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Getting around in a country as vast as Brazil is not always easy. Location makes a big difference in the available transportation options. Major cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have taxis, buses and metro systems in addition to international and domestic airports. However, in smaller cities, options are more limited. Travel between cities may require planes, buses or boats.
Public transport in Brazil
Buses are by far the most common and flexible form of public transport in Brazil. All major cities have a public bus system, as well as a bus station that provides options for travelling to other cities. Cost and safety will vary based on location. but city bus fares are usually inexpensive. Travelling between cities can be more expensive, but buses are reliable and cost less than flying – although, due to the size of Brazil, it's not always practical to cross the country by bus.
Brazil has metro systems in a handful of cities, but their usefulness varies. In Rio de Janeiro, the metro is clean and safe. In São Paulo, the metro can be a good option, but tends to be extremely crowded. Smaller cities are making improvements over time which should make the metro a more useful option for residents and visitors in future.
Passenger trains are few and far between in Brazil with most railways used for cargo transportation only, although there are a few notable tourist-oriented routes.
Boats provide services to get to islands along Brazil’s extensive coastline and various locations along the country’s many rivers. In some places, especially in the Amazon region, boats may offer the only available transportation.
Taxis in Brazil
Brazil’s major cities have large taxi fleets that run on meters. Taxis typically congregate in designated pontos throughout the city. Taxi fares are not terribly expensive, but expats need to beware of being 'taken for a ride' in unfamiliar places. When in a new city, hiring a radio taxi (with a pre-paid fare) can be a good option. For expats who don’t have a car and rely on taxis, taxi drivers can usually offer cards with their number for future calls. They appreciate a regular customer and may be willing to give discounts for standing appointments or longer trips.
Driving in Brazil
Brazil’s road system is woefully inadequate. While there are paved highways between major cities, they're frequently in disrepair and can be dangerous. This leads to a high number of road fatalities in Brazil every year. Traffic within and between major cities can be extremely congested.
That said, many expats in Brazil choose to own a car for the flexibility it provides. Some expat employment packages provide drivers and others will support the process of getting a car and licence. Car ownership is expensive, with car and petrol prices quite high. Expats will need a Brazilian licence if they intend to live in the country for a while.
Cycling in Brazil
Cycling is popular in many of Brazil's main cities. Extensive bicycle-rental schemes are often available. Dedicated bicycle lanes and paths are also available in some parts of Brazil. Cyclists should, however, avoid cycling late at night for safety reasons. Cyclists may find themselves having to cycle in the road or on sidewalks, and in this case, they should be aware of pedestrians and unruly drivers.
Walking in Brazil
In most of Brazil, walking is not an ideal form of transport. Expats who find themselves with no alternative should be wary of possible pickpocketing and mugging. Drivers are prone to ignore pedestrians. Expats will need to be careful when crossing busy roads and should try to use footbridges where possible.
Air travel in Brazil
For domestic travel, unless one has days and weeks of time to spend on buses, a flight will be the best option. Flying can be expensive, but advance purchase can help offset the cost. Every major city has an airport.
►For budgeting tips, see Cost of Living in Brazil
"The traffic is every bit as bad as it’s reported to be, but 'Sampa' is a megalopolis after all. On the plus side, the drivers are courteous toward pedestrians, whereas I felt more at-risk walking around Porto Alegre." Read more of Paulistihna's expat experience interview.
Are you an expat living in Brazil?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Brazil. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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