Driving Guide

Brazil Driving Guide

The rules of the road in Brazil may be somewhat different from those in your home country. Here is a complete guide to Safe Driving In Brazil, including driving with US license, renting a car, getting an international driving permit, alcohol limits, road signs and all to help your visit to Brazil go smooth.

2021-08-05 · 9min read

Get an International Driving Permit to bask in Brazil's vibrant culture and spectacular beaches.

Brazil, celebrated for hosting some of South America's grandest festivities, boasting spectacular beaches and breathtaking natural landscapes, could be the perfect destination for your next thrilling adventure. The country's vibrant culture and warm hospitality draw in countless visitors annually.

Yet, concerns about safety in Brazil, often highlighted in news reports, may raise caution among travelers.

Brazilian roads aren’t high quality. The best ones are probably the highways called Rodovia and signed like BR-101. The speed limits are 80 to 110 km/h (120 km/h). The payments happen via tolls, so have cash with you.

Do your research about the safety of areas and regions! There are some places where you shouldn’t stop the car, otherwise, you might get robbed.

Aliz, a travel blogger, shares in her post, BRAZIL TRAVEL TRICKS – WHAT TO KNOW WHEN GOING TO BRAZIL, published on her website, Aliz's Wonderland.

For those new to driving in Brazil, navigating the roads can present unique challenges and noticeable differences from what they may be accustomed to in their home countries. One such notable difference is the prevalence of manual transmission vehicles, which could be a significant adjustment for some drivers.

Go Beyond Brazil's Major Cities

Brazil offers various transportation options, including public transit in its major cities. It might not always be the most convenient option, especially for those looking to venture beyond urban centers.

This marvelous land is ripe for exploration, and driving allows you to pause and appreciate its many wonders as they unfold before you. It also lets you set your own pace, visit places off the beaten path, and explore at your leisure, aligning perfectly with your schedule.

This guide is designed to equip and encourage you to take to the roads of Brazil. Venturing out of the main cities by car can be an incredibly rewarding experience, offering a plethora of adventures and making your holiday even more memorable!

Let's Take a Closer Look at Brazil

Before diving deeper into Brazil's driving culture and etiquette, here are some interesting facts about this South American country:

Geographic Location

Brazil, situated in South America's central-eastern part, borders Argentina, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Its extensive Atlantic Ocean coastline spans about 7,500 km.

The country, divided into 26 states and a Federal District, is renowned for being the fifth-largest in the world and the largest in South America and the Southern Hemisphere. Covering an area of approximately 8.5 million square kilometers, Brazil is 15 times larger than the size of France and surpasses the contiguous United States in land area.

Languages Spoken

The dominant language in Brazil is Portuguese, which has evolved significantly since its introduction in the 16th century. Brazilian Portuguese has diverged in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary from European Portuguese to the extent that Brazilians might find Spanish-language films from other Latin American countries more understandable than those from Portugal.

Influences from Italian, German, and Japanese immigrants, as well as Spanish-speaking refugees, have enriched Brazilian Portuguese with words like "tchau" (farewell), derived from the Italian "ciao".


Brazil's diverse geography includes rivers, forests, hills, and plateaus, and its regions are categorized into five broad territorial and statistical divisions. The country's history dates back to at least 9000 BC, with evidence of complex societies of growers, fishers, hunters, and gatherers in the Amazon basin and nomadic tribes in the drier grasslands and highlands.


As a democratic republic, Brazil comprises 26 states plus the Federal District, home to the capital city of Brasília. The current constitution, adopted in 1988, emphasizes civil rights and delineates the roles of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. It has undergone several amendments since its inception, reflecting Brazil's evolving political landscape.

International Driving Permit FAQs

Whether heading to Brazil for a family vacation or a business trip, understanding the nuances of driving in this vibrant country is crucial. An International Driving Permit (IDP) is your key to exploring Brazil's scenic routes and bustling cities. Here's what you need to know about driving in Brazil with an IDP.

Do I Need an IDP in Brazil?

You can drive a car if you obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) within your first 30 days in Brazil. You should not drive in Brazil if you do not have an IDP unless you have acquired a permanent Brazil Driver's License. Within the first 30 days in Brazil, you must apply for an extension of your IDP at the Motor Vehicles Office. You must apply for an IDP only if you’re planning to visit the country because it is prohibited to drive without an IDP.

Drivers who hold such licenses usually have to obtain an international driving license to drive in Brazil for a period of up to 6 months from the date of entry into the country. Moreover, a holder of such a license is not required to pass the driving test in Brazil.

Why Carry an IDP While Driving in Brazil?

Your IDP is a universally recognized form of identification, translating your driver details into the world's most commonly spoken languages. This translation benefits local officials in Brazil, facilitating clear communication and compliance with local driving laws.

Is Driving In Brazil With a UK License Valid?

If you're visiting Brazil from the UK, you can drive with your UK license, but an IDP is also recommended for added convenience. Ensure your insurance covers driving in Brazil. The same applies to Brazilian license holders visiting the UK.

Who is Eligible for an IDP?

Anyone with a valid driver's license is eligible to apply for an IDP. Remember, an IDP is a translation and not a standalone driving license. Temporary licenses are not valid for IDP applications, so wait until you have your official license card. To apply, visit the International Drivers Association’s website and select an appropriate IDP package. Required documentation includes:

  • A valid government-issued driver's license
  • A passport-sized photo of yourself
  • A copy of your passport, if necessary

Can I Drive in Brazil Without an IDP?

Driving in Brazil requires an IDP, obtainable at Post Offices in your home country. While in Brazil, carry your passport, IDP, and a passport photo to the nearest Car Registration Department to apply for a driver's license visa to be used alongside your IDP.

For longer stays, a local Brazilian driving license is necessary, as license exchanges are not available. It's crucial to avoid driving without a valid license in Brazil.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure a safe and legal driving experience in the country.

Renting a Car in Brazil

Renting a car in Brazil can be convenient, particularly if you plan to explore beyond your itinerary, like day trips to beaches or historical sites. Here's a guide on how to rent a car in Brazil:

Ease of Renting a Car

Renting a car in Brazil is straightforward, but it can add a considerable cost to your travel budget. To get the best rates and the car you prefer, especially during peak seasons, it's advisable to book in advance. Last-minute rentals often come with higher rates.

Choosing a Car Rental Company

Car rental can save you time and offer flexibility in your travel itinerary. While airports are convenient places to rent a car, offering a wide selection of rental companies, you can find the best car rental in Brazil.

Well-known international companies like Hertz and Budget are available, but Localiza is the leading rental company in Brazil. Most rental cars in Brazil run on petrol or ethanol, so confirming fuel types with your rental agency is best.

Renting from an Airport

Airports usually offer the widest range of rental companies. Since many international airports in Brazil are a few kilometers from city centers, renting from an airport can be economical. Major international rental companies, as well as smaller local ones, are available at most airports. If planning a one-way rental (pick-up in one city and drop-off in another), check with the rental company beforehand.

Required Documentation for Car Rental

You'll need a valid passport and driver's license to rent a car. A valid credit card is also necessary to cover the rental cost. You'll be asked to complete various forms, including rental agreements and insurance. Keep copies of these documents for future reference.

Selecting the Right Vehicle

Choose a vehicle based on your planned activities and terrain. Smaller cars suit city driving, while SUVs might be better for off-road adventures. Early booking is recommended to ensure availability.

Cost of Renting a Car

Rental prices vary but generally start at around R$100 for smaller cars and R$200 for SUVs. These rates typically include insurance. To minimize costs, read rental policies carefully, including fuel policies and pre-existing damage.

Age Requirements

Most rental companies in Brazil rent cars to individuals over 21 years old. While Brazilian residents can obtain a license at 18, some places like São Paulo have a minimum age of 21 for renting cars.

A valid driver's license and credit card are required, but be aware that authorities may scrutinize the validity of an International Driver's License. Keeping your passport handy while driving is advisable.

Car Insurance Cost

Insurance costs vary based on vehicle features, driver details, and where the car is kept. The type of fuel used (gasoline, ethanol, diesel, natural gas) does not significantly impact insurance rates. When choosing the best car insurance in Brazil, factor in the likelihood of theft and where the car is parked.

Car Insurance Policy

In Brazil, car insurance policies may cover theft and other damages. Therefore, reading these policies carefully is essential to understand your liabilities. The daily rate for a compact car with air conditioning, including insurance, is around R$120 (EUR 36, USD 24).

Be mindful of insurance options, cancellation fees, drop-off charges, and extra costs that can increase the overall rental cost. Credit card payments might include 30-day insurance coverage, but it's best to confirm with the rental agency. Additionally, consider third-party insurance plans and additional options like child car seats or GPS during booking.

Road Rules in Brazil

Understanding local driving regulations is crucial to avoid fines and ensure a safe trip when visiting Brazil. This will also help you accomplish the best things to do in Brazil. Here's a guide to the local driving laws:

Driving Side

In Brazil, driving on the right side of the road is mandatory. Abiding by this rule is essential for safe navigation and compliance with Brazilian traffic laws.

The minimum legal age to drive in Brazil is 18. Foreigners need a valid driver's license and an International Driving Permit (IDP). Driving without these documents or under the influence of alcohol is strictly prohibited.

Speed Limits

Speed limits are in km/h. Urban areas typically have limits between 40 and 60 km/h, while highways range from 60 to 110 km/h. Specific areas like schools or hospitals may have lower limits. Speeding incurs fines, payable at Banco Do Brasil or during annual road tax renewal.

Alcohol Limit for Drivers

Brazil enforces strict limits on alcohol consumption for drivers, with a legal limit of 0.04 milligrams of alcohol per liter of blood. This means even a single beer could put you over the limit.

Animal Hazards

Be cautious of animals on rural roads, as they pose a significant hazard to drivers. For example, BR-262 has reported numerous animal fatalities, making it one of Brazil's most dangerous roads.

Parking Precautions

Opt for secure parking, such as in malls or garages. Street parking can be risky due to theft. In some areas, informal car guards may offer to watch your car for a small fee.

In Brazilian cities, parking space can be limited. Be aware of designated parking areas for elderly and disabled individuals. White lines indicate public parking spaces, while yellow lines mean no parking at any time.

Pedestrian Awareness

Stay alert for pedestrians, especially near schools, during afternoons when children are often present. Follow any instructions given by police acting as crossing guards.

Theft Risks

Robbery is a concern in Brazil, particularly for drivers in larger vehicles. To mitigate risks, keep windows up and valuables out of sight, and avoid driving at night. Sometimes, driving through red lights after 8 pm may be safer to avoid becoming a target.

Vehicle Restrictions

To reduce congestion, Brazil implements restrictions based on license plate numbers. For example, cars with a plate ending in 5 may be prohibited from driving on Wednesdays.

Avoiding Distractions

Strict rules against texting and driving are enforced in Brazil. Even hands-free calls are only permitted under certain conditions. If you need to use your phone, safely pull over and turn off the engine.

Using Headlights

Flashing headlights is a common signal in Brazil, often indicating upcoming hazards or an intention to overtake on highways.

Seatbelt and Child Safety Laws

Seatbelts are mandatory for all vehicle occupants. Children under ten years old are not allowed in the front seat. If the back seats are full, the tallest child should sit in front. Children under one year must be in a rear-facing seat, and those aged 4-7 require safety seats. Non-compliance can lead to significant fines.

Traveling through Brazil's roads has become safer over time, but it's still important to plan your journey well. Modern mapping tools can offer updated travel plans and assist in navigating Brazilian cities.

Road conditions in Brazil vary. While some highways are well-maintained, others may have potholes or require an SUV due to mud and debris. Toll roads often offer the safest and most reliable driving conditions.

Look out for speed bumps, especially in smaller towns, as they can damage your car if driven over too quickly. These bumps may be marked with yellow paint or signs, but sometimes there are no warnings.

Traffic Road Signs

Abiding by road signs is essential for safety. Drivers, especially those operating larger vehicles with blind spots, need to be extra cautious to ensure road safety for all.

Right of Way

At roundabouts, give way to vehicles already in the junction. In the absence of signs, yield to vehicles approaching from the right.

Overtaking Laws

Illegal overtaking in Brazil can lead to heavy fines and license revocation. It's advised to overtake only when necessary and safely, particularly on two-lane roads with marked centerlines.

General Driving Regulations

Other driving rules you must also remember in Brazil are as follows:

  • Ensure your vehicle has a valid identification number in compliance with Brazilian law. Driving without one is a serious offense, leading to fines and potential vehicle confiscation.
  • Engaging in driving behavior that endangers lives is strictly forbidden. Leaving the scene of an accident involving injuries or fatalities is a serious crime.
  • Heavy vehicle drivers bear extra responsibility due to Brazil's role as a transport hub and face severe penalties for unsafe driving.
  • Car window tinting is allowed up to 30%, with 70% remaining partially transparent.

Driving Etiquette in Brazil

Driving in Brazil can be a pleasant experience if you're familiar with local driving regulations and etiquette. Adopting a patient and defensive driving approach enhances safety and courtesy on the road.

Vehicle Malfunctions

Unexpected car issues can arise, especially in cars lacking regular maintenance. While rental cars from reputable companies undergo routine checks, breakdowns are still possible. In such an event, shift your vehicle to the roadside, activate your hazard lights to alert following traffic, and contact a towing service.

Police Interactions

Frequent police checks occur due to prevalent unlawful activities and drunk driving. If stopped, you're not obliged to undergo a breathalyzer test. However, refusal or evidence of intoxication can lead to arrest, criminal charges, or hefty fines. Additionally, your vehicle may be impounded.

Asking Directions

When traveling in Brazil, knowing some common Portuguese phrases can be immensely helpful, especially for asking for directions or general communication.

Here are some essential phrases that tourists should know:

  • Hello / Good Morning / Good Afternoon / Good Evening
    • "Olá" (Hello)
    • "Bom dia" (Good morning)
    • "Boa tarde" (Good afternoon)
    • "Boa noite" (Good evening)
  • Please and Thank You
    • "Por favor" (Please)
    • "Obrigado" (Thank you - if you're male)
    • "Obrigada" (Thank you - if you're female)
  • Excuse Me / Sorry
    • "Com licença" (Excuse me - to get someone's attention)
    • "Desculpe" (Sorry)
  • Asking for Directions
    • "Onde fica...?" (Where is...?)
    • "Como eu chego em...?" (How do I get to...?)
    • "Existe uma parada de ônibus por aqui?" (Is there a bus stop nearby?)
    • "Qual é o caminho para...?" (What is the way to...?)
  • Basic Responses and Questions
    • "Sim" (Yes)
    • "Não" (No)
    • "Eu não entendo" (I don't understand)
    • "Você fala inglês?" (Do you speak English?)
  • Dining and Food
    • "Um cardápio, por favor" (A menu, please)
    • "Uma mesa para [número] pessoas, por favor" (A table for [number] people, please)
    • "Eu sou alérgico a..." (I am allergic to...)
  • Shopping and Transactions
    • "Quanto custa isso?" (How much does this cost?)
    • "Aceita cartão?" (Do you accept cards?)
  • Emergency and Health
    • "Ajuda!" (Help!)
    • "Onde fica o hospital mais próximo?" (Where is the nearest hospital?)
    • "Chame uma ambulância, por favor" (Please call an ambulance)
  • Emergency and Health
    • "Ajuda!" (Help!)
    • "Onde fica o hospital mais próximo?" (Where is the nearest hospital?)
    • "Chame uma ambulância, por favor" (Please call an ambulance)

Police Checkpoints

Increased police checkpoints aim to curb drunk driving, a persistent issue partly due to limited night-time public transport. Expect numerous checkpoints, especially in tourist-heavy and bohemian areas, during holidays.

Merging Techniques

Merging is a frequent cause of accidents. Remain in your lane until it's time to merge, alternating with other vehicles. Allow ample space and time when joining traffic. If someone allows you to merge in heavy traffic, acknowledge their courtesy with a smile or wave.

Proper Pulling Over

Avoid rubbernecking or staring at accident scenes; it's disrespectful and disruptive. Slow down for safety, but keep moving. For funeral processions, pull aside to let the procession pass uninterrupted. Also, yield promptly to emergency vehicles.

At traffic lights, stay alert and avoid phone use to keep traffic flowing.

Handling Accidents

In an accident, never leave the scene. Move to a safe spot to discuss minor incidents with the other party. In case of language barriers or serious accidents, contact the police (dial 190) and, if necessary, an ambulance.

In rear-end collisions or accidents involving a larger vehicle and a motorcycle, Brazilian law often attributes fault to the rear or larger vehicle, obliging them to ensure the well-being of the others involved.

Driving Conditions in Brazil

Driving in Brazil can be challenging due to unpredictable and often hazardous traffic conditions. Extra caution is necessary, particularly at blind corners where oncoming vehicles may creep into your lane. It's advisable to familiarize yourself with the driving environment in urban or moderately sized towns before taking the wheel.

Traffic Overview

Traffic can be dense during peak hours, especially in large cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It's wise to slow down and anticipate delays, as travel times can double or triple due to increased vehicles and motorcycles.

Accident Rates

According to the 2013 Brazilian road safety report, around 44,000 fatalities annually are attributed to driving accidents, making it the primary cause of death, injury, and significant financial burden. Speeding is a common factor in these accidents, typically involving personal vehicles.

The Volkswagen Gol ranks as Brazil's most popular car. While regular cars dominate rural areas and main highways, four-wheel drives are prevalent in urban areas, suited for rougher terrain.

Toll Roads

Brazilian toll roads are generally well-maintained. The toll fees, varying by state, are considered worthwhile for the upkeep and roadside assistance provided. Many freeways are also in good condition, although road signage and amenities like gas stations or rest stops may be less frequent.

Road Quality

Road quality in Brazil varies widely. Urban areas tend to have well-maintained roads, but those further from city centers may have maintenance issues.

Driving Culture

It's common to see drivers violating rules, like speeding or unsafe overtaking, due to insufficient traffic police presence. Brazilians drive on the right with the steering wheel on the left, and while many cars are manual, automatics are increasingly common.

Due to the subpar public transportation in many cities, driving is often the preferred travel method.

Signal Usage

Headlight flashing by oncoming drivers often indicates a warning about potential hazards ahead, like animals on the road or police checkpoints, though signaling for the latter is illegal.

A raised arm gesture from another driver typically means to slow down for upcoming dangers. If a vehicle behind you in a fast lane flashes its lights or uses a left blinker, it's requesting you to move aside. Drivers may signal with a hand gesture when changing lanes or entering main roads, indicating their intent to merge.

The Top Road Trip Destinations in Brazil

Brazil's tourism sector is flourishing, attracting over three million international visitors annually. Most visitors plan the best time to visit Brazil and flock to Rio de Janeiro and other accessible areas near urban centers, but there's much more to explore.

From Salvador and Bahia's coastal towns to environmental havens in the Amazon and Santa Catarina's popular beaches, here are some of the best places to visit in Brazil:

National Park da Bocaina

Just north of this park is Cuña, renowned for its unique pottery workshops. True artisans run these small-scale ateliers, each with their own distinct style. This scenic route, an alternative to the regular highway north of the park, offers a spectacular drive from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. The mountainous region boasts breathtaking views and several waterfalls worth exploring.

Activities in and Around National Park da Bocaina

1. Historical Exploration: Discover the baroque architecture and significant historical
sites along the Estrada Real-Royal Road from Diamantina to Paraty.

2. Gastronomic Experience: Savor exquisite cuisines at top-notch restaurants with
panoramic views.

3. Camping Adventure: Enjoy rugged camping and explore stunning colonial towns
along the Minas Gerais State.

The BR319

This road, initially connecting Porto Velho and Manaus, suffered from poor construction and is now mostly impassable during the rainy season. The BR319 is ideal for those seeking adventure, passing through vast cattle ranches and the Amazon rainforest.

Activities Along the BR319

1. Nature Appreciation: The Pantanal, a UNESCO site, offers incredible biodiversity, from
macaws and toucans to capybaras and caymans.

2. Swimming at Iguazu Falls: Experience one of the world’s most impressive waterfall
systems on the Argentine-Brazilian border.

3. Cultural Immersion: The Transamazônica provides insights into indigenous
communities and Brazil's conservation challenges.


Salvador, set along the Bay of All Saints, is famous for its stunning beaches like Stella Maris, Flamengo, and Porto De Barra. For drivers, it's essential to comply with Brazil's driving regulations, including having an International Driver's Permit.

Exploring Salvador

1. Cultural and Historical Sightseeing: Salvador's old town, vibrant community, and
beautiful beaches make it a top Brazilian destination.

2. Festival Fun: Join Salvador's grand Carnival celebration, featuring music, dance, and
elaborate street parties.

3. Natural Escapes: Explore Manaus for its rivers, rainforests, public parks, and beautiful
beaches like Ponta Negra.

Get an IDP to Explore Brazil

Brazil is famed for its breathtaking white-sand beaches, remarkable biodiversity, and lively urban landscapes. Acquiring an International Driving Permit is key to embracing the rhythm of adventure across the country's vast and diverse terrains, ensuring an unforgettable experience. Boa viagem!


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