This week I would like to dedicate this post to all of my Portuguese students who are planning to visit or even live in Brazil but don’t know much about our culture and country. Here is a list of the most important aspects to consider when traveling to Brazil on a holiday or for a long-term stay.
Samba and cerveja are the highlights of the famous Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. But Carnival is not the only time of year that Brazil parties. Brazil is known for its entertainment, nightlife, and beautiful beaches. The sunny weather and fun-loving people make this a popular destination for tourists.
From the stunning southeastern coastline to the Amazon Basin and mountain ranges, Brazil’s landscape is unparalleled. Its rainforests, exotic wildlife, and energetic cities, along with its diverse mix of ethnic groups, make this destination a popular choice for tourists.
Click here to see a little about Brazil.
Brazilians are warm, welcoming, and free-spirited. They love to sing, dance, and celebrate with other people. Family and community are of foremost importance and relationships within these circles of highest priority.
The following are some helpful guidelines for etiquette.
- Men tend to greet each other with a firm, lingering handshake, and hugging and backslapping among closer friends.
- Women greeting men should extend their hand first. It is not uncommon for men and women to exchange kisses on the cheek upon first meeting.
- Women greeting other women usually kiss each other, beginning with the left cheek and switching to the right cheek. Sometimes just one kiss is given; however, two to three kisses, alternating cheeks, is most common.
- Personal space in Brazil is quite close when compared to North America. Touching the arms, back, hands and shoulders when conversing is the norm and may appear to some as overly intimate. Pulling away from the close contact would be somewhat offensive.
- Time is event-based as opposed to being dictated by the clock. It is quite common, and acceptable, to arrive late to functions. Lateness, while perceived by North Americans as disrespectful, is viewed by Brazilians as taking the time to care for those in the moment, as opposed to rushing away to a scheduled event.
- If given a gift, open it immediately.
As Brazilians tend to keep family life as private as possible, socializing often takes place in restaurants. The biggest meal of the day is generally taken at noon, with dinner meals served later in the day than most North American families would be used to.
Following are some helpful dining hints:
- Arrive approximately 30 minutes late for a dinner meal and up to one hour late for a large party.
- If dining at someone’s home, take flowers or a small gift. Dress as elegantly as possible for a formal occasion.
- Before starting to eat, say, “Bom apetite”.
- The fork and knife are used to eat virtually everything. Rarely would Brazilians use their bare hands to eat food.
- Unless left-handed, the fork is held with the left hand and the knife with the right.
- Do not put your elbows on the table when dining, particularly in a formal setting.
- Avoid talking with food in your mouth.
- Avoid talking about politics, poverty, religion, or anything related to Brazil’s long-standing rival, Argentina. Sports, family, and entertainment are appropriate dinner-time conversations.
- When dining in a restaurant, signal the waiter when ready to order, as they will not come to your table unless requested to do so.
- Unless already added to the bill, a 10% gratuity is appropriate.
- Do not eat and walk at the same time.
Language in Brazil
Portuguese is the national language of Brazil, spoken by nearly 100 percent of the population. Other languages do exist, primarily spoken in the Amazon basin; however, many are considered endangered and some spoken by fewer than 200 people.
Following is a list of common Portuguese phrases. Learning the language, even at a very basic level, is a compliment to the national people. There are many ways to learn conversational Portuguese, including: watching English movies with Portuguese sub-titles, studying a pocket phrasebook, or striking up conversations in the marketplace. Forcing oneself to speak the language to get around and to purchase goods is extremely helpful.
How are you?
What is your name?
Qual é o seu nome?
My name is
Meu nome ë
Do you speak English?
Você fala Inglês?
How much does this cost?
Quanto custa isso?
Where’s the toilet?
Onde é o banheiro?
Investing in a pocket phrasebook would be an invaluable purchase. Even if pronouncing a particular word feels unrealistic, pointing to the word in a phrasebook may prove very helpful.
Climate in Brazil
Most of Brazil enjoys a tropical climate. Within its borders, however, there are five other climatic subtypes including equatorial, semiarid, highland tropical, temperate, and subtropical. As most of Brazil is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reverse of North American seasons: summer runs from December through February and winter from June through August. Generally speaking, April through November is cooler.
North – Northern Brazil experiences temperatures in the high 30s between December through February and in the mid-20s to low-30s during the rest of the year. Average temperatures throughout the year are about 25°C.
Coast – Temperatures along the coast tend to have temperatures averaging between 23-27°C. The trade winds keep the climate moderate, explaining the dense population in this area.
South – Temperatures in Southern Brazil can go as low as 15°C from June through August and can reach as high as 35°C in the summer. This part of Brazil experiences rainfall throughout the year. Winter frosts are not uncommon in the more southern regions with occasional snowfalls in the higher elevation areas.
Torrential rains causing floods, landslides, and droughts are Brazil‘s most common natural disasters.
Eating in Brazil
Brazil is replete with tropical fruit and fantastic traditional dishes. Eating out is one of the celebrated parts of the culture. Brazilians have a passion for food and spend long evenings lingering over their famous cuisine. Dining out in Brazil is very affordable, making the experience of sampling the many dishes available even more appealing.
Popular food choices include:
- Churrasco (Brazilian barbecued meat)
- Torresmo (similar to refried beans)
- Caruru (made with okra, dried shrimp, coconut milk, cashews, peanuts, and red hot peppers)
- Cozido (stew with potatoes, carrots, and vegetables)
- Feijoada (Brazil’s national dish; a meat stew served with rice and beans)
- Dourado (freshwater fish)
- Carangueijada (whole cooked crab)
- Barreado (spicy meat served with banana and farofa)
A good practice is to keep a notebook for food preferences after sampling various dishes at functions or good choices ordered at restaurants.
Food Costs in Brazil
The cost of living in Brazil is quite low; however, the purchase of imported goods is generally higher than one would pay in North America.
American restaurants/cafés are a common sight in Brazil, including:
- T.G.I. Friday’s
- Tony Roma’s
- Hard Rock Café
- Outback Steakhouse
- Burger King
- Pizza Hut
Walmart’s explosion into the Brazilian marketplace has been a welcome shopping option for foreigners in Brazil. Its retail stores include: Sam’s Club, Supercenter, Todo Dia, HyperMarket, and SuperMarket, among others. Carrefour, another leader in the Brazilian marketplace, has retail stores throughout Brazil including: Carrefour hypermarkets, Atacadão hypermarkets, and Dia discount stores.
Metered taxi service is available and reasonably priced for shorter distances in most cities in Brazil. Some drivers speak English; however, many only speak Portuguese. Passengers should insist that the meter is turned on during the ride. Meters start at approximately R$4 and cost about R$2/km during the day, with evenings and holidays being higher. While tipping is not required, a 10% gratuity is appropriate for excellent service. Most taxis are identified by red licence plates.
Tips When Traveling By Taxi:
- Ask other foreign teachers which taxi companies are safe and reliable.
- When flagging a taxi, stand at a spot on the curb where the driver can pull over.
- Choose a taxi that is metered, and make sure the meter is working.
- Choose a taxi driver that appears to be well-groomed with a well-kept car.
- Make note of, and use the driver’s name.
- Follow your instincts. If you feel unsafe, remove yourself from the taxi and get another.
- Carry a map so that you can point to the location to which you are traveling.
Train and Subway
The train system in Brazil has become outdated and less popular than other types of transportation. While services are available between some cities, they are few in number and quite inefficient. Railroads are mainly used for cargo. Plans exist for a high-speed rail network between some of the major cities in the future. Railway services between countries connected to Brazil are almost non-existent.
Light rail transit systems operate in several major cities in Brazil. Sao Paulo Metro, the first underground transit system in Brazil, works with the Companhia Paulista de Trens Metropolitanos (CPTM) to transport over 3.5 million people daily. It is reputed to be one of the cleanest and safest underground systems in the world and has affordable fares.
Bus services in most Brazilian city centers are readily available, inexpensive and widely used. Rush hour can cause challenges with overcrowding and shortage of seats. Most intercity buses do not have air conditioning and are not well-maintained.
Using the bus is the most popular mode of transportation between city centers. They are generally excellent, with inexpensive fares and air conditioning for some of the longer lines. Services exist between major cities and even extend to more remote areas.
Brazilian airlines allow passengers to travel domestically with relative ease at a reasonable price. A departure tax is generally added to the price of the ticket. There are several domestic airlines, with little difference between them in terms of ticket prices.
For the adventurous and those who wish to take in the picturesque sights of Brazil, travel on ferries or boats through the inland waterways can be spectacular. Fares are affordable.
Cycling is a common form of transportation in the smaller cities and towns of Brazil, but less common in the larger city centers. A right of way is not commonly given to cyclists and so extra caution should be taken when riding. Some cycling clubs exist for the avid rider.
Tips When Riding a Bicycle:
- Wear a helmet.
- Carry an extra shirt with you as hot temperatures will make for a sweaty ride.
- Ensure that your bicycle is well-secured when parked or stored.
- Foreigners should write their name, phone number, and work address on their bicycle.
Many car companies manufacture their products in Brazil, making the purchase of a vehicle more affordable for teachers who plan to stay for a lengthy period of time. An international driver’s licence or national driver’s licence is required. Roadways throughout Brazil vary from well-maintained, to pot-holed and treacherous. Major highways are marked with BR on signs.
Car rentals are readily available for those who wish to travel throughout the country when on holiday. Some tips to keep in mind:
- If an oncoming car flashes its headlights, it is an indication that caution should be taken.
- Doors should be kept locked when driving as robberies are quite common.
- As a precautionary measure, interior car lights should not be illuminated at night.
- Valuables should be kept out of sight if traveling with open windows.
Health care reforms in recent years have resulted in government-funded services for all Brazilians. Currently, a two-tiered system exists, whereby public health care is available for nationals and expatriates free of charge, and private health care is available for a fee. The quality of health care is adequate in the public system and at varying levels of high standard in the private system. Securing comprehensive insurance from one’s home country is highly recommended. Some schools provide private health insurance in contracts.
The statutory retirement age in Brazil, the age at which citizens are eligible for state pensions, is 65 for men and 60 for women. While the average age of teachers in Brazil is in the late 20s, older teachers do find opportunities.
Technology and Advancement
Brazil is considered to be one of the most “connected” countries in the world, with mobile phones and social networking among the most prolific.
Mobile phones in Brazil are everywhere. In the country’s capital, Brasilia, there are more cell phones than there are people. Most people use pre-paid service plans, which require the use of a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card. The SIM card can be reloaded by use of calling cards, which are widely available. Public phones are still commonly used in Brazil and sometimes preferred. Mobile rates continue to become more affordable; however, international calls from Brazil are quite expensive.
Internet access is available at internet cafés in main towns and cities, and sometimes available at post offices in smaller towns. Internet cafés generally charge between R$1.75 and R$5.30. Most schools would have Internet access available for teachers.
The low cost of living, dining, and traveling expenses allow for a moderate lifestyle.
Expected Apartment Costs in Brazil
Apartment costs are higher in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Brasilia, but more affordable in city centers like Santos, Salvador (Bahia), Recife (Pernambuco), or Fortaleza (Ceara). The same modest apartment in Rio De Janeiro, Sao Paulo or Brasilia costing R$1,500/month or higher may only cost R$800/month in Salvador. R$2,500/month in Sao Paulo would provide a high-end apartment. A fully furnished one-bedroom hotel flat with access to a swimming pool in Santos, for example, could be found for approximately R$1,500. Finding an adequate apartment in one of the less expensive city centers for R$500 – 700 is realistic. Sometimes student housing near universities is available and more affordable.
Banking in Brazil
Brazil’s once cash-only economy is moving to a more modern debit and credit card system. ATMs are readily accessible and many accept foreign cards, allowing withdrawals of the local currency from an account in one’s home country.
Most banks in Brazil are open Monday through Friday, 10:00 – 16:00, and have at least one English-speaking employee. There are many private and state-owned banks throughout Brazil, and a few international banks, including, HSBC and Citibank.
Even though online banking is available, many Brazilians choose to go to the bank in person, making lengthy queues something to anticipate.
The following documentation is required in order to open a bank account in Brazil:
- A valid foreigner’s identity card (Cëdula de Identidade para Estrangeiro – CIE) which contains the Registro Nacional De Estrangeiro (RNE)
- Individual Taxpayer’s number (Cadastro de Pessoa Física – CPF, also referred to as Cadastro Individual de Contribuintes – CIC)
- Proof of domicile (e.g. utility bill in the name of the person opening the account)
A couple of tips:
- Credit card companies in one’s home country should be made aware of one’s relocation so that they don’t freeze accounts when they see charges in another country (unusual pattern).
- Caution should be exercised when using ATM machines by covering the keypad when entering the PIN.
Holidays in Brazil
Brazilians like to celebrate and no country does it better! Celebrations are often accompanied by singing, dancing, and fantastically-coloured costuming. Below is a list of the primary holidays celebrated in Brazil:
New Years Day – January 1
Carnaval – February or March
Four days of celebration before the beginning of the Lent season
Easter – March or April
Celebrated throughout Brazil, but especially in the historic towns of Minas Gerais and Novo Jerusalem
Tiradentes – April 21
Commemoration of the execution of Joaquim Josë da Silva Xavier, a leading member of the Brazilian revolutionary movement seeking independence from Portugal
Labor Day – May 1
Celebration of the economic and social achievements of the working class
Corpus Christi – June
A Western Catholic feast celebrating the Eucharist
Independence Day – September 7
Celebration of independence from Portugal
Our Lady of Aparecida – October 12
Celebration of Brazil’s patron saint, Nossa Senhora Aparecida
All Souls Day – November 2
Primarily a Catholic celebration, in commemoration of the faithful departed
Proclamation Day – November 15
The commemoration of the overthrow of Brazil’s second Emperor, Dom Pedro II in 1889, and the declaration of the United States of Brazil by Field Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca
Christmas Day – December 25
Source: Oxford Seminars
I wish I knew some of this before arriving, but if you learn too much it ruins the fun of discovery 😉
Hi Jason! That’s true! I hope you enjoy your stay in Brazil. 🙂