Is Brazil Cheap? From water to a popular vice, yes.
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).
No Brazilian city is among the cheapest cities to live in South America, and that makes sense for a few reasons. Things like 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
Prices in Brazil that May Surprise You
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, while countries in South America at least can boast of having cheap water.
Some simple math:
Cost of a cubic meter (1000 liters) of water and sewage in São Paulo: R$4.54 (if you live in social housing, it is even cheaper). That is USD$0.87.
Water used in a 10-minute shower, with a modern showerhead: approx. 90 liters.
The average cost of water for 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 or Rio de Janeiro. In richer European countries like Denmark, it is even worse.
Lower water prices also decrease other components of the living cost in Brazil, like the price of 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 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.
One curious thing is that when you have bills like water or garbage so cheap in Brazil, this also contributes to lower prices in other things, like hotel rooms, street food, and so on.
Read also: The Cheapest Cities to Fly to in Europe in 2023.
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. Even a traveler in a shoestring budget can afford a nice cup of cafezinho in cities like Rio or São Paulo.
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. That is why Brazil is among the best countries for a cup of coffee.
Cigarette Prices 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 that are 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. In general, natural food prices (we are talking about vegetables, fruits, meat, and so on) are very affordable in Brazil.
And, needless to say, it is very easy (and free) in Brazil to take pictures of splendid natural scenes.
Putting it all together, it is easy to see that in one way or another, all prices in Brazil that are cheap, are 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.
How Much Does It Cost to Live in Brazil
On average (and considering prices all over Brazil), in the year 2022, a single person will need R$4886 per month to live in Brazil with a good standard of living. A family of four requires R$11.510. On the other hand, those that travel to Brazil for studies may have cheaper living expenses due to multiple discounts offered for students.
The devaluated exchange rate of the Brazilian real makes this value look really attractive when you convert it to US dollars or Euros.
Since Brazil is a country with a continental size and enormous economical differences between the states, the prices vary drastically from one part to the other. Considering the average cost of living as 100, researchers from CustodeVida arrived at the following breakdown per capital:
|141||Brasília – DF|
|132||Florianópolis – SC|
|118||São Paulo – SP|
|111||Recife – PE|
|100||Belo Horizonte – MG|
|99||Cuiabá – MT|
|97||Porto Alegre – RS|
|92||Curitiba – PR|
|90||Rio de Janeiro – RJ|
|89||Belém – PA|
|86||Fortaleza – CE|
|85||Manaus – AM|
|81||Boa Vista – RR|
|80||Maceió – AL|
|75||Campo Grande – MS|
|74||Natal – RN|
|70||Porto Velho – RO|
|69||Aracaju – SE|
|67||Salvador – BA|
|65||Goiânia – GO|
|64||João Pessoa – PB|
|64||Palmas – TO|
|64||Rio Branco – AC|
|62||Teresina – PI|
|56||Vitória – ES|
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.