I first found out that Uber was in Salvador back in early 2016 when a friend of mine came to dinner and was raving about this super-cheap taxi alternative he was using. “Oooohhh-bah” it was called. Since I hadn’t yet tuned my ear to the Brazilian accent, I couldn’t figure out that he was talking about my old friend, Uber. So, the conversation went something like:
- him: “oooh-bah”
- me: “como?!?” (similar to “huh?” in English)
- him: “oooohhhhh-buh”
- me: “que?” (“what?” in English)
- him (with increasing levels of exasperation): “ooohhhh-bah”
- me: “oooohhh….. Uber” Then I went on to say in Portuguese “yeah, I know what that is, I use it all the time. It’s a company out of the the U.S.”
- him: looks at me totally defeated, thinking he’d actually introduced me to something new, when it was in fact my poor Portuguese responsible for the bad communication
So, yes, Uber is alive in well in Salvador, the third largest city in Brazil. It has been in Salvador illegally since early 2016, and gained legal status in early 2017. Since that time, Uber has taken off in the city — they are spending a lot on advertising, as there are posters for the ride-share service everywhere. And with the struggling Brazil economy, there is a plethora of drivers.
By and large, Uber functions the same in Salvador as it does in the US and Europe, but there are some notable differences.
Similarities Between Uber in the US and Brazil
- Cars must have four-doors
- Drivers are, for the most part, lovely people
- Cars are always clean
- Riders are often offered mints and/or water
- You can pay by credit card
- It costs considerably less than a taxi
- Taxis are not big Uber fans
Differences Between Uber in the US and Brazil
- There is only what we could call “UberX”. There are no professional drivers driving for Uber in Salvador. 2019 Update: There is now Uber Select in Salvador
- You can pay with cash. Since many Brazilians do not have debit or credit cards, cash is an option. You can just choose “dinheiro” as your payment option.
- Drivers get lost a lot. Because these are no professional drivers, they are not as familiar with the city and rely on the GPS in their phone to get around. But, unlike the US, many one-way streets in Salvador are not correctly marked and I’ve ridden with many drivers who go the wrong way down those streets since they don’t know any better.
- There is no ride scheduling. Some US cities, such as Seattle, allow ride scheduling. Uber does not support ride scheduling in Salvador.
Hints for using Uber in Salvador
- If you are traveling a new route, try to follow along on your phone. As mentioned above, the drivers get lost a lot, and if you aren’t following along you may get overcharged.
- Have a local phone chip in your phone. Not required, but will help a ton. Between lost drivers and popular pick-up and drop-off points that don’t have an obvious place to pull over, drivers tend to call a lot.
- If your Portuguese isn’t up-to-snuff, write down the address for the driver. This doesn’t help if they call, but the way I used to get around this was that I’d have someone I trust help me until I got into the car (e.g. the building doorman) and then with the address written I could get by.
In general, if you are comfortable using Uber in other locations, then you should have a similar experience in Salvador.