Arriving at Rio’s international airport yesterday after a couple of months traveling in South America, it struck me that, even after nearly three years in the city and any number of trips to the aiport, the arrival process still managed to be both confusing and complicated.
To get things off to a baffling start, Rio’s international airport is known as both Galaeo and Tom Jobim. Galaeo is in fact the former name of the airport, but is still much used today. The second is an homage to the musical legend who penned the bossa nova track Girl from Ipanema with Vinicius de Moraes. As such, you may hear the airport referred to as ‘Rio Internacional’, ‘Rio Tom Jobim’, or ‘Galeao’. They are all, in fact, the same place. Meanwhile, the local airport which serves domestic flights, is Rio Santos Dumont and is located close to the city centre.
While some visitors to Rio may land at the domestic airport if they have changed plane at another Brazilian city en-route, the vast majority will arrive at the international airport.
First word of advice – keep tight hold of the arrival/departure card that is handed out on the plane. (Come equipped with a pen if you don’t want to resort to begging, borrowing or stealing one from other passengers, as airline staff rarely provide them). You’ll be required to show this again when you leave, and there can be hefty fines for anyone that can’t produce it. Many foreigners don’t realise the importance of the slip of paper and let it get lost among the jumble of baggage, so it’s worth stapling into your passport at the first opportunity.
Passing customs is usually a straightforward procedure provided that you have made the necessary visa preparations in advance – North Americans require a visa to visit Brazil, although visitors from the UK and most European destinations do not. Check in advance if you have any doubt, as the federal police will have no qualms about sending you right back on the plane you flew in on if you haven’t got a suitable visa.
Wherever you arrive from, you will normally be asked at customs how long you plan to stay in the country – visas are usually issued for periods of 30, 60 or 90 days. Official regulations state that visitors must provide proof of funds (a credit card, oddly, is seen as sufficient evidence), as well as a return or ongoing ticket. However, these are very rarely asked for, so don’t panic if your travel plans are vague.
Anyone who doesn’t have a firm notion of how long they want to stay in Brazil would be advised to ask for the maximum 90n day stay, which can be extended for a further 90 days if necessary (although expect a long and drawn-out visit to the federal police, once again at the international airport) to obtain the extension.
Once you’ve passed through customs, you’ll soon get a taste of Rio’s eccentricity, in the form of the voice announcing flight departures and arrivals. Rather than merely stating the flight details, here the female voice delivers the information in a studiedly husky, sultry voice (in both Portuguese and English). It is as though airport bosses have teamed up with the department for tourism and concluded that, as Rio is famous for its sexy inhabitants, the flight announcer must live up to male visitors’ expectations. Sex sells flights to Rio, apparently!
Once the novelty of the husky-voiced flight announcer has worn off, you’ll no doubt want to start thinking about practicalities such as how to get local currency, and transport to your accommodation.
There are exchange offices at the arrival area, although it usually works out better value to use the cashpoints, which are located on the third floor. Look for machines with international card symbols – Visa, Mastercard etc, as those without will not accept foreign cards. Generally, Banco do Brasil, Bradesco and HSBC take foreign cards, while the other commonly-found banks, Santander and Itaiu, do not.
Once you’ve got your cash, you’re ready to think about transport. The easiest way to arrive at your destination is to take a taxi, although this is far from the cheapest option. A trip to Copacabana or Ipanema will cost around 70 or 80 reias (the local currency, pronounced ‘hay-al’for the singular and ‘hay-ais’ for the plural. A registered cab firm can be found outside the arrivals lounge, and there should be set prices to your destination. Confirm the price before getting in, and before letting the driver take your luggage.
It can often be worth arranging airport pick up with your hotel or hostel, as the price usually works out the same or even cheaper, and you won’t have the hassle of bargaining for a price.
Budget visitors to Rio might want to think about taking the bus instead, which costs eight reais to Copacabana and Ipanema, and five to central Rio. Buses from the Real firm depart from next to the taxi rank, are air conditioned, and have plenty of luggage space (unlike regular buses in the city).
Buses depart frequently from the airport, although it is important to have very clear details about where you need to be dropped offand how to get to your accommodation, as foreigners laden with bags, looking lost, are a tempting prospect for opportunist thieves.