Where to Live for Expats in Brazil

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: June 2014

Finding the right place to live in Brazil depends on many factors. There are practical considerations such as accommodation prices, standard and cost of living and availability of local amenities. Then there are emotional criteria, such as the desirability of a place – whether what you desire is happiness, safety, friendly locals, entertainment or a quiet life.

With international investment pouring in, Brazil is becoming an increasingly attractive place to live in. In the past six years, house prices in Brazil have more than doubled, though the market has started to quieten down of late. Property prices in Brazil are still reasonable compared to those in most Western cities, but, at least for locals, the level of affordability is considerably lower, due to wages being low in Brazil.

The Amazon region, North Brazil, is not very popular with expats. Though there is not a great deal of work available in the Northeast, the region is popular with both sun-seekers and the retired. Coastal cities such as Fortaleza, Recife and Salvador all have lively expat communities. Moreover, Natal in Rio Grande do Norte is rated as the most liveable city in the country. Accommodation prices in this area are generally still low, though they are rising fast. The North-East is cheap, and continues to get cheaper as you go further north-east. Recife, for example, has a price to income ratio of about 10.

The Southeast is the most populous of Brazil’s five regions. São Paulo is the most important city for business and finance in the country, and by some distance the most important for expat job opportunities. The city is the most ethnically diverse in South America, so there is a fair chance that you will meet some expats from your own country or region. It is a sprawling, massive city that has sharply distinct districts between rich and poor. Most expats are to be found in the southern part of the city, the Zona Sul, or in nearby satellite towns for those who do not mind a longer commute.

Rio de Janeiro is one of the most celebrated holiday destinations in the world. It is a real party town, especially around Mardi Gras, where it plays host to the biggest carnival on earth. The lifestyle in Rio is relaxed with an emphasis on the beach, football and nightlife. Here and in São Paulo, most expat accommodation is in the form of gated communities. Note that accommodation in Rio is expensive in terms of price to income ratio, which is around 20.

Like most world cities, Rio struggles with traffic congestion, and the city has major problems with air pollution and crime. More to the point, Rio does not have the level of expat job opportunities that São Paulo has. Many expats who live in Rio work as English teachers or are connected with the petrochemical sector, which is centred on Macaé, 110 miles to the north-east.

Brazil’s capital is in the up-and-coming West Central Region. Brasilia is a comparatively safe city, with a relatively low crime rate and the highest standard of living of any Brazilian city. Brasilia is considerably more sedate than elsewhere in the country. Most positions of work are either in the government or government-related. As it is in the Brazilian Highlands, temperatures in the capital are milder than elsewhere. Houses are considerably more affordable in Brasilia than in Rio or São Paulo; the price to income ratio is around 12.

The Southern region also contains some cities that are popular with expats. Curitiba, to the south-west of São Paulo in the state of Paraná, is the most popular city in this region. Porto Alegre, in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, is popular with those who prefer a milder climate, though wages and property affordability are low.