Driving in Brazil

Requirements, traffic rules, and documentation

Driving in Brazil is not for everyone. Yet, due to poor public transport infrastructure in some areas, you may not have much choice but to get behind the wheel and face the cramped inner-city streets. Here are the traffic norms and safety measures that should be taken.

Driving in Brazil

Although traffic norms may vary depending on what city or region you are in, you should not expect Brazilian drivers to have the same regard for traffic laws or traffic etiquette as they do in most of the U.S and Europe.  

Required documentation

Foreigners are allowed to drive in Brazil for up to 180 days after entering the country if they have a valid driver’s license from their home country. During this period you must carry your passport with you when you drive in addition to your license. After this period, any foreigner must obtain a Brazilian driver’s license by applying at a driving school (autoescola). In order to do this you will need to show proof of identity, proof of address, and a CPF number (Cadastro de Pessoa Fisica) - used for tax purposes. Employees at the driving school should be able to answer any questions you may have regarding the procedure for acquiring a license.  

Other documents you should carry whilst driving your own vehicle are: proof of insurance and vehicle ownership papers.

Traffic rules and norms

Here are some important rules which apply to drivers anywhere in Brazil. Breaking any of the following rules would be considered a violation of the law:

  • Be at least 18 years old to drive a car or motorcycle.
  • Drive on the right, overtake on the left.
  • Seat belts must be worn by both driver and passengers. In the case of a child that is too small to wear a seat belt, he or she must have a specially fitted seatbelt.
  • Mobile phones can only be used with a “hands-free” system.
  • Do not run out of petrol (Yes, it is illegal to do so).
  • No driving wearing flip flops.
  • Drinking and driving. Anything above a blood alcohol concentration of 0.2 grams (i.e. one beer for the average person) will not be tolerated.
  • Vehicles entering a roundabout have to give way to the vehicles already on the roundabout.
  • No right turns at red lights unless indicated through livre a direita signs

Basic third party insurance is included in the road tax, and the law does not require you to have any additional insurance. In the event of an accident you should call 198 for state highway police and 192 if you need an ambulance.

It is worth noting that pedestrian crossings are completely ignored in most places with only a few exceptions, such as in Brasilia. Stop signs would be better described as a yield sign and, virtually any lane could be a turning lane. Also, where there are sudden, unexpected traffic jams, drivers may wave their hands out the window or use emergency lights to signal other drivers to slow down.

Road conditions and safety precautions

Brazil is a huge country with a wide road network spanning more than 1.6 million kilometers. The best roads are generally closer to the state capitals and within a fringe of a couple of hundred km from the coast. Nevertheless, driving on Brazil's inter-city roads can pose significant risks. As Brazil has a deficient railroad network for both freight and passengers, drivers along Brazil’s roads must be very careful of trucks/lorries and because of heavy rainfall in certain periods, coupled with the weak quality of some roads, you can expect an abundance of potholes.

Be careful with drivers passing on the right side, with motorcyclists zipping and weaving between lanes, and tailgaters flashing you with their high beams. When changing lanes make sure you don’t block those imaginary motorcycle lanes which can lead to accidents or your mirrors being torn off. Because of this you should also never drive with you elbow sticking out of the car window. As for the tailgaters, just move to the right and keep calm. Recall that many drivers in Brazil are armed, usually for their own protection, but you never know what people are capable of.

Although traffic norms may vary depending on what city or region you are in, you should not expect Brazilian drivers to have the same regard for traffic laws or traffic etiquette as they do in most of the U.S and Europe.  

Required documentation

Foreigners are allowed to drive in Brazil for up to 180 days after entering the country if they have a valid driver’s license from their home country. During this period you must carry your passport with you when you drive in addition to your license. After this period, any foreigner must obtain a Brazilian driver’s license by applying at a driving school (autoescola). In order to do this you will need to show proof of identity, proof of address, and a CPF number (Cadastro de Pessoa Fisica) - used for tax purposes. Employees at the driving school should be able to answer any questions you may have regarding the procedure for acquiring a license.  

Other documents you should carry whilst driving your own vehicle are: proof of insurance and vehicle ownership papers.

Traffic rules and norms

Here are some important rules which apply to drivers anywhere in Brazil. Breaking any of the following rules would be considered a violation of the law:

  • Be at least 18 years old to drive a car or motorcycle.
  • Drive on the right, overtake on the left.
  • Seat belts must be worn by both driver and passengers. In the case of a child that is too small to wear a seat belt, he or she must have a specially fitted seatbelt.
  • Mobile phones can only be used with a “hands-free” system.
  • Do not run out of petrol (Yes, it is illegal to do so).
  • No driving wearing flip flops.
  • Drinking and driving. Anything above a blood alcohol concentration of 0.2 grams (i.e. one beer for the average person) will not be tolerated.
  • Vehicles entering a roundabout have to give way to the vehicles already on the roundabout.
  • No right turns at red lights unless indicated through livre a direita signs

Basic third party insurance is included in the road tax, and the law does not require you to have any additional insurance. In the event of an accident you should call 198 for state highway police and 192 if you need an ambulance.

It is worth noting that pedestrian crossings are completely ignored in most places with only a few exceptions, such as in Brasilia. Stop signs would be better described as a yield sign and, virtually any lane could be a turning lane. Also, where there are sudden, unexpected traffic jams, drivers may wave their hands out the window or use emergency lights to signal other drivers to slow down.

Road conditions and safety precautions

Brazil is a huge country with a wide road network spanning more than 1.6 million kilometers. The best roads are generally closer to the state capitals and within a fringe of a couple of hundred km from the coast. Nevertheless, driving on Brazil's inter-city roads can pose significant risks. As Brazil has a deficient railroad network for both freight and passengers, drivers along Brazil’s roads must be very careful of trucks/lorries and because of heavy rainfall in certain periods, coupled with the weak quality of some roads, you can expect an abundance of potholes.

Be careful with drivers passing on the right side, with motorcyclists zipping and weaving between lanes, and tailgaters flashing you with their high beams. When changing lanes make sure you don’t block those imaginary motorcycle lanes which can lead to accidents or your mirrors being torn off. Because of this you should also never drive with you elbow sticking out of the car window. As for the tailgaters, just move to the right and keep calm. Recall that many drivers in Brazil are armed, usually for their own protection, but you never know what people are capable of.

Further reading

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