“How to Buy A Van in Brazil” guide details my experience after months of frustration and research. The good news, I did it! I bought a van in Brazil and made a road trip around South America.
After a couple of years studying, working and backpacking on the 5 continents, I decided to go for a proper road trip.
Step 1, buy a van.
Step 2, decide where to go.
Road Trip in South America
Typical Road Trip Route in South America
Road trips in South America are quite common but people usually travel south-north (Chile, Bolivia & Peru) or east-west (Argentina, Uruguay & Chile), because it is much easier to buy a van in Chile or Argentina than anywhere else in this continent. This alone is a nice road trip.
My Road Trip Route
I decided to do a loop around South America, starting by Brazil and finishing in Peru, driving through incredible landscapes of Rio de Janeiro Bay, Iguaçu Falls, Panamericana Road, Atacama Desert, Salar de Uyuni & Macchu Pichu, which is 10,000 km total.
On my side, I had plenty of time and I wanted to do everything. I decided to start my trip in Brazil. You must know, Brazil is well-known both for its heavy bureaucracy AND corruption.
Over the last few months I browsed the internet both in French and in English and most of the time I ended up either with outdated information (from 2004), local advice saying not to do so (you will be cheated because you’re “gringo”) or former travelers giving up because “too complicated” and “you’re gonna have to deal with corruption at some point”.
IT IS POSSIBLE!
- 100% legal
- within 2 to 7 working days,
- with a tourist visa only and
- without speaking a word of Portuguese.
How To Buy A Van in Brazil
I bought a 1994 Mercedes 180D van, 16 seats, 250.000km, 2.4l 75hp engine. 3,400€ all fees included.
I have already driven more than 3000km and crossed 2 borders with it. This is getting easier and easier to buy in Brazil as more and more foreigners have been coming to Brazil over the past years with the World Cup and the Olympic Games.
Disclaimer: All the information are valid in June 2016 and are subject to change without notice. I nor Trevellers can guaranty their accuracy in the future.
I would like to emphasize the importance of legal matters when it comes to vehicles: while crossing the borders and even inside a country, especially in Argentina, this is very likely that you will be stopped by the police at least once a day because you’re foreigner driving a foreign vehicle, so better having all set. In other words, if you plan on buying a random van cash without paperwork in order, better stay in Brazil.
What You Need:
- A valid passport with a tourist visa only: French and most of the western countries for sure, please check for others.
- A Brazilian friend living in the city-state where you’re buying the van: mandatory, you need a sustainable local address from a Brazilian Citizen or a foreigner with permanent residency.
- Around 3000€, the more the best.
- +/- 1 week on site
Buying A Van: The Steps
Step 1: Market Study
Target only 2 or 3 models depending on your expectations and budget. Do it a few weeks in the previous departure, get in touch with those that seem attractive so that you will have leads on arrival and save a few days. Three main national websites:
There are regional ones too. You can also buy the newspapers, there are adds from private individuals selling all kinds of stuff.
Step 2: Apply for a CPF
You’ve heard about George Orwell’s novels, with Big Brother spying on people right? This is exactly what it is. Every substantial purchase of every Brazilian involves the CPF number and each of them is stored in a central database: vehicle, house, gas, grocery, loans/mortgages, social security and even mobile phone/data plans, no way you can avoid it. Of course, such a gold mine for the state is quite easy to obtain as the government is always keen on foreign information.
Step 2.1 You need 4 things
- Passport: minimum 6 months after your application date
- Valid stamp on the passport: be very careful, this is the only proof of entry in Brazil, make sure the date is correct, mine from GIG Rio airport was from 2013 (did you say WTF?!)
- Local address in Brazil: just write your hostel’s one, they are not going to send anything anyway.
- A “yellow paper”: go to a random post office (Correios do Brazil), there are dozens of them, and ask for a CPF, they will take your passport, you pay 15 BRL (4€) and they will issue the “yellow paper”. I went to the one terminal 2 GIG Airport.
Step 2.2 Head to Department of Treasure
Then head to the Receita Federal (Department of Tresure), located 375 Avenidad Presidente Antonio Carlos, Rio de Janeiro, ask for the CPF desk and queue for a while. Keep in mind this is Brazil, heavy bureaucracy as I mentioned, you can queue from 10min to 4 hours. Then proceed, some of the people working there speak English, ask for it, give all the above-mentioned documents and in 5 min they will issue you a CPF.
Trevellers Tip: I did my CPF in Rio, all the other documents and van in Sao Paulo so you don’t have to stick at the same place for the whole process, the important is to have a valid address in the state where you’re buying the vehicle.
Step 3: Find the Van of Your Dreams
Go see by yourself, this is incredible how amazing the pictures can look but it looks like a creepy piece of metal in real life. I went to see three of them and was lucky to find mine quickly. A good bet is that you have to view five crappy vehicles before THE ONE appears. I have experience in mechanic and cars in general and this is quite important. If you don’t, then it’s time to study or find a local willing to help.
Make sure the owner has a “Carta Verde”, the official paperwork of the vehicle, under the owner’s name. Once you made your mind and you feel like making this deal, shake hands and go to next steps! Don’t forget, feelings are important. Bear in mind that you’re a foreigner, a “Gringo”, potentially full of foreign currency even if you’re student.
Step 4: Prepare Your Documents
Detran, the state agency responsible for road law-enforcement and license plates control requires 6 documents to transfer the ownership of a vehicle. I left their names in Portuguese on purpose as they will be asked upon these names. You will find mine enclosed, for illustration purposes:
- Documento de identificaçao Pessoal – original e copia simples: French/western Passport with immigration stamp is fine. Ok before making payment. Free.
- Cadastro de Pessoas Fisicas (CPF) – original e copia simples: done in step 2. Ok before payment. 15 BRL.
- Comprovante de endereço – propietario do veiculo – original e copia simple: you need a local, someone who trusts you is better as this is a bit of commitment from them, they have to go on person to the “Cartorio”, a state agency that certifies documents. This is time-consuming. On the top of that, he/she will need to provide a residency certificate under his/her name, it can be an internet invoice, a tenancy agreement, etc. I got support from my old couchsurfing friend Helio and I would like to thank him once again. Ok before payment. Free.
Trevellers Tip: use my template, this version has a temporary close added, stating that I’m actually staying at my friend’s place only for a month and not forever.
- Laudo de vistoria de identificaçao veicular – original: this aims to make sure you’re not buying a stolen car. Every car in this world has a few manufacturing ID, on the engine, on the frame, on the windows and a few other places depending on the automaker. Car thefts are quite common in Brazil and thieves usually put engine in one side and frame on another, so better do it. In case the vehicle doesn’t pass it, go away! The Detran adviced us a garage, located 192 Rua Francesco Alves, Vila Romana 05051-040, Sao Paulo. Ok before payment. 150R$.
- Comprovante de pagamento de débitos (tributos, multas ou encargos pendente) – original: this aims to check if the current owner doesn’t have any remaining speed fines or even worse. Just go to the Detran website of the state you’re in, enter the vehicle license plate and you will have the history. Ok before payment. Free.
- Certificado de Registro de Veiculo (CRV) – original com firma reconhecida por autenticidade do vendedor e do comprador: this is the back part of the original Carta Verde, the one who belongs to the current owner. There is a template, you fill in the blanks with passport number, address in Brazil, all your names and you sign it. This is the proof of ownership of the vehicle, the current owner won’t sign this document until he/she gets paid, unless you are very convincing but this is not really fair as you become the owner of the vehicle at the second this is signed by both parties and certified by the Cartorio. On the other hand, once you’ve paid the owner is paid and is still owner. Your call, depend on how you feel it! Put on hold this document and go to next step. Must wait for payment. 80 BRL.
Step 5: Pay
This is common sense but better remind it, do not go alone, do it in daytime in a crowed place. You will end up with an incredible amount of cash which won’t even fit in your wallet. The biggest banknote being 100 BRL! In my case I had more than 120 banknotes.
Second advise, mind your withdrawal limit. Even if I have a Visa Premier credit card from a big international French bank and a few thousand euros in my bank account, my withdrawal limit abroad is 900€/3500 BRL per day. More annoying, all the banks I found in Brazil allow a maximum withdrawal of 1000 BRL per day per credit card. We ended up taking cash with our 6 credit cards from three different banks. (We were blacklisted by the two first ones because we took too much!)
Target international banks like HSBC, Santander or Banco do Brazil. Then give everything to the owner and stick to him/her because you’ve just paid a vehicle from which you’re not the owner yet.
Step 6: CRV
Head to the closest “Cartorio” sign the document with the current owner and have the Certificado de Registro de Veiculo (CRV) – original com firma reconhecida por autenticidade do vendedor e do comprador certified. Congratulation, you’re know the official owner of the van.
You have 30 days to apply for the new “Carta Verde” under your name at Detran. Keys are yours but you can’t legally drive because the “Carta Verde” is not under your name. Park it somewhere safe and be patient.
Trevellers Tip: go to the same Cartorio, (Cartorio de Lapa – 14° Regisro Civil, Praça Prof. José Azevedo Antunes 45, Lapa Sao Paulo SP 05077-130), there are 4 banks around.
Step 7: Head to the Detran
Proceed with legal matters to issue the new “Carta Verde”. There is only one in Sao Paulo able to do so, Detran Armenia, located 900 Avenidad do Estado 790, Bom Retiro, Sao Paulo SP 01121. Double-check you have all the requested documents otherwise your application will be delayed. Give everything and they will give you a document with the tracking number. This takes from 2 to 7 working days. On my case it took 12 hours but this is another story…
Tip: ask for Luciana, I got to know her, tell her you’re coming from me. She will put your file on the top of the pile 😉
Step 8: Get an Insurance
While the “Carta Verde” is being issued, subscribe an insurance plan for Brazil and Mercosur countries (Paraguay, Uruguay & Argentina) if you go there. This is NOT mandatory in Brazil but it would be nonsense not to take it as you can be incarcerated and/or pay thousands of dollar if you injured someone or even worse. Thus, it is mandatory to cross border between Paraguay and Argentina and drive in Argentina, I have been asked for it several time. I advise you Porto Seguro, a famous insurance company in Brazil. This is located Rua Dereita in the historical center of Sao Paulo. Be careful, you must pay with a Brazilian credit card only, if you have none, find a local to pay on your behalf. They will issue you a certificate in .pdf, you must print it on a green A4 format paper, it must be green otherwise it is not valid! (Who said WTF?²) 230 BRL/month for Mercosur, less if you take just one country.
Tip: ask for Diego Sargaço from Porti Seguro, he speaks English quite well and was super cool!.
Step 9: Collect your “Carta Verde”
Go to Detran, collect your “Carta Verde” and your good to go.
Step 10: enjoy the best road trip of your life!
- Download the offline package English-Portuguese google translate, this is free and super-efficient
- Ride with Uber all the time this is super cheap. Crossing the whole city of Rio, which is a 45min drive, will cost you 30 BRL, which is 8€. We took more than 40 ubers and this cost us around 100€
- For each document I mentioned, make sure to make a copy/picture in case the administration loses it.
Focus on Mechanics
What to check in mechanic:
- Carefully check the engine and drive at least 30km with as many conditions as you can (traffic, highway, bumpy and steep roads)
- Try all the gears
- Use brakes like crazy
- Try every light (headlights, blinkers, etc.)
- Check all the fluids (oil, brakes, direction and cooling fluids), the tires
- If the owner still has it, the maintenance invoices over the past years.
- Pay attention to any suspicious noise.
You can find plenty of tutorials online, this was helpful for me.
Now that you have learnt how to buy a van in Brazil, start the engines and off you go! Remember to subscribe to our newsletter for more great content.
Travelling expensively has changed me, even shaped me in a way. Today, I am very keen to share this experience with people, from all backgrounds: people willing to start travelling, or doing it even more often, wiser or in a more sustainable way. I have received more help, friendships and kindness that I would have expected. For me, this series is a way for me to give back, to help people in return, to inspire beginners.