Quick Guide to Brazil: Visa-free travel for South Africans

One of the world’s most enthralling destinations is a country unparalleled in its biodiversity, adventure-travel offerings and joviality.

If it is the wonder of the planets natural, unrefined beauty that you seek - there is no better place than Brazil.

As one of the world’s most bio-diverse countries, you can expect to enjoy sights and experiences in locations as diverse as powdery, white-sanded beaches, wildlife filled-forests, tropical islands, waterfalls and so much more.

Jaguars, toucans, monkeys, piranhas, river dolphins and so much more animals and wonders of nature are ready for you. Nowhere on earth will you find a greater collection of animal and plant species than in Brazil.

If the call of the wild is less appealing to you than the sounds of drums and whistles then Brazil will not disappoint. The country plays host to the legendary annual Carnaval which shakes up the countries’ cities with parades of ornately-decorated dancers and performers in, dazzling, spectacular costumes.

Samba and dance along as you get caught up in the frenzy of South American heat. Brazil offers travellers a great chance to do some urban exploring too. With modern urban centres located all over the country, from Rio to São Paulo, Brasília to Salvador - you’re never far away from a great cosmopolitan experience.   

At the end of the day, you may want no more than to just wind down and relax on a pristine beach sipping on a caipirinha watching the beautiful Brazilian people go by - and that's okay too. Brazil has got you covered.   

Here's what you need to know if you go:

Visas: Not required for holders of South African passports for stays of up to 30 days.

Passport validity: Passports need to be valid for at least 30 days after the return date.

National Carrier: Though Brazil has no (majority) state-owned national carrier, LATAM Brasil is the largest international airline in the country.  

Airport Hub: Guarulhos International Airport (São Paulo)

Useful app to download:  GRU Airport (iOS, Android) app for flight tracking and information.

Flight Route Access:

South Africans have a variety of options to choose from when deciding on how to get to Brazil. Airlines servicing the South African market include; Ethiopian Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, Kiwi International Airlines, Emirates, Qatar Airways, South African Airways, LAN Airlines and TAAG Angola Airlines.

Flight time: Johannesburg to São Paulo: 10 hours, 35 minutes. Johannesburg to Rio de Janeiro: 16 hours, 30 minutes.

READ: LATAM Airlines to launch direct São Paulo to Joburg route 

Currency: Brazilian Real (R$)

Medical and health:

Brazil, like many South America countries, should be approached with caution when it comes to medical care and disease prevention. Beyond the routine vaccinations, ensure you've had a Yellow Fever vaccine. South Africans are required to produce their original vaccination certificate for Yellow Fever before they even get to customs. Also, be mindCommon illnesses experienced by travellers in Brazil include respiratory infections and diarrhoea which are, fortunately, preventable and easily treatable.

Get vaccinated for hepatitis A as food and water standards are questionable, particularly if you’ve got a taste for exotic street-foods. Another potential medical pitfall to avoid is typhoid, which you can get through the consumption of contaminated food or water so get vaccinated particularly if you’re planning to go off the beaten track. Pregnant women should also be mindful of the Zika risks experienced in certain parts of the country. 

Don't skimp on travel and medical insurance either as it is always good to be prepared for any eventuality. 

Religion: Roman Catholicism is the country's predominant faith. Brazil has the world's largest Catholic population.

Travel Adapter: Yes - The power sockets are of type A, B, C, I and N. The standard voltage is 220, and 110V and the frequency is 60 Hz.

Country code: +55

Time Zone: BRT (UTC -2 to -5) BRST (UTC -2 to -5). South Africa is 5 hours ahead of Brazil

Emergencies: Police - 194, Medical - 1554,  Fire -192

Public Transport:

One of the best ways to acquaint yourself with the various Brazilian cities is to get around the same way that the locals do - bus or metro. The bus service is inexpensive and comprehensive in its coverage. Keep some change or small denominations of Brazilian currency then hop onto the bus. Usually, there is some money collecting contraption where you’ll need to insert your cash before going to your seat. These buses vary in quality and cleanliness. Crime is something to consider, although relatively rare, robberies do occur so make sure to stow your valuables and don’t sit near the entrance.

If buses aren’t your thing, head on down into the metro and grab a train. Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have excellent metro systems with Rio’s being especially modern due to the expansions put in place for 2016’s Olympic Games. These metros are simple, efficient and relatively clean. You simply pay for a ticket that allows you entrance into the system which takes you to most areas. Leaving the system means buying another ticket.

Another great way of traversing some parts (particularly Rio) of Brazil is by bicycle. Brazilian cities will often have bike-share initiatives that make it easy for travellers to see Brazil from a ground level, putting them in control of their sight-seeing.

Lastly, if you need a more comfortable and safe way of getting around, you’ll be glad to know that most of the major cities in Brazil have Uber and other ride-hailing applications servicing the population.

Useful App to download: Kekanto (iOS, Android) for helping you find the best place to enjoy delicious, Brazilian food.

Climate: Brazil is one of the largest countries in the world in terms of land area but it is also the most biodiverse country in the world. The result is that the climatic conditions vary according to where you are in the country. That being said, most of the country is tropical. Brazil does play host to six major climatic types namely: desert, semi-arid, oceanic, subtropical, equatorial and tropical.

Best time to go: The best time to go to Brazil is undoubtedly during the summer months which runs from December through March. The month of February is when Rio de Janeiro hosts the biggest annual party in the world - Carnaval. It's hot, festive and the locals are out having fun making summer a great time to visit Brazil.  

Language: The official language is Portuguese.

Useful phrases to know:

Despite the thousands of tourists visiting its shores every year, you’ll seldom find comprehensible English being spoken by the average citizen in Brazil outside of the main tourist sites. To get around in Brazil, you’re going to need to know a few key phrases to ensure your stay runs smoothly.

Useful app to download:  Duolingo (Android, iOS) makes learning a new language easy and fun.

  • Bom dia (Good day/morning)
  • Boa noite (Good evening)
  • Ola (Hello)

  • Como vai? (How are you?)

  • Aaté mais (See you later)

  • Meu nome é… (My name is…)

  • Sim (Yes)

  • Não (No)

  • Quanto custa? (How much is this?)

  • Obrigado [masculine], obrigada [feminine] (Thank you)

  • Bonita (Beautiful)

  • Delicioso (Delicious)

  • Meu Portugues é ruim (My Portuguese is bad)

  • Você fala inglês? (Do you speak English?)

  • ó meu Deus! (Oh my goodness!)

  • Desculpe-me, onde está….? (Excuse me, where is ...?)

  • Saude! (Cheers!)

Practical Tips:

  • Brazilians are friendly, helpful people but don’t get on their bad side.
  • The thumbs up sign is a gesture that is used everywhere in Brazil and carries the same meaning that it does in South Africa.
  • The OK gesture (thumb and index finger making a circle), however, should be avoided as it carries the weight of some unwholesome connotations. The use of this gesture may leave people either laughing or angry at you so best avoid this.
  • If you’re planning on going out to explore the nightlife in Brazil you should expect to be in close contact with Brazilians. The concept of personal space is not as highly regarded in Brazil as in other parts of the world. This is especially true when dancing with members of the opposite sex where proximity is seen as a given. Don't be offended, Brazilians are just at ease with their bodies.
  • Don’t ogle or be a weirdo on the beach. Women and men of all ages, and all body shapes and sizes wear the skimpiest of swimwear to the beach. Men rock Speedos and women wear what in Carioca slang is called fio dental (dental floss) as swimwear. 
  • Make sure you’re beach ready. The beaches of Brazil are social spaces where people exchange banter, play sport, have a cocktail and work out. It's useful to take something with you to the beach to keep you occupied as you laze around.
  • Don’t take any valuables with you to the beach. Brazil does have a crime problem and beaches are places where tourists commonly ‘lose’ their valuables.
  • Don't sit on your towel at the beach. There is no better way to stand out as a foreigner than by doing this. Hire a beach chair or sit down straight onto the sand.
  • Brazilians have some of the best hygiene habits despite being so lax about almost everything else. Hand sanitisers are available everywhere. It is even considered rude to eat food with your hands, including sandwiches, burgers and pizza. With burgers and sandwiches, use a napkin to serve as a barrier between your hand and whatever you’re eating. Use a knife and fork if you’re eating pizza.
  • Be modest when visiting religious sites and temples -  shoulders, torsos, thighs should be covered.
  • You can expect to do a lot of walking so comfortable, slip-proof shoes are a good idea.

Top attractions in Brazil: 

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