Brazil 101 – Driving + Tolls

Get your change ready! If you’re planning to rent a car in Brazil and drive outside of whatever major city you’re arriving at, then it’s a good idea to have money on you. And I know I said change, but depending on how far away you’re going and if you’re coming back the same way, you might actually need some serious cash. When we go into the interior of São Paulo to visit my grandparents (about 564.7 km) we spend about R$212 (~US$56) round trip in tolls.

However, if you’re just going from the airport in São Paulo to Sumaré it’s not that bad. You will pay ~R$20 (US$5) and then the same on the way back. So just make sure you’ve got cash on you, don’t be surprised when you see the toll booths and stick to the middle lanes (usually, the far right, sometimes the far left, lanes are reserved for people with automatic toll payments. I checked. Not worth it if you’re just visiting.)

Signs saying toll booth is 1km away. The lane on the right is for electronic toll collection (not you).

Another thing to keep in mind about driving in Brazil is your speed. You, of course, would never speed, right? But just in case you sometimes do, be aware that there are three types of speed limit enforcements to watch for: fixed radars, mobile radars, and handheld radars.

All of these are common on highways. You will normally be able to spot a fixed radar, and know they will be there every time. Mobile ones are sometimes more tricky to spot, mounted on a tripod, and handheld radars involve actual police waiting in their cars.

A fixed radar will normally look like this:

But it can also be on one of these:

These are just friendly reminders. What will happen if you get caught speeding is….well, you’ll get a speeding ticket.

A few useful reminders:

  • You cannot turn right at a red stoplight.
  • Speed signs are in kilometers.
  • Should you ever need it, there are emergency phones on the side of just about every private (tolled) highway. They’re located every 1km.
  • In big cities, watch out for motorcycles. Pay attention. They drive through, around, and weave in between traffic. Just be aware of them.
  • Let’s say you’re driving past 10pm and a stoplight turns red. If you see it while a ways away and it’s possible, slow down. Even if you’re going just 20km/hr. Slow down so by the time you reach the stoplight, it’s turned green and you can avoid stopping.
  • Gas stations/convenience stations off the highway are often a little town of their own. There are restaurants and boutiques within the main buildings. The actual station store will often boast local and artisan sweets, leather goods, just an eclectic array of goods in general. Take the chance to visit one. Common ones in São Paulo are Graal, and Frango Assado.

I hope these have been helpful and that you have a safe and enjoyable drive in Brazil. Any questions I didn’t address? Drop a comment below!

6 thoughts on “Brazil 101 – Driving + Tolls”

  1. Can you please share about shopping and a rough estimate of the prices and what nice shopping items from clothes to souveniers one can get.

    1. Hi William! If you’re road tripping around Brazil, it’s worth investing in a pre-paid toll device. It’s a small device you stick to your windshield that is connected to your account. It automatically charges the toll, releases the gate, and you can keep driving without stopping.

      There are quite a few options, and you can buy the device (tag) in stalls throughout town or at specific stores. But you will have to activate the account and set up your credit card with them via their website or app. Here’s a common one called “Sem Parar”: There are different plans available, so you have to go through and see what makes sense for you.

      I hope that clarifies to some extent! Here’s another article with 7 alternatives to “Sem Parar” in case you want to do some comparisons:

  2. Hello. We have been driving for 5 days now in a hire car in Brazil. We’ve gone from iguazu to curitiba. All toll booths have been closed and traffic directed through one single lane.
    We have not paid anything yet, but worried this is an automatic toll booth and that we may get fined.
    If this is correct, how do we pay the tolls in a hire car (when I rented it they were not helpful) and are we going to get fined?

    1. Hi Ben,

      I don’t believe you will be fined in terms of breaking a law, but what may happen is that your vehicle already has an automatic toll both payment sensor. If that’s the case, then you will likely be billed once you return the car. However, if everyone was going through a single lane, I imagine the toll has been deactivated for a time.

      I hope you have had a lovely time regardless!

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