Brazil is a wonderful country to visit but if you do not know what you are doing, you can end up looking like a fool, having a terrible time or putting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation.
I have made the trip to Brazil from the United State around 40 times over the last 10 years. If I had known in the beginning what I know now I would have had a better time in those initial trips.
However, life is a learning process and experience is the best teacher. But experience is slow and plodding and sometimes you need to jump ahead of the line in life right?
With that in mind, I sat down and wrote down some things right off the top of my head that you should remember when traveling to Brazil or any international destination. While some of these items may be Brazil specific, many apply to any foreign destination.
In any event, absorb this cheat sheet of travel advice and get that passport active.
Do not expect immigration, customs or baggage claim to work like they do in your home country. They have their own way of doing things there. It does not imply that it is better or worse, just different. I will say that they get foreigners through immigration at a much faster rate than the USA gets foreigners through immigration, at least when arriving in Rio de Janeiro.
After you claim your bags and exit the main portion of the airport, stay far away from the white taxis or special air conditioned taxis in Rio because they are much more expensive. They are not really any better than many of the normal yellow taxis. Some of the cars look newer, but from my experience, the main difference is simply an inflated price. All taxis have air conditioning whether they use the air or not. They will if you ask.
If you are looking for cheaper options, there are several other modes of transportation.
When leaving or arriving at the airport, try not to laugh or become concerned when you see people standing in the middle of the highway trying to sell water or popcorn when traffic slows to a crawl. Yes, I agree it is dangerous but the Police do nothing to stop this and there is nothing you can do about it so don't let it ruin your trip right off the bat. It is just the way things are done in the developing world where jobs and opportunity are scarce.
Behave like you are the official Ambassador from your home country at all times. Manners are universal, so is rudeness. One way of doing that is to learn the basics of Portuguese before you go. Brazil is one of several countries in the world that speak Portuguese as the official language. It can be challenging to learn however because it is very verb centric. You know how you might snicker at the Mexican waiter that brings you your food and all he can say is “hot plate”? At least he or she can speak the basics of English. How is your Spanish? In other words, the shoe will be on the other foot. And remember, just because someone cannot understand your Portuguese or English does not mean you should say it louder.
Use an ATM instead of exchanging your own currency at various locations. Money on demand is better than getting a wad of cash stolen in your hotel room.
Adjusting to Customs
Being in an uncomfortable position in a foreign culture is natural but you will adjust as long as you go with the flow.
There are many outdoor markets or shops around cities like Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo. If you ever see anything you would like to buy, never take the first offer on price. However, do not get hung up over what amounts to a U.S. dollar or a Euro.
Self-service restaurants are popular in Brazil. They allow you to load your plate, then weigh it and charge you by the kilo. It is all you can eat, but you pay by the plate.
Try all of the different local dishes in Brazil or in any foreign locale. Many of the same foods we
When dealing with locals from Brazil, be as flexible as possible because they simply are not on as tight of a schedule as we are accustomed to in America. That's a polite way of saying they are always late and will not think anything of it.
Even if you cannot speak the local language, it is amazing what you can do using hand motions and PortuEnglish. Locals are a gold mine of information and will help you if you ask politely even if your Portuguese is non-existent.
Do the touristy things but try to go off the beaten path with some locals if you have the chance. Try to see as many sites in your limited amount of time in the country, but it is ok to relax on the beach and do nothing all day long a few days at least.
Visit Sugar Loaf
Whether leaving the airport, walking down the street or sitting at a beach side restaurant having a drink, you will be asked for money or approached by someone selling something you could not possibly need. Don’t be afraid to respectfully say no.
Ride the metro, or the bus, preferably in that order, in a foreign city like Rio or Sao Paulo because it is the cheapest way to travel. Attend a samba festival at one of the local samba schools if you get the chance. Go with a local if possible.
Seeing people pay their cable and light bill in a bank may be new to you, but hey, it is their culture. Go with it.
If you are going to tour the country for some time, travel with an unlocked GSM quad band phone, then get a SIM card to make local calls.
Be careful using global maps and apps in out of the way places in Brazil and treat your passport as if it has the same value as all of your cash and credit cards combined. It does, particularly if you are not in a city in Brazil with an American consulate. Consider travel insurance if your plan does not cover international travel.
Do not wear jewelry of any kind in Brazil. It is not the kind of place you want to be advertising wealth for two reasons: your own safety and it is tacky in a place like that.
Never leave money on the table at a restaurant.
Try something called a “caxinho de frango” at any of the local bakeries. It is basically like a fried hush puppy in the USA loaded with chicken inside.
Above all, start traveling in life as soon as you can afford it, preferably without your parents. If you find a location you like, follow your dream. Living in another country is not as farfetched as you might think.
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