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Brazil Travel Tips

Brazil Travel Tips

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Have you been contemplating a visit to Brazil with your family? Perhaps you have a new interest in this country after the extensive coverage it received during this summer’s 2014 FIFA World Cup. I previously wrote about our family’s trip to Rio de Janeiro during this epic event, but here are some of my Brazil travel tips based on our family’s recent experience:

Needed: Passport and Visa

First thing you need to know is that Brazil requires all U.S. citizens to carry a passport that is valid for at least 6 months from the date you enter Brazil AND a visa. You can apply for a visa through the Brazilian Embassy or Consulate in person, through one of many visa agencies, or by mail. The fee of $160 per person at the time of writing this article can be quite steep when traveling with a family.

If you are granted a visa, you must enter the country within 90 days of receiving it, so plan accordingly. A tourist visa allows you to stay up to 90 days and is valid for multiple entries. For more detailed information, visit the Brazilian Embassy Website.

Brazil Travel Tips - View from the Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro

Thousands of visitors from around the world flock to Rio de Janeiro to see its world famous attractions.

Immunizations

If you are traveling to Rio de Janeiro or São Paolo, two popular destinations in Brazil, you don’t need to worry about getting shots as long as you and your family are up-to-date on standard vaccinations. If you are planning to visit other locations in Brazil, you should know that several regions (particularly the north, northeast and central region) present a risk of contracting yellow fever and/or malaria for travelers.

Depending on your destination(s), make sure to consult your physician or a travel health clinic four to eight weeks before your planned departure. Some vaccinations and malaria prophylaxis must be taken a few weeks before arriving to Brazil. For more information on this topic, visit the CDC website.

Seasons

Brazil is a tropical country, but due to its large size, the weather can vary considerably between the north and south, even during the same season. Because it is located in the southern hemisphere, Brazil’s seasons are the opposite from those in the northern hemisphere (i.e. Brazil’s summer is December through March). During Brazil’s winter months, the weather in the southern parts can get a bit chilly, so be sure to pack some long pants and light jackets in addition to your shorts and swim suits. I also suggest you check the weather forecast before your trip to help you pack.

Brazil Travel Tips - Beach in Natal

The northeast coast of Brazil is known for its sandy beaches and plentiful sunshine year round.

Language

The official language of Brazil is Portuguese and despite what some people think, it is not a dialect of Spanish! It is true, however, that the two languages are linguistically related, so if you speak some Spanish, it might help you understand some words in Portuguese or make your own wants known.

You should know that even in large cities such as Rio and São Paolo many people do not speak English (or at least fewer than we expected), and the farther away you get from the large cities, even fewer people you will encounter will speak English. That said, most hotel front desk staff speak English, and they can also help you with matters outside the hotel, such as destinations for taxi drivers. During our trip we made good use of the Google Translate app on our smart phones on several occasions, particularly when shopping.

A Few Practical Matters

Currency/Money Matters

Brazil’s currency is the Real ($R). ATMs are the best way to obtain cash and ATM machines are available even in smaller towns. Major credit cars are widely accepted; however, it’s a good idea to carry multiple options as some places only accept a certain type of card (i.e. Visa).

Weights/measures

Brazil uses the metric system: kilometers for distances and kilograms for weight. We were told that some rural areas may measure distance in legua which is about 5 km.

Electricity

A key thing to know is that electric current in Brazil varies widely (from 100 to 127 volts or 220 to 240 volts and from 50 to 60Hz), even in the same city or, as we were told, sometimes even in the same building! Be aware of the voltage before you plug in any electrical devices! Many hotels label their electrical outlets to help their guests, but not all do. When in doubt, ask and make sure to check if your electronics are dual-voltage. Also, bring a travel converter for those that are not.

Hotels

Most hotel rooms in Brazil accommodate two or, at most, three people, so a family of four will most likely need to get two separate rooms or a “family room” mini suite, if it is available. We learned that the room rates can vary quite considerably between the high season and the low season, depending on the city and time of year. You should also know that most hotel rates include breakfast which usually consists of a nice buffet.

Service Charges and Tipping

Most restaurants as well as hotels add 10% service charge to your bill. Additional tipping is not expected. We were told that taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped, but I can tell you it is very appreciated if you feel you have received a particularly good service. Bellboys get tipped $R1 per bag.

Traveling within Brazil

Brazil is the world’s 5th largest country! To travel around, you will have to rely primarily on air travel. While there is a network of intercity buses, rail travel is almost nonexistent in Brazil. The major domestic airlines are TAM, GOL, WebJet and BR; however, not all of them have flights to and from all Brazilian cities.

Keep in mind that in Rio or São Paolo, a domestic flight might depart from a different airport than where your international flight arrived. Traveling to and from the airports, particularly in these two highly congested cities, can take considerable amounts of time, so plan accordingly and take me seriously on this one! Our taxi ride from and to the airport in Rio and São Paolo took twice as long as we planned and we planned conservatively.

If you are thinking about renting a car and driving in Brazil I have two pieces of advice: (1) Don’t! and (2) If you ignore #1, Good luck!

Brazil travel tips - Avoid gridlock in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Heed our Brazil travel tips and do not rent a car, else you may find yourself in the middle of gridlock in Rio de Janeiro!

Safety

A few decades ago, Brazil unfortunately developed a reputation for having violence and crime, and many people still see it as an unsafe place to visit. This is unfortunate as the situation is much improved today, largely due to government investment in public services such as police, as well as tourism, which is a top priority for Brazil today. We found Brazilians to be extremely friendly hosts who often went out of their way trying to be helpful with giving directions, advice or other help for visitors to their country.

As I mentioned in my article about Rio de Janeiro, my biggest advice is to exercise common sense and be alert at all times, just as you would when visiting other big cities in Europe or at home, in the United States.

  • Avoid visiting risky neighborhoods, especially at night.
  • Use common sense when walking around. Leave passports and other valuables in the hotel safe; for day trips or excursions, only bring what you absolutely need.
  • Do not flash large amounts of cash, wear expensive jewelry or big cameras around your neck.
  • Try to avoid congested areas or, if you must, be extra vigilant as this is where pickpocketing often occurs. I did make sure to carry my fold-over cross-body bag with a zipper, in front of my body at all times to minimize any risks.
  • When we brought our backpack on excursions, we made sure to wear it in the front no matter how stupid this might have looked.

Taxis are generally very safe, despite random reports about incidents, and available everywhere. However, if you feel uncomfortable, have your hotel or a restaurant call one for you or use one of many lined up at taxi stands. Our experience at the airports was that it is best to prepay a fixed taxi fare (usually there is an easy-to-find stand), and obviously avoid anybody who tries to “befriend you” and take you to their taxi.

Departure

As mentioned above, it is very important to plan enough time to get to the airport, especially in Rio and São Paolo. Again, I’m speaking from experience. Equally important is to plan for long immigration lines, especially when leaving the country. Similar to our taxi rides from and to the airport, this process took a lot longer than we anticipated, and, while our family luckily made it on time, we observed many distressed passengers begging the officials to let them to the front of the line so that they could make their flights home.

Lastly, all foreign visitors must fill out an immigration form when entering the country, which will be stamped and handed back to you by an immigration officer. Make sure to save this form as you will be required to hand it back to the immigration authorities when you are exiting the country. According to the U.S. Department of State official website for international travel, losing the form can result in delays exiting the country as you will need clearance from the Brazilian Federal Police and may also result in a fine.

I hope you find these Brazil travel tips helpful as you are preparing for your trip. If you have a question about traveling to Brazil that we have not covered here, please post below and I will be happy to get back to you with my thoughts.

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A native of Slovenia, Vera moved to the U.S. 20+ years ago after meeting her American husband. Together with their two children they live on the North…

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