Tell a Brazilian that his country has some good-quality stuff for ridiculous prices, and it is likely that he will disagree or expect a joke involving bribes and crime. But there is something curious about the living cost in Brazil.
As a Brazilian myself, for long I held this belief that in my country, almost everything is overpriced and overtaxed (like iPhone or PlayStations), or has a lower standard of quality — like some Brazilian basic car models that cannot be sold in Europe due to safety concerns).
Electronics and industrial goods can be costly in Brazil, but this is not valid for many utilities and staples.
Things that are often more necessary than a new Xbox
Brazilians seldom notice that they are paying peanuts for things like water. It is a shock that many of us have when moving abroad. Eg: I always heard during my childhood that in Europe people don’t take multiple showers per day because it is cold or because they use a lot of perfume to disguise body odor.
The truth, however, is that bathing in Europe is expensive.
Some simple math:
Water used in a 10-minute shower, with a modern showerhead: approx. 90 liters.
Cost of the water of a 10-minute shower in São Paulo: (90/1000)*0.87 = Approx. 8 cents of dollar per shower.
In Poland, the same shower almost 3 zlotys, meaning 77 cents of US dollar.
If I kept my Brazilian habits in Poland, I would spend 47 dollars per month on shower water only. The price of a shower in Warsaw is almost 10 times higher than in São Paulo. In richer European countries like Denmark, it is even worse.
Lower water prices also decrease other components from the living cost in Brazil, like the price for flushing the toilet (something harder than baths to reduce the frequency) or having a swimming pool in your backyard. Even washing your car in Brazil is cheaper than nearly anywhere else because of the inexpensive water.
If you tell someone from the city where I was born that the garbage collection is crazy cheap there, they will think you are fooling with them.
For a simple reason: it is not cheap. It is free (free meaning paid by taxes).
You can generate as much domestic garbage as you want and you will not pay a single cent for a truck to collect it. I could put “free” garbage collection in my list of bizarre Brazilian laws, but since most people don’t complain about it — instead, they complain about their taxes — , I left it out.
In other cities, like São Paulo, there was once a cost for this service, but it was canceled, and now the current mayor is trying to bring it back. In places where there is a charge for garbage collection, the values are often modest. Curitiba, the capital of Paraná state, has a price for domestic garbage considered expensive: R$275 (US$52.7) per year. 4.4 dollars per month.
For comparison, for the same service in Warsaw, Poland — a country that is rich by any means — I pay close to 50 zlotys (12.9 USD), per month. Garbage collection is on my list of the 5 things unusually expensive in Poland.
Inexpensive coffee should come as no surprise since Brazil is the largest coffee-producing country in the world.
The largest difference, however, is not in the grains per se but in the coffee consumed at cafeterias. In the Brazilian long-distance bus stations (rodoviárias) it is common to find places selling a cup of coffee for 2 or 3 reais — around 50 cents of a dollar.
A good café de rodoviária (literally “bus station coffee”), in my opinion, is at least as good as a Costa black coffee sold for 3 euros or more in Europe.
Other coffee-derived beverages also have favorable price tags in the Brazilian territory. Maybe they are not a game-changer in the living cost in Brazil if you prefer tea, but for the lovers of the black, bitter liquid, it is a tremendous plus.
The portal Numbeo examined the cost of a Cappucino in 589 cities around the world, on all continents. Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, and São Paulo are all among the cities with the lowest price for this hot beverage.
A Cappucino in Finland or the United States will cost over 300% of what it costs in Brazil.
A friend of mine always carries an extra pack of cigarettes for personal use when he travels out of Brazil. This is a sure way to save money.
It would be unfair to compare São Paulo with richer cities like London ($17.2 for a pack of Marlboro) or Boston ($12), but even considering countries in an income bracket similar to Brazil, the difference is considerable.
A pack of Marlboro in São Paulo will cost between 10 to 12 Reais, a bit more than USD$2. Similar prices are only seen in countries like Ukraine, Iraq, or Paraguay.
Of 482 cities researched by the portal Numbeo, São Paulo is only the 446th in the ranking of cigarette prices.
The low prices, however, do not increase tobacco popularity. Brazil is one of the countries with the lowest proportion of smokers in the world: only 15% of the population is addicted to nicotine.
Other things relatively inexpensive in the living cost in Brazil.
Uber is comparatively cheap in São Paulo, despite the high prices of gasoline. Likely this is related to the high amount of people interested in driving for ride-sharing apps.
Beef, even considering the recent price increases, is still cheaper than in most other middle-income countries.
Brazilians can also buy oranges — another product where Brazil is the largest global producer — for a fraction of the price that people from colder countries pay.
Putting all together, it is easy to see that in one way or another, every product that is cheap in Brazil is linked to the privileged natural characteristics of this gigantic country. Meanwhile, nearly everything that is expensive is affected by the precarious infrastructure and questionable government tax policies.
As an entrepreneur, the help I found on Fiverr and Freelancer.com was essential for a smooth beginning.
If, living in Brazil, you can save money enough to invest, here is a list (in Portuguese) of the melhores livros sobre investimentos.