Juliana Mello

Juliana Mello

The Brazil Business


Introduction to Detran

Juliana Mello

Juliana Mello

The Brazil Business


This article will introduce you to the state institution responsible for ground vehicles supervision in Brazil. You will also know what it takes to drive legally in the country and in what cases you might need to consult Detran.

Detran is short for Departamento Estadual de Trânsito (State Transport Department). Its main functions are training and supervising drivers, providing licenses, registering and inspecting vehicles, and applying the Brazilian Traffic Code.

In Brazil, there are 27 Detran jurisdictions, one for each of the 26 states in the country, plus the DF (Federal District). Each Detran is independent from the other, so they have some particular rules and different administrations.

Detrans are part of the Sistema Nacional de Trânsito, SNT, (Traffic National System), which is linked to the Ministry of Cities. The SNT elaborates the laws that regulate traffic in Brazil and it is up to Detran to apply those rules on each state's territory.

Can a foreigner drive in Brazil with his country's license?

Yes. But only up to 180 days, counting from the arrival in Brazil. In this case, foreigners must be over 18 years old, carry a valid original drivers license and a photo ID (preferably the passport).

The law applies to all countries that are members of the Vienna Convention and countries with which Brazil has reciprocity international agreements. To see the list of countries, click here

Foreigners driving in Brazil for more than 180 days must apply for a Brazilian permanent driver's license at the local Detran. Each Detran's office has a special unit to assist foreigners in these matters.

Taking a temporary license (valid for six months)

After the 180 days, foreigners can apply for a Brazilian temporary license. The prior condition is to have a temporary work or a tourist visa in Brazil. The applicant must go to the local Detran, bearing the following documents:

  • Photocopy or original of passport with visa confirming legality of entry into Brazil
  • Original temporary or full driver's license (valid or out of date) translated into Portuguese by a sworn translator (may not be necessary)
  • Photocopy and original proof of residence at an address in Brazil
  • Receipt testifying the payment of Detran's tax (DUDA), ranging around BRL 90,00 (it varies from state to state)

A temporary license must be issued immediately. This license is valid for six months, but it can be renewed. The procedures may differ throughout Brazil, as Detran state offices are independent.

Taking a full license

A full Brazilian driver's license (Carteira Nacional de Habilitação, CNH) can only be given to a foreigner who is legally resident in Brazil. For that, the following documents will be required at Detran:

  • Original and copy of the identity card (Cédula de Identidade para Estrangeiro - CIE which contains the Registro Nacional de Estrangeiro - RNE the identity number for non-nationals)
  • Original and copy of the Individual Taxpayer’s Card (Cadastro de Pessoa Física - CPF)
  • Copies and originals of proof of address from the previous three months
  • Original temporary or full driver's license

Before taking his full license, the applicant may be required to take medical and psychological exams (BRL 50,00 each). That is decided by Detran on a case by case basis.

Only foreigners from countries that are members of the Vienna Convention and countries with which Brazil has reciprocity international agreements can apply for temporary and full Brazilian licenses without taking the complete test (the one people who has no license has to take). People with no license or a license from a country that is not contemplated, will have to go through the full process, which is divided in four parts:

  • Medical Exam
  • Psychological behavior/logic exam
  • Road theory and law instruction followed by test
  • Practical Training followed by test

After completing those four steps, a temporary license valid for one year will be issued. The permanent license will be handed after this period. The tests are all organized by a driving school (autoescola) and cannot be arranged directly at a Detran office. The whole process costs around BRL 800,00 and takes about three months.

It is not possible to take the theory or practical test with an interpreter or a translator and the test cannot be taken in English, as well as the Road theory and law instruction.

Detran on a daily basis

Besides dealing with Detran for a driver's permit, the institution is also responsible for several other procedures related to driving in Brazil.

Once a foreigner starts driving in Brazil, he must obey national traffic laws. If caught disrespecting these rules, foreigners will be fined by Detran and the tickets' prices are up to BRL 200,00.

Foreigners are not forbidden to leave Brazil if they have unpaid traffic fines, but they cannot return to the country before paying them.

When a foreigner gets a car in Brazil, he starts a long relationship with Detran, that will last until he gets rid of the car. Among other things, Detran is responsible for transferring the car to the new owner's name, registering it with a license plate, collecting IPVA annually (Tax on Automotive Vehicles) and providing the annually inspection, among other responsibilities.

Lots of Patience

The Detran's offices are still unprepared to assist foreigners. So, if you do not speak Portuguese, consider getting someone to explain you how things work, and be patient, because some Detran's units can be bureaucratic and disorganized.

As stated above, each Detran office counts with a service area for foreigners (where you can find someone who speaks English), but the websites (that contain all information about traffic in Brazil, state by state) are only in Portuguese. Exams and Road theory and law instruction are only in Portuguese too.

Also, there is no strict officially regulated list of procedures and conditions that contemplates all the possible cases that show up when it comes to foreigners driving in Brazil. There are only general lines to be followed. Because of that, a lot of cases are handled based on conversation, and similar cases may have different outcomes if analyzed in different Detran offices.


Detran's offices have a large history of corruption well known by Brazilian people. Some of the corruption schemes are really poorly elaborated, made by little groups of people or even a singe individual. But others are monumental.

It is not uncommon to hear that someone have bought a license or had some traffic trouble solved or a fine canceled using bribery, under the hood. The corruption winners are: Detran Rio de Janeiro, followed by Detran São Paulo and Detran Rio Grande do Sul.

Okay, that may be just hallway conversation, but several corruption schemes in Detran's offices were and continue to be found out and proved by the Police. To give an idea of how much the corrupts earn, in one of those purchasing schemes, the value charged for a license ranged from BRL 800,00 to BRL 4000,00. They got around selling more than 200 licenses per month.

Detran also hides gigantic criminal gangs that involve several companies, entrepreneurs, and, of course, political parties.

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