Brazil Basics

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The Basics

Time: Brazil spans four time zones: Rio and Sao Paulo: GMT -2 (GMT -3 April to October); Brasilia and Belm: GMT -3 (GMT -2 October to March); GMT -4 in the West.

Electricity: Brazil has a variety of electrical voltages, sometimes within the same city. The better hotels offer 220 volts, 60Hz. If not, transformers are available in electrical stores. Two-pin plugs with a grounding pin are standard.

Money: The Brazilian currency is the Real (BRL). The US Dollar is also welcome in most tourist establishments. In the main cities, foreign currencies can be exchanged at banks or cambios. There is an extensive network of ATMs in the country and most major international credit cards are accepted.

Currency Exchange Rates

BRL1.00 = USD 0.24GBP 0.20CAD 0.32AUD 0.36ZAR 3.65EUR 0.22NZD 0.38
Note: These rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.

Language: The spoken language in Brazil is Portuguese, however Spanish and English are also used in the cities.

Entry requirements for Americans: Passports must be valid for six months beyond the departure date. Tourists can stay in the country without a visa for up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for UK nationals: A valid passport is required. UK passport holders do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for Canadians: Passports must be valid for six months beyond the departure date. Tourists can stay in the country without a visa for up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for Australians: Passports must be valid for six months beyond the departure date. Tourists can stay in the country without a visa for up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for South Africans: A valid passport is needed, but no visa is required by South African nationals for up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for New Zealanders: New Zealanders need a valid passport, but no visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals need a valid passport, but do not require a tourist or business visa for stays of up to 90 days.

Passport/Visa Note: All visitors require passports that are valid for at least the period of intended stay in Brazil but we strongly recommend that passports be valid for six months after intended date of travel. Border control may well deny entry to holders of passports valid for the period of intended stay. Sufficient funds to cover their stay in Brazil, as well as a return or onward ticket and documentation required for further travel, are necessary for all travellers. Visa requirements vary from country to country.

Getting around: The sheer size of Brazil makes local flights the most convenient method of travelling between major cities. São Paolo is the major connecting hub. Travellers who plan to fly to several destinations can make use of a Brazil Airpass, which allows for flights to up to nine local destinations. Buses are the main alternative, with services linking all the major cities. The schedules are fairly reliable, and buses are clean and well-maintained. Buses are also a primary mode of transportation within the cities. Taxis are the most reliable and safest form of transport at night. Taxis in major cities generally will use meters; however, in smaller cities a price needs to be arranged beforehand. In the rural areas of the Amazon, river travel is still used, and in large sections of the Pantanal rainforest, it is the only way of getting around. Car rentals in Brazil are relatively widespread; however, drivers should take care as the rules of the road are often treated more as suggestions in Brazil. While Brazilian trains are primarily used for freight, there are a few scenic passenger train routes.

Travel Health: Hepatitis A and B vaccinations are recommended for all travellers. Mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria are prevalent in Brazil, so insect repellent and protective clothing is essential. Malaria exists below 2,953 feet (900m) in most rural areas, and outbreaks of dengue fever occur frequently. Visitors travelling from infected areas outside the country require a yellow fever certificate, and vaccination is recommended for those travelling to rural areas, as outbreaks have occurred in recent years. Tap water is heavily treated resulting in a strong chemical taste; however bottled water is freely available for drinking purposes. Typhoid vaccinations are recommended if travellers intend to spend a lot of time outside of major cities. Milk in rural areas is not pasteurised. Hospitals in the major cities are fairly good, but most doctors will want cash payment, even for travellers with insurance.

Tipping: Nearly all hotels add a service charge to the bill, usually 10 percent. Most restaurants also add 10 percent or more to the total of the bill, but must make it clear that they have done so; waiters appreciate another five percent if their service has been good. Otherwise, a 10 to 15 percent tip is customary. Brazilians don't normally tip taxi drivers, except if they handle bags, although they may round up the total. Hotel staff expect small tips and most other service personnel, including barbers, shoe shiners, and petrol station attendants, are usually rewarded with a 10 to 15 percent tip. Parking attendants earn no wages and expect a tip of around two real.

Safety Information: Brazil is politically stable and seldom a target for terrorist activities. In metropolitan areas, however, crime is a fact of life. Rio in particular is regarded as one of the most crime-ridden cities in the world and, although violent crime is generally limited to the slum areas, foreigners are advised to take precautions. Visitors should not attempt to visit slum areas (favelas) even on a guided tour. Violent crime is on the increase due to the establishment of drug and criminal gangs around Rio and Sao Paulo. Muggings, often involving firearms, are frequent and visitors should dress down, conceal cameras, and avoid wearing jewellery and expensive watches. If threatened, hand over your valuables without resistance. Bank and credit card fraud is common, including card cloning from ATMs. Keep sight of your card at all times and do not use an ATM if you notice anything suspicious. Valuables should be deposited in hotel safes. Leave your passport and other valuables in a safe place but carry a copy and another form of photo ID, if you have one, with you at all times. Thefts are common on public beaches and visitors should avoid taking valuables to the beach. The threat of personal attack is lower outside the main urban centres, but incidents do occur, and women should be aware that sexual assaults have been reported in coastal holiday destinations. Beware of unofficial taxis and those with blacked-out windows and be particularly careful on public transport in Rio, Recife, and Salvador.

Local Customs: Brazil is a diverse cultural and ethnic melting pot, but most social customs will be familiar to visitors. As a result of three centuries of colonization by the Portuguese, the Brazilian culture is actually recognisably European in many ways. Physical appearance is considered important by most Brazilians and care is taken to dress well, although not generally formally.

Business: Business practices vary quite substantially from city to city in Brazil: very formal in Sao Paulo, but more relaxed in Rio de Janeiro and other centres. Multi-national companies have similar business etiquette to those in Europe or the US, while local businesses require a few more considerations, particularly preferring face-to-face meetings over phone calls or written communication. Brazilians place a very high value on personal relationships within business environments and will generally only conduct business through personal connections or with those whom they have already established a personal relationship. Nepotism is considered not only acceptable but actually desirable, because it is seen as ensuring trust and good relationships in business. All meetings are preceded by handshakes and small talk, and visitors should avoid the temptation to rush things; even after the meeting is over, it is considered rude to rush off. Entertaining is common, either at a restaurant or someone's home, again with the emphasis on building personal relationships. Punctuality is flexible, except when meeting at a restaurant, when tardiness is considered impolite, and a small gift or flowers for the hostess is common when invited to a home. Business suits are expected, especially for first meetings. Portuguese is the dominant language, and although English is widely spoken in business, an interpreter might be required. Business cards, as well as written documents, should be printed in both English and Portuguese. Business hours are 8.30am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday.

Communications: The international access code for Brazil is +55. Hotels, cafes and restaurants offering free wifi are widely available in tourist centred areas. As international roaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option. Every town has a central telephone office called a Posto Telefonico where long distance calls can be made, and public phone booths are everywhere, operated by phone cards.

Duty Free: Travellers to Brazil can enter the country with 400 cigarettes or 25 cigars; 24 units of alcoholic beverages, with a maximum of 12 units per type of beverage; and goods to the value of US$500, without incurring customs duty. Restricted items include fresh produce, meat and dairy products. Strict regulations apply to temporary import or export of firearms, antiquities, tropical plants, medication and business equipment.