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10 Tips for Living in Brazil

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Whether it's the beaches, exciting nightlife or the banking industry that draw you to Brazil, expats seem to truly enjoy life in Brazil. We've pulled together tips from expats in Brazil about learning Portuguese, crime, international schools, renting an apartment and much more.

Expat Advice - 10 Tips for Living in Brazil

Expat Life in Brazil

"I appreciate the more laid back approach to things. I also enjoy the fact our lifestyles are healthier here compared to London. The geography of Brazil is amazing. I look out of my window and I can see a massive green mountain and the weather is nearly always good (even now its winter). There is plenty to see and do in Rio if your short on money which is cool. Lapa is great for live samba and lively bars. Its a really colorful and interesting place. The beach is so easy to get to and its so nice to go and relax there whenever you feel like. I love being tanned instead of pasty white! I know there is alot to experience here in the future," reported one expat living in Rio de Janeiro.

Culture Shock in Brazil

An Australian in Rio de Janeiro shared, "I was awestruck when I first arrived in Rio, looking at everything and remarking how different it was. Then I started to get irritated about the amount of garbage everywhere and the lack of maintainence, especially on the footpaths! You really have to watch your feet in Rio as some footpaths have monumental potholes in them, same as the roads. Electrical wires where they normally wouldn't be back home. Definitely lower safety standards... I feel uneasy not having a smoke detector!"

Learning Portuguese

"I was impressed by the difficulty of Portuguese for a Spanish, I did not expect that. Italian or Catalan are very easy languages compared to Portuguese, specially with the pronunciation," said an expat living in Sao Paolo.

"The language of course is the biggest barrier, and I knew it would be a problem. Lacking conversational Portuguese is a real problem, but the friends I have all speak English so it's generally a 70% Portuguese/30% English mix in a social setting with their other friends," explained an expat in Rio.

Finding a Home in Brazil

"[Renting] is not very usual here, everybody is buying and selling, in astronomical prices (same prices in Florida kinda) . We rented an apt of 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, living room, kitchen, service area, garage in a ok area, $1300, plus you pay the property taxes and administration fee. Now, to rent here you will need a bunch of documents such as proof of income, copy of your passport, if you dont have income here you will need a copuple of fiadores (person who pays if you don pay), then all thos docs have to be notarized with everybody's signatures (even the fiadores' spouses), and then those papers go a particular office that I still don't understand the nature of that, in which the docs go thru analysis to be approved. anyway, the apts here come without showers so be ready to buy and install on your account," explained an expat in Brazil.

"You don't need Brazilian docs or a bank account to rent an apartment. I own several in Rio and rent to Brazilians and expats both. Most leases in Brazil are for 30 months, but you can find many for only 12 at a time," advised another expat living in Brazil.

Cost of Living

"Finally the last surprise is that the city is ridiculously expensive, transport, renting, supermarket... very expensive compared to mid cities in Europe like Madrid, Rome or Lisbon," explained one expat living in Sao Paolo.

An expat living in Brazil described, "If you compare the cost of living with places like Thailand for example, you will realize that Brazil , which was once a destination with a very attractive cost of living ,has prices now comparable to many countries in Europe , but lacks the infrastructure , safety, education and health facilities. If you make enough dough however its a great place to live!"

An expat living in Rio de Janeiro explained, "I live in Niteroi RJ on the beach. My monthly expenses run about 3000 reais monthly which includes my assoaciation fees, utilities and food. i own my home meaning no rent no mortgage. That would add another 2000 reais a month if i didnt. If I need heath insurance in Brasil that would add another 800 reais a month although that is variable upon the option you select. On $1500 US per month you will not be able to survive or at least I would not be able to. You should know that everything, and I mean everthing, is more expensive in Brasil than in the USA."

"Some places in Brazil are cheaper than Sao Paulo, Rio and Brasilia. In a cheap place, you can live in a spartanian way with $1500 (roughly R$2400). I mean in a studio (about R$ 800), no health plan (about R$ 300), prepaid cell phone, no car and no escess in supermarket (R$ 500)," advised another expat in Brazil.

Socializing in Brazil

"It was so true when I read in other posts that people are suspicious, closed and indifferent to new people. Very cliquey, but luckily I have managed to avoid most of that by having made friends here before I came. And that led to making new friends. Even so, 'friends' can be irritatingly flaky when it comes to arriving at a set time, or even keeping commitments," explained an expat in Rio de Janeiro.

An expat living in Fortaleza described, "I think the Brazilian people continue to amaze me with their resiliance! Their lives, in most cases, are very hard, from our point of view, but as I noticed when I first came here, and had heard from others before I arrived, they still find a way to laugh, party and socialize with friends and family, particularly on weekends."

An expat in Rio de Janeiro advised, "International Newcomers, wonderful start if you don't know the language at all. Most nationalities have their own clubs and organizations; huge expat community. Excellent schools. Very busy social diary if that's what you want, otherwise enjoy the best part of Brazil: the Brazilians!"

Things Expats Miss from Home

"The other big thing I have noticed is the widespread lack of customer service - but usually limited to supermarkets and pharmacies. They don't smile or ask how you are, which although was initially a blessing compared to the "Hi, how are you?" "Good thanks" routine I usually do in Australia, I now miss it," said an expat in Rio.

International Schools in Brazil

Expats have reviewed a number of International Schools in Brazil including Escola Americana de Brasilia, Brasilia International School, Pan American Christian Academy in Sao Paolo and Graded School in Sao Paolo.

Cultural Blunders in Brazil

"I did so many silly things here. I constantly say something wrong. Once in the beginning here in Curitiba, I went grocery shopping. I was looking at the meat and couldn't read the package. I wanted beef cubes. I thought the word on the package said mule so I tried to get someone to help me. I wanted beef, not mule. The butcher could not understand my portuguese - I was asking what animal the meat was from. In the end I pointed and said "mooooo" and he laughed and nodded "Sim, mooooo," shared an expat in Curitiba, Brazil.

Crime & Safety

An expat in Rio de Janeiro advised, "The main problem of Rio is the violence. One has to take, just like the Brazilians do, steps to protect one self."

"I've been in Macae for 10 months now and I know of 5 people that have been mugged at gun point or a knife during the daylight. One was a 15 yr old teen," explained an expat in Macae.

An expat in Florianópolis offered some insight, "Violence is a big problem in Brazil but I will not get philosophical at this point. São Paulo, Rio, and other big cities as well as many other places are quite dangerous. We lived in Sao Paulo, Rio and Porto Alegre for many years and really got tired of all the mess. We now live in peaceful Florianópolis in the southern state of santa Catarina. Of course, there are problems everywhere and you must know you may and may not go but here, on this beautiful island, you can still jog in woodland areas on your own and get to the other side safe and sound. It is very good to be able to say something like that!"

"Crime is a factor in Brazil because of the poor people and drug problems. Certainly some areas are safer than others. I'm an American living in Rio. I have learned to blend in, not speak English loudly, and just watch yourself. You just don't want to draw attention to yourself. But even here, there has been a big difference the past six months. More police, less crime, and people in general have noticed a big difference. Brazil is 'attacking' the problem in anticipation of the World Cup in '14 and Olympics in '16," explained another expat in Brazil.

"If you look like a gringo, you're an easy target. When you arrive buy some flip flops, a tank top, shorts or peddle pushers, keep you mouth shut in large public stores, or speak softly, and try to melt in with the crowds. For an American, it is difficult to not stand out, but you have to try," advised an expat in Brazil.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

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Comments about this Article

Jul 17, 2012 13:53

Very good (and real) article as dismisses a lot of the myths promoted by media, government agencies, travel agents and others who describe brazil as an ideal inexpensive paradise....I know as my brazilian wife and I have traveled to 14 places all over brazil...... The prices of electronic goods and cars are criminally high due to taxes.....Brazil is the most taxed country in the world as one very good brazilian priest told me as he reiterated former french president DeGaulle said ,"Brazil has a great potential and will have for many years to come' or something like that...The meaning is that the people in the country do nothing to reform the very corrupt systems down there.

Jul 18, 2012 22:53

I lived in Sergipe 1967-1969 when it was one of the poorer areas in Brazil. In 2011, I visited for the first time since 1969 and much has changed. The state capital Aracajú is now one of the cleanest and safest resort cities in the country ---but also one of its best-kept secrets. The city has grown immensely in the past 40 years, so most of the city is relatively new. While I visited other cities in 2011 where I was bombarded by graffiti, trash-filled streets, homeless people and dogs everywhere, crumbling old buildings, Aracajú was beautiful, modern, and clean ---and I never felt unsafe. The best thing in Sergipe is the Brazilian people. Despite not being in contact with old friends and former students for decades, I was treated like royalty. Sergipanos are warm and welcoming. They are eager to please, help, and curious about where you come from. Many of my former students were eager to host me. both in Aracajú and in the small interior town where I had lived. They held two large receptions for me, one in each town. While in Sergipe, they would not allow me to pay for anything, I was glad I didn't fill my luggage because I could hardly find room for all the gifts I received. Now, of course, prices are much higher. In the late 60s I lived on about $60/month, albeit without running water, electricity, or a sewage system. Now, I would presume I would spend about as much as I do in the U.S., but the weather is warm, beaches beautiful, basix health care free for everyone (Sergipe's health care system was the model for the national healthcare program.) It won't be as exciting as Rio if you like nightlife, but if you want a warm, comfortable, easy-going place to retire, I would highly recommend. Aracajú. I plan to return and try living there for a few months before I decide if it is the retirement place for me. Of course, I already have a huge network of friends there & I speak Portuguese, so that will help. But if I enjoyed living in Sergipe under the poorest of conditions, I expect the modern version to be even more delightful.

Jun 6, 2016 14:28

The biggest hurdle is getting to know your neighbors and people you are in contact on a daily basis. It's hard not being fluent in Portuguese. I've found that most Brasilians are the most friendly people in the world. If you try to make some small conversation even in fractured Portuguese they will go out of their way to help you. Smiling helps a lot too. Be friendly. In 9 years I have never met a MEAN person in Brasil like we are used to in the US. BY THE WAY, BRASIL is spelled with an 'S' not a 'Z'.

First Published: May 21, 2012

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