted with meters. You may notice some taxis marked Radio-Taxis which can be accessed by telephone or Taxis-Especiais which are a little nicer. Both of these will typically offer you a flat rate to your destination. At larger airports visibly noticeable booths have been set up by special taxi services also with flat rate fees. Convenient, but likely to cost you more that a standard metered cab.
Remember that most taxi drivers only speak Portuguese and having a clearly marked address, written down to show them is far less risky than relying on a limited command (or none for that matter) of Portuguese. Taxi drivers in Brazil are not accustomed to receiving a tip though in some cities they are allowed to charge extra for helping with baggage. Though tipping a taxi driver is not expected, rounding up your fare is appreciated.
Airport porters may charge you as much as one dollar U.S. per bag, it may not hurt to ask them first before engaging their services. At hotel arrival, tipping the bellboy a flat fee of one dollar U.S. is adequately sufficient as is the case with the chambermaids. And while on the subject of tipping, a 10% surcharge is often added to your bill at many restaurants as a tip. A good idea would be to check your bill or ask to see if this has been applied. Unlike in the U.S., advertised prices in store windows include consumption taxes. Keep this in mind when contemplating a purchase.
If opting to travel by vehicle with yourself or family member behind the wheel several International Rental Car Agencies and local ones are available. Most all rental cars in Brazil come equipped with a standard transmission (stick shift). Rarely can you find one with an automatic and when you do you’ll pay more. If you must have an automatic, book it well in advance. Once on the road be cautious, especially in outlying areas, as various degrees of road maintenance will be encountered.
Newer and more stringent laws have empowered the police to crack down on those not abiding by the laws, and your ignorance, albeit genuine, of their laws, will not save you. Seatbelt use is federally mandated throughout the country (it’s just a good idea anyway) and you can be stopped just for not wearing it. Imperative to know is that ALL Brazilian traffic signs are written in Portuguese.
There are no traffic signs in English or any other language. Driving around Brazil without first familiarizing yourself with the signage could and probably would put yourself, those with you, and others in harms way. It probably doesn’t even need to be said but don’t even think about getting behind the wheel without a quality, readable, reliable road map or atlas. Having to continually stop to ask directions in a foreign country will ultimately prove to be time consuming and frustrating along with potentially dangerous.
For rental car purposes an American drivers license or international driving permit is acceptable, but you must be at least 18 years old to drive in Brazil. There is a National Highway speed limit in Brazil of 68 MPH (110 kph) and in most cities the limit tops out at 49 MPH (80 kph) but the limit can change on any street or road according to signage. As in the U.S. driving is on the right, passing on the left. Checking with your auto insurance carrier as to what your potential liabilities may be when renting a vehicle (or driving someone else’s for that matter) in Brazil is also advised.
During the course of history the Brazilian populace has relied heavily on public transportation. Today over fifty percent of the population still does. While many of the larger cities have installed sub-ways, but taking the bus is still the primary mode of transportation. Bus companies throughout most cities in Brazil are almost exclusively privatized. Operators compete for routes and collect only what monies pass through the fare box while the cities maintain control of such items as, scheduling, routes, fares, advertising and performance monitoring.
The cities pay no subsidies. Buses in the major cities are primarily on demand, meaning that one need only stretch out a hand from a prevailing street corner, much like hailing a cab. There are however, also clearly defined bus stops with in the cities. Upon entering the bus (through the rear door) you’ll be greeted by a fare collector who will collect your fare and direct you through a turnstile to the front of the bus where (hopefully there’s a seat, on many occasions it’s SRO) you’ll ultimately depart through the front door upon arriving at your destination. Irrespective of the fact that you’re in a tropical climate, city buses are rarely air conditioned.
Another form of vehicular transportation, with in the cities, are known as Jitneys. These typically small, unregulated, unlicensed, unreliable and often times uninsured vans, travel ahead of the city buses offering rides at reduced rates. The lower fare and the assurance that you’ll get to sit down may seem attractive at the time, but use extreme caution. We don’t recommend them, stick to the metered cabs and city buses.