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Getting around in Brazil is not always easy owing to its vast geographic size. Location makes a big difference in the available transport 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, the 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 central 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. Inter-city bus fare 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 is usually packed. Smaller cities are making improvements over time, which should make the metro a more useful option for residents and visitors in future.
Although there are a few notable tourist-oriented routes, passenger trains are few and far between in Brazil. Most railways used for cargo transport only.
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 prepaid 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.
There are also ride-hailing applications such as Uber and Taxi.Rio, an app developed by Rio de Janeiro's government to connect passengers with traditional taxis, are also available in most of Brazil's major cities.
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 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 should be aware that it is illegal to drive in Brazil after consuming any amount of alcohol, this could lead to imprisonment at worst and a steep fine at best.
Expats will be allowed to drive in Brazil with their licence from their home country along with their passport for an initial six months. Thereafter, expats will need a Brazilian driving licence if they intend to live in the country for a while. New arrivals must have a valid temporary or permanent residence visa to qualify for a Brazilian driving licence.
Newcomers who are from countries that have reciprocal agreements with Brazil, such as South Africa, the US and Australia, can simply exchange their full driving licence from their home countries for a Brazilian licence. Those from countries without ratified agreements with Brazil will need to take a four-part test, provide a range of paperwork and pay the related fees to secure their Brazilian driving licence.
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.
Ferries and boats in Brazil
In some parts of Brazil, mainly Amazonia, water travel is the only form of transport. Although travelling through the Amazon River by boat can be slow, it's a unique once in a lifetime experience. Some larger boats will have classes with different comfort levels. Expats should ensure they take plenty of food and water as trips can take anywhere from four to six days, depending on where they will be travelling from and to.
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 making an advance purchase can help offset the cost. Every major city has an airport and expats should expect long queues. Parents, pregnant women and senior citizens get priority access and therefore do not have to worry about the snaking queues at airports.
►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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