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Arrival to Rio de Janeiro will predominantly be by long haul flight, arriving into Galeao International (code GIG), whose official name is Tom Jobim. Rio also has a smaller domestic/short haul airport called Santos Dumont (SDU) . When arriving from Europe it's worth noting most airlines will go to Guarulhos International (GRU) at Sao Paulo first.
After collecting your baggage and prior to passing through customs you will walk past the Rio duty free store. Unlike most airports the duty free store in Rio is available to deplaning passengers. Prices at this shop are pretty competitive especially for cosmetics, perfumes, and booze which is heavily taxed in Brasil. Tourists can bring in up to 12 bottles of liquid refreshment ( no more than 6 of the same) totalling up to $500 inclusive of all such duty free purchases. If you like to drink it's a good idea to stock up at the duty free where a liter of Black Label will run you $36 as opposed to the $70 in a bottle shop in town.
You will have 4 (four) options to get to downtown Rio and the beaches. Bus, pre-paid taxi, regular taxis (metered), and online services such as Concierge Car, Rio Airport Transfer and LingoTaxi which allow you to book and pay in advance. You can compare different services and their costs using something like Mozio.com.
Below, a nice photo of Galeao Board by Kelvin
Air-conditioned bus service operated by REAL (sometimes called Frescao) departs every 20-30 mins from 0530-2200 and runs between both airports, the main bus terminal and further along the beachfront in the following neighborhoods: Flamengo, Botafogo, Copacabana Ipanema, and Leblon. Its terminus is at the Alvorada terminal near Barra Shopping in Barra da Tijuca . The full run takes at least 60 mins, often double. Single ticket R$ 6.50. There is plenty of luggage space, and it's comfy. A smaller bus, also by Real same price, runs directly every 30 mins from Alvorada to Galeão by Linha Amarela in as little as 35 minutes, depending on traffic. This is the best option if you are alone. The bus stops per request in any location of the route, which helps lots.
This is what the bus looks like:
After passengers exit customs at the Rio international airport they will be subjected to the shouts of employees at about 1/2 dozen booths all offering a car service. For a trip to Copa/Ipanema/Leblon all the car services ask around $R99 (as of 11/11/11) (though you can haggle a bit) or about twice the price of regular metered yellow cabs which are easily accessible an additional 30 meters right outside the exit doors of the airport. The downside to this service is that you will pay almost twice as much as if you use a regular taxi. The upside is that you don't have to negotiate with the driver or worry that he has taken a longer route or overcharged you for the trip (although you pay more for not being overcharged, a bit counterintuitive).
You can book your Airport transfer online in advance on websites like Mozios or Suntransfer. There are also private local companies sush as OCab.
If you decide not to pay the more expensive pre-paid taxis, continue out of the airport and find a yellow taxi waiting at the curb. It is advised that you have your hotel address printed on a piece of paper before getting into the taxi to avoid any possible problems. Make sure the driver agrees to use the "reloch" or "taximeter" before getting in the cab. They are obligated to do so, but some may try to set a fixed fee -which is okay if that fee is no more than R$ 55.
Taxis in Rio are a bargain and are no less safe than in any large city. Drivers are licensed and must exhibit the license in the cab. There are two meter rates.
Occasionally you may encounter a chiseler who wants to overcharge by setting the meter at "2" when it should be at "1." If the driver sets the meter for 2 and it should be "1" you can opt to tell him to set it to "1," or get out and find an honest driver. Better yet, say nothing and when you arrive at your hotel tell him you will pay 1/2 the meter and if he doesn't accept that he can call a cop - which for obvious reasons he will not do. (You should only try this when you arrive at an upscale hotel manned by a doorman and your bags are out of the cab.)
DECEMBER ADVISORY: Brazilians have a tradition of getting a 13th month of salary at the end of the year. Taxi drivers enjoy this perk by using the bandeira 2 for the entire month of December. Do not be alarmed when your taxi uses "2" during the day instead of the "1".
Tipping is not customary and do not be persuaded by any driver theatrics indicating the contrary. Just round up the meter fare to the next whole number, if you want to be generous give a couple of reais ( HAY-eyesh) as a tip. Especially, if the driver helps load and unload your bags and more so, if he doesn't seek to charge extra for all bags. It will be much appreciated. If you like the car and the driver manages to speak a bit of English, you may want to ask about hiring him for a day tour. You should be able to get a nice cab and quasi-articulate driver for less than R$300 for an entire 8 hour day.
All the major rental car companies are present within the airport.