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Living in Brazil: Content Index

About Brazil


Brazil - the name has long conjured up colorful images of soccer and carnival, beaches and rainforests, the many faces of a vibrant and multicultural nation. Brazil is of course one of the countries that make up the BRICs acronym and as such has a rapidly developing economy and a massive population of almost 200 million. More recently the country has been the scene of socio-political unrest and protests against corruption and the vast expense of staging the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics against a backdrop of widespread poverty and illiteracy.

One indication of the country's educational woes are reflected in its low position in global rankings of English language proficiency. A 2012 EF survey of global standards ranked Brazil at #46, in the lowest category of "very low proficiency." It lags behind the rest of Latin America as well as the global average, with the expected large variation between the urban centers and outlying rural areas. The problem is largely attributed to "the poor quality of public schools across Latin America combined with unequal access to education" and generally low levels of literacy in the native language.

The problem continues into adulthood - a 2011 survey found that only 11 percent of Brazilian job candidates could communicate well in English, and only 3.4 percent of all candidates could speak fluent English. A 2009 study found that 24 percent of Brazilian professionals speak fluent English, and that only 8 percent of Brazilian executives speak fluent English. A large majority of corporate Brazilians report that they have lost out financially due to the language barrier in international business.

This of course means lots of potential for EFL teachers, particularly in the lead up to the major sporting events. Getting a visa that allows you to work legally in Brazil is difficult (see below), so a sense of adventure, quick wits, and a thick skin will certainly increase the chances of success. As in most countries, having some friends or connections on the ground makes a huge difference when getting over the initial hurdles, looking for a job, and generally getting established.

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Well known as the only South American country not to have Spanish as its official language, Brazil is actually home to an estimated 210 languages, of which about 180 are indigenous. But Portuguese is spoken by about 99% of the population and despite the size of the country the language is spoken very uniformly. English is the most widely used second language among the educated population, but the role of Spanish in facilitating international exchange with the rest of Latin America means a lesser motivation to learn English.

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Cost of living

It would be a mistake to make a simple assumption that prices in Brazil will be cheaper across the board than in North America or Europe. Indeed due mainly to high taxes some items will be more expensive and some "optional" expenses (such as private health issuance) may not turn out to be quite necessary.

First of all, the local currency is the Real. Over the last 4 years it has fluctuated in the range of 0.4-0.6 US Dollars. At the time of writing (July 2013) the Brazilian Real is about 0.45 US Dollars.

The cost of living in Brazil obviously varies widely between the big cities and rural areas. For a single person living in a medium-sized city, a decent standard of living would cost about R$2500 per month, including private health insurance and use of public transport. The cost would be about double that amount for a couple with a car. For a family of four, again with a car and assuming the children go to private school, the average would be around R$8000.

The cost of living in one of the major cities such as Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro is considerably higher, particularly for "ex-pat" expenses such as international school fees and socializing every night of the week.

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Initially, you may find yourself in a pousada, which in Portuguese means a "place to land" or "place to stay." The term refers to a wide range of independently-run accommodation, from small B&Bs, guesthouses, ecolodges, to sophisticated boutique hotels.

At the top end of the accommodation market you have areas like Rio de Janeiro's Zona Sul, where a small one-bed apartment will set you back a minimum of R$1500 a month. In such coveted neighborhoods as Ipanema or Leblon, that figure rises to R2500. Usually the landlord will pay the building tax or IPTU (which is based on the square footage of the apartment) but you'll still have to cough up the condominium service charge.

Considering a national average for a mid-size city, a small kitnet (studio apartment) will set you back around R$500 per month, a 1-bed apartment about R$1000 and a 3-bed house would be about R$2500. Plus in some cases the obligatory IPTU tax.

Purely for comparison purposes (and maybe give you something to aim for) an upscale two-bedroom expat apartment in São Paulo would be more than R$4500 per month, while you can expect to pay anything up to R$22,000 or more for a casa, or family home. The latter of course will usually provide amenities to match the price as well as accommodation for staff.

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Check the latest information regarding vaccines and medicines and visit your doctor (ideally, 4-6 weeks) before your trip to get any vaccines or medicines you may need. It is generally recommended that long-term travelers to Brazil are vaccinated against hepatitis A & B, typhoid, and rabies. Malaria from mosquito bites is another disease to be careful of, even in some urban areas such as Porto Velho, Boa Vista and Manaus. Yellow fever is a risk in certain parts of the country, including Brasilia and all rural or jungle regions.

Universal access to medical care is available free to anyone living in Brazil. But the system is over-stretched and under-funded -- to the extent that about 25% of the population have private health insurance -- and access is an issue in some regions. Particularly in the northeast, medical care is not always available.

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Due to high taxes, cars are relatively expensive in Brazil. Cars are the most popular way of getting around, though driving in major cities such as Sao Paulo can be a nightmare. 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.

Public transport in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro is generally good, but the only option available in most other cities and elsewhere is busses. And navigating route maps and timetables, and even locating bus stops are not tasks for the faint of heart.

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Internet and Wi-fi

Most urban homes and rented accommodation have internet, and an increasing number have wi-fi. Where internet access is not available there will usually be an internet café in the nearest village. Smartphones and mobile phones should work in most places if they are activated for roaming, but there are still areas of Brazil where there is no coverage at all.

Brazil is a large country and the voltage varies from state to state and sometimes within states. It can be 110v or 220v. Check with individual accommodation. Plugs used to be either 2-pin US style or elongated European. However more recently a 3-pin version has emerged as standard.

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Basic education in Brazil begins with the pre-school level, 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, but tend to be poorly funded and overcrowded. There are many alternatives in the private sector, including hiring a nanny, but these would be beyond the reach of a basic teaching salary.

Compulsory education begins at the age of six, and all children attend elementary school and middle school for a total of nine years. Afterwards, students can choose to go on to high school for another three years. Public schools are free of charge. But if you're moving to Brazil with children, they can only enroll in public schools if they have sufficient Portuguese skills and pass the aptitude test set by the school. There are also some private schools run by the Catholic church. International schools in the major cities mostly teach a US or UK curriculum or may offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

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Handpicked Links

General guides to Brazil

Websites/articles about teaching English in Brazil

English schools in Brazil

English teaching jobs in Brazil

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  • About Brazil
  • Language
  • Cost of living
  • Accommodation
  • Health
  • Transport
  • Internet and Wi-fi
  • Children
  • Handpicked Links
      - renata



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