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Brazil is undoubtedly one of the most captivating countries in the world. From the wonders of the Amazon to the rhythm-infused metropolises of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the country is so diverse that expats seeking a new life will certainly find a way of life that appeals to them.
Whether you’re moving to Brazil to work in a busy metropolis, study nature in the expansive rainforest, or experience a fresh perspective on life, there’s plenty to learn about the country before you pack up your bags and board the airplane.
The majority of Brazil lies mainly in a tropical climatic zone. However, due to its size and diverse landscapes, it also encapsulates four further zones meaning that some locations are subject to seasonal variations, whereas others remain hot all year around. The north-east of Brazil tends to be how expats envisage Brazil (tropical, hot, and humid) whereas the south is far more temperate and has the widest seasonal variations in temperature.
Winter spans from June to August and this is when the mountainous areas of southern Brazil experience frosts and sometimes snow. However, throughout these months, most areas experience temperatures between 13°C and 18°C. December through to February is summertime where temperatures vary between 30°C and 45°C with extreme humidity. During Spring and Autumn, temperatures tend to hover around a much more bearable 25°C.
The tropical north-east of Brazil experiences less humidity than the south due to tropical breezes brought by the ocean. In the Amazon, however, humidity is sky high and rain is commonplace. But, temperatures rarely peak over 27°C which gives some respite from the clamminess. June and October are the best times to visit the Amazon, as these tend to be the driest.
Many expats settle in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, or Brasilia. Rio is located on the coast and summer temperatures can hit a staggering 40°C, with an annual average of 26°C. Sao Paula and Brasilia benefit from being situated on the inland plateau where temperatures are less extreme, with an annual average of 20°C.
Rio De Janeiro Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days
Sao Paulo Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days
Brasilia Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days
The Amazon Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days
Brazil is a melting pot of nationalities and, for this reason, the culture of the country is varied and a lot of different factors come in to play. Brazil’s history was dominated by European domination, which brought many African migrants across due to the slave trade. Therefore, today, Brazil is a unique blend of European, African, and all important Latin influences.
Brazil’s population is over 200 million strong and, of this, 50% are white European, 40% are mixed race, and 10% are black. There is a huge Portuguese population in Brazil due to occupation of centuries gone by. For this reason, the Roman Catholic faith has the strongest hold in Brazil, with around 80% of the population following the religion.
Catholicism plays a huge social and cultural role in Brazil and this can cause fractions amongst communities. The Catholic faith promotes celibacy and forbids premarital sex, female priests, and homosexuality, as well as condemning abortion as a sin. For this reason, there are cultural disparities and Latin machismo does not help with the issue of gender inequality.
Many expat women struggle with the patriarchal domination in gender roles within society and even business situations. However, belief in gender equality is growing in Brazil, so expat women should take the macho culture with a pinch of salt.
At the cornerstone of Brazilian culture is the family. Traditionally grandparents live in the family home, and are cared for by their children and grandchildren in their old age. The extended family, known as the parentela, tend to all live in close proximity and spend most of their days together.
As a rule, Brazilians are friendly and welcoming towards expats. Chances are, if you can cobble together some basic Portuguese, you will be welcomed with open arms. However, never ever insult their country, as many Brazilians are fiercely patriotic.
Lastly, Brazil is a party county. Festivals are part and parcel of Latin American lifestyle and expats should experience Rio de Janeiro Carnival; the largest and grandest on earth. The general nightlife in Rio and Sao Paulo is extremely vibrant and don’t expect to be getting home before 4am!
Get your language apps and books ready because the official language of Brazil is Portuguese. It is the mother tongue for the majority of the population and pretty much everybody can speak it.
However, there are 220 other spoken languages in Brazil, with many of them belonging to indigenous tribes. Tupí-Guaraní is the most common native language and is derived from the Tupi people who inhabited the coast of Brazil in the late 15th and early 16th century. Today, 0.4% of Brazil’s population is made up of indigenous tribes.
Spanish is the second most widely-spoken language, followed by smaller numbers of the population speaking French, German, Japanese, and Italian. Only about 5% of the population speak English fluently and it is mostly a second language. Outside of the main cities, expats will be hard pushed to find anybody speaking a language other than Portuguese.
Expats planning to living in Brazil for the foreseeable future should definitely become fluent in Portuguese. Unlike other countries where you can get by on a few key phrases interspersed with English, this will not suffice in Brazil. Portuguese is dominant and employers, teachers, and locals will not be best pleased if you do not have a basic grasp of the language when you first arrive in Brazil. Luckily, Portuguese is closely related to Spanish, Italian, and French, so should be picked up relatively easily by those who studied languages at school, even at a rudimentary level.
Expats are more than welcome to buy or rent a car when living in Brazil but they are by no means a necessity. If you are living in a city or large town, public transport will be extensive enough that a car is not needed. Furthermore, traffic jams can cause delays to journeys and drivers tend not to drive to their own rulebook.
Those living in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo will benefit from having access to a modern metro network, as well as buses and minivans. Most expats in Brazil will adopt a mix of metro services and taxis to get from A-to-B. Handily, Rio’s metro service interlinks with metrobus services, providing an extensive network beyond the subway lines and stations.
Buses in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo run 24/7 but petty theft is not uncommon on late night routes. For this reason, it is recommended that expats take cabs after dark. If you must get on a bus at night, stick to the seats at the front. Expats will be able to distinguish where the bus is heading via signage on the windscreen, which will also detail other major stops on the route in a smaller print.
If you are an expat wishing to take a taxi in Brazil you have three options; hail one down, order one by phone (radio taxi), or walk to one of the numerous taxi stands. Most of the taxis in the cities will be metered and, before you depart, you should ensure the meter is at zero and that the tariff on display is ‘1’. Between 11pm and 6am, and also on Sundays, the tariff should read ‘2’. To save having to negotiate a price on unmetered taxis, such as those at airports or bus stations, passengers can buy a ticket for these from a bilheteria (ticket stand).
In terms of train services, the majority are steam trains meant for tourists. Many of Brazil’s train lines have been removed, in favour of roads, and it is not a form of transport that is used for commuting purposes.
Brazil has a public healthcare service and permanent residents can get free healthcare in any of the state hospitals. However, as the quality of service in these facilities is often substandard, many permanent residents take out private health insurance and this is also the best option for expats.
Although expats tend to rely on the private hospitals and clinics throughout Brazil, in emergency situations you may need to rely on a government hospital. This care will be completely free, but once you have been stabilised, you will need to be transferred to a private medical facility.
Expats and Brazilians with private health insurance will be expected to pay a large deposit upon admission by cash, cheque, or credit card. Expats should carry their international healthcare insurance paperwork or travel insurance documents with them at all times in case of emergencies as it will help with the admissions process and will guarantee reimbursement of charges.
Those requiring an ambulance in Brazil can call 192 for the public service but most larger private hospitals can be called directly in the case of an emergency:
Rio de Janeiro
For less serious illnesses or injuries, expats are welcome to visit one of the many pharmacies (farmacia) in the larger cities and towns of Brazil. Most medicines can be purchased over the counter. Expats with a grasp of Portuguese can also consult pharmacists for advice on their ailments without having to visit a doctor.
The currency of Brazil is the real, often abbreviated to BRL, and divided into 100 centavos. Notes are available in denominations of 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 2 BRL. There is also a 1 BRL coin, and centavos come in 5, 25, 10, or 5.
Generally, the Brazilian banking sector Is well-developed and expats should feel safe and comfortable when managing their finances in the country. Nevertheless, expats should shop around when selecting a bank in Brazil, as many charge users a percentage for every transaction. A benefit of banking in Brazil is the wide use of online banking to pay utility bills and state taxes, but these online services are often only available in Portuguese.
Expats in Brazil will need a residence visa to open a bank account, along with a passport, taxpayer’s number, and proof of residence. However, when selecting your bank, check specifically what paperwork they will require as it can differ between providers.
Some locations in Brazil operate largely as a cash-based economy and, for this reason, ATMS are widely available. However, expats should be aware that they rarely accept foreign cards. Some ATMs do not operate between 10pm and 7am for safety reasons, or cash withdrawals after 10pm are limited to lower amounts.
Brazil is equipped with both public and private sector schools. Whilst private schools are understandably superior, they are free of charge. The school system in Brazil, regardless of state or private, is split into three tiers; elementary (six to 14 years of age), high school, (15 to 17), and higher education (18+).
Children in Brazil must attend school between the ages of seven and 14 years old. However, this is rarely enforced, particularly in more rural areas or for families where children must work. This has led to a high rate of illiteracy and unemployment in Brazil. This in turn has led to the neglect of schools, some of which lack basic plumbing and heating. It is a vicious circle which has not yet been broken, despite the government providing states with funding.
It would be a mistake to assume that all public schools in Brazil are bad. Some have a high level of teaching and are ideal for expats who wish their children to make Brazilian friends. Parents should visit the schools to get a taste for themselves and be aware that, due to high numbers of students, the school day is split into morning, afternoon, and evening sessions. Children will attend one of these sessions per day.
The private and international schools of Brazil are highly concentrated in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Brasilia. Brazilian private schools tend to follow the local curriculum with a focus upon religion and languages. Some expat parents choose private schools over international schools as the fees are cheaper.
International schools tend to reign supreme amongst expats in Brazil. The standard of education is unparalleled and children benefit from having friends from all corners of the world. Some international schools offer the International Baccalaureate diploma, whereas others follow the British or American curricula. Some international schools in Brazil also cater to specific nationalities, such as French, German, Spanish, or Italian.
Brazilian cuisine has European, African, and Amerindian influences. Food varies between regions and often reflects the population of the area. Feijoada is a black bean stew and is the national dish of the country. Brazilian women take great pride in the dish and it often takes 24 hours to prepare and cook. It is served with rice, kale, and orange slices.
You can also not live life in the country without regularly indulging in Brazilian barbecue. Only the best cuts of meat will do when it comes to barbecue and the meat is treated with no more than a shake of salt before being cooked over charcoal in the north or wood in the south. However, at churrascarias (barbecue houses) you will find everything from chicken hearts and sausages, to pork, lamb, and wild boar.
If you have a palette for fish, moqueca will be for you. It is a fragrant fish stew cooked in a clay pot. Fish and seafood is stewed with tomatoes, onions, peppers, coriander, and coconut milk. It is traditionally served with rice, farofa (toasted cassava flour) or pirao (a spicy flour fish porridge that is very tasty).
There are two popular snacks in Brazil; pasteis and pao de queijo. Pasteis, as the name suggests, are deep fried parcels of pastry filled with cheese, salt cod, minced beef, or creamy palm heart. Pao de queijo are Brazil’s answer to dough balls; gluten-free breads rolled into balls and stuffed with cheese or cream cheese and baked.
Those with a sweet tooth won’t be disappointed whilst living in Brazil. Brigadeiros are essentially chocolate truffles made by simmering condensed milk and cocoa butter together, followed by whisking in butter. The mixture is then separated and rolled into balls and doused in sprinkles.
In contrast is the egg-based sweet of quindim. Eggs, sugar, coconut, and butter are blended together and baked in cupcake-sized moulds. The bottom is toasted and dense with caramelised coconut, whilst the top is a firm custard.
You’re living in Brazil, you will not be able to move for coconut juice vendors on the beach! Equally, although you may be tempted to go for imported fizzy drinks, indulge in one of Brazil’s most popular home-grown beverages: Guarana Antarctica.
Beer is very popular in Brazil and the main contenders are Brahma, Skol, and Antarctica. However, there are a number of local brews that are worth a try. Caipirinha is by far the most famous Brazilian drink, and the national cocktail! It is made with sugar, lime, and cachaça – a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice.
In the cities, particularly Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, pickpocketing, robbery, kidnapping, murder, and assault are commonplace. Street gangs and criminal groups form in the city slums, where perpetrators can hide easily from the police due to their density. In recent years, however, dedicated law enforcement units have been purposefully placed in the shanty towns to re-establish control.
Crimes are often opportunistic and robbery in busy tourist areas and during Carnival are the norm. Many expats have also had their cars broken into, so valuables should not be stored in them. Many expats live in security-protected compounds which have 24/7 security.
Expats should also take care if they decide to drive in Brazil. Overall, the road conditions are fine, but there can be issues with road markings and lighting. Also, Brazilians are notorious for road rage, and driving through red lights or cutting up other drivers happens daily.
Colourful, vibrant, and diverse; Brazil is making its mark upon the world and there are a multitude of experiences for expats. Whether you want to experience the world’s greatest carnival, or escape into the rainforest, anything is possible in Brazil.
Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro
Located 2,300 feet above Rio de Janeiro, on top of Corcovado mountain, is the famous Christ the Redeemer statue. Views from the peak provide a sweeping panorama of not only Rio, but Guanabara Bay to the north, and Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas to the south. The statue, an icon of Brazil, stands 31 feet tall.
Amazon River and Rainforest
You cannot visit Brazil without spending time on the epic Amazon River. It is the largest river in the world by volume and just a fraction shorter than the Nile. The Amazon Basin is not only one of the planet’s only surviving rainforests, but also home to 10 million species of animal. Visitors can take guided tours of both the rainforest and river.
Fernando de Noronha
Just shy of the north-eastern coast of Brazil is a stunning archipelago boasting white beaches, azure waters, and impressive landscapes and wildlife. The islands are a haven for snorkelers, with warm waters year-round and incredible visibility.
As an expat in Brazil, it can only be right to attend the world-famous Rio de Janeiro Carnival. The four-day celebration attracts around 8 million visitors and the streets, squares, bars, clubs, and restaurants are party central. The event comes to a conclusion with the spectacular Rio Samba Parade at the Sambadrome. The carnival usually takes place in February.
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