Cynthia Fujikawa Nes

Cynthia Fujikawa Nes

The Brazil Business


Driving in Brazil

Cynthia Fujikawa Nes

Cynthia Fujikawa Nes

The Brazil Business


Foreigners coming to Brazil may ask themselves if they can drive with their original driver’s license and for how long. Also, it is important to know how to apply to a Brazilian driver’s license in case you want to extend your stay in Brazil.

Can a foreigner drive in Brazil?

Generally speaking, foreigners that have an international driver’s license issued abroad are allowed to drive in Brazil for six months from the date of arrival in the country. After this period, they must apply for a driver’s license for foreigners at the local traffic authority (DETRAN)This license is temporary (valid for one year), but you have the possibility to extend it.

According to the new regulation, to apply for the driver’s license for foreigners you will have to present at CONTRAN the original and photocopy of the following documents:

  • Passport: original and photocopy with a stamp confirming that the stay in Brazil is legal;
  • Driver’s license: original temporary or permanent driver’s license;
  • Proof of residence: original and photocopy of a proof of o residence in Brazil;
  • Receipt: the applicant is required to Detran’s tax known as DUDA and present the receipt when applying for a temporary driver’s license. The cost ranges around BRL 90,00 and may vary from state to state.

Getting a permanent driver’s license

Foreigners driving in Brazil for more than six months must apply for a Brazilian permanent driver’s license at the local Detran unit. Each Detran’s office has a special unit to assist foreigners in these matters.

The permanent Brazilian driver’s license (Carteira Nacional de Habilitação –CNH – in Portuguese) is only granted to foreigners who are legally resident in Brazil. So in order to request this license, the following documents be presented at Detran:

  • CPF: copy and original;
  • Proof of address from the three previous months: copy and original;
  • RNE: original and copy;
  • Original temporary or permanent driver’s license.

It is important to be aware that the advantage of applying to a temporary or permanent driver’s license without taking the complete test is restricted to foreigners coming from countries that are members of the Vienna Convention and countries with which Brazil has reciprocity international agreements.

Those who have no driver’s license or come from a country that does not belong to the Vienna Convention will have to go through the whole process, described below:

  • Medical exam;
  • Psychological behavior/logic exam;
  • Road theory and law instruction followed by test;
  • Practical training followed by test.

If approved in the four mentioned steps, the foreigner will then have access to a temporary license that will be valid for one year. The process costs, in average, BRL 800,00 and takes about three months.

The new regulation created in 2010 eliminated the need of the sworn translation of the license and the registration of the foreigner drivers’ license with the Brazilian traffic authorities. However, foreigners may need a translator to support them during the process as all the classes and tests are taken in Portuguese.

Particularities of driving in Brazil

São Paulo is considered to have the 6th worse traffic in the world. The [rise of the middle class]( has significantly increased the number of cars over the last 10 years and even smaller cities surrounding the capital have suffered the effects of heavy traffic.

This is not exclusive for São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, though, as Brasilia, Campo Grande, Natal, Vitória, [Campinas, Porto Alegre]( and other Brazilian metropolis face the same problem. If you have the option of taking a subway or even a train, it may be a good thing to do, especially on Fridays, when you can take four hours to drive about 50 km.

As for driving habits, as crazy as traffic may look in major Brazilian cities, there is a sense of courtesy. It is not so hard to switch lanes, for example, and in most cases the other drivers will let you cross. If you are having troubles parking your car, it is very likely that someone will stand behind it and help you out.

The major problem in Brazil is the great number of motorcycles as they do not stand in line, running in between the cars and making it hard to switch lanes. Also, if you do something that a motorcyclist does not like (passing him/her, for example), you may end up without your rearview mirror.

For those who are used to drive in some of the American states, in Brazil it is not allowed to make a right turn when the light is red, even when there is no car passing by. Also, in Brazil there is no “left turn yield on green”. You really have to wait for the proper light.

Another aspect of driving in Brazil that may not be so common in other countries is that a police officer can pull you over any time without any particular reason for it. It means that you don’t have to be over the speed limit or driving without a seatbelt, you may be pulled over anyway. In most cases the police officer will inspect the entire vehicle, as well as yours and the vehicle’s documents. If everything is fine, you may proceed.

However, if you have any problem (like a broken headlight or a missing document), some police officers may ask for money in order to let you go. Such practice is considered bribery and is illegal, as well as trying to bribe the police officer. If you come across an honest professional you won’t only have to pay the original fine, but you will find yourself involved in a very serious problem with the law.