Moving to Brazil from the USA or Europe have its particular challenges and rewards.
If you tell most Brazilians (even myself) that you plan to leave a stable country to live in a developing economy with a shaky history like Brazil, they will get surprised. After the astonishment comes the the question: Why?
While people in cities with higher-living standards – like Curitiba – may give you a few reasons, this will not be the case for most of the country. In fact, it is more likely that they will upfront inform you of some challenges you will face.
And those challenges are not few. The same, however, must be said of the opportunities.
In this article we will tell you:
- What to consider first when moving to Brazil.
- Reasons to move to Brazil.
- Most important costs to ponder.
- Best place to live in Brazil for young professionals, families and pensioners.
Moving to Brazil – What to Consider First
1 – Brazil is far, and either you will spend considerable money on airline tickets, or you will see your family and friends rarely.
If you live in Europe, only a few of the major cities (mostly in Western Europe) have flight connections with Brazil. The majority of those flights depart either from São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. If you live outside those two cities, you will need to purchase an additional domestic flight or bus ticket. The roads in Brazil (outside few states like São Paulo) are not in the best conditions and bus rides can be tough.
Americans are luckier since prices from Brazil to the USA tend to be cheaper than to Europe.
2 – It is one of the most diverse countries on the planet, therefore advantages – and disadvantages – often do not apply to all states.
When we say Brazil is like this or Brazil is like that, likely we are rather talking about specific regions instead of general concepts.
Phrases like “In Brazil they horrible highways!” will sound obvious to someone living in Tocantins, but unfair to a São Paulo state resident – used to their world-class, toll-charged roads.
A similar statement applies to popular behaviours. In general, Curitibanos (people from Curitiba) are considerably more reserved than Cariocas (from Rio de Janeiro).
3 – The Shock for most westerners will not be cultural shock per se, but rather a structural shock, be it from the legal or governmental aspects.
Even with all those contrasting characteristics, the biggest reason for the shock is not from the population behaviour alone. Cultural shock, in its 4 dimensions, might be heavier for non-westerners. However, the biggest challenges we – at Colligere Expat Consultancy – solve for our clients are the heavy bureaucracy, complicated tax system and warped sense of urgency from public offices.
Reasons to move to Brazil
1 – Instability creates opportunities
The constant ups-and-downs of the Brazilian economy have its own idiomatic expression by the locals: Vôo de Galinha (chicken flights), due to its short-lived duration.
While this instability creates the need for safeguards like a low-risk (and often dollarized) savings account, varied investment portfolio and multiple sources of income, it comes with few advantages.
Not everyone can protect themselves against one or two economic turmoils per decade. Therefore, after each one of them, the survivors have plenty of good-quality real estate, assets and even companies to invest for advantageous prices.
2 – The exchange rate is very favourable, for now.
The constant economic turmoils, especially in the last two decades, created an opportunity for people with income in foreign currency: the exchange rates.
Brazilian Reais lost near 70% of their value in the last decade. With this devaluation came some serious bargains, like beachfront apartments in one of the best state capitals for less than 500 dollars per month.
3 – Amazing places to retire or relax amid nature.
With the above mentioned favourable exchange rate, and the recent easing of procedures to purchase real estate, some parts of Brazil are becoming attractive for those seeking a sunny place to escape from the north-hemisphere winter. It is also attractive for pensioners and retirees, which have an additional advantage, mentioned below.
4 – Good quality private healthcare.
Brazil has a universal healthcare system (SUS). Its quality, however, is questionable when compared to international standards.
The same does not apply to private healthcare services in metropolitan regions like São Paulo or cities with high-standards medical universities, like Ribeirão Preto.
The city of São Paulo alone have 2 hospitals among the 100 best in the world.
Brazilians often will say that private healthcare is expensive – especially when considering the local reality – but compared to similar standards abroad, the prices are considerably lower. The cost of giving birth at Hospital Albert Einstein (the 38th best hospital in the world) is less than four thousand dollars, compared to the 32.140 dollars estimated by Mayo Clinic.
Living in Brazil – Costs to consider
1 – Education
The widespread middle-class habit of send kids to private schools may be a surprise, especially for Europeans used to decent public educational systems.
Brazil also has a public education system with national coverage. But the quality is truly awful (with few exceptions, like schools kept by research centres or armed forces).
It is enough to say that Brazil is among the 10 worst countries in the PISA international ranking.
There are also safety concerns, with many schools harbouring gangs and used as recruitment fields for criminal organizations.
Given the near-necessity of sending children to private education, expatriates must consider those costs. Ideally, education possibilities should be researched in advance (Colligere Expat Consultancy can help you with it).
Another surprise may arise from the lack of vacancies in some private schools and application of admission tests due to the high demand.
2 – Health
The considerations in this point are very similar to the ones regarding education.
Brazil has a free-of-charge and universal healthcare system, but unless you live in cities with high-quality public medical schools, you would be taking additional risks relying on it.
The SUS (Brazil public healthcare system) lags far away from similar systems like the british NHS – what is understandable considering the wealth differences between Brazil and The United Kingdom.
With an ample offer of planos de saúde (the local version of healthcare insurance operators), foreigners living in Brazil should look for one with good local coverage and reviews.
3 – Security
Unless you lived in a war zone like Iraq or Somalia, it is unlikely that you ever imagined spending money in electric fences, infrared movement detectors or even hiring armed guards for your house or ranch. In Brazil, if you live outside a guarded apartment block in a metropolitan zone, it may be the case.
On the other hand, if you live in a closed apartment block, most of them have fees (taxa de condomínio) to pay for the security and conservation of the common areas.
Additionally, expatriates with children should consider the costs of private transportation to to and from schools in big cities. Rarely is responsible to let them go alone.
Best place to live in Brazil
Hopefuly the extra costs listed above were not enough to make you give up living in Brazil. Now it is time for some good points. Starting by the best place places to live, according to your stage in life.
1 – Best place for young professionals living in Brazil
If you are looking for professional opportunities allied with an entrepreneurial environment and leisure possibilities, coastal cities like Florianopolis – the capital of Santa Catarina is the place to go for Digital Nomads and technology entrepreneurs – and Santos comes first in the rankings.
They have the additional benefit of living standards better than huge cities. However, in sectors like finance, banking and services it is unlikely to escape from the duo São Paulo-Rio.
2 – Best places for expat families living in Brazil
Families with working adults will find their place in cities like Campinas or Jundiai. They are close to the economical centre of Brazil, São Paulo.
The price of an apartment in a good neighborhood in São Paulo is similar to a comfortable house there. They are also safer, with a cleaner atmosphere and have cheaper schools.
3 – Best place to live in Brazil for pensioners
Curiously, the same cities that top the list for young professionals are also the first here: Florianopolis and Santos. In the ranking made by the portal Envelhecer Sem Vergonha, completing the top5 are Porto Alegre (capital of Rio Grande do Sul state), Niterói (Rio de Janeiro state), and São José do Rio Preto (São Paulo state). All of them have good scores in terms of quality of life and health services.
Living in Brazil – Conclusions
The idea of a foreigner leaving his country and moving to Brazil may surprise Brazilians more than other nationalities.
In part, due to self-depreciation, in part due to an idealization of life out of their own country made by telenovelas.
Brazil has a continental size and continental contrasts. The idea of moving should must balance with a careful provision for the additional costs (namely: education, health and security) and particular characteristics of each region. While northern regions are rich in natural gifts, the southern portion tends to better standards of life and infrastructure.
Overall, there will be a region in Brazil matching your current professional needs and stage in life. With favourable exchange rates and the recent turmoils, there are plenty of investment opportunities, affordable real-estate and business possibilities.
What are your thoughts? Are there any other cost you think people should consider when living in Brazil or moving to it? Any other city you recommend?
Author: Levi Borba, founder of Colligere Expat Consultancy, former RM specialist for the world´s greatest airline, co-founder of Nearby Airport Hostel Warsaw and author of the book Moving Out, Living Abroad and Keeping Your Sanity. You can check some of his articles here.
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