Rio de Janeiro Essential Travel Tips
Here, you will find essential travel tips for anyone planning a trip to Rio de Janeiro. Learn about practical issues, including vaccines, documentation, climate, language, money and tipping, transportation, phones, and Wi-Fi. Brazil welcomes LGBTQ+ travelers year-round and during special events such as New Year’s Eve and Carnival.
Visas & Vaccines
Nationals of countries that border Brazil can enter by car with a regular ID. Travelers coming by plane need a valid passport. Citizens of Western European countries, the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, and others do not need visas *.
If you need one, request it through the Brazilian embassy or consulate nearest you and follow the protocol. Do not let this minor inconvenience spoil your plans. Many countries require visas, there are reciprocity rules, and all information is subject to change.
Vaccination requirements vary depending on where you come from and where you are going in Brazil. Your country may request that you show proof of vaccination when returning from Brazil. A Brazilian embassy or consulate can assist you with more details.
According to reports, the visa exemption for some nationals may be revoked in April 2024, enforcing the reciprocity principle more strictly.
Climate & Clothing
Rio has a tropical climate between what experts call tropical savanna and tropical monsoon. In practical terms, this means it is hot most of the year.
To a Carioca, when the temperature drops below 20°C (70°F), it’s cool. Below 15°C (60°F), it’s cold. In the summer, 40°C (104°F) during the day is not uncommon.
Schools and colleges in Brazil close for summer vacations during the hottest months, from December to March. The city can get very crowded and lively with all the visitors.
People in Rio dress casually most of the time. This does not mean that Cariocas do not care about their appearance, only that they have learned to adapt to the heat to survive.
Choose fresh, breathable clothes. Natural fabrics like cotton are a staple. Lighter jeans, shorts, T-shirts or button-downs, comfortable shoes, and flip-flops also make sense.
Rio is a city of social contrasts, not the place to flaunt diamond-studded accessories. Leave flashy jewelry and irreplaceable items back home.
If you want to embrace the tropical vibe with loud Hawaiian shirts and a Panama hat, that’s fine. You’re a ‘turista’, and nobody will mind.
As to beachwear, you need shorts or trunks to wear on your way to the beach. You may also want to bring your favorite Speedos and “strip down” once settled. Read more about the gay beach.
Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish. Portugal, the westernmost country in Continental Europe, colonized Brazil. Other Portuguese-speaking countries include Mozambique, Angola, Macau, and the Azores.
Most Cariocas understand Spanish when spoken slowly. People in the hospitality industry usually speak English as a second language. Other languages like Italian, French, and German are less likely to be understood.
Cariocas are aware that most international visitors do not speak the language, and they do not hold it against you. They will try hard to figure out what you are saying, especially if they are interested.
Of course, learning a little Portuguese will make a difference. It’s a sign that you are interested in the culture and may have a cute accent.
Practice makes perfect! There are many tutorials online teaching how to speak a few introductory sentences and words in Brazilian Portuguese to break the ice. You have no excuse.
Airport Customs & Immigration
If you have a direct flight to Rio, your plane will land at Galeão, as locals refer to the International Airport Tom Jobim (GIG). After you go through Immigration, pick up your luggage at the carousel. Carts are free of charge if you need one.
Locals sometimes stop at duty-free shops to buy last-minute gifts. There’s a separate line if you have something to declare. Otherwise, you are free to leave. Remember that customs officers may inspect anyone’s luggage. If you are randomly picked out, do not take it personally.
If you changed planes in São Paulo or any other city along the way, this is where Customs and Immigration procedures took place. Your connecting flight may land at the Santos Dumont (SDU) domestic airport. Now, you’re ready to go to your hotel.
There are no subway lines from either airport. Yellow cabs are registered and charged by the meter. Special taxis are pricier. In this case you prepay at the booth, and hand the voucher to the driver. If you call an Uber, there is a meeting spot. Follow the signs.
Getting Around in Rio
There’s one thing you don’t want to do while you’re on vacation: spend time commuting. If you like to go to the beach daily, stay near one. Having said that, Rio has a subway line that connects most parts of the city you want to visit.
The main line connecting Barra da Tijuca to Centro, Sambódromo, and Maracanã is the safest and most reliable way to cover longer distances.
In addition to staying near a subway station, choose an area where restaurants, cafés, and shops are within walking distance. For short trips, summon yellow cabs that circulate the streets or use a phone app, such as Uber.
Cyclists will be glad to learn that there’s a bicycle lane connecting Leblon to Leme. The rental stations are scattered along the way, and you may pick up at one spot and drop off at another. On Sundays, the beach lane is closed to cars all the way to Flamengo Park.
Buses connect all areas not served by the subway. They are our least favorite choice because ground transportation may be subject to delays. It also leaves you somewhat more exposed.
There are vans, yet regulations need to be clarified. In communities, residents often go uphill piggyback riding moto-taxis, familiar with the winding and sometimes narrow streets.
Phones & Wi-Fi
You know precisely how to proceed when there’s Wi-Fi. Wouldn’t it be peachy to have access even while outdoors? You can do it!
Ask your carrier if they have an international roaming plan. If so, you’re all set. Big companies have international agreements, which is probably the best way. People who call or text you will not even realize you’re abroad unless you tell them.
You may buy a Brazilian phone chip at any newsstand in Rio. To make it work, you must visit a physical shop and present your passport or other valid document.
You will receive a local phone number with a prepayable plan. Make sure that the technology is compatible with your phone. Brazil’s country code is +55, and Rio de Janeiro’s area code is 21. Costs vary, so shop around before making any commitments.
Before you travel, make sure to back up any relevant information. Smartphones can be costly, and insurance is a good idea. See also safety tips.