Updated on Sep.20, 2011
Brazil traffic signs are divided into 10 categories, valid for the whole national territory. Signs with their official descriptions in Portuguese are available online, for example on:
1. Regulatory Signs
Regulatory signs (sinais de regulamentaçâo) establish conditions, prohibitions, restrictions or obligations in the use of public roads.
Examples of regulatory signs in Brazil are "PARE" (Stop) and speed limit signs (always in kilometers per hour).
Disobeying a regulatory sign should always constitute an infraction. Unfortunately, however, you will find out that in a great many Brazilian cities, the PARE sign is rolled on a regular basis and that if you try to fully stop for it instead of simply slowing down and looking both ways, you run the risk of being in a crash.
2. Warning Signs
Warning signs (sinais de advertência) alert drivers to potentially dangerous conditions ahead. They include school zone, hairpin curve and men at work signs.
While driving in Brazil, you must be extra cautious about speed bumps (lombadas), as the signs are often obscured by trees or simply missing, and horizontal signage on the speed bumps themselves is often faded.
3. Horizontal Signaling
Horizontal signaling (sinalização horizontal) aims to guide drivers as to proper use of public roads. Except for PARE, most information is visually self-explanatory and, even when in Portuguese such as the case of "Dê a Preferência" (Yield), is accompanied by a symbol.
Faded road markings without cat's eyes are common in Brazil and one of the reason you should plan carefully before driving at night or under mist and heavy rain.
4. Indication Signs
Indication signage (sinalização de indicação) identifies roads and places of interest, informs drivers about routes, destinations, distances and services.
"Pedágio - Automóvel Utilitário" and "Limite de Municípios" ("Toll - Cars" and "City Limits" respectively) are some examples of indication signs.
5. Tourist Attractions
Symbols make it easy to identify tourist attraction signs in Brazil. Keep an eye out for the sign with hands holding trees, which indicates natural heritage attractions.
6. Destination Signs
Destination signs (orientação de destino) are easy to understand. But of all the traffic and road signs in Brazil, these are probably the ones you'll miss the most, especially at times when you've successfully reached a more isolated stretch of the route and suddenly find yourself facing a fork in the road without even a boteco, or bar, to ask for directions (in Portuguese) at.
If you're driving in Brazil, do as much homework as possible before you leave your hotel. Download road maps. Learn a bit of Portuguese so you understand:
- Vira à esquerda.(Turn left.)
- Vira à direita. (Turn right.)
- Segue em frente. (Go straight ahead.)
And the encouragement you should take with a grain of salt:
- É pertinho! (It's really close!)
7. Educational Signs
Some of Brazil's educational traffic signs say:
- Proibido parar sobre a faixa de pedestres (No stopping on the pedestrian crossing)
- Aguarde o verde (Wait for the green light) at three-phase traffic lignts
- Nunca feche o cruzamento (Never block the intersection)
- Pare e cruze com cuidado (Stop and cross carefully)
- Seja breve no embarque e desembarque (Quick passenger pick-up and drop-off)
8. Auxiliary Service Signs
Auxiliary service signs (serviços auxiliares) are small blue rectangles with a black symbol for hospitals, auto repair shops, and the such against a white background.
Most cities have a sign indicating the municipal emergency room (PS Municipal) when you enter the city limits. Unfortunately, the public health system in Brazil is in a dire situation, with a few exceptions. Should you need emergency care as you approach a city, it would be best to find a private hospital or clinic.
9. Road Work Signs
Of the signs indicating road construction or repair ahead, two of the most important ones using Portuguese are Desvio ("Detour") and Rua sem Saída ("Dead-End Street").
10. Auxiliary Items
Concrete barriers, road cones and other resources similar to what's used in other countries (dispositivos auxiliares) are the tenth kind of signaling used on Brazil roads.
Be attentive to signs that say Obras na Pista, meaning "road work ahead".