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Living in Rio de Janeiro
A comprehensive guide about living well in Rio de Janeiro
Living in Rio de Janeiro makes for a rich cultural experience between mountains, beaches, and urban cityscapes. To get the best out of your expat experience in tropical Rio, read our guide on Rio de Janeiro for info on the locals, as well as healthcare, education, and transportation.
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Life in Rio de Janeiro
People living in Rio de Janeiro are commonly referred to as Cariocas, a term derived from the name which Tupi Indians gave the houses first built by Portuguese settlers. The term does not only refer to the local population but includes everybody who has settled down in Rio de Janeiro and has taken up the relaxed lifestyle found in Rio de Janeiro. However, expats living in Rio de Janeiro often take a while to get used to said lifestyle. This is particularly the case if you value punctuality. Throughout Brazil, time is a rather flexible concept and arriving half an hour late is quite common.
Another aspect of life in Rio de Janeiro you need to get used to when making friends with Cariocas is that touching and kissing is a typical aspect of friendly interaction. Both men and women living in Rio de Janeiro tend to greet each other with kisses on the cheeks. Although this has no romantic or sexual connotation whatsoever, it may take some time for you to adjust. The people themselves are very open and welcoming, always going out of their way to help expats settle in.
A sharp contrast to renowned and affluent areas like Copacabana and Ipanema are Rio’s working class districts, the favelas, exist in almost all neighborhoods of the city. Some of them grow into giant communities with up to 180,000 residents or more living in Rio de Janeiro’s poorer neighborhoods, such as Rocinha or São Conrado. They are home to exceptionally vibrant and diverse communities and the place of origin of most of Rio’s Samba schools.
Unfortunately, these slums are also rather problematic areas. The districts are constantly battling drug use, police brutality, and shootings. The latter are particularly dangerous as stray bullets tend to cause major damage. Despite their shaky reputation, the Favelas are still home to working families who simply try to make a living.
But because of their reputation, even the term is not considered to be exactly politically correct. Instead these districts are often referred to as morro (hill), in contrast to asfalto (asphalt), the richer and safer areas of Rio. As a consequence, the term favelado (favela resident) also sounds rather derogatory. It is advisable to use the term morador da comunidade instead.
Carnival in Rio
You cannot spend your life in Rio de Janeiro without getting sucked into the city’s Carnival extravaganza. Carnival in Rio is probably the most famous and exciting event in the entire calendar. People from around the world come to visit for this annual event and local Samba schools prepare for it all year. The Samba parade is the true highlight of life in Rio de Janeiro. It first started in the 1930s and grew rapidly to the show it is today.
However, there is much more to Carnival in Rio than the Samba parade. You should ensure you attend street carnival festivities which take place all over the city. They are free and open to anybody who wishes to participate. In addition to the parade and street festivities, there are numerous balls and parties before, during and after Carnival.
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Rio de Janeiro: Healthcare
The Healthcare System
Expats living in Rio de Janeiro benefit from Brazil’s free universal healthcare system. Thus, they have access to medical consultations, hospital treatment, and surgery as long as they reside legally in the country. The services are offered by the public health system (Sistema Único de Saude – SUS). However, while access to free medical care is definitely an advantage of living in Rio, the system is underfunded and long waiting times are the norm at public hospitals.
This is why about 25% of the population chooses private healthcare over the SUS. Many companies offer private health plans to their employees, in order to supply them with adequate healthcare coverage. If your future employer does not offer medical plans to their employees, you should make sure to get sufficient health insurance before your move to Rio, as private healthcare services can be very expensive.
While good quality medical care may not always be readily available in Brazil’s rural areas, Rio is well-equipped with hospitals, doctor’s practices and well-trained staff.
Hospitals in Rio de Janeiro
As the second largest city in Brazil and the country’s former capital, Rio is also home to several research facilities as well as various medical centers and hospitals. Some hospitals even offer special sections for their international patients with English speaking staff. We have compiled a list of some top-notch hospitals in Rio de Janeiro:
- Hospital Copa D’or is internationally accredited and abides by international standards. With its new equipment, well-trained medical staff, and high quality services in the field of surgery, post-operative care, and diagnostics, this hospital is quite popular among expats. Hospital Copa D’or is located on Rua Figueiredo Magalhães in Copacabana.
- Hospital Samaritano is another one of Rio’s private, modern hospitals which offer state-of-the-art treatments and technologies. While the hospital offers all kinds of medical services, it is well-known for its reputable cardiology department with its excellent coronary unit and cardiac surgery center. You can find the Hospital Samaritano on Rua Bambina in Botafogo.
- Hospital Sao Jose was founded by the Santa Catarina Congregation and has been providing medical care ever since 1923. Located on Rua Macedo Sobrinho in Humaitá, the large hospital offers services in all medical branches. In addition, the hospital has a big emergency department with a cardiac ward. Many expats visit this hospital for its international patient section and its English speaking staff.
Common Health Risks
If you plan on escaping the hustle and bustle of Rio de Janeiro from time to time, you should make sure to get all the necessary vaccinations beforehand. For instance, yellow fever vaccinations are strongly recommended if you travel to Brasilia or to rural areas and jungle regions. But even if you never get to leave the city of Rio, you should not forget to get a hepatitis A and B vaccination, as well as vaccinations against rabies and typhoid.
Some areas of Brazil are also malaria risk areas and you should not hesitate to take necessary precautions before travelling to these areas. The same applies to dengue fever. Make sure to contact a doctor to discuss potential health risks before your move to Rio de Janeiro.
Education and Transport in Rio de Janeiro
The Education System
In Rio, mandatory education starts at the age of six when children begin to attend Ensino Fundamental, the elementary and middle school. After nine years of education at the Ensino Fundamental, students can choose to attend the Ensino Médio for the following three years.
Public schools in Rio are free of charge. However, expat children rarely benefit from free public education as, in order to enroll in a public school, children need to prove that they have an adequate level of Portuguese skills. If your kids do not know enough Portuguese to pass the adaptação exam, attending a public school in Rio is not an option. When you begin to choose a private school for your child, keep in mind that most of these schools are run by the Catholic Church.
If you decide against a private Catholic school and if your child does not qualify for attending a public school, you may choose to send them to an international school in Rio. Most international schools are based on the British or American education system and often offer the opportunity to receive the International Baccalaureate (IB). International schools in Rio de Janeiro are:
- Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro
- Rio International School
- British School in Rio de Janeiro
- Centro Internacional de Educação Integrada (IB World School, website in Portuguese)
- Escola Suíço-Brasileira – Swiss-Brazilian School (IB World School, website in Portuguese)
Getting Around Rio de Janeiro
There are many ways of getting around Rio de Janeiro. It is said that finding your way around the city is not that hard, even if you have just arrived in Rio. The popular tourist attractions are located on the city’s south side and can easily be explored by foot. Make sure to invest in a pair of comfortable shoes and a sun hat and take a walk around the area. However, if you are not into walking have a look below for some advice on how to get around town.
Taking the Car
Although it might sound like the most convenient way of getting around, driving in Rio can be quite stressful. First of all, Cariocashave adopted a very anarchic style of driving and don’t always stop at red lights. Instead they simply slow down and drive on when the road is clear. The good news is that, ever since a new driving code with heavier penalties and fines has been implemented, driving in Rio has turned into an almost civilized experience.
Keep in mind that, while driving might have gotten easier in Rio de Janeiro, parking sure hasn’t. It can be quite tiresome to find a parking spot in the city. And even if you do, you still need to pay the flanelinha (parking attendant) for looking after your car. This is common practice in Brazil.
Finding a taxi in Rio de Janeiro is no rocket science. In fact, the yellow vehicles with their blue stripe on the side are virtually everywhere. Yellow taxis are metered but keep in mind that the fare can be higher on weekends and in the evening after 9pm. It is not recommended to agree on pre-paid deals when taking a yellow taxi. These types of deals are illegal and your driver may try to rip you off. Try to hail another cab instead.
Of course, you can also choose to take one of the white, blue, or red radio taxis for a slightly more sophisticated way of travelling. These taxis are bigger and air-conditioned. You will need to call ahead to order a radio taxi and inquire if they charge by meter or if there is a flat rate.
Riding the Bus
Throughout Rio’s south side neighborhoods, air-conditioned buses, so-called frescão (fresh guys), can be hailed from the street much like taxis. They connect the south side neighborhoods with downtown, the airport, and Barra. However, these buses do not have a steady schedule and thus do not run frequently. You may have to wait for one of these buses for a while. Beach corners and lifeguard stations often function as informal stops.
Regular buses are probably the city’s most popular, albeit trickiest, means of transportation. Although buses are quite cheap, they are often not air-conditioned and packed like sardine cans. Unfortunately, safety is a serious issue on public buses and pick-pocketing and petty theft is rather common. If you still wish to take the bus to explore Rio de Janeiro, do not carry valuables and jewelry openly and try to look like you belong.
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