Living in Brazil

Newcomers to Brazil are captivated by its dramatic landscapes. Larger than Western Europe, the country is home to the longest river in the world and a third of the world’s tropical rainforests.

Expats in Brazil enjoy a comfortable lifestyle within culturally diverse communities, especially in the big cities where you can expect modern accommodation, good schools and excellent healthcare. There’s also plenty to keep you entertained, from stunning beaches and great restaurants to colourful festivals and an energetic nightlife.

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Before you can rent or buy a property in Brazil, you have to get a Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas (CPF) card. This can take a few months, so it’s a good idea to ask your employer to arrange temporary accommodation for when you arrive.

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Types of property

In Brazil’s big cities, many expats choose to live in gated communities. These offer extra security and shared amenities such as a swimming pool, laundry room and gym.

Finding property

Most expats use an estate agent to help them find a property in Brazil. Unless you speak Portuguese fluently, it’s useful to have someone to translate because very few agents and landlords speak English.

Renting property

Most rental properties in Brazil are unfurnished – and some don’t even have light fittings or basic kitchen appliances. Rents can be high, but many landlords are open to negotiation. Leases are normally signed for two to three years and you’ll have to put down a deposit of one to three months’ rent. Utilities aren’t usually included in your rent.

Culture changes

Brazilians are very friendly and hospitable, but there’s often a language barrier to overcome. Many expats also struggle with local attitudes towards women.

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Personal space

A Brazilian’s idea of personal space may be quite different to yours. Locals will often stand very close and physical contact is common during conversations. Stepping away is considered rude.

Language barrier

Although English is spoken in the main cities and in business circles, learning some basic Portuguese makes life a lot easier.

Gender issues

While strides towards gender equality are being made, machismo still dominates Brazilian culture. Women are expected to take on more traditional roles and may receive sexist comments.


Most expats live comfortably in Brazil with luxuries such as private healthcare and domestic help. But this isn’t the norm for most locals. Social inequality is glaringly obvious – and you can’t miss the huge slums, or favelas, found in most cities.


Brazilians have a relaxed approach to the concept of time. They take siestas, eat later in the evening and spend hours socialising. Arriving late for social occasions is acceptable, but you should always be punctual for business meetings.


Brazil’s state education system is plagued by social and structural problems. School is compulsory for children aged between 6 and 14. The academic year runs from January to December, and although terms differ according to the region, July is a designated school holiday across the whole country.

For more information on planning for education see our Family Finances content.

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Public schools

Overcrowding, a lack of teaching resources and staff shortages are just some of the issues that affect Brazil’s state-funded schools. Lessons are taught in Portuguese, so most expats send their children to a private or international school.

Private schools

Private schools in Brazil follow the national curriculum and many have a Christian foundation. Some teach in both Portuguese and English. And their fees are considerably lower than international schools.

International schools

Most of Brazil’s international schools are in Brasília, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Many follow the American or British curriculum, but you’ll also find some that follow the International Baccalaureate or cater for children from countries like France and Italy.

Keep a clock near you showing your native time so you'll know what loved ones are up to- but not your watch, phone or computer. You're living somewhere new now. This is the time you're living.


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Keeping in touch


High-speed internet and WiFi are available in Brazil’s major cities where many homes have access to both ADSL, fibre and cable services. The main providers are Vivo and NET – both offer packages that include internet, TV and landline services.


Mobile phones can be expensive in Brazil – so you may want to bring an unlocked phone from your home country. The main mobile networks are Claro, Oi, TIM and Vivo, giving you a range of prepaid and contract options to choose from.


Most people in Brazil still have landlines. The main providers are Oi, Embratel and Vivo. To get a landline, you’ll need proof of address and your Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas (CPF) card.

English media

Most Brazilian newspapers and magazines are in Portuguese. The Rio Times is an English-language newspaper that’s sold throughout the country. You can also buy imported publications from bigger newsstands, but they’re expensive. Only a few Brazilian TV programmes are dubbed into other languages, but you should be able to watch English-language channels via cable or satellite TV.

Postal service

The postal service in Brazil is generally reliable, but it can be slow and some packages from overseas are subject to high import duties.


The overall healthcare infrastructure in Brazil is improving steadily and the country is becoming a popular medical tourism destination, particularly for cosmetic surgery and dentistry.

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Public healthcare

Under Brazil’s Unified Health System, public healthcare is free for all citizens and permanent residents. This includes hospitalisation, GP consultations and prescription medicines. Because public hospitals tend to be overcrowded, most expats and wealthy locals use private medical facilities.

Private healthcare

Private hospitals offer a high standard of care with good facilities, short waiting lists and more English-speaking medical staff. But private healthcare in Brazil is expensive, so it’s wise to take out comprehensive medical insurance.


Pharmacies are usually open from 8 am to 8pm, although you may find some that are open 24/7. Most over-the-counter and prescription medicines are available – and the Brazilian government has invested heavily in the production of generic drugs to reduce costs.

Health hazards

Dengue fever is prevalent in the tropical regions of Brazil, especially during the rainy season. There’s no vaccine for this mosquito-borne disease, so you should take precautions to avoid being bitten.

Emergency services

Brazil’s public ambulance service is free for all residents. Many of the bigger private hospitals also have their own services.

Getting around

Much of Brazil’s transport infrastructure is underdeveloped and roads, bus stations and airports are old and overcrowded. Transport options are particularly limited in smaller towns, but big cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have good bus and metro systems as well as plenty of taxis.

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Buses are the most common mode of public transport in Brazil. There are many commuter routes in the cities, along with long-distance services across the country. Comfort and safety levels vary, but fares are usually low and intercity buses are almost always cheaper than domestic flights.


A handful of Brazilian cities have metro systems, although some are still under development. Rio de Janeiro’s system is clean and safe, but crime can be an issue at São Paulo’s metro stations.


Taxis are a relatively cheap way to get around Brazil’s cities. You should either pre-book a taxi or go to a designated rank (known as a ponto), as there are lots of unofficial taxi drivers who take advantage of foreigners by charging exorbitant fares. Ride-hailing services, such as Uber, are also available in Brazil.


Apart from a small number of tourist services, passenger trains are few and far between – so travelling by rail isn’t a viable option.


Boats will take you to the islands along Brazil’s coastline and between riverside locations. In remote places such as the Amazon, they’re the only form of transport.

Air travel

Flying is often the quickest way to travel the long distances between Brazil’s cities. Flights can be expensive, but there are various domestic airlines to choose from, including Azul, GOL and Avianca.


Despite the improvements made for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, Brazil’s roads remain inadequate. Many highways are in a state of disrepair and road fatalities are incredibly high. Cars and petrol are expensive, so most expats rely on public transport to get around, especially in the cities.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in October 2020. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

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