Traffic culture in Brazil – caution advised

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Relocating to Brazil definitely classifies as an exciting experience in a person’s life. It is recommended to be carried out with international movers and prepared in advance. But no matter where you’re moving to, it is indispensable to familiarize yourself with certain aspects of your new country of residence. It’s not just the traditions and customs we’re referring to. It’s this whole dynamics of a place, the way it breathes and functions overall. One of the key considerations to be taken into account when moving to Brazil is its traffic culture. Whether you will use public transport or car on your way to work or to commute in general, you have to know that, unlike its alleged laidback lifestyle, driving in Brazil is anything but smooth and regular. Bear with us to find out more on this particular topic.

Some general notes on traffic culture in Brazil

Not only shouldn’t you be relaxed while driving in Brazil, but it would be safe to argue that it is quite intimidating. This is in part due to the vastness of the country and diverse landscapes. Nonetheless, it’s not the only reason that could prevent you from setting out on a journey through Brazil’s highways. Brazilian drivers, as well as the road infrastructure, could be a bit threatening for a newcomer. Now, we don’t want to be misunderstood or claim Brazilians are aggressive or irresponsible drivers per se. Impulsive or spontaneous driving can, however, be common and is thought to be present in other Latin American countries too. You may be accustomed to European or North American ways, and those differ considerably from Brazilian ones. All in all, don’t underestimate driving in Brazil.  You may need time for adjusting after professional relocation specialists take you to Rio de Janeiro or any other Brazilian city, but you will get used to it.

What you need to know the Brazilian road infrastructure

With the fourth largest road network in the world and the largest one in South America, Brazil prides itself on more than one million miles of roadways, paved and unpaved. After the World Cup in 2014 and Rio 2016 Olympics, even more roads were built, but even so, the DNIT (National Department of Transportation) regards only the 43% of the paved roads in good condition. It is considered that the state roads are normally taken care of and are in good shape, whereas interstate ones lack excellent conditions. Also, not so long ago, Brazil introduced toll roads in order to prevent unnecessary piling up of the vehicles in the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and Minas Gerais.

What makes traffic culture in Brazil no easy feat is the traffic congestion in the metropoles, especially in, you’ve guessed it, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Needless to say, traffic jams not only affect our stress levels, they are also the cause of extreme high pollution levels. Just imagine how things are for São Paulo, sometimes affected by record high congestions of almost 200 miles. As a solution to this issue, the Paulista government created a rotation system, based on which vehicles are prohibited to enter the city on specific days. This is determined by the last digit of the driver’s license plate number. Of course, this law doesn’t apply to cab and bus drivers.

Disadvantages of driving a car in Brazil

Although it varies from town to town, driving in Brazil is oftentimes quite challenging for newcomers and can be quite undisciplined, leading to many adverse situations. This is due to certain bad habits developed among the drivers such as road rage and tailgating. There are also many possible risks like the risk of robbery and theft. Reckless conduct is especially noted among motorcyclists, but you should be alert to truck drivers. Traffic accidents, storms and holidays are known to be huge factor in congestions causing monster traffic jams in major cities. If you’re driving, pay close attention to pedestrians as they sometimes tend to cross outside indicated crossings. Stray animals could also pose a threat as a distraction.

Traffic culture in Brazil and permits for new residents

In Brazil the minimum age required for driving is eighteen. For up to 6 months, foreigners are allowed to drive with their license issued abroad, preferably with a translated copy. However, if you’re planning to stay there a bit longer, you’re obligated to apply for a local license, which must be translated. In Portuguese, this is called Carteira Nacional de Habilitação or CNH. To obtain this license you have to take a 4-parts test involving a medical examination (testing your logic skills and eyesight), a psychological examinations, traffic laws and road theory along with the practical driving test. Nonetheless, if you’re a resident from the US, the EU, Australia or South Africa you are not required to take the complete test, but just to be 100% sure, find more info at the nearest DETRAN (Brazilian State Transport Department). Moreover, if you’re a legal resident wanting to apply for a Brazilian licence, bear in mind that you have to master the Portuguese language, as tests are given only in the official language and the use of interpreter or translator is forbidden. Make sure not to commit any traffic violations for a year (or at all, for that matter), as you will be issued a trial license, after which you will be given the Brazilian one.

Quick tips on traffic culture in Brazil

What follows are some quick easy tips on how to adjust to the traffic culture in Brazil.

  • Drive on the left.
    On the highway outside city, the speed limit is 110km/h, 30 km/h within the city
  • 0% alcohol limit – that’s right, there is no alcohol tolerance. Lei seca or Dry Law has been introduced in 2008 and it’s applied rigorously. The fines are draconian and DUI could even cost you both your driving license and your car.
  • Cash for tolls – in the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro) the tolls are quite frequent. You can always choose the road less travelled, if you fair well with potholes.
  • Fill up the tank in the cheaper arts of the country.
  • Gas prices differ from state to state. We recommend doing a little research beforehand. For instance, gasoline in Minas Gerais is considerably cheaper than in RJ.
  • Get a feel for traffic through subway and bus rides, if there’s no immediate need to jump into the car right away.
  • Don’t drive during Carnival, New Year’s Eve or Oktoberfest, as it is likely there will be lots of intoxicated drivers.
  • In general driving at night is not recommended.
  • Get familiar with road, weather conditions as well as with Brazilian traffic signs.


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