Pura Aventura’s brief guide to the practicalities of travelling to and around Brazil. We’ve included practical tips on money, health and vaccinations, safety, language, and airports to help you plan your holiday to Brazil.
Most of Brazil that you’re likely to visit is GMT -3 (ie at midday GMT it’s 9am in Brazil).
Bahia state (including Salvador, the Chapada Diamantina and Boipeba) has no daylight saving time, so remains at GMT -3.
Further south, including Rio de Janeiro, São Paolo, the Iguassu Falls, Buzios, Picinguaba, etc are also GMT -3 but observe Daylight Saving between October and February. Clocks go forward by 1 hour around midnight on the 3rd Saturday of October and go back around midnight on the 3rd Saturday of February so that during this period the time is GMT -2.
From Manaus westwards the time zone is GMT -4 with no Daylight Saving period.
Some 110V, some 220V 60Hz. Most sockets are European-style two round pin affairs but will also accept American-style two flat pin plugs.
Mobile phone coverage is generally very good. WiFi internet access is available in most pousadas and hotels. You’ll usually have to get a password from reception.
Main roads are generally good, although you should expect the occasional pothole. Roads in Bahia are noticeably lumpier than in São Paolo and Rio states.
Most taxis/transfer cars are likely to be GM Zafiras or Merivas and run on either gas or alcohol (at least partly).
Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of completion of your visit and you should have at least one blank page.
UK passport holders currently do not need visas for Brazil. US passport holders do, however, need a visa for entry to Brazil (advice here)
You will need an up-to-date Yellow Fever vaccination certificate/booklet to enter Brazil.
Check for other UK-recommended inoculations at NHS Fit for Travel.
Consult the UK FCO’s Know Before You Go to Brazil page for latest advice.
Before departure from home, please obtain two photocopies of the information pages of your passport and other travel documents, keeping one set in a different place from that of the originals.
A good idea is to scan a copy of your passport into your computer, should you lose your passport you have a copy which can be emailed to you. Although an emailed copy is not a legal document it may aid your application to get a new passport and visas quicker.
Your passport is your most valuable and important document when travelling, it should always be carried with you under your clothing in a small cotton pouch or money belt. NEVER store your passport in any part of your luggage! You may need to show your passport when checking into hotels, changing money.
We suggest that you deposit your passport in the hotel safe while in cities and carry a photocopy of it around as identification.
Reals (pr. _hay-ice_ plural, _hay-al_ singular) approximately R3.5 ~ £1. Notes come in denominations of 100, 50, 10, 5; coins in 1, 5, 10 and 50 centavos.
Travellers’ cheques are reasonably easy to change.
Visa and MasterCard are very widely accepted in restaurants, hotels, etc.
Cash is usually much preferred and may get you an automatic 10% discount. ATMs are found across the country in towns and cities. We have sometimes found UK Cirrus/Maestro debit cards not to work in some bank ATMs. On our last trip to Brazil, Bradesco bank ATMs were the most reliable at working with UK issued Cirrus cards.
We recommend that you advise your bank/credit card company of your trip as most companies have security stop measures that are automatically triggered by foreign withdrawals.
Service is sometimes included in the bill in restaurants, otherwise add 10%. A normal tip for a cloakroom attendant, baggage porter, etc will be R$1 per item. Taxis do not expect tips.
For up to date, journey specific health advice, consult your GP or NHS Direct. You might also like to visit the NHS Fit for Travel.
*You will need an up-to-date Yellow Fever vaccination certificate/booklet to enter Brazil.*
Most health problems are minor stomach complaints. Wash hands regularly. Exercise reasonable caution when eating: avoid undercooked or reheated meats and fish, drink bottled water and make sure that ice is made from purified water.
Other things to guard against are sunburn and de-hydration.
Insects can be a nuisance in some areas – a DEET based repellent is worth taking.
Most medicines are widely available in pharmacies without prescription.
Brazil does suffer from a reputation for street crime. Most travellers experience no problems at all even in the big cities though.
However, do exercise reasonable caution, particularly at night.
Do not wear lots of expensive jewellery, watches, etc. Use your common sense to make yourself less of a target.
When travelling in taxis, lock the doors and keep bags on the floor, at your feet rather than on your lap.
Portuguese is the national language.
English will be quite widely spoken in the more developed tourist centres, though don’t bank on much off the beaten track.
As with most places, a willingness to listen/try, a bit of English, Spanish and/or French that you have, and gestures will get you a long way even if you start out with no Portuguese.
If you want to bring a phrasebook, do make sure you get a Brazilian Portuguese one, at least for the pronunciation.
The thumbs up sign is used very widely as greeting or sign that things are OK/all good/thanks, especially to reinforce some positive spoken sentiment.
Blended/pidgin type Portuguese/Spanish is referred to as ‘Portugnol’ and similarly there’s Portuglés.
The pronunciation takes a bit of getting used to, but once you’re attuned, then it’s not so dissimilar to the more familiar Latin languages. Three useful hints:
* ão is usually pronounced close to ‘an’ (eg São sounds quite like San);
* ‘te’ and ‘de’ are usually pronounced ‘tch’ and ‘dje’ respectively (eg Restaurante sounds like restaurantch );
* There’s a softened nasal sound to most of consonants: for instance m and n sound very similar and have a soft ng sound to them.
Some useful phrases and hints
NB Always use the -o verb form (eg. obrigado, falo, etc) if you are a male; and the -a form (eg. obrigada, fala, etc) if you are a female.
| Portuguese | English | rough phonetic |
| Obrigado/a | Thank you | o-bri-GAH-doh/dah |
| Por favor | Please | por fa-Vor |
| Oi | Hi (informal) | oy |
| Ola | Hello | oh-LA |
| Opa! | Oops / hi / general mark of surprise | ohh-Pah! |
| De nada | You’re welcome (lit. it’s nothing) | deh Nah-da|
| Bom dia | Good morning/day | buon(g) djEE-ah |
| Boa tarje | Good afternoon | bo-ah TAR-dje |
| Boa noite | Good evening/night | bo-ah NOY-tch |
| A te logo | See you later | ah teh lOH-gho |
| Ta bom (?) | You/it’s good ? | Tah buon(g)? |
| Tudo bem (?) | All well (?) | Too-doh ben(g) (?) |
| O Conta | The bill | oh Con-ta |
| Fala Ingles? | (do you) speak English? | Fah-la in-glaze? |
| No falo/a Portuguese | I don’t speak Portuguese | No Fah-lo/a por-Tu-gaze |
| Muito | Very | mWee-toh |
| Descuple | Sorry/excuse me | deh-scool-Peh |
| Restaurante | Restaurant | restauran-tch |
Arriving by Air
Whilst international flight allowances vary between 20kg (European carriers) and 64kg (US carriers), Brazilian domestic flight limits are normally 23kg. Air taxis may enforce a 15kg limit.
For domestic flights 2 hours in advance, for international 3 hours.
Remember to pack any pocket-knives and sharp objects in your check-in luggage as security is tight in the airports. The 100ml maximum liquid container rule will probably be enforced on international departures.
Flying via the United States
If you are flying via the USA you must have a machine-readable passport otherwise you will need a full visa. If you have a line of chevrons and numbers on the photo page of your passport then it is machine-readable.
If you have not entered the USA within the last couple of years you will be asked to provide a scan of all 10 fingers (light scan, so at least no mess). Those who have previously entered the USA will only be asked to scan one finger.
São Paolo Guarulhos Int. Airport (GRU)
Once inside the terminal building it seems that you go upstairs if you have an international connection, otherwise stay on the ground floor and join the “”Foreigners”” queue (there are also Mercosur and Brazilian queues) to enter the country if you’re a UK passport holder. The queue at immigration can look long, but it’s unlikely to take you more than 15-20 minutes to get through.
Arrivals are on the ground floor; departures upstairs. The airport layout is pretty simple: basically a straight line from A to D. Terminal 1 is asas (wings) A & B; Terminal 2 is asas C & D.
Taking a taxi into São Paolo: Immediately outside arrivals in the terminal you should find a taxi kiosk where you pay for your taxi into town.
Departing from (domestic)
When they ask for ‘document’ it means passport. It’s pretty obvious really, but it maty be a handy reminder if you’re groggy at 6 in the morning after 12 hours in the sky.
Once you’re through the security for domestic departures, there really are only seats, toilets and a little coffee kiosk so don’t expect shopping or entertainment.
Announcements here are normally only in Portuguese and, don’t expect screens showing what’s happening, so pay attention. Or ask.
It’s also worth noting that Brazilians seem to have a very well-developed appreciation of queues. Everyone will patiently find their way to the end of the queue – no scrambling for the gate here.
Departing from (international)
Look for the International departures area, and then find the queue for London (or wherever you’re flying back to). The signs stating which destinations each queue is for are easily obscured by a crowded check-in, but if you ask you’ll be pointed in the right direction easily enough.
International departures has a few more facilities than domestic: plenty of toilets, a couple of sandwich/snack outlets, duty free shops and, if you look carefully, seats next to power outlets if you need to recharge a laptop battery.
Some of the duty free shops price goods in US$, so (a) check that bargain carefully and (b) don’t pay in R$ cash since their conversion can be at a very unfavourable rate.
There’s a pousada in Terminal 2 where you can rent a room for a shower/change/sleep. Expect to pay upwards of R$100 for a room with a ‘shower outside’. Outside the room, not outside the pousada we assume.
Most of the eateries and shops are on the 1st floor (departures), with a few in the slightly gloomy upstairs 2nd floor. At coffee bars, pay at the kiosk first, then take your receipt to the bar to be served.
There are seats upstairs on the 2nd floor if you fancy a much quieter sit down between flights.
Rio de Janeiro Int. Airport (GIG)
There is a pousada in Terminal 1 where you can rent a room for a shower etc. Booking is advised since rooms do get booked up. Call +55 21 3398 3852 or 3853.
Salvador Int. Airport (SSA)
Salvador is a pretty normal, quite modern small-medium airport. It’s about 20km north of the city, set in the sand-dunes and suburbs.
Cash machines in SSA terminal are at either end.
Taxis into Salvador
Cost R$87 (mid 2008 price) booked at the office near the exit. The drive to the old city takes about 30 mins in all, the last 2 minutes through the historic Pelourinho district’s very lumpy cobbled, steep and narrow streets.