One of the downsides to international travel is that when you arrive after a long flight, you sometimes have to endure an equally grueling process just to get out of the airport. And depending on how organized a particular airport is, it can be a simple process or a nightmare.
When traveling to Brazil, you will more than likely be entering through Sao Paulo's Guarulhos International Airport or through Galeão International Airport in Rio de Janiero. Both airports have their pros and cons, but Guarulhos recently made a list of the world's worst airports.
In either case, once you arrive, the first thing you will have to do after leaving the plane is get through immigration. That can be a pain by itself depending on how many other flights arrived around the same time. All of the international flights arrive early in the morning, so sometimes there is a mad rush and it can take 30 minutes or more to get through.
And if that is not the case, then sometimes you are presented with a “work slowdown” by the Brazilian immigration authorities. They do not actually go on strike, but they intentionally work very slowly. It can be maddening if you happen to get caught up in this.
What is your reward after clearing immigration?
International Customs and Border Control. And that can be another nightmare if you make the wrong decisions.
So how do you make it through Brazilian International Customs with the least amount of headaches?
Honestly, the things that are going to slow you down as are:
- Who you are with
- How many bags you have with you
- The way your bags are packed
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Go Through the Customs Line Alone
This is especially true if you are with a Brazilian. The custom authorities give increased scrutiny to all Brazilians because everything they bring back with them from a trip overseas is taxed. It is really shameful.
If you are not a citizen of Brazil, you are allowed to bring $500 worth of goods into the country with your luggage. Anything over that is taxed heavily so if you are bringing any type of new product, especially electronics, be sure to bring the receipt with you just in case.
In fact, every Brazilian I see going through the line has their luggage searched or scanned through an x-ray machine.
In over 30 trips to Brazil, I personally have only had this done to me once. If you even remotely look like a gringo, they tend to leave you alone.
But it is not impossible to get goods into the country legally and without taxes. I personally have taken a 32 inch flat screen TV with me and a window unit air conditioner for my apartment.
I was briefly stopped and asked about the TV, but when I told them it was only $250, he let me through without even showing him a receipt. They know that goods like that are much cheaper in the USA. The Brazilian government uses a VAT which places a tax on goods at every point of production which leads to virtually anything being more expensive in Brazil.
So why would you be bringing new goods into Brazil anyway?
Well, as I mentioned, just about everything you can possibly imagine costs more in Brazil so if you have friends in the country, someone always wants something. Brazilians are well aware of how much less things cost in the USA, so often times you will be asked to bring something with you.
Pack Your New Goods in Luggage, not the Original Boxes
If you are bringing a new laptop, or anything that you purchased abroad, I would recommend taking it out of the original packaging and packing it carefully in your carry-on or checked luggage if it is not fragile or too valuable.
Remember, you are allowed up to $500 worth of untaxed new goods when entering the country, so I am not advocating hiding more than that amount in your luggage. My point in suggesting this is to minimize the risk of you being searched or stopped and questioned about the value of an item, even though it is under the $500. If you have the receipts with you, this will not be a problem if it actually happens, other than to delay your exit from the customs area. And if you have a driver waiting to pick you up, this can be an issue.
So if you are going to store items in your checked luggage, I recommend bringing the biggest luggage you can get away with, whether it is a hard side or a duffle bag. Duffle bags are useful if you have purchased something that is particularly long, like a curtain rod and airlines tend to be more lenient with size restrictions when it comes to duffle bags.
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After a long international flight, the last thing you need or want is a bad experience in customs. Normally entering Brazil is not an issue, but if you have new items with you, you can be stopped and questioned which will delay your departure from the airport.
If you are with a Brazilian, or you look Brazilian (that is difficult to define) you are more than likely going to be stopped and have your luggage x-rayed before being allowed to proceed.
At that point, you may be asked how much something cost and to provide a receipt as proof. If you employ the tactics I listed above, you will minimize your chances of having this happen to you and breeze through customs on your way to the Cidade Marvilhosa to hit the beaches.