More than five million people visit and fall in love with Brazil every year. With its breathtaking natural landscapes and ecosystems, including the magnificent Amazon River, the rainforest and over 2,000 beaches stretching along the shoreline, stunning cities and picturesque towns, unparalleled cuisine, and most notably, its amazingly welcoming people and warm culture, Brazil has quickly secured a title of a top 21st-century tourist destination and a true gateway to South America.
As with any foreign country, being acquainted with the lay of the land will give you an advantage in preparation for the trip and during your time in Brazil. So before you set off on your first Brazil adventure, familiarize yourself with the following information—it will go a long a way once you are on Terra do Brasil.
Once in Brazil, you will be doing most of your traveling either by car or by bus. Buses vary widely, both in price and in quality of accommodation. You will find everything from the basic public bus fare to more luxurious offerings. At times, you will be looking at a vehicle that doesn’t seem or sound mechanically reliable, and depending on the route and destination, your choices might be limited.
Driving is also an option. Holders of valid U.S. driver’s licenses may drive in the country for up to six months; anything beyond 180 days requires an Inter-American Driving Permit.
The maximum speed limit on major highways is 120 kmph (74 mph). Lower limits (usually 60 kmph or 40 mph) apply in urban areas, depending on the road and the area. Photo cameras that take pictures of cars that exceed the speed limit are catching on in a number of towns and cities. These devices are called "Fiscalizacao Eletronica") and bring in a health revenue to the state in speeding tickets fines.
In Brazil, you yield the right of way to vehicles on your right. Be careful at stop signs, as local drivers commonly treat them as mere yield signs. In general when behind the wheel in Brazil, be prepared for traffic laws, customs, and level of enforcement to be vastly different from your home country.
Access to high-quality doctors and medical care is available in major cities, such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Salvador, although it is not uncommon for complex cases to be transferred to São Paulo. Public healthcare in Brazil is free for permanent residents, although those who can afford private care will choose it due to the public system being both underfunded and understaffed.
The quality of medical care in smaller cities is satisfactory, although not quite comparable to that available in the United States, and it drops significantly once you find yourself outside a major city. It is relatively easy to find most generic versions of prescription and over-the-counter medications. Brand-name medicines will often be named differently in the Brazilian market or not be available altogether.
The phone number for emergency ambulance in Brasilia and São Paulo is 192. The promptness of ambulance response is generally good. Private ambulance services are also available. Please research them in advance and have their numbers saved in your phone in case of an emergency. If you don't speak Portuguese and need to visit a clinic, plan to come with an interpreter, as medical personnel, including doctors, rarely speak English sufficiently enough to provide adequate care.
Brazil does not require vaccinations to enter the country, but endemic infectious diseases, including yellow fever and malaria, are still a hazard and vary by season and geographical region. The CDC’s Yellow Book is an excellent source of up-to-date information on advised vaccinations and general preventative measures against contagious illnesses. As always, please visit your doctor prior to traveling.
The most frequent question we receive is whether it is safe to travel to Brazil. Answering this question requires a bit of context. As a country that has experienced significant economic swings in recent years, Brazil has indeed experienced a rise in crime, both in cities and in their surrounding areas. For travelers from the United States, it is critically important to remain vigilant at all times. While the most common crime experienced by tourists is theft, an upsurge in violent crime in Brazil is also, unfortunately, quite evident. Taking these precautions will allow you to minimize the risk of getting in a dangerous situation and to seek immediate assistance if you need it.
- • Do not stand out from the crowd. Being dressed like a tourist is a sure way to attract criminals’ attention. Experienced travelers recommend wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. While having a map is a good idea, study it in your hotel or inside a populated coffee shop, not in the middle of a street.
- • Do not carry valuables on you. Keep your passport in your hotel room safe and only bring a color copy while you are out and about. Carry a credit card to pay for day-to-day purchases but also have enough cash in your wallet to convince robbers that it’s all you have (having zero cash would not be convincing) in case you do get confronted by criminals. Have backup credit cards in your hotel in case you have to give up the one you are carrying. Do not carry an expensive phone or wear a nice watch. Buy a cheap watch and an old beat-up phone and use them instead.
- • If you get caught in a mugging, do not panic. The criminals may have a gun or a knife, but in most cases, they just want your possessions. Give up what you have and do not show resistance.
- • Be vigilant if you are drinking alcohol and watch out for people slipping drugs in your drink. This advice also applies to men, especially in red-light disctricts.
- • Avoid dangerous neighborhoods. Do not travel to unpacified favelas and do not approach regions bordering with Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, or Paraguay, as these areas have a heavy presence of armed drug traffickers.
- • If you are hurt, call 190 for police, 192 for ambulance, and 193 for fire. The São Paulo Tourist Police (Delegacia de Protecao ao Turista) numbers are 11-3120-4447 and 3151-4167. The Rio de Janeiro tourist police numbers are 21-2332-2924, 21-2332-2511, and 21-2332-5112.