Driving in Brazil is a good option for travelling the country. Brazil has pretty good highways in São Paulo state and around the main cities. I would recommend doing a road trip as the freest way of travelling. It’s safer than catching the bus and cheaper than flying. Plus, depending on how many passengers you have and where you are going, renting a car in Brazil could even be cheaper than catching a bus.
That being said, there are some things you need to be aware of if you are considering driving in Brazil. This guide is for anyone who will be driving in Brazil for the first time, but especially if you don’t speak Portuguese.
Felipe and I did an 11-hour road trip from Bauru to Florianopolis a few months ago. He was driving on a translated license and it was his first time driving such a distance in Brazil. We learned a lot along the way and we thought we would share them with you. So, here is my ultimate guide to driving in Brazil – put together with the help of Felipe!
Should you rent a car in Brazil?
Renting a car in Brazil is pretty cheap and straightforward to do. To decide if you need to rent a car, you should consider what you will be using the car for. To be honest, if you will be driving around in the city, you can probably skip the rental car. Ride sharing is extremely cheap there and will generally work out cheaper than renting a car.
Ride sharing apps that work in Brazil include Uber, Cabify, and Brazil’s own 99. There are many more, but those are the most popular ones. Even in smaller cities, at least one of these ride sharing apps will operate. Rides are typically between $1-$5 USD.
A lot of cities in Brazil also have decent public transport systems, but you should check whether it would be cheaper to take public transport or use a ride sharing app. Generally renting a car in the city will not be beneficial for you unless you are planning to move around a lot. If you’ll be moving between a few different cities, driving might be the best way.
Things to consider if you are thinking about renting a car in Brazil:
It is most common for cars to be manual transmission. While you can get an automatic from a rental company, there will usually be a surcharge for this as autos are more expensive than manuals in Brazil. Also, if you will be borrowing a car off any Brazilians, be aware that there is a high chance it is manual. If you can’t find an automatic and are not comfortable driving manual, it might be best you don’t drive in Brazil
Safety of driving in Brazil
Is it safe to drive in Brazil? If you are driving on main roads and highways, driving in Brazil is perfectly safe. Avoid the unsealed, quiet roads and the favelas, and you will be unlikely to face any problems. In terms of the drivers, there are silly drivers in Brazil just like any country. Be sure to follow the road rules and basic road etiquette set out in this article, and just stay focused on what is happening on the road. Brazil is a huge country so it can take longer than you would expect to get from A to B, but make sure you are taking plenty of breaks and resting whenever you need to.
Brazil is huge, most people don’t speak English, and most signs are not in English, so you can easily get lost if you are not prepared. To combat this, make sure you have GPS ready to go for your road trip. Check if your rental car will have GPS included. If not, download the Google Maps for where you will be travelling before you go or get a SIM card in Brazil to have internet and use GPS online. In big cities, roads are very well sign posted, but it can still be tricky (even for locals), when there are 8 lanes going in one direction. GPS can help with that, telling you which lane to stay in.
Overall cost of driving in Brazil
The total cost of your road trip in Brazil will depend on how long you need the car for, how long you are travelling for, and which route you are taking. You will therefore need to make your own calculations. Here I provide the average price for your three main costs when driving in Brazil: license fees, car rentals, petrol and tolls. These costs are all described in more detail below.
License: around $20 USD for IDP or certified translation
Car rental: US$25+ per day
Petrol: US$1 per litre
Tolls: US50c – $5 per toll
So, what’s your conclusion? If you have decided you will be driving in Brazil, make sure you read carefully through the following information so you know what to expect.
How to get a license in Brazil
There are two options for foreigners to drive in Brazil. You can get an international license from your home country, or you can have your home country license translated in Brazil.
Option 1: International drivers permit (IDP)
You have probably heard of the international license, which is a document that lets you drive in many countries around the world. It has translations for every country that allows international licenses. This is especially handy for a country like Brazil, where traffic cops are unlikely to know English
What you need to know about the international Drivers license
- You have to apply in advance in your home country. “Home country” here means the country your license was issued by. Each country has its own organisation which deals with this, which has its own rules and system, so the best thing to do is look up how your country does this. The fee varies between countries but it is generally around $20USD.
- You have to have a full, clean license according to your home country. Felipe couldn’t get the international license because he is on Australian P plates (which is when option 2 comes in handy!)
- The IDP will expire after a certain amount of time, which is at the issuing country’s discretion. After that, you will either need to get it renewed, get a Brazilian license, or go to option 2.
Countries with international license
If you have a license from any of the countries listed below, then you can get an international license. Some countries not on this list include China, Cambodia, Germany, Myanmar, Mongolia and Vietnam.
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde Islands, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Congo Dem Rep., Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Curacao, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dijibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France & French Overseas Depts., French Polynesia, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Gibraltar, Greece, Guatemala, Guernsey, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jersey, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, South Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Romania, Rwanda, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, St Kitts & Nevis, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Option 2: Translate your driver’s license in Brazil
If you are from a country which has ratified the Vienna Convention, you can get your license translated in Brazil. This is a great option if you are already travelling, or if your home country license has restrictions that don’t let you get an IDP. For example, Felipe got his license translated because he was on an Australian P plate license, which Australia will not grant an IDP for.
What you need to know about translating your driver’s license in Brazil:
- Before you start driving, you need to translate your license to Portuguese with a professional, certified translator in Brazil. This is important as your home country license will not be valid unless you have a certified translation.
- It is also recommended to take the certified translation and get it verified in the local registry office (known as “cartório” in Portuguese). If you have the time, you should definitely do this before you drive as well. However, if you are really in a rush, it is usually not necessary to visit a cartório for your license translation to be valid. Ask your translator to be sure, though.
- You can drive in Brazil on this license for 180 days. This starts from the day you arrive in Brazil, not the day you get your license translated or the day you start driving. If you want to drive after the 180 days is up, you will need to get physical and mental exams and apply for a Brazilian license. If you leave the country and then come back, you can still use the same translation as many times as you like until your original license expires.
- When driving, carry your passport, your home country driver license, and the translation at all times.
- In many parts of the countries there will be very few international drivers around so the cops themselves may be unaware of the relevant law. Print the legislation in Portuguese to make things clear to the officer (this page is also available in English with official information about getting a license in Brazil, so it is a good thing to have bookmarked).
How to find a certified translator to translate your license in Brazil
Price: $100-200 BRL ($25-50USD)
Google “tradutor juramentado” + the name of the city you are in. It is best to contact the translator at least a week before you will be driving because otherwise you can end up with hefty urgent fees – or the translator might not have time to process it in time for you.
Countries in the Vienna Convention
The following is a list of parties to the Vienna Convention. Some countries not included here are USA, France, Bolivia, and Taiwan.
Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chile, China, Colombia, Republic of the Congo, Democratic, Republic of the Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, South Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Oman, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Spain, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Palestine, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vietnam
How to rent a car in Brazil
Renting a car in Brazil is fairly easy and cost-effective. Most cities have pick up and drop off points both at the airport and in the city centre.
The best website I found which compares all rental car companies in Brazil is rentalcars.com. You can change your language to English in the top right, and then just search for cars based on where you are departing from and where you are going. As always with rental car companies, the age of the drivers matters, and you will be charged a surcharge for returning the car in a different location.
Common Road Signs in Brazil
Here are some of the most common road signs and what they mean. I also mention the key Portuguese words to look out for on Brazilian road signs.
Traffic light: Semáforo
Ah, yes, the worst part of driving – parking! As in most places in the world, parking is a nightmare in Brazil, particularly in the cities.
The parking signs in Brazil
Firstly, the parking signs are pretty confusing in Brazil. You will see signs that are a big “E” with a red circle around them. “E” stands for “estacionamento”, and I’m sure you can guess what that means. So, if you see an “E”, then you can park (but make sure you check if there are any rules around this).
There are two other parking signs. The one with one cross means no parking, but you can stop briefly (to pick someone up, for example). If it has two crosses, then there is no parking OR stopping under any circumstances. Just don’t do it.
Different parking systems in different cities
The way you pay for street parking differs between municipalities. If you don’t know the parking rules of the city you’re in, try to find a local to explain it to you. If you can’t find any locals, just don’t park on the side of the road. You can find a parking building or section where it will be more straightforward what you have to do. It’s not worth the risk of parking on the side of the road to get a big fine or get towed away.
Road Tolls in Brazil
Brazilian highways are almost always toll roads, meaning you will be paying a lot of tolls in your time driving in Brazil. This tolling system is used to maintain the roads. So while you can find a toll-free route on Google Maps, the non-toll roads are not as well maintained, as safe, or as direct. I would not recommend trying to avoid tolls in Brazil.
Tip: the Brazilian Portuguese word for toll is pedágio.
The price of tolls in Brazil: The amount for a toll varies between states and roads, but they are generally between 2 and 15 brl per toll (between US 50c and $4)
How to pay tolls in Brazil
Rental cars will often have a token that allows you to go through the toll gates automatically. You just need to go into the right lane and slow down, and you should be able to go through without stopping. The rental company will charge your card for the tolls you go through.
If you’re not in a rental car, or your rental car does not include this, you have to go through the manual toll booth. Just drive up slowly, stop in the cabin and pay the person inside. You will see signs as you approach the toll, first the “pedágio” sign to let you know it is coming up, and then a more detailed sign with prices closer to the toll gates. The toll rates will generally differ depending what vehicle you are in. If you’re in a normal car, look out for automóveis utilitários. The toll booths only accept payments in cash.
This system is not greatly efficient, so beware that on busy roads or at peak times you can find yourself in the queue to pay for a toll for several minutes. For this reason, having the right amount in coins ready is very much appreciated.
Road Rules in Brazil
If you’re going to be driving in Brazil, you need to be aware of the road rules specific to the country. Here are some of the most important ones:
- In Brazil, they drive on the right side of the road, with the steering wheel is on the left side of the car.
- Keep to the right on the highway unless passing. Always overtake on the left
- Keep your headlights on when you’re on the highway – can get fined otherwise
- You can overtake only on dotted lines. Full lines mean no overtaking.
Prohibited Driving Days in São Paulo
If you’re going to be driving in São Paulo city, be aware that they have a system which prohibits certain cars from driving on certain days. This is an attempt to improve the traffic congestion problem in the city. No-one is exempt from this rule, not even rental cars.
The vehicle restriction in São Paulo works as follows:
|If your number plate ends in…||You can’t drive on…|
This vehicle restriction is known in Portuguese as the Rodízio municipal.
The restriction only applies between 7-10am and 5-10pm on weekdays. It only applies to a section of the inner city, which you can see in the map below.
Getting petrol in Brazil
When it comes time to fill up the tank in Brazil, there is a kind of process to follow. There is no self-service so you have to let the station attendants come to you and assist.
When you drive up to the pump, wait in your car and a gas station attendant will approach you. Wind your window down and greet them. They will probably say something like “quer completar?” which means, “do you want to fill up the tank?”. You can either respond with “sim” (yes) or the amount in reals that you would like them to fill up. They might also ask how you would like to pay, so you can show them either your card or your cash.
Tip: Petrol stations are known as postos in Brazilian Portuguese.
To pay for the petrol, you usually won’t be able to pay the gas station attendant directly. Instead, you have to pay inside the gas station. Wait for them to finish filling it up, then you can go and pay. Most gas stations will have a record on their system of how much your petrol cost, so once you are inside the cashier will tell you. Another method is the paper ticket. So a general rule of thumb is, if someone gives you a piece of paper, take it inside and give it to the cashier, otherwise they will have it on the system.
Again, this is fairly inefficient, and in cities there can be quite long waiting times to get your petrol. If you can fill up at a pit stop off a highway, that is much quicker.
Types of petrol
Brazil has its own names for the different types of petrol. You will see these advertised at the petrol stations. Here is what each name represents.
Comum – 91
Aditivada – 95
Etanol – Diesel
Etanol aditivada – Premium diesel
Petrol price in Brazil
At the time of writing this post, the price for regular 91 petrol (comum) is around $1USD per litre, or $4.20BRL. This varies a lot between different states. When we were there in July (2019), the price was under $4BRL in a lot of places in Florianopolis. In Sao Paulo and outside the city it was more expensive.
Police Road Stops in Brazil
It is common for police to do random checks on the side of the road.
If you are stopped by the police, chances are they will ask to see your license. Hand over your license (with the translation if you went for option 1). If it’s not an IDP, have the legislation on hand in case they get confused. As long as you have been following the road rules and have a valid license, there should be no problems.
Remember, do not offer bribes to police officers in Brazil. Aside from the obvious moral implications, it is very risky to do this. While some might accept it, those that don’t can get you in big trouble for offering. So it is not worth it.
Speed limits in Brazil
The maximum speed limit in Brazil is 110km/h.
There are a lot of speed cameras on roads all over Brazil. You are warned about some of them with speed camera signs – look out for the words fiscalização eletrônica or radar. However, there are plenty of hidden speed cameras in Brazil too, so it is best to stick to the speed limit. In some places, the speed limit can seem very low, but it is best to just play it safe. You don’t want to end up with a lot of fines from your road trip in Brazil, or even worse, causing an accident because you were going too fast.
You might be wondering why you see two different speed limits next to each other. There is a simple explanation for this. The lower speed limit is for “heavy vehicles” such as trucks and buses. The higher speed limit is for “light vehicles”. You would usually see this only on highways of more than one lane. So if you are in a normal car you should drive at the higher speed limit.
Portuguese words to remember when driving in Brazil
Do you remember the Portuguese words we covered in this article? These are frequent words that will be essential to you when you’re on the road in Brazil, so you should try to remember them, or at least keep a list handy. I’m gonna put them here for you one more time so you’ve got a quick reference.
|automóveis utilitários||ordinary cars|
|fiscalização eletrônica/radar||speed camera|
|posto/posto de gasolina||petrol station|
|rodízio municipal||vehicle restriction|
On that note, have you learned the basic Portuguese words and phrases for travel? If not, this article includes a downloadable PDF so you’ve got all the travel phrases in one place!
And… that’s a wrap! This has been one of the longest articles I’ve ever posted on my website, which just goes to show how much there is to know about driving in Brazil! Of course, I still couldn’t cover everything here, so if there is something I missed, feel free to leave a comment below.
Have you driven in Brazil? Comment below this article to let us know your experience!