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Pedro Kirilos/Riotur

Beginner's Survival Guide

Greet people with double cheek kisses, ditch the high heels, and learn the local lingo. Here are the top tips to avoid mishaps in the city. You’re welcome.

Renata Magalhães

Locals in Rio de Janeiro are warm and have a great sense of humor, but, like everywhere else in the world, there are always those who try to take advantage of tourists. So, if you are planning a trip to Rio de Janeiro - as you should! - there are a few tips that could help make sure you have the best time. Start by getting those high heels out of your suitcase – there really is no point in bringing them–, and prepare your cheeks for lots of kisses. By the end of this article you will be a true carioca. 

Beginner's Survival Guide

Opt for public transport (or ride-sharing apps)

The Gentileza Intermodal Terminal, near the bus station, is the biggest public transit hub in the capital, connecting the BRT Transbrasil to the VLT and local buses. Steer clear of non-cooperative taxis – the meter scam is almost a given. To get around the South, North, and West Zones, the two metro lines are pretty reliable and easy to navigate.

Mind the bill at restaurants

Service charges are already included in the final bill at bars and restaurants, and some places have recently bumped it up to 12%. Most locals still tip the standard 10%, but anything less isn’t cool – unless the service was unbelievably bad (even by local standards). Heads up: if your bill was high, try scoring a free drink at the end.


Double cheek kisses are a thing

Locals are warm and still follow the tradition of greeting with two cheek kisses, as Seu Jorge sang about. One on each cheek. Get ready for a lot of them, even from strangers (and expect some teasing if you only go for one).

Swearing is punctuation

Don’t stress – hearing swearing or shouting doesn’t always mean something bad is happening. Locals use colorful language for everything, even when they’re super happy. And yes, we talk loudly. The key is to pay attention to the context, though it can still be tricky. When it’s really a curse, you’ll know by the emphasis (check out the local slang dictionary).


A little tardiness is cool

Punctuality isn’t our strong suit – and we know it’s not our best trait. Don’t overdo it, but showing up 15 to 30 minutes late is pretty much expected, so don’t be surprised if you’re the first to arrive because you stuck to the agreed time.

Keep your eyes peeled

If you’re sitting outdoors, you’ll likely be approached by people asking for money or selling sweets. Keep an eye on your stuff on the table and avoid hanging bags on the back of chairs. Also, steer clear of flashy jewelry. And never, ever use your phone with your car window open.


Wear comfy shoes

Our beautiful sidewalks are made of Portuguese cobblestones, which look amazing but love to snag high heels. Rio is a city best explored on foot, so go for comfy sneakers or flip-flops. And don’t forget the sunscreen.

Ask about prices upfront

When you hit the beach and pick a spot, ask the stand worker how much the chair, umbrella, and other items cost. Prices vary by beach, but they shouldn’t be outrageous. If it seems too pricey, say you’re not a tourist and want the local rate. It usually works.


Celebs everywhere

Strolling around Rio, you’re bound to run into celebrities. Locals are used to it and don’t make a big deal. It’s up to you if you want to ask for a photo. The rule is to never, ever approach them during a meal – you’re likely to get snubbed. After a show or play, it’s standard for artists to greet fans. Always use common sense (which they don’t always have, to be fair).

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