Visiting the hometowns after almost 30 years…
Brazil stretches roughly 2,700 miles from north to south and from east to west to form a vast irregular triangle that encompasses a wide range of tropical and subtropical landscapes, including wetlands, savannas, plateaus, and low mountains. Brazil contains most of the Amazon River basin, which has the world’s largest river system and the world’s most-extensive virgin rainforest. The country contains no desert, high-mountain, or arctic environments.
Chris and I were born in Brazil, and we haven’t been back to visit our family in a very long time. We finally decided to plan our trip with the boys. We went in May 2021 for 22 days and the weather was around 80-100°F daily. There’s no real winter season. We had a blast and enjoyed our family trip. I decided to post some tips and ideas in the hopes they will help you make a decision to visit this amazing country. Despite all the media negative reports of kidnappings and murders taking place in Rio and elsewhere in the country, these occurrences are actually incredibly rare, especially for tourists. That is not to say that the country is free from crime. Fortunately, we didn’t experience or witnessed any. It was a memorable trip for us, and the boys and I plan on going back sometime soon. =)
The reality is the majority of tourists will leave Brazil thinking the media paint an unfair picture, yet unfortunately, incidents and accidents do happen and are not always crime related.
#1 Deciding if we wanted to enter as a Visitor or as Native.
Since we have multiple nationalities, this was the first thing we needed to decide on.
We decided we wanted to enter as a native (We had Brazilian passports) and the kids as a visitor (American passports only) to save time and questions from custom. Well, that didn’t work out as planned. The immigration customs in Brazil were a little ridiculous. Even though we had our Brazilian passports, they asked a million questions and ended up causing issues to let the boys into the country. (Because they have multiple nationality Brazilian and American) After a while they decided that it was ok to let them enter as visitors. My suggestion for anyone with multiple nationalities is to have ALL passports in hand.
#2 GETTING A PASSPORT/VISA
* You will need: A valid U.S. passport. U.S. citizens do not need a visa if they are traveling to Brazil for tourism, business, transit, artistic, or sports activities, with no intention of establishing residence.
* Passport Photo: The photo should be 2”x2” (51 x 51 mm) with the head centered and sized between 1” and 1.4” (25 and 35 mm). (We took our photos at CVS and I believe we paid $17.00 each.)
* Apply Early! Getting your passport in the mail takes about 6-11 weeks. Find forms online, print them and fill them out before your appointment at either your Town Hall or US Post Office. I don’t recommend mailing the application in, as this could potentially cause major delays.
* Fees- Passport book: You will pay -$165 for a standard passport book (Valid for all international travel by air, land, and sea)
#3 Immigration and Customs Regulations
* When arriving at Airport: Everyone has to do an immigration and customs declaration. The airline must distribute both immigration and customs forms to fill out before your arrival. However, it is recommended to download and fill out the forms before traveling. You should be careful with this form, as it must be returned when you leave the country. There are two different doors at customs, as in most airports: the green line (“Nothing to declare”) for those who carry allowed items (clothes, books, personal equipment, etc.) and the red line (“merchandise to be declared” ) for those who are bringing some special items to Brazil. At this point, you will be asked to deliver the customs form to the agents and open your luggage for inspection.
*Currency Restrictions for Entry: More than 10,000 BR (USD 1,850.20) must be declared to Customs
(Today’s Exchange Rate is $1 USDBRL 5.40BRL) This amount is per person. Trust me, you do not want to bring more cash than stated above. Not only for safety but customs are a little tricky when you bring more than enough. Avoid using ATMs in unfamiliar, secluded, or lightly protected areas. You can use your personal credit cards anywhere and the currency is exchanged on the spot, so you know exactly how much you are spending in US dollars. Plus, it’s the safest way.
* Luggage What can you carry: Items in Brazil comparing the value of the dollar up on top is very cheap. Pack light and buy what you need after you arrive and settle in. – clothes and other articles for personal use only (quantities must be compatible with the duration of stay and be for personal use only). This includes all types of electronics. Don’t bring more than one item per traveler.
REMOVE all price tags – I packed a few clothing items for my personal use, and the items were brand new. I did not remove the tags on them when we went through customs. They tried to charge me a Tax fee for my PERSONAL clothing (ridiculous if you ask me.)
* Brazil Airport Tax regulations: If you bring new things, worth more than US$500, you must fill out the customs form. All new products valued at more than US$500 are taxable. The exemption limit is personal. Passengers traveling with family members (spouse and children) cannot combine their personal exemptions. The tax is 50% on the value that exceeds the above-mentioned exemption limits. The tax will be assessed by customs officials and its payment is a condition for the release of the goods. (Basically, they look up the highest value and tax you half of it.) If you don’t pay, you leave the airport without your items.
#4 Driving – License or Permit (IDP) and Car Rental (If you decide to drive)
It’s not necessary to have an international driver’s license to rent a car 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
Consider avoiding the use of public, municipal buses in Brazil at any time of day, especially at night. Crime trends indicate an elevated risk of robbery or assault on public bus systems throughout Brazil. The U.S. government recommends against personnel using public, municipal buses in all parts of Brazil.
We decided to drive as Chris knows his way around and wanted to drive to other states instead of taking a bus or train. (As mentioned above, just not as safe) It was easy for him to obtain an international driving permit (IDP) with AAA to drive legally and worry-free. Anyone with a valid driver’s license can apply for an IDP.
* How to Apply: AAA is one of only two private entities in the U.S. authorized by the U.S. Department of State to issue an IDP. You will need to provide: An application, two original passport pictures, a valid U.S. driver’s license, and pay a $20 permit fee and you’re ready to go!
* Car Rental: Renting a car in Brazil is one of the best ways to explore as much of the country as possible. Renting a car might not be worth the hassle if you are just planning to remain in one place. Drivers tend to be reckless in big cities, and they do not always comply with traffic laws. There’s a wide variety of rental companies to choose from in Brazil. We opted to rent and pay for everything in advance online (We used Booking as our go-to for all we needed as the safest option and rented from Foco Aluguel de Carros) We rented a Jeep Renegade (The biggest car available to fit 5 passengers – Note the luggage space is very limited to 2 bags) for 22 days and paid a total of USD 470.32. We picked it up at Rio de Janeiro International Airport and dropped it off at the same location.
The violent crime rate is high in most Brazilian urban centers. Public transportation, hotel sectors, and tourist areas report high crime rates, but these incidents can happen anywhere and at any time. Be aware of your surroundings.
#5 Safety & Security
*Thieves: Unfortunately, robbery is a major challenge for Brazil. Sometimes the larger the car is, the more targeted you will be. You will need to stay vigilant to reduce the threats. If you can avoid it, don’t drive at night. After 8 pm, you can even ride through red lights to make sure criminals don’t target you. However, you will need to be very careful when doing this. Carjackings and hold-ups can occur at any time of the day or night, especially at intersections and in tunnels. Some robberies involve individuals robbed at gunpoint and taken to make purchases or to withdraw as much money as possible from one or more ATMs. You should also be mindful that Brazil’s road conditions can be incredibly unpredictable. Parking is limited and you might want to check with street guards if any around if you need to pay to park off the street. You will be able to park your car only in public parking spaces, these are marked on the street with a white line. Yellow means you’re unable to park at any time.
* Do not travel to Informal housing developments in Brazil (commonly referred to in Brazil as favelas), even on a guided tour, at any time of day due to crime. Neither the tour companies nor the police can guarantee your safety when entering these areas. Even in favelas that the police or local governments deem safe, the situation can change quickly and without notice. In addition, exercise caution in areas surrounding favelas, as occasionally, inter-gang fighting and confrontations with police move beyond the confines of these communities.
To reduce the chance of becoming the victim of a crime, limit the belongings you carry with you. Carry your money in your front pockets and limit the number of credit cards you carry. Make copies of all of your personal documents – including your credit cards, license, passport, etc. – and keep them in a safe place. This will be helpful if you lose your documents. Do not carry or wear valuable items that will attract the attention of thieves. (I personally removed all jewelry, including my diamond ring.) If you need to wear expensive jewelry or carry a camera, conceal it until you arrive at your destination. Be aware of the street environment and avoid contact with those who may be looking for robbery targets. Seek a safer location. Go into a store, bank, or simply cross the street. Do not walk on beaches after dark. Assaults are common. Use increased caution when hiking in isolated areas, particularly near popular tourist locations in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
* Victims of Crime: Hope this won’t happen to you but if it does you should contact the local authorities to file a Brazilian police report before departing Brazil. In most instances, you can report crimes to the tourist or civil police. You should also inform the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, but local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime.
* The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Brazil is divided among four services:
* 190 – Police * 191 – Police on interstate roads * 192 -Ambulance * 193 – Fire Department and the U.S. Embassy at 011-55-61-3312-7000 Be aware that U.S. Medicare/Medicaid does not apply overseas. Most hospitals and doctors overseas do not accept U.S. health insurance.
Brazil is impossible to summarize in just a few paragraphs. In other words, this will be in multiple parts. Stay tuned……
Hope you enjoy reading. If I missed anything or if you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.