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A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in Brazil

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  • Francois Bertrand

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Life in Brazil

The friendly attitude of many Brazilians and the cultural diversity of South America’s largest and only Portuguese-speaking country are legendary. An overwhelming number of foreigners living in Brazil have settled in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, or Macaé. This is mainly due to more employment options and better infrastructure in the big cities compared to life in Brazil’s rural areas.

Healthcare in Brazil

Brazil is one of the few countries which provide free universal access to medical care. Anyone who is living in Brazil legally can enjoy free medical consultations, hospital treatment, and surgery supplied by the public health system (Sistema Único de Saude – SUS). However, this system has the reputation of being underfunded. Waiting times at public hospitals can be very long for patients.

More affluent people living in Brazil – about 25% of the population – thus prefer the private healthcare system. Nowadays, many companies offer their employees private medical plans as part of their remuneration. Before starting your expat life in Brazil, you should ensure that you have adequate private health insurance as healthcare costs in the private sector can be very high.

The provision of healthcare facilities in the larger cities is considered good. General practitioners, specialist treatment and hospitals are widely available in Brazil’s major cities. The situation is different in Brazil’s rural areas, though. Particularly in the northeast, medical care is not always available. Indeed, the system has come to such a critical point that a new program, Mais Médicos (More Doctors) was created by the government in 2013. The aim of this program is to attract doctors from abroad to work in Brazil’s countryside on three-year contracts. Within the year, 13,000 doctors had signed contracts, primarily from Cuba.

Common Health Risks

For certain places, including Brasilia and all rural or jungle regions, a yellow fever vaccination is strongly recommended, even though it is not required to enter the state. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and B as well as typhoid and rabies are recommended for long-term stays, regardless of where your life in Brazil is going to take you.

Some parts of the country, including urban spaces like Porto Velho, Boa Vista and Manaus, are malaria-risk zones. Precautionary measures against malaria and Dengue fever are indeed essential. Make sure to contact a doctor and discuss vaccinations and other health risks well in advance of your new life in Brazil.

Cars and Driving in Brazil

Many expats buy a car once they have arrived in Brazil. Due to high taxes, cars are relatively expensive in Brazil. However, buying a new car is both a lot cheaper and a lot easier than importing one from home. In addition to the shipping costs, you are charged a considerable import tax. Used vehicles can only be imported on certain conditions – antiques (30 years or older) for collection purposes, imports resulting from donations, or inherited vehicles or automobiles imported by diplomats or their staff members.

The country has the largest road network in South America, and cars are the most popular way of getting around. Driving in Brazil can be anything from an exciting adventure to a downright nightmare, especially in a metropolis such as São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. Expats living in Brazil can use their national driver’s license for up to six months, as long as it is translated into Portuguese and stamped by the road traffic authorities.

Other Means of Transport

Despite bad traffic conditions, having your own car is your best bet for getting around during your time in Brazil. In the past two years, failures in public transport have been the instigating factor in a series of protests. Heavily crowded, plans to raise the cost of bus fares led to spontaneous protest across the country. Moreover, plans to revolutionize airports, subways, roads and bus links by spending 400 billion USD running up to the 2014 World Cup failed to materialize and railroads under construction in cities such as Salvador are taking much longer than anticipated. Only a few cities in Brazil have a working railway, with Sao Paulo and Rio arguably having the best, although most locals probably wouldn’t use the word ‘best’ when describing either system.

For those who would like to explore different parts of the country while living in Brazil, cars are the most convenient option, as are planes for longer distances. Although Brazil lacks a comprehensive railway system, it has an excellent coach network. Its long-distance buses are an economical way to travel.

Brazil: Housing, Childcare, and Education

Expat Housing

Most expats opt for renting a home in Brazil. If you have just arrived and the local housing market is still unfamiliar territory, try to get a local to help you find a suitable home, even if you do speak Portuguese. Especially in São Paulo and Rio, you should consider the distances in a big city and the less than ideal traffic conditions when looking for accommodation.

Buying property in Brazil is possible for expats, although it’s hardly advisable if you have just arrived in the country. Foreign nationals may need specific permission from authorities to purchase property in close proximity to beaches or agricultural land.

Renting Accommodation

The cost of living has been soaring over the past few years, and housing is definitely included in this trend. In fact, some economists, such as Robert Schiller, the man who predicted the US collapse, have warned that the rising house prices are an economic bubble, waiting to burst. Rental prices in Brazil strongly depend on the location. Generally speaking, they tend to be cheaper in São Paulo than in Rio de Janeiro. Rio has become the most expensive real-estate market in South America, especially in the Zona Sul, which includes such coveted neighborhoods as Ipanema or Copacabana. In late-2014, a modest one-bedroom apartment in this area cost a bare minimum of 1,800 RD, fees and tax not included.

An upscale two-bedroom apartamento for expatriates in São Paulo currently costs more than 2,000 USD per month. If you rent your own casa, i.e. family house, expect to pay anything up to a good 10,000 USD or even more, depending on the location and the luxuries included. Of course, your accommodation will probably have security measures and amenities that the less affluent part of Brazil’s population can only dream of. As hiring a domestic helper (empregada) is common in Brazil, both houses and apartments usually include an additional room with bathroom for the empregada.

Utility costs are relatively high. If they are not included in the rent, expect to pay at least another couple of hundred dollars per month for an average apartment with two or three bedrooms. Additionally, Brazil has a real estate tax which, depending on the contract, may have to be paid by the tenant.

Childcare in Brazil

Basic education in Brazil begins with Educação Infantil, the pre-school level, which consists of daycare centers and kindergartens for children up to three years and pre-schools for children aged four to six years. Public pre-schools are free of charge, although they tend to be rather poorly funded and overcrowded.

For those who can afford it, there are numerous alternatives available in the private sector. Hiring a nanny (babá) is also popular among Brazil’s wealthier population. Commonly, newly-arrived expats find good nannies through word-of-mouth referrals from other expats or by using a recognized agency.

Education in Brazil

Mandatory schooling begins at the age of six. All children attend Ensino Fundamental, elementary school and middle school, for nine years. Afterwards, students can choose to go on to Ensino Médio (high school) for another three years.

Public schools are free of charge. However, expat children can only enroll in public schools if they have adequate Portuguese skills and pass the adaptação exam set by the school in question. There are also a number of private schools, many of them run by the Catholic church.

International Schools

Most expat parents opt to send their kids to one of the international schools in Brazil. Quite a few international schools are available, most of them in expat hotspots such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, and Macaé.

The majority of schools are based on the American or the British educational system, and may offer students the opportunity to acquire the International Baccalaureate (IB) in Brazil. To serve the need of children of the local elite who attend the international schools as well, some schools have created opportunities to study according to the Brazilian national curriculum.

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  • Francois Bertrand

    What a thrilling city São Paulo is. With a great international expat community that keeps in touch on InterNations.

  • Elin Gustavson

    As I already met several expat women on InterNations online, it was great to meet offline and get to know each other in real life.

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