Brazil is the largest country in South America; sharing common boundaries with every South American country except Chile and Ecuador. Facilities for tourism are excellent in the major cities, but vary in quality in remote areas. The capital is Brasilia.
The history of European influence in Brazil dates back to around 1500, when the Portuguese explorer, Pedro Alvarez Cabral made his landfall, some 497 miles north of the present day location of Rio de Janeiro. Over the next three centuries, the Portuguese expanded their influence throughout the territory, with the growing of sugar cane (supported by local Indian slave labor and later by African slave labor) the most important factor in the economy. Briefly, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Portugal itself was actually governed from a base in Rio de Janeiro. Shortly thereafter, in 1822, Brazil gained its independence. Coffee gradually took over from sugar as the country’s biggest export and (after the abolition of slavery in 1888) there was a major influx of European people (mainly Italians) to work on the coffee estates. Brazil has tremendous natural resources and a huge labor force. On the strength of this, the country has managed to thrive over the last century, in spite of repeated periods of political unrest. Political stability and a more buoyant economy has been a feature of Brazil over the last decade. More than 50% of Brazil’s people can claim European descent and Portuguese remains the national language.
While it is one of the largest countries in the world, Brazil has a certain mystique surrounding it. Many people attribute that mystique to the diverse population. Like the United States, Brazil is like a big melting pot of cultures, all stemming from Native American Indians. The population as a whole in Brazil speaks Portuguese, thanks in part to the early colonization of settlers from Portugal in the 1500’s. This co-mingling among the Native Americans, Africans and Portuguese population resulted in a large mixed race ethnic group that is present today. Whites still number a little over fifty percent of the population, but the multi-racial group is not far behind. The remaining population is a mix of blacks, Asians and other ethnic backgrounds.
Keep in mind too that these demographics for Brazil are based mostly on skin color. There are quite a few people who look white but have a healthy mix of Indian and even African blood running through their veins. Considering the ethnic mix of the population, Brazil does not really have any racial problems. Instead of judging people by their skin color, they judge by their social class.
Despite a growing economy, about 20% of the population in Brazil can be considered living in poverty. There are definite social class distinctions. The very wealthy typically stick to their own social strata while the middle class can somewhat mingle successfully with both the wealthy and the lower classes.
The population of Brazil, for the most part, is concentrated along the coastal areas of the country. The small contingencies of indigenous people are primarily situated in the interior of the country, where some of the land seems inhospitable to the average person. The people of Brazil come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and thus bring a varied history that they share with the world through their many celebrations and festivals. While the population is colorful, the people of Brazil do not see skin color.
In informal situations, it is common to kiss women on both cheeks when meeting and taking one’s leave. Handshaking is customary between men, and normal European courtesies are observed. Frequent offers of coffee and tea are customary. Flowers are acceptable as a gift on arrival or following a visit for a meal. A souvenir from the visitor’s home country will be well-received as a gift of appreciation. Casual wear is normal, particularly during hot weather.
Portuguese is the official language. Spanish, English and French are also spoken.
The 1988 constitution grants broad powers to the federal government, of which the President and Vice-President are elected on the same ticket by popular vote for four-year terms. The President has extensive executive powers: he appoints the Cabinet, and he is also both head of state and head of government. The current president is Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, from the Workers Party, elected in 2002 for the 2003–2006 term. Then re-elected for the 2007–2010 term. He received the most votes of any president in Brazil until then, receiving 56.7 million votes.
Brazil spans four time zones: Rio and San Paulo GMT-2 (GMT-3 from April to October), Brasilia and Belem GMT-3 (GMT-2 from October to March and GMT-4 to the West). Parts but not all of Brazil use daylight saving time.
Brazil is one of a few countries that uses both 120 and 240 volts for everyday appliances. Expect the voltage to change back and forth as you travel from one place to the next – even within the same Brazilian state, sometimes even within the same building. There is no physical difference in the electric outlets (power mains) for the two voltages. Please be aware of the electrical outlets in Brazil pictured below, as you may need an adapter.
Being a large country, the climate of Brazil can be divided into five regional climatic zones: Equatorial, Tropical, Semi-arid, Highland tropical and Subtropical. The main cities on the inland plateau, Sao Paulo and Brasilia, enjoy mild weather with average temperatures of 66°F. The coastal cities and areas like Rio de Janeiro however have warmer climates, although tempered by trade winds. Rio’s average temperature is around 80°F, but it can swelter at over 100°F in the height of summer. Down south Brazil experiences a subtropical climate, with hot summers and chilly winters. Between July and August, the southern winter, temperatures fall below freezing and overnight frost is common. The Amazon basin is warm and wet, with high humidity but temperatures lower than one expects, peaking at around 90°F. The equatorial Amazon has abundant rain between November and May, and less precipitation between June and October, although it is well soaked all year round.
Clothes to Wear:
Brazilians, even in the major cities, dress casually outside the office. None of the country’s top restaurants insist on collar and tie although the occasional club does. Ladies should remember to pack a jacket or shawl when coming to Brazil as some of the buildings and restaurants can be a little over enthusiastic with the air conditioning. When packing, keep in mind that cities like Rio and São Paulo are big, fashionable, cosmopolitan cities and not a small tourist resorts. If you forget to bring some item of clothing with you, you will certainly be able to find what you forgot in any of the big shopping centers.
Entry and Exit Requirements:
A passport and visa are required for U.S. citizens traveling to Brazil for any purpose. Brazilian visas must be obtained in advance from the Brazilian Embassy or consulate nearest to the traveler’s place of residence. There are no “airport visas” and immigration authorities will refuse entry to Brazil to anyone not possessing a valid visa. All Brazilian visas, regardless of the length of validity, must initially be used within 90 days of the issuance date or will no longer be valid. U.S. citizens reentering Brazil must be able to show an entry stamp in their passport proving that the visa was issued within 90 days; otherwise they will not be allowed reentry. Immigration authorities will not allow entry into Brazil without a valid visa. The U.S. Government cannot assist travelers who arrive in Brazil without proper documentation.
Attention: Special Notification for travellers from Australia, Canada, Japan & United States
United States, Australian, Canadian and Japanese citizens who wish to disembark in Brazil, for tourism or business, will be exempt from visa requirements. The end of the requirement is part of a decree published by the Brazilian government during the first quarter of 2019. The stay can last up to 90 days, extendable for the same period, if it does not exceed 180 days.
Travelers are reminded that they are subject to local law. Showing contempt to a Brazilian government official at the port of entry, or elsewhere, is a serious offense. Fines for such offenses are based on the offender’s claimed income. For further information regarding entry requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of Brazil at 1030 15th Street, Northwest, Washington, D.C. 20005; telephone (202) 238 2700 fax: (202) 238 2827 or contact the Brazilian Consulate in Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Miami, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.
U.S. citizens and other foreign travelers must fill out a small immigration form on arrival that will be stamped and handed back by immigration officials at the airport. It is important to retain this form in order to hand it in to immigration officials upon exit from the country. According to the Brazilian Embassy’s website, visitors who lose this form will have to get clearance from the Brazilian Federal Police to leave the country and may have to pay a fine.
U.S. citizens living or traveling in Brazil are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State’s travel registration page in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security. U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.
If visiting Iguassu Falls (Argentina side) an Argentina reciprocity fee is to be purchased online prior to your departure from the US. A valid passport is required for U.S. and Canadian citizens to enter Argentina. U.S. and Canadian citizens do not need a visa for visits of up to 90 days for tourism or business, but U.S. and Canadian citizens coming to Argentina for tourism travel through Aeroparque or Ezeiza International Airport must pay a reciprocal entry fee of $160.00. The reciprocity rates must be paid with credit card through the online system at www.migraciones.gov.ar.
Embassy of the United States of America
SES 801, Avenida das Nacoes
Lote 3, 70403-900, Brasilia DF
Emergency after-hours tel: 011-55-61-3312-7400
SES – Av. das Nações, Quadra 803 Lote 16, 70410-900 Brasília DF
Tel: (55 61) 3424-5400
Fax: (55 61) 3424-5490
Travelers, who have recently visited certain countries, including most other Latin American countries, may be required to present an inoculation card indicating they had a yellow fever inoculation or they may not be allowed to board the plane or enter the country. The CDC recommends Yellow Fever vaccination for persons over 9 months of age for travel to all rural areas of all states, including Iguaçu Falls tourist resorts, and for travel to Brasilia and Belo Horizonte. Cities in jungle areas are considered rural, not urban, in nature. Yellow fever is not currently thought to be a risk for travel to major coastal cities from Fortaleza to the Uruguay border, including the major tourist destinations of Sao Paulo, Salvador, Rio, Recife, and Fortaleza. However, there has been a recent increase in yellow fever cases, including deaths, in Brazil. This has involved some areas in Brazil not previously at risk, such as the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. Travelers are advised to consult with their medical provider or travel clinic for up to date advice on the risks versus the benefits of yellow fever vaccination.
Dengue fever is an infection transmitted by the mosquito aedes aegypti and is an affliction seen in many parts of Brazil. The typical “season” for dengue is from December to June, but it is possible to be infected at any time of the year. Visitors to all parts of Brazil are advised to take precautions against mosquitoes.
In 2009 the state of Bahia experienced dramatic increases in the rate of infection from meningococcal meningitis (also known as meningitis type c). The state has seen an 84% increase in the number of deaths from the disease. The epidemic is especially present in Salvador, but also found in other tourist cities such as Porto Seguro. Transmission of meningococcal meningitis is person to person by respiratory droplets. There is a vaccine available for prevention of the disease and it is treatable with antibiotics.
Malaria is present throughout the year in forested areas of the Amazon region. There is also some risk on the periphery of cities and towns in the Amazon region. There is little to no risk of malaria in all other areas of Brazil. For details on malaria risk in Brazil, please see the CDC’s Brazil travelers’ page.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Brazil. For further information, please consult the CDC’s information on TB.
Water is untreated and not safe to drink. Drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated (bubbly) drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes. Avoid dairy products as they are not pasteurized. Fruit and vegetables should be peeled before consumption.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad and for general health information for travelers, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website on http://www.who.int/topics/ infectious_diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Banks and Currency:
The official currency in Brazil is the Real/Reais (BRL; symbol R$) = 100 centavos. Notes are in denominations of R$100, 50, 10, 5, 2 and 1. Coins are in denominations of R$1, and .50, .25, .10, .05, and .01 centavos. All banks, cambios, travel agencies and authorised hotels exchange recognised traveller’s cheques and foreign currency. The US Dollar is the most widely accepted foreign currency. Most major international credit cards are accepted (Visa more so than other cards), though not universally. There is an extensive network of ATM’s around the country. Traveller’s cheques are becoming increasingly difficult to cash and visitors will find that they often lose money when doing so. Withdrawing cash directly from ATM’s is preferable. Banks will not cash traveller’s cheques into foreign currency, including US Dollars. Some hotels will accept payment in traveller’s cheques.
Banking hours: Mon-Fri 10am – 4pm.
Country Code: 55. Outgoing Code: 00. International direct dialing is available.
Public payphones use disposable prepaid cards, which come with 20, 40, 60 or 75 credits. Phone booths are nearly everywhere, and all cards can be used in all booths, regardless of the owner phone company. Calling the USA costs about one real per minute.
Internet cafes (Lan houses) are increasingly common, and even small towns often have at least one spot with more or less decent connections. An increasing number of hotels, airports and shopping malls also offer hotspots for Wi-Fi with your laptop computer.
The Brazilian Correio is fairly reliable and post offices are literally everywhere. Be sure to use PRIORITÁRIO (priority mail) or foreign letters and postcards will take a VERY long time to arrive. Rates are similar to first-class overseas airmail elsewhere.
Cell Phone Usage:
Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.
Food & Drink:
Brazilian food and drink is every bit as diverse as the people that populate the country. Taking influence from Portugal, the Amazon, West Africa, and Morocco, Brazilian cuisine is enticing and delicious. Many recipes are very regional and the food may contrast drastically from one of the country to the other. Different immigrant groups and produce found in individual regions of Brazil are a direct cause of this. The basic ingredients of Brazilian cuisine are beans (feijao), coconut, lemon, shrimp, cod, rice and manioc.
- Rice and Beans – This is the most common dish in Brazil. Wherever you are, there is a good chance you will find a plate of seasoned rice and beans on the table.
- Salgadinhos – A common snack food, somewhat similar to an empanada. These sweet or savory pastries can be eaten at any time of the day.
- Pão de Queijo – A type of cheese roll made of flour and cheese. It’s a common snack in many Brazilian corner stores.
- Churrasco – Barbecued meat often served as an “all you can eat”.
- Feijoada – This bean and meat dish is quite common in Rio de Janeiro.
- Acarajé – A kind of muffin made of onions and beans that are fried in palm oil.
- Caruru – A delectable dish of mashed okra, cashews, shrimp, onions, pepper and garlic.
- Tacacá – This soup, common to Northern Brazil and Amazonas with a broth of wild cassava, jambú, dry shrimp, and yellow peppers served in a cuia.
- Chouriço – Similar to chorizo, although less spicy and common in Minas Gerais.
- Bolinhos de Arroz – Fried rice balls.
In the 16th century, sugar was the supreme cash crop in the world and sugar cane plantations took off in Brazil. It’s no wonder that sugar based alcohols were created at this time. The original recipes of aguardiente, a Brazilian firewater, are still used today by many people in rural areas. Cachaça, which is distilled from sugar cane, is a type of raw rum. It’s made from sugar cane juice, while rum is made from molasses and then aged in oak barrels. It’s the most popular spirit in Brazil and the main ingredient of the national drink, the Caipirinha which mixes Cachaça with lime and sugar.
The city does not sleep and there is plenty of entertainment to keep you awake! You can choose from samba shows, dance halls, big band sound, rock, pop, jazz and MPB (musica popular brasileira). There are bars and lounges that often charge a cover fee or have a minimum drink requirement. At a “choperia”, you can enjoy an ice cold “chopp” or Brazilian draft beer in a plain and casual setting. Dance halls called “forros” feature a rhythmic style that was born during World War II. “Danceterias” (discos) offer flashing lights and loud music. Many places, including samba clubs, feature live Brazilian music. Older clients may enjoy “Gafieiras” which are old-fashioned ballroom dance halls. Some clubs will give you a card to carry with you and each successive drink is marked on it. You pay for the drinks when you leave.
Rio offers a variety of performing arts, such as opera, theater, music, dance, and film. There are number of orchestras, with The Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira and the Orquestra do Teatro Municipal being the most famous. Tickets to performing arts events may be purchased at the theater or concert hall box offices. Rio has several privately funded cultural centers that feature art and photography exhibits, films, lectures, and children’s programs. On weekends, people will finally go to bed at 6:00 am after an evening of music and fun. No matter what your tastes are in entertainment, there is something for everybody!
Carnival: At the peak of summer, the world-famous Carnival in Rio is held. People from all over the world flock to the city to see this main event. The 4-day celebration starts on a Saturday and ends on Fat Tuesday. The dates will change every year. Although the Carnival is held in Rio, the entire country is busy partying! The Carnival is a contest among all the Samba Clubs “escolas de samba”. Almost every neighborhood has a Samba club and they prepare all year for this event. The contest is held in the Sambodrome where the clubs are judged on their songs, rhythm, and costumes. The club that accumulates the most points is the winner. It is hard to get a ticket for this event. The city reserves a large number of tickets for private boxes to be sold only to tourists. The ticket cost approximately US $200 per person. The party extends to the nightclubs and the streets as well. During the day, people dance in the street by parading behind “bandas” (marching bands). When a banda passes by, just jump in and dance. A lot of the bandas start their tours at the bars. The Banda de Ipanema is one of the most traditional ones, attracting as many as 8,000 people!
It’s not a bad idea to pack light and acquire a Brazilian wardrobe within a couple of days of arrival. It will make you less obvious as a tourist, and give you months of satisfied gloating back home about the great bargains you got whenever you are complimented on your clothing. Brazilians have their own sense of style and that makes tourists – especially those in Hawaiian shirts or sandals with socks – stand out in the crowd. Have some fun shopping, and blend in. Another good reason for buying clothes and shoes in Brazil is that the quality is usually good and the prices often cheap. However, this does not apply to any foreign brand as imports are burdened by high import taxes – therefore, do not expect to find any good prices on brands. To figure your Brazilian trousers size, measure your waist in centimeters, divide by 2, and round up to the next even number. Store windows will often display a price followed by “X 5” or “X 10”, etc. This is an installment-sale price. The price displayed is the per-installment price, so that, “R$50 X 10”, for example, means 10 payments (typically monthly) of R$50 each. The actual price is almost always lower if you pay in cash.
Make sure any appliances you buy are either dual voltage or the same as in your home country. The voltage, however, varies by state. Brazilian-made appliances and electronics are usually expensive or of poor quality. All electronics are expensive compared to US prices. Brazil uses a hybrid video system called “PAL-M.” Television began in black and white using the NTSC system of the USA and Canada, then years later, using PAL for its analogue color – making a totally unique system. Nowadays, most new TV sets are NTSC compatible. However, the newly-introduced digital TV standard is not compatible with that of most other countries. Digital video appliances such as DVD players are also compatible with NTSC (all digital color is the same worldwide), but make sure the DVD region code(s), if any, match your home country (Brazil is part of Region 4). Prices for imported electronic goods can be quite expensive due to high import tax, and the range of domestic electronic gadgets is not very wide. Also, be aware that the term “DVD” in Brazil is both an abbreviation for the disc itself and for its player, so be specific to avoid confusion.
Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.
Most restaurants and bars already include a 10% service charge in the bill. It is customary to leave a bit extra for good service. When the service charge is not included in the bill, 10-15% is the general rule. Tips are not expected by taxi drivers, although most people tell the driver to keep the change. Airport and hotel porters should receive the equivalent of US$ 0.75 per bag.
Most hotels will arrange affordable laundry services for guests.
PHOTOS & VIDEOS
In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.
USE OF DRONES
The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.