21 Things To Know Before Moving to Brazil
Bem-vindo! If you’re moving to Brazil, you’re in for a world of new wonders.
The move will almost certainly be a culture shock, but don’t worry – you won’t be alone. Brazil is a nation of immigrants, and a welcoming one.
If Brazil were a human, they’d be a colourful extrovert with strong emotions, who sleeps late and enjoys the sensory delights of life, like food, drink, music, and football. Who wouldn’t want to know that person?
Fill in the form at the top of this page to receive up to six free shipping quotes, and see how much it would cost to make the move of a lifetime – chances are, it’ll be less than you think.
Here are the five best reasons to start living in Brazil:
1. The laid-back approach to life
2. The emphasis on hope and happiness
3. The stunning natural world, including the Amazon
4. The passion – for music, dancing, football, partying…
5. The delicious food and drink
Christ the Redeemer stands atop Mount Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro
1. Life is cheaper, but watch out
Brazil is generally cheaper to live in than the UK – but there are cultural differences even in the way the country prices goods and services.
If you’re after new jeans, shoes, or a car, you may end up spending considerably more than you would in the UK.
But when it comes to everything else, from rent to groceries, you’ll be much better off in Brazil – particularly if you’re not living in the two most famous, populated cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
There are cheaper places all over the country, from Fortaleza in the north to Porto Alegre in the south, and they’re all fascinating, enjoyable places to live.
2. Get ready for an expressive culture
Brazil isn’t all Carnival and samba, but there is a hint of truth in the stereotype.
There’s a reason, for instance, that the country has produced so many expressive footballers, from Garrincha to Pelé to Ronaldinho: expressiveness is encouraged.
So get prepared for people to gesticulate while talking, quickly and easily get passionate, and greet you enthusiastically. You’ll be hugged, have your private space constantly invaded, and probably receive some cheek kisses when it’s time to say goodbye.
If this sounds strange and potentially uncomfortable to you, just remember the undeniable upside: being expressive and familiar with each other is part of Brazil’s strong collectivist culture – all for one, and one for all.
That means that once you’ve made some friends and become part of the community, you’ll have a whole new found family to rely on.
3. Health is a universal right – but going private is better
Brazil enshrined healthcare as a universal right in its 1988 constitution, following two damaging decades under military dictatorship that resulted in a terrible health system, among other things.
Around 70% of people in Brazil benefit from public healthcare, and it’ll be available to you too, as a foreign resident.
However, as with many healthcare systems, it’s chronically underfunded. This often leads to lengthy waiting lists, a lack of staff, and a limited number of facilities with specialised equipment.
Like most things in Brazil, private healthcare is cheaper than you’ll probably be used to, and generally offers a better level of service than its public counterpart.
4. It’s a gigantic country
Choose your home state carefully, because you’d need a lifetime to see all 8.5 million km² of Brazil.
It’s bigger than India and actual continent Australia, 35 times larger than the UK, and three times the size of Argentina. The country spans four time zones, from GMT-2 to GMT-5.
Nearly half of South America is Brazil, which explains why it’s the only nation in the world that has both the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn running through it.
You’re not in Kansas anymore, by which we mean Europe.
5. The Amazon is wondrous – so go see it
It’ll be hard to prioritise trips in such a large, varied country, but you shouldn’t live in Brazil without seeing the breathtaking Amazon.
As well as stunning trails, vistas, and waterfalls, the Amazon is home to one in 10 known animal species.
These range from pink river dolphins and poison dart frogs to jaguars, harpy eagles, and the caqueta titi monkey – whose babies purr like a cat when they’re content.
Brazil contains 60% of the 55 million-year-old rainforest’s 5.5 million km², which means you’re moving to a country which is around 39% Amazon.
Make sure to see its incredible beauty while you can.
President Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of increasing the number of fires and hastening deforestation by – at best – ignoring the number of farmers and loggers chopping down trees in the Amazon, and at worst by tacitly supporting them.
Illegal gold mines are causing toxic runoff to infect the Amazon’s waterways, and Bolsonaro intends to expand the areas where agriculture, logging, and mining are legal.
A jaguar enjoying themselves in the massive Pantanal Wetlands
6. The weather is just as good as you think
The capital and administrative (if not cultural) heart of the country, Brasília, bathes in 2,363 hours of sunshine every year.
That’s a long way from grey, overcast London, which receives just 1,633 hours per year.
We hope you like feeling warm and tanned, because you’re about to get 45% more sunshine.
Feel free to enjoy it on one of Brazil’s 2,095 beaches.
7. Coffee is life…
Brazil runs on coffee, both individually and economically.
The country exports a quarter of the world’s coffee supply, which comes to 5.7 billion pounds of coffee beans every year.
That’s 2.6 million tonnes of a pretty light substance, so we’ll let your brain explode trying to imagine what that much looks like.
So get ready to be offered a cafezinho (small coffee) whenever you go to someone’s home – it might not actually be a small drink, but more about that later.
8. …as is football
The world’s decades-long love affair with Brazilian football is bested only by Brazil’s passion for jogo bonito (the beautiful game).
The only country to have played in every World Cup has won the golden trophy five times – more than any other nation – and occupies a unique spot in the imagination of fans worldwide.
Whatever your age, if you love football, you grew up in awe of stars like Zico, Romario, and (the original) Ronaldo.
The domestic league in Brazil is also exciting, passionate, and varied – five different teams have won the top tier in the past seven years.
The culture doesn’t just revolve around elite teams, though. Everywhere you go in Brazil, there are kickabout games going on – friends and neighbours using streets, parks, and playgrounds to show off their skills.
Get involved, even if you look like Bambi on ice with the ball at your feet.
9. And yes, Brazil knows how to party
Singer and former Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil once said: “Brazil was, is, and will be in fashion,” and he wasn’t lying.
A large part of this intoxicating quality comes from Brazil’s expressive culture, which sweeps everyone up in a whirlwind of music, dancing, and partying.
From the Bumba Meu Boi festivals in Maranhão and beachfront concert stages in Recife to the annual Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil crackles with celebratory energy.
10. But whatever you do, don’t arrive on time
Brazilian culture is all about staying laid-back, to a bigger extent than most Brits will be prepared for – so leave your punctual ways in Blighty.
Turning up vaguely on time for business meetings is still a good idea, partly because it won’t lead to any embarrassment if you’re earlier than everyone else.
The same cannot be said of social events. Turn up to a party at least half an hour late, or risk being greeted by a bemused host who was probably wondering whether they should maybe start getting ready.
Dr Jaqueline Bohn Donada, who teaches at the Technological Federal University of Paraná in southern Brazil, told the BBC: “Turning up on time to a party would be awkward anywhere in the country, but especially so in Rio.
“It would be almost as awkward as turning up to a party when you weren’t invited at all!”
If you turn up on time, you’ll probably be told you’ve adhered to hora inglesa, which means ‘English time’.
Don’t be a stereotype. Be cool. Be late.
11. Have a light breakfast – because lunch is dinner
Brazilians may be laid-back about time-keeping, but not about food. Never about food.
And when it comes to lunch, you’ll want to be extremely hungry.
Lunch is the main meal of the day, and it’s huge. So go ahead and chow down on heapings of churrasco (barbecued meat), massive clay pots of moqueca (fish stew), or multiple dishes of feijoada (a stew of black beans, beef, and pork).
Top this off with a sweet treat like the startlingly yellow quindim (made with egg yolks, sugar, and ground coconut) or some brigadeiros (balls made of condensed milk, cocoa powder, and butter) – and then get back to work.
Brazil has no tradition of siestas, since it was colonised by Portugal, not Spain, so make sure you’re prepared to function after this massive gastronomic undertaking.
A coffee may help.
Brigadeiros are simple, delicious, and moreish
12. You can move your belongings to Brazil in the least stressful way possible
Shipping is by far the most efficient, least expensive way of making sure all your prized possessions follow you across the ocean in a safe and timely fashion – and there are plenty of excellent shipping companies to choose from.
Air freight is 12-16 times more expensive than sea freight, according to the World Bank, which makes it much less attractive.
We’ve calculated the average international shipping rates for some of our most popular journeys from the UK to Brazil.
The rates are sourced from WorldFreightRates.com, and are based on the port-to-port transportation of a 20ft container of used furniture worth £35,000 – the average value of the contents of a house, according to Admiral Insurance.
|London to Rio de Janeiro
|London to Santos
|London to Fortaleza
These prices were last updated in August 2020.
13. It’s a place of wonder
In a 2010 interview with CNN, novelist Paulo Coelho said of Brazil: “Being born in that country means you don't have a wall separating the physical reality from the magical reality.”
Coelho, who wrote The Alchemist, explained this had taught him that “to understand the world we need to go further and take the risks of sailing in unknown seas.”
Wonderfully, you’re doing just that by moving to Brazil.
We mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating: this is the only country on Earth with both the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn running through it. That means it contains an extraordinary diversity of scenery.
You can visit the Amazon rainforest, Iguaçu Falls, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the record-breaking Pantanal Wetlands, and you’ll still have barely scratched the surface.
14. People are cynical – but hopeful
Just 28% of Brazilians trust their government, according to a survey by American PR firm Edelman – and that’s not surprising.
While politics is particularly hate-filled and divisive at the moment, with a far-right president in charge, people in Brazil have a long history of viewing people in power with suspicion.
And it’s justified. The country endured a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, and has dealt with a string of disappointing leaders either side of those years.
In response, cynicism and a dark, chaotic sense of humour around politics has spread, to the extent that multiple animals have won elections.
A billy-goat was elected to the Fortaleza city council in 1922, and in 1958, a particularly famous election saw a rhinoceros from São Paulo zoo called Cacareco win the city council elections with more than 100,000 votes.
To this day, the term Voto Cacareco is still used to mean a protest vote.
And yet, Brazilians remain eternally hopeful. The aforementioned Edelman survey found 73% of people in the country believe they and their families will be better off in five years.
In contrast, only 28% of Brits feel the same way.
This is why Brazil has such a passionate culture of protest – another phenomenon to be prepared for.
15. Corruption is common
One reason for Brazilians’ cynicism is their politicians’ historical penchant for corruption.
In just the past few years, an investigation known as Operation Car Wash uncovered a scandal involving millions of dollars in bribes and dozens of politicians and high-flying businesspeople – including former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Bribery and other forms of corruption are also common in the police force and judicial system, as well as among bureaucrats like customs officials, and even driving examiners.
We wouldn’t recommend engaging in any illicit activities like bribery, but you should be aware that – unfortunately – it’s part of the culture in Brazil.
16. LGBT culture flourishes, but bigotry remains
Brazil made same-sex marriage legal in 2013 – before the UK or US – and in 2019, the Supreme Court made it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
LGBT culture is visible in cities across the country, and São Paulo boasts the biggest pride parade in the world, with millions attending every year.
But while there is a liberal side to Brazil, there’s also a deeply intolerant, conservative side. Despite the positives, this is still a troubling time for LGBT people.
More transgender people are murdered in Brazil than in any other country (124 were killed in 2019), and far-right President Bolsonaro has a long history of anti-LGBT rhetoric.
He called the Supreme Court decision mentioned above “completely wrong” – but that was little surprise, considering that months earlier, he’d compared homosexuality to paedophaelia, and said he would punch men if he saw them kissing in the street.
In 2011, he said he’d rather his son died than come out as gay, and in 2015, he said hospital patients should be allowed to reject “gay blood”.
In 2019, Brazil’s only gay congressman, Jean Wyllys, gave up his seat to flee the country after receiving messages of hate that included death threats.
Brazil is still nowhere near the most dangerous country for LGBT people – but be careful.
The breathtaking Iguaçu Falls are worth seeing
17. Income inequality is high, leading to poverty and crime
Brazil has the eighth-worst income inequality in the world, and the worst of any country outside Africa, according to World Bank data gathered by NPR.
Criminal gangs take advantage of the large number of impoverished people to give them a way to survive, often by moving or dealing drugs, as Brazil is part of international drug routes.
This leads to a large amount of violent crime.
Brazil has a homicide rate of 27.4 per 100,000, according to United Nations data, which was its lowest figure in five years, but still a world away from the global average of 5.8, and even further from the UK’s figure, which is 1.8.
Robberies are relatively common, as are muggings and pickpocketing. The UK government advises against visiting the favelas (shanty towns) in cities, where crime is typically more widespread.
Consult local advice to avoid being targeted, and take care wherever you go.
18. The nation’s potential is huge
Brazil is part of the BRIC nations – along with Russia, India, and China – which are all large, emerging economies that may soon become one of the world’s top-tier powers.
Brazil’s large population and natural resources (gold, uranium, petroleum, and hydropower, to name a few) make it an obvious candidate to succeed in global economics.
It hasn’t made it so far, but the drive to become a superpower in this field is an important context if you’re looking to start a business or move your company to Brazil.
19. You’ll hear no, but not in the ways you expect
People in Brazil won’t always tell you não (no).
Indirect communication is often preferred, which can lead to confusion and frustration – but don’t worry too much about it.
It can be infuriating, but you’ll eventually learn to rely on facial cues and other contextual information to figure out whether you’re being turned down or not.
And if you need anything cleared up, play the gringo (foreigner) card and ask outright.
Of course, there are ways of becoming less of a gringo…
20. Learn (the right) Portuguese
Not too many people in Brazil speak English, and certainly not enough for you to get by without learning the language.
Make sure to learn Brazilian Portuguese though – and no, you won’t be able to get by with Spanish, particularly when dealing with local bureaucrats or the police.
Becoming fluent is a great way to make friends wherever you move, and that’s no different in Brazil.
21. Use baby talk
Once you’ve mastered the basics, don’t be afraid to adopt the Brazilian custom of baby talk.
No, not the nonsensical garble of sounds you find yourself spouting at small children sometimes – diminutive suffixes like inho and inha.
Adding these reduces the word’s size – a bananinha, for instance, literally translates as a small piece of a banana – but in reality it softens whatever you’re saying, adding a layer of friendliness.
If someone invites you to a party at their casinha (small home), don’t be surprised if it’s a mansion. Using –inha simply removes formality and adds familiarity, along with the implicit promise that you’ll have a good time.
For situations like asking someone if they want to get a beer, saying cervejinha rather than cerveja can make all the difference.
If you feel ready to move to Brazil, you can take the next step by filling in this form for free shipping quotes from trusted experts who can move your belongings to your new home.