Everyone Is Looking for the Real Brazil. We Found It!

Condo by the beach in Angra dos Reis, Rio, Brazil

As many of us care to escape the lifestyles and places where we live now,
moving to a different country is a big adjustment not to be taken lightly. More
and more people all over the world are leaving their home countries every day,
for new destinations. Many Americans are leaving for Canada and beyond.

You can read many articles about an interesting new place, and you’ll get opposing opinions. It gets confusing, who and what to believe? One of the biggest problems with articles you’ll read is that they give an overly rosy view of a place.

I’ve made the same incorrect evaluation of some places in Brazil too. It takes time to know a new place well. This is why my Brazilian wife and I have decided to write this. We talk to people on the ground and get the real scoop. We live it, the good and the bad, then we tell all about it.

The Country

Brazil has had so much influence from the US, Europe, Western Europe and Asia that it’s really a mix of all kinds of immigrants. Much of the population is concentrated on the coast. Inland you’ll find mountains, waterfalls, and farmland.

You will find one of the largest contingents of Japanese outside of Japan in São Paulo, Germans and Italians in the south and the largest Octoberfest outside of Germany in Blumenau, Santa Catarina state.

Brazil is best described as two distinct countries, the Nordeste (Northeast) and the Sul (South). The climate and people are completely different. Some say the “real” Brazil is the Nordeste and the south of Brazil is more like Europe. There is a lot of truth to it.

Brazil is very westernized and modern. They can’t get enough of the US culture, our music, movies, everything.

The transportation systems are some of the best, efficient, safe and on time. You can fly easily and cheaply anywhere inside Brazil. The bus system is excellent, that’s how many Brazilians travel, much like Greyhound in the US.

Cities have all kinds of buses running all hours of the day. These drivers think they are Enzo Ferrari. They swerve wildly and slam on the breaks as if they’re in a Grand Prix race. Hang on tight!

The Modern Brazil You Don’t Know

Brazil is very much misunderstood by Americans. The stereotypes are usually highly inaccurate. In some ways Brazil is more high tech than the US. Their cellphones only charge for outgoing calls. If someone calls you, it’s free. Most are GSM.

No one gets a paper paycheck, their money goes directly into their bank accounts. Can you imagine how much paper that saves? You can pay most of your bills at the lottery office, grocery store or drug store.

Can you imagine the power company coming by and reading your meter, then using a portable computer to print out your electric bill? The highways have electronic speed machines that will take your photo and send you the ticket in the mail.

The food in Brazil is much the same as you eat in the US. You’ll have no trouble finding Japanese, Chinese, Italian, steak houses, Sushi, German, French either.

The interior of Brazil, mostly Minas Gerais, is a source of some of the nicest gemstones in the world. Much of the worlds’ vermiculite and tourmaline comes from the interior of the state of Paraíba.

You’ll find deserts to mountain ranges to spectacular waterfalls. Brazil has such style. You’ll see the finest furniture and clothes and fashion in the world.


Brazil is the only country in South America that speaks Portuguese. Many descendants are from Portugal. Brazilian Portuguese is a little different than the Portuguese spoken in Portugal. My Brazilian friends tell that even they have a hard time understanding someone from Portugal.

If you’ve had Spanish, French (many words in common with Portuguese) or Italian, you’re in luck. It will make it a lot easier to learn. Unless you take some serious language courses, it will be tough for you to learn. It took me a couple of years before I started to understand conversations on the street.

To me, Portuguese is more like Italian than Spanish. It’s a beautiful language.

Getting to Brazil

Most of the flights out of the US either go to São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. There is an American/TAM flight from Miami to Salvador once a week. That flight makes sense if you’re headed to the Northeast, saves you about 3 hours flying time by not going all the way south to São Paulo.

TAM has started flying into Manaus from Miami now – late 2007. Problem is, that it’s hard to get out of Manaus to other cities in the Nordeste. For example, you have to fly through 2 or 3 other northern cities to get to Fortaleza. It can take you 8 hours, when a direct flight might be 3 hours.

You can fly out of most major US cities to Brazil directly. There was some talk in 2006 that American or TAM would start a new flight Miami to Recife. It has not happened so far but that would be a wonderful flight. It’s very easy to get out of Recife because it’s a major hub in the Northeast. It’s really a beautiful new airport too. Keep watching for this new flight to happen.

There are American flights out of Miami in the morning, usually around 11:00 AM, gets into São Paulo around 5:30 PM. On the way back there is a similar flight out of São Paulo mid morning to Miami getting in around 6:00 PM. I like these flights because many times they are empty.

I hate midnight flights because they are usually full and you arrive dead tired.

Try these websites to find the best flights ;

Our Preferences when Travelling Inside

Personally I like TAM airlines, they have brand new Airbus airplanes and the best rates for quite a while now. TAM is a partner with American Airlines so you can make connecting reservations inside Brazil with American, you just need to know the flight numbers.

Gol is my second preference but they can be higher in price. VARIG is in deeper trouble all the time, nearly bankrupt. They stopped flying internationally. They were the first Brazilian airline. Gol airlines recently has bought up part of VARIG.

Ocean Air is a small regional airline with smaller airplanes. Good fares too. Have flown them from Salvador to Recife.

Don’t be afraid to take many of the excellent buses on a long haul or from city to city. That’s how most Brazilians travel. Many are much like our Greyhound, air conditioned and comfortable. It’s quite safe and convenient.

Tip when flying American Airlines 767’s. One trip to Brazil I was passing through what I thought was business class and noticed most of the seats were occupied by children and not the usual passenger I would expect in business class. I asked the stewardess what was going on? She told me that American did away with Business class and this was now coach class. REALLY? This applies to a few rows – I think row 10 to row 13. You can ask for a seat in these rows and you’ll be flying business class for coach prices. Ask early.

Flight Safety

Did you know that in 2006, Brazil had 14 close mid-air collision situations with commercial aircraft? It’s not clear who is to blame but the controllers are probably overworked and underpaid. Some of them have been replaced by Federal controllers.

It all started when the new business jet being picked up by two US pilots and a Gol airplane collided over Manaus, causing the Gol airplane to crash. The business jet was cleared to change altitude but the controllers didn’t realize that the Gol airplane was above them.

The next disaster happened recently at Congonhas, the regional airport for São Paulo. A TAM flight landing in the rain realized that he could not stop by the end of the runway and applied full power to take off and go around. He didn’t clear the buildings nearby and everyone died including some on the ground. Bad judgment by the pilot.

Don’t fly into Congonhas in the rain. The runways are too short.
Not a bad idea to consider flight insurance. It’s cheap.

Interesting note on the History of Flight

Ever heard of Mr. Santos Dumont? He was a Brazilian who was supposed to be the first man to fly a powered aircraft – 3 years before the Wright Brothers. At an early age he went to France and that is where his flight took place. It’s an interesting story to research. The regional airport in Rio is named for him.

Car Racing – in every Brazilians’ blood.

Go to any airport in Brazil and you’ll see a shrine to the Brazilian racecar driver Ayrton Senna. He died at the age of 33 in a racing crash. He is like a God to the Brazilian people. The Senna name has recently made the headlines with family members racing. I believe it’s his brother and son.

Brazilians are famous all over the world as super competitive racecar drivers. The guy on the street thinks he has at least some of Senna’s genes. I personally think that Brazilian drivers are some of the best in the world.

Buying a Car in Brazil

It’s easy to buy a car in Brazil. You need a CPF, just like buying real estate. Easy to get. Brazil manufactures many of its own cars. Most of them are European models you don’t see in the US: Renault, Peugeot, certain models of VW’s and Fords. You can buy just about anything Japanese too.

They cost more here than in the US depending on the model.
I’ve owned about 5 cars here so far. One very good car shopping website is www.webmotors.com.br. Another really good website is the Brazilian eBay = www.mercadolivre.com.br

It is best to use a despachante (title clerk) to transfer the documents into your name. Usually there are plenty of them near the Federal Police station where they inspect your new car. Sometimes the dealer who sold you the car will do this for you. Ask. It is relatively inexpensive = 150 Brazilian reais (US$ 84).

Gasoline is about US$ 6.00 per gallon here so it pays to get an economical vehicle. Many of them have 1.0 liter engines. Diesel fuel is quite a bit cheaper than gasoline, almost half. There is also ethanol and natural gas available. Most of the cars with 2.0 liter or larger have natural gas kits from Italy installed. Most taxis also have them too.

Many new cars are what is called total flex. That means that they can run on gas or ethanol. Brazil is one of the few countries that is self sufficient with regards to their energy consumption. The ethanol is made from sugar cane, much of it grows in the northern part of Brazil.

Renting a Car

Renting in Brazil is easy. There are many companies at the airports and in town. Most are unlimited mileage. Also, try talking to small used car lots. Many of them rent cars too. Go for the newer cars. You’ll get a break by the week. Most rental companies charge around 80 reais (US$ 45) per day for a car with air conditioned.


Brazil is a feast for the eyes and the stomach. You’ll find most things you love to eat here. Brazilians like to eat all kinds of food.

One particular type of restaurant is a Por Kilo (by kilo). That means that you get in line at the buffet and load up your plate with anything you want, then you proceed to the scale to weight it. (No, not you, the food dummy!) Of course, they charge by the gram but most places you’ll pay 12-25 reais (US$ 7 to US$ 14) total.

Rio de Janeiro has some great Por Kilo restaurants. An excellent one was featured years ago in an article on Rio by Roger Gallo of Escape Artist fame.

You’ll find things like stroganoff, lasagna, pasta, fish, chicken, soups, seafood, cheeses, deli meats, salads. With your soft drink (bebida) be sure to say yes to limão e gelo (Lime and ice.)

Another type is a “Churrascaria”, or barbecue. Here you’ll find all kinds of meats roasting on an open fire. The waiters come to your table with long swords full of different types of meat, pork, chicken. You point to what you want and they keep coming back and forth till you explode.

One favorite is pineapple with cinnamon on the fire. They also have a salad bar and desert. Usually this kind of restaurant is one price per person. I’ve eaten at some for as little as 9 reais (US$ 5) all the way up to 55 reais (US$ 31) reais. I say bypass the expensive chains – the same ones you’ll see in US cities like Dallas, Atlanta etc. They are way overpriced.

I know of one just south down the street from the regional airport in São Paulo Congonhas. It’s Fogo do Chão. They charge 18 reais (US$ 10) per person and have a great variety of food including shrimp. A great deal.

You’ll find another fantastic deal in Balneário Camboriú on Av. Brazil. Price is 7 reais (US$ 4) reais. In the north, they tend to be of the more expensive type – 45 reais (US$ 25) per person.

If you like pizza, be sure to check out the numerous “Rodízio de Pizza” restaurants. That means they come around with all different types of pizza and you pick the kind and how much you want for one low price. Cost is usually around 10 reais (US$ 5.60) per person. You can have Portuguesa, São Francisco, calabreza, quatro queiaw6kx (four cheeses), tuna fish, etc. Again, keep eating till you explode.

The south of Brazil has many beachside restaurants in cities like Florianópolis, Balneário Camboriú, Piçarras, Bombinhas, Laguna. They serve a lot of seafood in all varieties – shrimp, huge oysters, Anchova fish (not to be confused with anchovies), like mullet.

The record for best price has to go to the tiny lunch place across from the hyper supermarket near the Extra in Recife’s Boa Viagem. You can get lunch for 4 reais (US$ 2.24). That gets you 2 meats, salad, pasta. With a liter of Coke, 2 people can walk out paying 10 reais (US$ 5.6). Husband and wife owned and hard to beat.

Buying Food & Household Items

Brazil has many large grocery stores. One store in particular is called Hiper Bompreço, owned by Wal-Mart. It looks like a Supercenter. You’ll see Sam’s Club here too.

São Paulo has many huge home remodeling stores. The smaller cities have them too; more or less like a big hardware store stateside. You can buy anything from tools to plumbing to ceramic tile.

Some of the largest grocery stores are Hiper Bompreço, Pão de Açúcar, Bom Preço, Extra.

They will have 98% of what you’re looking for. A couple notable exceptions are peanut butter, Chili mix, big red kidney beans, good canned soup, dark brown sugar. If you’re going to stay a while, bring your own stock.

You can find cold pasteurized milk but it’s rare. The long life milk the grocery stores sell is quite good. The largest name you’ll see is Parmalat.

One mandatory thing you need to bring is a good can opener. You know, the type you can buy at Target for US$ 4.00? In fact, buy two. These will cost you US$ 25 each in Brazil. Sell a Brazilian one for US$ 15.

Another thing I could not find readily was a good baking mix like Bisquick. I love those small cartons of corn muffin mix/blueberry mix/cake mix – 3 for US$ 1. Bring plenty of them too.

Brazil has all kinds of pain relievers but they are pricey. I say bring a cheap generic bottle of aspirin (99 cents) and any of the other high strength ones you normally use like Tylenol, Aleve, Advil or the store brand type like at Walgreens or Wal-Mart.

In Brazil you can buy an excellent pain pill called Dipirona. It’s cheap and very effective.

One strange thing too – bring plenty of wash cloth towels. Most American use them in the shower or bath. Few of the hotels will have them and you can’t buy them. Brazilians don’t use them.

Bring plenty of suntan lotion and oil. Most of it in Brazil comes from the USA and is very expensive; double or triple that of the US.

If you have an electronic device that takes a specific unusual battery, like a digital camera, game etc., bring an extra one with you. You might not be able to find them in all of Brazil, especially outside the big cities.

Hotels and Motels – The Difference?

Brazil has a different way of looking at things than in the US. In Brazil a hotel is a regular place to take your family, to stay one night or many. Some chains include Hotel Ibis, Best Western, Holiday Inn, Parthenon, Mercure, Formula Um.

Most Brazilian hotels have safes in their rooms. Use them! Put your extra money and all important papers in there.

Motels are something different all together. They have rooms that are set-up with large Jacuzzis, many with round beds, mirrors, TV. These are for a good night of sex and occasional sleep. They usually open up at 9:00 PM and check out time is 9:00 AM. Very private. There is even a canopy that you can drop behind your car to hide it. For those inquisitive wives or girlfriends.

Great place to spend some private time with your newest girl. Don’t attach a negative or sleazy stigma to a motel, there isn’t any. Even married couples go there to relax and have fun. Breakfast is usually included.

Occasionally when we travel and the local hotels are full or too expensive, we check into a motel for the night. When the local hotel was wanting 130 reais (US$ 73) a night, we paid 40 reais (US$ 22) a night for a fun motel. Spice up your life in a motel!


Our number one favorite place to stay is Hotel Ibis. They are all over Brazil and in Europe too. Partners with the Parthenon, Mercure.

A worldwide hotel chain – Accor Hotels. They have excellent rates, usually the best in town, as low as 79 reais (US$ 44) per night. Very nice always spotless rooms. Totally safe. Internet and cable. Just so happens that this chain owns Motel 6 in the US. Rooms in Brazil are much nicer though.

I think São Paulo has at least a dozen IBIS. Some cities like Curitiba have more than one. They have a frequent guest program where you can earn points for free stays. Have stayed for free many times all over Brazil. Always have hotel employees that speak English. Even the 800 reservation number has people who speak English. Always courteous and friendly.

Electricity Varies

Most of Brazil is 220 volts AC. Some cities like Rio de Janeiro are 110 volts AC. The power receptacles in Brazil will take your US style flat plugs. Make sure the voltage is correct for the appliance you are using. Many electrical devices you own are 100-240 volts.

That means that you can plug it into power from 100 to 240 volts without damage. These include computer notebook power adaptors, cellphone chargers and the like. Always read what it says directly on the unit before plugging it in, because it will slide in alright but it could be the wrong voltage. Your device is toast in 1 second.

Many Hotels have transformers they will lend you if you have a device that needs another voltage.

Internet in Brazil

I am always looking for unsecured wireless sites but they are rare, even in the big cities. Many Hotels have either wireless or a LAN connection in your room. There is usually a charge for this service. Try hanging out in a coffee shop near a big hotel, you might find some free wireless.

Brazil is a country of Internet Cafés. Most people cannot afford a computer at home. In the big cities you can usually find one for less than 2 reais (US$ 1.20) per hour. The malls are more expensive.

There are some really great FREE dial up providers though. I like iBest the best – www.ibest.com.br. You can download them before you leave and use them anywhere you have a telephone line. The jacks are the same as in the US. Be careful of staying on for a long time as it can get expensive. The telephone charge is by the pulse (data transfer) even if local. Check with reception first.

Telephones in Brazil

It’s quite easy to call from your hotel or a payphone in Brazil. You do need to know the ID number of the carrier in the area you are in. There are many per area. You’ll need the ID code, city code and telephone number. For example 021-81-3234-9980. Most of the big cities use 8 digit phone numbers, not 7. If the number you find on the Internet has 7 digits, you probably need to add a 3 to the front of it.

Brazilian telephone cards are cheap and easy to use. Buy one at any magazine/newspaper outlet.

Using a cellphone is expensive. If you have a GSM phone, you can buy a SIM chip for about 35 reais (US$ 19.60). Get one in the area you plan to be in most of the time because it’s expensive call across state borders. You can buy a GSM phone here for around 100 reais (US$ 56), which includes a SIM card. The best telephone provider is TIM, all they use is GSM. Some other carriers are Claro, Oi.

Cellphone to cellphone is much cheaper than fixed phone to cellphone. Fixed to fixed is cheaper yet.

Brazil has 800 access numbers for most of the US carriers like Sprint, ATT. Check their websites before you go or check with reception at your hotel, they can probably tell you what number to dial.
Once you get access, you’re in the USA system. Many Brazilian businesses have 800 numbers too.

Real Estate in Brazil

Thinking of buying income property in Brazil? Read this first.
Don’t be in a hurry to buy. Rent for a while in an area you like.
Whatever you do, never buy in an area that you have not personally spent at least 6 months at one time.

Another thing to think about: Many of you want out of the US. You want to get away from anything related to the US. Then for God’s sake, don’t rush off to some development being touted by or owned by people from the US. You’ll most likely meet up with exactly the same kind of people you’re trying to escape, your new neighbors. You might end up next door to your old Pita neighbor from Oshkosh, Joe. Be smart.

This next thing may sound obvious but to many it is not. You’ll probably find better deals once you hit the ground and look around.

What I mean is, many of the listings you see online are not the best deals. They are hoping you will fly in and buy their listing and not look around thoroughly. The local newspapers are some of the best sources of good deals. Ask people you meet if they’ve seen some good deals on apartments or houses.

Another story from Brazil. Some Brits flew in and paid 750,000 reais (US$ 419,000) for a property worth something like 300,000 reais (US$ 168,000). Last I heard was that the Federal Police were investigating the many cases of this kind. My guess is that if these people are caught, they will either go to jail or end up being deported.

Brazil does not need this kind of negative publicity.

Beware of the real estate agent who tells you he can rent your condo out all year round and make you money. I don’t care if he is Brazilian, from the UK, Europe, US, Or if he is your brother, it’s not true.

If you do a yearly to a local (the only person who will rent on a yearly basis), your rent will be substantially less. Plus, this makes it impossible for you to rent during the summer months for more. In either case the rent you receive would probably be equal, summer season or all year.

So, lets say you paid 100,000 reais (US$ 56,000) for your condo. You also have a monthly condo fee which varies from 250 to 400 reais (US$ 140 – US$ 224). Take an average of 300 reais X 12 = 3,600 reais (US$ 2013).

Maybe you can rent it out seasonally for 2,000 reais (US$ 1120) a month for 5 months = 10,000 reais (US$ 5,600). You’d be damn lucky.

IF your rental income yearly is 800-1,000 reais (US$ 450 – US$ 560) a month, we’ll use the higher 1,000 reais X 12 = 12, 000 reais (US$ 6,710). Let’s use the higher figure 12,000 reais – condo fees 3,600 reais = 8,400 reais (US$ 4,700) profit.

That does not include any realtor commission for renting your unit or other fees such as yearly taxes on your property. Do you expect to have lawyer fees too? You will. 2,000 reais (US$ 1,120).

Do you speak Portuguese? No? You’ll end up having documents translated for you. What will you pay to register your real estate? Most cities charge around 4.5% based on the sales price 100,000 reais = 4,500 reais (US$ 2520).

It adds up fast and all these fees have to be added to your cost of buying.

Anyway, look at the numbers. Your profit percentage is 100,000 reais/ 8,400 reais = 8.4%. In reality it will be closer to 5% PER YEAR. That’s 5,000 reais on a 100,000 reais investment or US$ 2,800.

Would a wise person go into this kind of venture in a foreign country, making 5% to 8.4% per year with 100,000 reais invested? I doubt it. Ask your accountant what he thinks.

Sand Castle Houses

Another thing to be aware of is what we call “sand castle” buildings.  Back 10 to 20 years ago some builders tried to save money by not using the right concentration of cement vs sand in their buildings. The result is a place that is poorly constructed and a dangerous place to live. That is because the walls and anywhere concrete is used, it is structurally weak. Some telltales are powdery and cracking walls.

The concrete on the walls will decay and fall off in big pieces. Other places where rain water might have seeped in, you’ll see erosion of the walls just like you’d see in the sand where a river of water came through. All of this is because of using too little concrete (cement).

Look for these signs of a “Sand castle” building and run as fast as you can. There was one apartment near my old place, in front of the ocean for 27,000 reais (US$ 15,100). Looked like a great deal when my apartment was selling for 90,000 reais (US$ 50,000), but it wasn’t at any price.

Some areas are good for investment, many are not. Buy a nice little beachy condo for yourself and walk to the ocean and enjoy it. You can stay in Brazil for 6 months per calendar year without a problem. You’ll need to go to the Federal Police to extend your visa usually as most entries are good for 3 months. It’s easy to do.

They are most friendly and helpful to tourists.

Maritime Land

If you’re interested in buying ocean front land, you can do it without a problem. You can even open up a business on the land in front of your lot. Some people only rent this access called maritime land. They setup beachside restaurants or bars.

The only thing that is required is city approval and to pay the maritime tax on a yearly basis. Usually it’s some figure like 300 reais (US$ 170) per year, minimal.

If you rent this maritime land, no one else can use it. Of course you cannot restrict people from walking past, it’s a public beach.

What You Need to Buy Property in Brazil

If you decide you want to buy property in Brazil for yourself, it’s quite easy. You need to apply for a CPF (Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas), loosely translated as a registration of a physical person (as opposed to a company).

You apply at the Ministério da Fazenda, Secretaria da Receita Federal. Or you can apply at the bank Caixa Federal, it’s the government’s Federal savings bank. You’ll need a physical address in Brazil and your passport. Costs only a few dollars. Similar to an SSN.

Real estate transactions are done through the Cartório (like the Clerk of the Court) in the city where the property is located. It’s the local city government agency that keeps track of who owns what. You can trust these people to do the transaction legally. It’s always best to hire an attorney that speaks English too. They can keep the seller honest too.

Never rely on what the seller tells you verbally, always put it in writing. The Brazilian way is to weasel out of promises given. The builder I bought my apartment from told me he’d fix the broken tile in the small bathroom. I could never get him to do anything. They tend to have a real short memory unless it’s written down.

Just remember, it’s not an investment if you can’t sell it. It’s an albatross.


Brazil has many things to offer visitors and new full time residents. In general, we prefer the south of Brazil, from Rio south, for many reasons.

Mostly because of the reasons explained above: late summer nights, having 2 seasons and being more civilized and safer than the north. In the last 2 years we have re-evaluated Brazil in many ways and have changed our opinions of a few places and what makes sense.

Guy Hamilton has lived and travelled all over Brazil since 2001. He knows more of Brazil than most Brazilians. Prior to that he travelled the world on tankers and container ships. In between living in Brazil and Florida, he occasionally is back on the ocean as a Merchant Marine Officer. After being divorced for 18 years, he married his Brazilian sweetheart Sandra in 2006, whom he met in Recife.

The Hamiltons are working on a new website now but it’s not up yet. Check back at a later date in 2008: www.tellitlikeitistravel.com.


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