Cost of Living in Brazil
Expats might be surprised to learn that the cost of living in Brazil is relatively high. The dream of lying on a beach sipping water from a coconut without a care in the world is quickly replaced by the reality of high prices. On Mercer's 2015 Cost of Living Index, Sao Paulo is ranked at a high 40th, Rio de Janeiro is at 67th and Brasilia is ranked at 150th out of 207 cities worldwide. Expats will find it less expensive to live in rural areas than in the cities, but some costs will still be high and access to goods and services will be limited.
Expenses vary widely across categories. In general, accommodation, transportation and manufactured goods are expensive; food costs are variable based on whether one eats out or cooks at home, and services are relatively inexpensive because labour costs are low.
Brazil has made significant strides in moving people out of extreme poverty over the past decade and in decreasing income inequality. However, there are still vast disparities in wealth between the richest and the poorest. Expats making an international salary will be among the wealthy, and even those making a local salary will likely find that they are firmly upper middle class. While Brazil remains well behind the US and Western Europe in terms of overall development, living in a city and earning a good salary, expats have access to most of the conveniences they can expect to find anywhere in the world. These include restaurants, cultural activities, household goods, clothing and accessories, and a wide variety of services.
Two other important factors for expats to keep in mind are the relative strength of the currency, the Brazilian Real (BRL), and inflation. The real has strengthened dramatically against the US dollar in recent times, leaving a lot of expats feeling the pinch of spending more dollar-equivalents to get the same thing.
Cost of accommodation in Brazil
Rental accommodations are expensive and will likely be an expat’s biggest expense. Expats on assignment from international companies may have a housing allowance to help offset the high cost.
One can spend less by living in a less central location, although one may find that transportation costs increase as a result.
Cost of food and drink in Brazil
Food costs vary in Brazil. Restaurant meals are fairly expensive. However, basic groceries are more moderately priced, so expats who choose to eat at home can manage food costs more easily. Major cities have upscale grocery stores that carry a wide range of imported items for those expats who miss peanut butter or HP sauce. Shopping at local markets for basics, like bread, grains, produce and meat, yields the lowest grocery prices. Another thing to keep in mind is that locally produced food is almost always less expensive - in cities on the coast, seafood will be less expensive, while beef and pork will cost less in inland farming regions.
Brazilians are well-known lovers of beer and cachaça, the national liquor made from sugar cane. Both are readily available, as are a wide selection of wines and liquors. Prices on beer and wine are very reasonable, but imported liquors are expensive. Expats can save money by purchasing some at duty free on their way into the country.
Cost of clothing and goods in Brazil
Manufactured items of all kinds are very expensive, particularly clothing, appliances, household goods, and especially electronics. Expats may want to purchase goods in their home countries to avoid paying the high prices in Brazil.
Cost of transportation in Brazil
Transportation expenses in Brazil are high. Cars cost much more in Brazil than in many other countries. Parking, insurance, oil changes are also rather expensive.
Cost of schooling in Brazil
Expats with children will find that education costs in Brazil will rival, if not exceed, their rental expenses. Public schools in Brazil have a bad reputation, and Brazilians with the resources to do so almost always send their children to private schools. Expats seeking to enrol their children in the highly regarded international schools, however, will find them very expensive.
Cost of healthcare in Brazil
Healthcare is also expensive in Brazil. However, many drugs that are prescription elsewhere are more easily available in Brazil, and pharmacists are well informed and easily available to answer questions and provide advice for simple health concerns.
Cost of services in Brazil
The one area that expats will likely find inexpensive in Brazil is services. Prices for beauty, housecleaning, repair and other services are all quite low because of how low salaries are. Many comparable services like these cost less in Brazil than in the US or Western Europe.
Cost of living in Brazil chart (Based on Rio De Janeiro, 2015)
(Note that prices may vary depending on location and service provider and the table below is based on average prices)
|Furnished two bedroom house||BRL 4,500|
|Unfurnished two bedroom house||BRL 3,000|
|Furnished two bedroom apartment||BRL 3,200|
|Unfurnished two bedroom apartment||BRL 2,000|
|Milk (1 litre)||BRL 3.15|
|Loaf of white bread||BRL 3.05|
|Rice (1kg)||BRL 3.53|
|Pack of chicken breasts (1kg)||BRL 13.40|
|Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)||BRL 6.25|
Big Mac meal
|Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant||BRL 60|
Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)
|Internet (uncapped ADSL or Cable – average per month)||BRL 80|
|Electricity (average per month for standard household)||BRL 320|
|Hourly rate for a domestic cleaner||BRL 16|
|City centre bus fare||BRL 3.40|
|Taxi (rate per km)||BRL 2.05|
|Petrol (per litre)||BRL 3.50|