You do have a traveler's visa , right? Just checking. Make sure you also have a round-trip ticket, a hotel reservation, some spending money, and the Customs form you received on board.
As you may suspect, there's nothing particularly exciting about the airport. It is compact, well equipped, and has all conveniences, like duty free shops, pharmacy, eateries, and souvenir stores. Stop for just a second, though, and pay attention to the sensual voice announcing the flights... Welcome to Rio!
Your first step once you get off the plane is going through Immigration. There is a line for Brazilian nationals, and a separate line for international visitors. Immigration officers are not particularly unfriendly. Keep your passport and ticket in hand, and answer the routine questions.
All luggage arriving at the International Airport goes through an X-Ray before reaching the baggage claim area, and sometimes it takes a while for it to show up. Your valuables and electronic equipment, notebook, blackberry, digital camera, cellular phone, family jewels and other valuables should be in your carry-on to avoid unpleasant surprises. You don't want your suitcase to attract uncalled-for attention while away from you, right?
Once you pick up your luggage and before you go through Customs you may stop at the large duty free shop and buy a bottle favorite drink, perfume or cigarettes - or just to enjoy a cup of complimentary coffee or cappuccino. Customs officers usually give foreign visitors a break. They prefer to give a hard time to Brazilian travelers when they come back home with loads of luggage.
After you hand in the customs form to the officer, there is a green-light-red-light system - but everybody knows they pick out who gets the red light. If you are the lucky one, your luggage will run through the X-ray again. If anything odd-shaped shows (or if they have nothing better to do with their time), you may be requested to open the bags. Be a sport - customs officers obviously have all legal rights to search your luggage. You will gain more by cooperating, than by acting insulted. Keep cool, be helpful, friendly and firm.
Going to Town (first impressions)
You do not have to make your airport transfer arrangements beforehand. Just as you go past Customs and Immigration, there are taxi stands, and the attendants always find a way to make themselves noticed (waving their hands or yelling taxi to anyone who bothers to listen). You can prepay at these stands your ride to town on a special taxi. From the airport to Ipanema or Copacabana they charge a flat rate, around US$30 one-way. Special taxis are comfortable and air-conditioned. They are equipped with radios, so drivers always know the fastest way to reach your destination.
You may alternatively take the lower-priced yellow taxis, and even wait for the air-conditioned bus. Yellow taxis run by the meter. Though most drivers are quite reliable, keep an eye on street signs pointing to your destination if you start to suspect they are running in circles to keep that meter ticking. The disadvantage of buses is that they do not drop you off at the door of your hotel, so you may have to walk a little dragging your luggage around town.
As you leave the airport your first views of Rio are a little disappointing, we have to admit. Don't expect to see a gorgeous beach teeming with bikini-clad young beauties right out the airport. First you have to take Linha Vermelha, the Red Line. This express lane is the main link between the airport and the South Side. The Red Line runs past working-class suburbs of Rio, so you will take a peek at the other side before reaching the affluent South Side neighborhoods.
Before you start thinking you made a big mistake, you will go through the Rebouças tunnel. At the end of it is scenic Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. Admire one of Rio's favorite postcards and leisure areas. If you are staying in Leme or Copacabana, your taxi may alternatively pass by the Flamengo Reclaim, with a stunning view to the Sugarloaf, and Guanabara Bay.