Costs and money
Prices in Brazil have risen considerably in recent years – indeed, the custo Brasil (“Brazil cost”) has become one of the most contentious issues of the day, with millions of Brazilians unable to participate in the nation’s “middle-class” economy (the reasons are complex, but it’s mainly to do with the increased value of the real thanks to high commodity prices outside Brazil, and chronic economic inefficiency inside the country). Though budget options remain, in most of Brazil you’ll pay relatively high prices comparable to the US and Europe for car rental, decent hotels, meals in restaurants and long-distance flights – things like sunblock, good-quality clothing, cameras and anything to do with computers (except internet cafés, which are very cheap), tend to cost even more. Hotels in São Paulo and Rio cost more than you would pay in London or Zurich.
The good news is that outside of these two big cities, Brazil remains very much a viable destination for the budget traveller. Every town has a range of cheap eats and hostels, and the fact that the best attractions, such as the beaches and many museums, are free, makes it possible to have an enjoyable time on a budget of less than R$125 a day. Staying in good hotels, travelling by comfortable buses or planes and not stinting on the extras is likely to cost you a lot more – at least R$400 a day.
The Brazilian currency is the real (pronounced “hey-al”); its plural is reais (pronounced “hey-ice”), written R$. The real is made up of one hundred centavos, written ¢. Notes are for 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 reais; coins are 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 centavos and the 1 real. You will occasionally see a tattered R$1 note but these are being phased out, although they are legal tender. Throughout the Guide, all prices are given in Brazilian reais unless otherwise noted. However, US dollars and euros are easy enough to change in banks and exchange offices anywhere.
Getting cash in Brazil is simple in theory; just take your debit or credit card and use ATMs – they are now ubiquitous in Brazil, to be found in most supermarkets, many pharmacies and all airports, as well as banks. The problem is getting them to work for international cards – always plan ahead and make sure you have enough cash to last a day or so in advance.
Increasing numbers of Brazilian banks are linking their cash dispensers to the Cirrus and Maestro networks; the most reliable and widespread is the Banco 24 Horas network, including Banco do Brasil, Citibank and HSBC (Santander and Bradesco also usually have ATMs that are compatible), though don’t be surprised if your card is rejected; only try machines which have the “Visa” or “MasterCard” (or Cirrus and Maestro) logos (not all the machines in the same bank do). Another important thing to note is that for security reasons most bank ATMs stop dispensing cash after 10pm. Airport ATMs are the only ones that dispense cash at all hours. Note also that in 2013 the Brazilian government slapped a R$300 per day limit on ATM withdrawals by foreign cards (regardless of what the home bank has authorized).
All major credit cards are widely accepted by shops, hotels and restaurants throughout Brazil, even in rural areas. MasterCard and Visa are the most prevalent, with Diners Club and American Express also widespread. It’s a good idea to inform your credit-card issuer about your trip before you leave so that the card isn’t frozen for uncharacteristic use (and Brazil always raises red flags).
Travellers’ cheques are not recommended, unless you want a small emergency reserve. Only the head offices of major banks (Banco do Brasil, HSBC, Itaú, Santander) will have an exchange department (ask for câmbio); whether changing cash or travellers’ cheques, you’ll need your passport. You can also change cash and travellers’ cheques in smart hotels and in some large travel agencies. Airport banks are open seven days a week, others only Monday to Friday.
Exchange rates have stabilized after weakening against the dollar during the financial crisis of late 2008; the real has been strengthening again since 2012, making Brazil more expensive for North Americans and Europeans. Since Brazil’s new-found economic stability means it is now well placed to weather crises, exchange-rate turbulence is unlikely to be a feature of your stay. Rates out of ATMs are usually better than at câmbios.
Electricity supplies vary – sometimes 110V and sometimes 220V – so check before plugging anything in. Plugs have two round pins, as in continental Europe.
Embassies and consulates
Foreign countries are represented at embassy level in Brasília, and most also maintain consulates in Rio and São Paulo. Elsewhere, consulates, vice-consulates or honorary consulates are found in many major cities, from Manaus to Porto Alegre. Addresses and telephone numbers can be found in the “Directory” sections for the cities in the Guide. Where their country doesn’t have a representative, in an emergency a Commonwealth national can seek help at a British mission, and a European Union citizen at another EU mission.
Brazilian embassies and consulates abroad
Australia Embassy and consulate: 19 Forster Crescent, Yarralumla, Canberra, ACT 2600 02 6273 2372, camberra.itamaraty.gov.br; consulate: Level 6, 44 Clarence St, Sydney 02 9267 4414, sydney.itamaraty.gov.br.
Canada Embassy and consulate: 450 Wilbrod St, Ottawa, ON K1V 6M8 1 613 237 1090, ottawa.itamaraty.gov.br; consulates: 1 Westmount Sq, Suite 1700, Montréal 1 514 499 0968, montreal.itamaraty.gov.br; 77 Bloor St W, Toronto 1 416 922 2503, toronto.itamaraty.gov.br; consulate: 2020-666 Burrard St, Vancouver 1604 696 5311, vancouver.itamaraty.gov.br.
Ireland Embassy and consulate: Block 8, Harcourt Centre, Charlotte Way, Dublin 2 01 475 6000, dublin.itamaraty.gov.br.
New Zealand Embassy and consulate: Level 13, 10 Customhouse Quay, Wellington 04 473 3516, brazil.org.nz.
South Africa Embassy and consulate: 177 Dyer Rd, Hillcrest Office Park, Woodpecker Place 1/F, Hillcrest, Pretoria 012 366 5200, pretoria.itamaraty.gov.br; consulate: 22 Riebeek St, Triangle House 21/F, Cape Town 021 421 4040, cidadedocabo.itamaraty.gov.br.
UK Embassy: 14-16 Cockspur St, London SW1Y 5BL 020 7747 4500, brazil.org.uk; consulate: 3 Vere St, London W1G 0DG 020 7659 1550, cglondres.itamaraty.gov.br.
US Embassy: 3006 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20008 202 238 2700, washington.itamaraty.gov.br; consulates: 3500 Lenox Rd NE, One Alliance Center, Suite 800, Atlanta 404 949 2400, atlanta.itamaraty.gov.br; 175 Purchase St, Boston 617 542 4000, boston.itamaraty.gov.br; 401 N Michigan Ave, Suite 1850, Chicago 312 464 0244, chicago.itamaraty.gov.br; Park Tower North, 1233 W Loop South, Suite 1150, Houston 713 961 3063, houston.itamaraty.gov.br; 8484 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 300, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles 323 651 2664, losangeles.itamaraty.gov.br; 80 SW 8th St, 26/F, Miami t 305 285 6200, miami.itamaraty.gov.br; 225 East 41st St, New York 917 777 7777, novayork.itamaraty.gov.br; and 300 Montgomery St, Suite 300, San Francisco 415 981 8170, saofrancisco.itamaraty.gov.br.
Citizens of most EU countries, New Zealand and South Africa only need a valid passport and either a return or onward ticket (or evidence of funds to pay for one) to enter Brazil. You fill in an entry form on arrival and get a tourist stamp allowing you to stay for ninety days. Australian, US and Canadian citizens need visas in advance, available from Brazilian consulates abroad; a return or onward ticket is usually a requirement. You’ll also need to submit a passport photo with your visa application and pay a processing fee (consulates in the US only accept postal money orders, while consulates in other countries may accept certified cheques). Fees vary according to nationality, with US citizens currently paying US$160, Canadians C$81.25 and Australians A$42.
Try not to lose the carbon copy of the entry form the officials hand you back at passport control; you are meant to return it when you leave Brazil, but you are no longer fined if you don’t. Citizens from the EU, New Zealand and South Africa can extend a tourist permit for an additional ninety days by applying at least fifteen days before their initial one expires, but it will only be extended once; if you want to stay longer, you’ll have to leave the country and re-enter. There’s nothing in the rulebook to stop you re-entering immediately, but it’s advisable to wait at least a day.
You’ll be fined if you overstay your tourist permit or visa. A US$10-equivalent charge, payable in Brazilian currency (R$23 at the time of writing), is made on tourist permit and visa extensions. Academic visitors and researchers making a short trip or attending a conference are best advised to enter on a tourist visa – check with your local consulate for advice.
Gay and lesbian travel
Gay life in Brazil thrives, especially in the large cities, Rio in particular being one of the great gay cities of the world. In general, the scene benefits from Brazil’s hedonistically relaxed attitudes towards sexuality in general, and the divide between gay and straight nightlife is often very blurred.
Attitudes vary from region to region. The two most popular gay destinations are Rio and Salvador. Rural areas and small towns, especially in Minas Gerais, the Northeast and the South, are conservative; the medium-sized and larger cities less so. A useful resource to consult before your trip is mixbrasil.uol.com.br; although the text is in Portuguese, there are enough English indicators to allow non-Portuguese speakers to navigate easily through it and benefit from the listings and tips.
Prior to travelling, you should take out an insurance policy to cover against theft, loss and illness or injury. Before paying for a new policy, however, it’s worth checking whether you already have some degree of coverage – credit-card companies, home-insurance policies and private medical plans sometimes cover you and your belongings when you’re abroad. Remember that when securing baggage insurance, make sure that the per-article limit – typically under £500 equivalent – will cover your most valuable possession.
Brazil has the highest number of computers with internet access in South America and all things online are highly developed, with wi-fi increasingly available; as a result, internet cafés are dwindling in number, though still common in every town.
Even the humblest of hotels has a lavadeira, who will wash and iron your clothes. If the rates are not clearly published, agree on a price beforehand. Larger hotels always have set prices for laundry services – they are usually surprisingly expensive. Very common in larger cities are lavandarías, which operate a very useful por peso system – the clothes are weighed at the entrance, you pay per kilo, and pick them up washed and folded the next day for a couple of dollars per kilo. Ironing (passar) costs a little more.
A post office (run by the national postal service Correios; correios.com.br) is called a correio, identifiable by their bright yellow postboxes and signshops An imposing Correios e Telégrafos building will always be found in the centre of a city of any size, but there are also small offices and kiosks scattered around that only deal with mail. Queues are often a problem, but you can save time by using one of their franking machines for stamps; the lines move much more quickly. Stamps (selos) are most commonly available in two varieties, either for mailing within Brazil or abroad. A foreign postage stamp costs around R$1.80 for either a postcard or a letter up to 10g. It is expensive to send parcels abroad.
Mail within Brazil takes three or four days (longer in the North and Northeast), while airmail letters to Europe and North America usually take about a week. Surface mail takes about a month to North America, and two to Europe. Although the postal system is generally very reliable, it is not advisable to send valuables through the mail.
Detailed maps are surprisingly hard to get hold of outside Brazil and are rarely very good: Bartholomew, International Travel Maps, Michelin and National Geographic produce country maps (typically 1:4,200,000), but these are not updated often. Much better are the six regional maps in the Mapa Rodoviário Touring series (1:2,500,000), which clearly mark all the major routes, although these, even in Brazil, are difficult to find.
A useful compendium of city maps and main road networks is published by Guias Quatro Rodas, a Brazilian motoring organization, which also has maps to Rio, São Paulo and other cities, states and regions. These are easy to find in bookshops, newsagents and magazine stalls. Very clear 1:960,000 maps of individual states are published by On Line Editora, and are usually available in Brazilian bookshops and newspaper kiosks. Topographical and hiking maps are difficult to come by, though very occasionally they are available from municipal tourist offices or national parks in Brazil, or from local trekking equipment shops or tour operators.
Opening hours and public holidays
Basic hours for most stores and businesses are from Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm and Saturday 9am to noon, with an extended lunch hour from around noon to 2pm. Shops in malls stay open until late Saturday night. Banks open at 10am, and stay open all day, but usually stop changing money at either 2pm or 3pm; except for those at major airports, they’re closed at weekends and on public holidays. Museums and monuments more or less follow office hours but most are closed all day on Monday and Sunday afternoons.
Public phones are operated by phonecards (cartão telefônico), which are on sale everywhere – from newspaper stands to street sellers’ trays and most cafés. For local calls, a 5-real card will last for several conversations; for long-distance or international calls, higher-value phonecards come in 10, 20, 50 or 100 real denominations. Calls to the US or Europe cost about R$3.50–4.50 per minute. Before dialling direct, lift the phone from the hook, insert the phonecard and listen for a dialling tone. Note that long-distance calls are cheaper after 8pm.
The dialling tone is a single continuous note, engaged is rapid pips, and the ringing tone is regular peals, as in the US. The landline system in Brazil is continually overloaded. If you get an engaged tone, keep trying – nine times out of ten, the phone is not actually engaged and you get through after seven or eight attempts. The smaller the place you are calling from, the more often you need to try.
International visitors who want to use their mobile phones in Brazil will need to check with their phone provider to make sure it will work and what the call charges will be. Assuming your phone does work, you’ll need to be extra careful about roaming charges, especially for data, which can be extortionate; even checking voicemail can result in hefty charges. Many travellers turn off their voicemail and data roaming before they travel.
If you have a compatible (and unlocked) GSM phone and intend to use it a lot, it can be much cheaper to buy a Brazilian SIM card (R$10 or less) to use during your stay. Vivo (vivo.com.br) has the best coverage, but its shops generally refuse to sell SIMs (“chips”) or phones to foreigners without a Brazilian CPF number (which you won’t have). Currently, TIM Brasil (tim.com.br) is your best bet for a SIM card (look for TIM outlets or visit a branch of the Lojas Americanas chain store). Once the SIM is installed, you should opt for a pre-pay plan (pré-pago); to add credit to your phone, just go to TIM shops, newspaper stalls or pharmacies and ask for TIM “cargas”.
Carrier selection codes
The privatization of Brazil’s telephone system has led to a proliferation of new telephone companies and increased competition. Before making a national or international call you must now select the telephone company you wish to use by inserting a two-digit carrier selection code between the zero and the area code or country code of the number you are calling. To call Rio, for example, from anywhere else in the country, you would dial zero + phone company code + city code followed by the seven-digit number. For local calls, you simply dial the seven- or eight-digit number. Assuming you have a choice, it doesn’t matter which company you use, as costs are very similar (this goes for international calls too).
As different phone companies predominate in different areas of the country, pay phones will display which company code should be used from that particular phone, or the hotel receptionist will let you know the correct code to be used if calling from your hotel. The commonest codes are 21 (Claro), 23 (Intelig Telecom), 31 (Oi), 15 (Telefónica/Vivo) and 14 (Brasil Telecom). If you want to reverse the charges for a local call, dial 9090 plus the number. For long-distance collect calls, dial 90 then the number with company code as above (90 + carrier code + area code + number).
To reverse the charges on an international call, dial Embratel at t 0800 703 2121. The country code for Brazil if calling from overseas is +55.
Most of Brazil is three hours behind GMT, but the states of Amazonas, Acre, Rondônia, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul are four hours behind – that includes the cities of Manaus, Corumbá, Rio Branco, Porto Velho, Cuiabá and Campo Grande.
Restaurant bills usually come with ten percent taxa de serviço included, in which case you don’t have to tip – ten percent is about right if it is not included. Waiters and some hotel employees depend on tips. You don’t have to tip taxi drivers (though they won’t say no), but you are expected to tip barbers, hairdressers, shoeshine kids, self-appointed guides and porters. It’s useful to keep change handy for them – and for beggars.
You’ll find tourist information fairly easy to come by once in Brazil, and there are some sources to be tapped before you leave home. Brazil’s embassies or larger consulates also tend to have tourist sections, where you can pick up brochure information and advice.
Popular destinations such as Rio, Salvador, the Northeast beach resorts, and towns throughout the South have efficient and helpful tourist offices, but anywhere off the beaten track has nothing at all – only Manaus, Belém and Porto Velho have offices in the Amazon region, for example.
Most state capitals have tourist information offices, which are announced by signs saying “Informações Turísticas”. Many of these provide free city maps and booklets, but they are usually all in Portuguese. As a rule, only the airport tourist offices have hotel-booking services, and none of them is very good on advising about budget accommodation. Tourist offices are run by the different state and municipal governments, so you have to learn a new acronym every time you cross a state line. In Rio, for example, you’ll find TurisRio, which advises on the state, and Riotur, which provides information on the city. There’s also EMBRATUR, the national tourist organization, but it doesn’t have direct dealings with the general public apart from via its excellent website, www.visitbrasil.com.
Useful brazil websites
Brazil Link brazilink.org
Brazil Max brazilmax.com
Cidade de São Paulo cidadedesaopaulo.com
Expat in Brazil expatbrazil.co.uk
Hidden Pousadas hiddenpousadasbrazil.com
Portuguese Talk portuguesetalk.com
Real Brazil therealbrazil.com
Rio Guide rioguiaoficial.com.br/en
Turismo de Minas Gerais minasgerais.com.br
Visit Brazil Travel Association UK vbrata.org.uk
Travellers with disabilities
Travelling in Brazil for people with disabilities is likely to be difficult if special facilities are required. For example, access even to recently constructed buildings may be impossible, as lifts are often too narrow to accept wheelchairs or there may be no lift at all. In general, though, you’ll find that hotel and restaurant staff are helpful and will do their utmost to be of assistance to try to make up for the deficiencies in access and facilities.
Buses in cities are really only suitable for the agile; taxis, however, are plentiful, and most can accommodate wheelchairs. Long-distance buses are generally quite comfortable, with the special leito services offering fully reclining seats. Internal airlines are helpful, and wheelchairs are available at all the main airports.
The IBDD (ibdd.org.br), Centro de Vida Independente (cvi.org.br) and Turismo Adaptado (turismoadaptado.wordpress.com) campaign for disabled rights in Brazil, but their websites are in Portuguese only – English-speakers are better off visiting sites such as disabilitytravel.com for tips on Brazil travel.
Travelling with children
Travelling with children is relatively easy in Brazil. They are made to feel welcome in hotels and restaurants in a way that’s not always so in Europe or North America. In fact, it is also more secure: even thieves and assaltantes seem to respect families with children and leave them alone.
Travelling around Brazil takes time, so try not to be too ambitious in terms of how much you aim to cover. Long bus journeys are scheduled overnight and can be exhausting. Children pay full fare on buses if they take up a seat, ten percent on planes if under 2 years old, half-fare between 2 and 12 years old, and full fare thereafter. Newer airports have a nursery (berçário) where you can change or nurse your baby and where an attendant will run your baby a bath, which is great on a hot day or if your plane’s delayed. If you plan on renting a car, bring your own child or baby seat as rental companies rarely supply them and they are very expensive in Brazil. Cars are fitted with three-point shoulder seatbelts in the front, but many only have lap seatbelts in the back.
In hotels, kids are generally free up to the age of 5, and double rooms often include both a double and a single bed; a baby’s cot may be available, but don’t count on it. It’s rare that a room will sleep more than three, but larger hotels sometimes have rooms with an interlinking door. Hotels will sometimes offer discounts, especially if children share rooms, and even beds, with siblings or parents; the lower- to mid-range hotels are probably the most flexible in this regard. If you’re planning on staying more than a few days in a city, you may find it cheaper and more convenient to stay in an apartment-hotel, which will sleep several people and comes with basic cooking facilities.
Many of the mid- and upper-range hotels have swimming pools, gardens and even games rooms, which are often useful in entertaining kids. Most large towns also have cinemas, the best often being the new multiplexes found in shopping centres.
Food and health
Food shouldn’t be a problem as familiar dishes are always available and there’s also the ubiquitous comida por quilo option. Portions tend to be huge, often sufficient for two large appetites, and it’s perfectly acceptable to request additional plates and cutlery. Most hotels and restaurants provide high chairs (cadeira alta) as well. Commercial baby food is sold in Brazilian supermarkets. Remember to avoid tap water and use only mineral water when preparing formula and washing out bottles. Mid-range hotels and upwards have a minibar (frigobar) in the rooms where you can store bottles and baby food, but where there isn’t one you will be able to store things in the hotel’s refrigerator. A small cool box or insulated bag is a good idea.
In general, Brazilian infants don’t use disposable nappies/diapers (fraldas), due to the high cost. As brands such as Pampers are sold in pharmacies and supermarkets, however, it’s worth only bringing the minimum with you until you can make it to a shop.
Health shouldn’t be a problem, but before planning your itinerary check which areas entail taking anti-malarial tablets (the state of Rondônia other than Porto Velho, rural Acre and Amapá and southern Pará are rife with malaria and should be avoided), and make enquiries as to whether the vaccines recommended or required in some parts of Brazil (in particular the Amazon) are likely to have any unpleasant side effects. For most of Brazil, the only likely problem will be the strength of the tropical sun and the viciousness of the mosquitoes: bring plenty of sunscreen and an easy-to-apply non-toxic insect repellent.
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