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. Three of Brazil’s cities - Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Brasilia - have the dubious honour of making it onto Mercer’s 2012 list of the 50 most expensive cities in the world. 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 you’re eating out or cooking yourself, and services are relatively inexpensive because labour costs are low. The average monthly salary in Brazil is the equivalent of about USD 680, but the extremes between rich and poor are dramatic: an average worker in the bottom 10 percent makes USD 77 per month while one in the top 10 percent makes USD 3,019.
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. And inflation is currently approximately 5.8 percent so money sitting in the bank loses value quickly.
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. Average monthly rent for a three-bedroom apartment in central, upscale locations are as follows for some of Brazil’s largest cities:
- Rio de Janeiro: BRL 6,400
- São Paulo: BRL 5,800
- Belo Horizonte: BRL 4,000
You can spend less by living in a less central location, although you may find that your 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 you 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. In 2012, the iPhone was more expensive in Brazil than anywhere else it was sold in the world (an iPhone 5 can currently be yours for about BRL 3,000). 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, with the lowest priced cars costing about BRL 30,000-40,000, but quickly going up from there. An average car will likely cost somewhere around BRL 60,000. Parking, insurance, oil changes are also rather expensive. And with gasoline at about BRL 3 per litre and climbing, driving doesn’t come cheap either.
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 enroll their children in the highly regarded international schools, however, will find them very expensive. Annual costs can range from BRL 40,000 - 70,000 per year, depending upon city and age of children, with a one-time registration fee of BRL 10,000 - 30,000 per child.
Cost of healthcare in Brazil
Healthcare is also expensive in Brazil, with average cost of a doctor’s consultation for an uninsured patient of about BRL 200 - 250. 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. You might pay BRL 80 – BRL 100 for a housekeeper to come once a week for 10 hours to clean and cook or BRL 15 for a pedicure. Many comparable services like these cost less in Brazil than in the US or Western Europe.
Cost of Living in Brazil Price Chart (2012, prices in Brazilian Reals - BRL)
Food and Drink
|2.19 BRL /litre|
|White bread||4.79 BRL/loaf|
|White sugar||4.20 BRL/2 kg|
|Coca Cola||1.59 BRL /250ml|
|Still mineral water||1.29 BRL/500 ml; 13 BRL/20 litres (delivered)|
|Olive oil||12.98 BRL/500 ml|
|Fresh beef filet||20-29 BRL/kg|
|Pork Bacon (1 package)||8.00 BRL|
|Frozen whole chicken||5.98 BRL/kg|
|Fresh white fish||58 BRL/kg|
|Table salt||1.99 BRL/kg|
|Milk chocolate bar||2.29 - 4.99 BRL|
|Shampoo (400 ml)||15 BRL|
|Purchase of low cost cell phone||119 BRL|
|Purchase of Blackberry cell phone||1,400 BRL|
|Three-minute: call - cell phone||0.75 BRL for local within your network,
7 BRL for long distance to a fixed line
|Cable TV||40 -150 BRL/month|
|Electricity (highly variable)||0.62 BRL/kWh,
or 300-450 BRL/month for an apartment
|Water (highly variable)||16 BRL/month; typically incl. in apartment rent|
|Three-course dinner in restaurant||70 BRL|
|Fast-food meal||18 BRL|
|Cup of coffee in bar/cafe||1.50 BRL|
|Spirit (1 tot)||10 -17 BRL|
|Bottle of wine (moderately priced)||25 - 59 BRL|
|Bottle beer||2 - 7.50 BRL|
|Bar/Club Entry||0 - 30 BRL|
|Cigarettes||4.25 - 8 BRL/pack|
|Cinema Ticket||21 BRL|
|Entrance to beach||Free|
Services – health, appearance
|Gym Membership (annual payment per individual)||1,800 - 2,500 BRL|
|Average male haircut (Western salon)||30 BRL|
|Average female cut and blowdry (Western salon)||75 BRL|