Drivers License In Brazil | Getting One And A Holey Revelation

Today you will hear a story about how a holey road gave me a revelation.

A revelation that I will now share with you: if you wait more then 180 days to get a Brazilian drivers license, you could be testing fate…

180 days.  That’s how long you have until your time is up.

After those 180 days and no Brazilian License (CNH) in hand, then you could be on path to a kamikaze mission (no pun intended)!

Something like this happened to me and it’s time that I share it with you…

One warm spring’s day sitting behind the wheel of my Ford, I suddenly arrived to a very holey (hole-y) highway.

“bam, boom, squeak, clank, pop” were some of the sounds coming from my poor over-burdened Ford’s suspension as it skipped over some of the wildest potholes a mind could imagine.

And as I white-knuckled the steering wheel to keep the poor American piece of s… ah, hem…machinery on course, something caught my eye.

But before telling what it was, it would be best to indulge you on why I was frightened.

180 Days To Get a Drivers License in Brazil

In Brazil, you are allowed to drive on your international drivers license for up to 180 days.

After your 180 days are up, then it’s time to hand in your current license and get a Brazilian one.

This is the information that should have been recorded into my brain before that frightening day on that long stretch of holey highway.

In my good intentioned naivety, someone had failed to mention that this poor gringo – with his death grip on the steering wheel – was driving illegally in Brazil…

Well, until a police officer caught my eye – or more correctly, I caught his!

An Officer and A Gentleman

He shoved his hand out in a big stopping fashion and signaled me and all my gringo-ness to move to the shoulder.

And so I put my pedal to the metal and…

Ok, not really, this gringo was going to be a gentleman and resolve things in a civilized matter.

As I steered the car over to what was left of the shoulder, this gentleman has no clue what he’s about to walk into.

And so this hard looking police officer walks up to the window and in his most authoritarian voice says “your car documents and license”.

My hand reaches as fast as humanly possible to get hold of what he wants and then gives him my USA license and the car title (mandatory to have on you).

He looks at them, looks at me.

I look at him smiling all the while trying to hold my worry at bay.

Will he fine me?  Will he impound my car for not having a Brazilian license?  Could I in fact get sent out of the country for something so naive?

So he looks down at me and says “Oh, a foreigner, have a nice day!”.

Brazilian hospitality to the rescue! Whew!

It was a close call as he could have really stuck it to me for not having a Brazilian driver license after 6 months.

This is common sense to me now, but imagine how many other members of this community are unaware of this?

This is why it’s really important that you know these following 5 steps to get a Brazilian drivers license.

5 Steps To Get A Brazilian Driving License

It’s actually easier than you think and can be done within 1 day.

Especially since drivers from countries that either have “International Conventions, Agreements or the Adoption of the Principle of Reciprocity” together with Brazil, can be swapped out on the spot without having to take any driving tests.

To make it easier for you, to the list of countries to see if yours is included.

After you are sure that your license can be swapped over, then it’s time to follow these 5 steps to get your Brazilian drivers license.

Step 1: Get Your Documents in Order

Before you even enter into Detran (the Brazilian Department of Motor Vehicles), you will need to get the right paperwork in order.

First, you will need to get certified copies taken of the following documents at a local notary public:

  1. Your Passport
  2. Brazilian ID (RNE or Protocol)
  3. Your current Driver’s license
  4. Proof of Residence in Brazil

Note: count on paying around R$4-5 per certification.

Second, and in addition to getting a certified copy of your current drivers license done, you will need to have it translated.

So, find a sworn translator in Brazil who can translate your driver’s license for you ( to some).  I would expect to pay somewhere in the range of R$100.

With the certified copies in hand and the official translation of your driver’s license, you are ready for step 2.

Step 2: Get Drivers License Paperwork From Detran

Now you need to find the closest Detran office to you.

They are located in most major cities in all states, here’s how to find one:

  • Figure out which 2 letters are for the state you are in (example: rj is Rio de Janeiro, sp is São Paulo, sc is Santa Catarina etc)
  • Type (substitute the 2 letter state code for the “xx”, example: would be for São Paulo).
  • Look for their locations and go to one.

Note: their website has a funny habit of being off air, if it isn’t working for you then it could be on their side.

So after you go to your local Detran, stand in line and ask for foreigner service as there usually is one person in charge of helping foreigners.

And now you are ready to give them the documents mentioned under “Step 1”, they will then give you the complete paperwork to get your CNH “Carteira Nacional de Hablitação” (Brazilian Driver’s License).

With this complete paperwork in hand, you are now ready to complete a couple final steps before applying for your CNH!

Step 3: Pay Drivers License Fees

Within the set of documents that you get from Detran, is a payment invoice to pay the fee of around R$150.

And usually in most major Detran locations, there will be a bank located within the building (or a small branch).

Though they may have you running down to another bank if they don’t have one within the building – usually a Banco do Brasil.

Here is a video guide on how to find one:

(Watch on YouTube)

to Banco do Brasil’s website.

With your fees paid, it’s time for a little examination.

Step 4: Take a Visual and Mental Test

Within the paperwork that they give you, there will be some documentation to get a vision test and mental test (no turning your head and coughing required!)

This test will be given at a location that they specify, usually close by and the fee to take it is around R$150.

After looking at pretty shapes and telling them what you see, it’s time to turn in your paperwork and application to get your Brazilian driver’s license!

Step 5: Turn in Paperwork at Detran

Go back to the Detran location and find the person that deals with foreigners again.

Hand in all of your documents with the application and presto, you are finished!

Within 14 days time, you should have your new Brazilian driver’s license in hand (sent to the address on your “proof of address”).

Final Words

If there is one thing that’s worth mentioning in all of this, it’s that you really want to play things as straight as possible when you are a guest in another country.

Yes, there are people who have driven on their foreign licenses for years without any problems.

Though they are taking a risk and could eventually find themselves in a situation like mine, but with a terrible outcome!

I hope that this post was helpful and look forward to more good help very soon 😉

Valeu – cheers,

P.S. give this a thumbs up if it was helpful – thanks!

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  • I was in country for 20 months before going to Detran. Nothing was said and processed with no problem. Oh, they wanted to use the Detran suggested Translator (must be a special connection) HUH? Total process done in one day in Detran MG. Oh, no English instructions so best people follow your instructions….

    • Great to hear that it went relatively problem free for you! The "Detran suggested translator" aka Tio João haha, that's very classic.

      So what's so exciting in MG that it should be called home?

  • I’d like to highlight that ‘gringo’ is not much used anymore nowadays (at least where I live, Belo Horizonte, the third economy of the country), but anyway they used to be used 4 ppl from developed countries only.

  • Hi Kevin
    Thanks so much for your quick answer.
    I have more question for you. When you say “mental” teste, you mean “psicotecnico”?
    Those that you have to answer in 40 min, 30 questions? Do they have translator teste in other language, if someone needs? Here in USA, NJ when did my legislation teste on the computer, they have in some many language, include portuguese.

    • No problem!

      Yeah, the tests where you have to connect dots and interpret weird shapes hehe

      It has nothing to do with driving in my mind but apparently proves that you’re sound to drive…

      You have to arrange or bring a translator as it’s only in Portuguese.

  • Kevin, I’m almost ready to pack my things to leave to Rio. But after reading your blog carefully, you point out applying as a “foreigner”, however I have dual citizenship.
    So, would there be an issue if I apply as a foreigner??
    I just don’t want to go through the grueling process as a national.

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