Is Brazil cheap? (Updated June 2012)

The real question is, “is Brazil cheaper than your country of origin/last country of residence”?

Many expats and tourists come to Brazil thinking they´ll be able to bask in the tropical sun surrounded by tanned bodies, sipping caipirinhas and swaying in their pousada hammock for almost nothing.  But once here, they realize those are the only things they´ll be able to do for nothing.

The Brazilian tourist industry is cruel with tourists, charging ridiculous prices for meals, internet access and all the things they are used to back home.

Brazil is expensive for the tourist, and very expensive for the people living here. As I wrote in my article “what is middle class in Brazil?”, the Brazilian is faced with an outrageous, gut wrenching tax load and gets absolutely nothing in return. So every family has to basically fend for themselves, in addition to paying Norway-style taxes, in relation to healthcare, schooling, transport and  sports and leisure services (the only thing the government provides are wide open spaces, no real sports centres).

In fact, tax is such a large percentage of what everyone buys, that it´s not even displayed on the price tag or people would probably stop buying. In Brazil, you work 5 months a year to pay tax. By the age of 70, the average Brazilian will have worked 30 years just to pay tax. Brazilians pay around 61 different taxes.

Now let´s try to answer the question of this article.

The other day, I offered a ride to a woman and her son. In the car, she told me she had lived 10 years in the US and that she was seriously considering going back. The child looked miserable. I asked her why she was so bitter about her own country, and she said it had not advanced in 10 years, it was stuck in time, and that it was too expensive. She said she worked hard in the US, but got a lot more in return for all her work.

My sister lives in the US and always complains about the prices in Brazil when she visits. “In the US,” she says, “100 dollars lasts a long time.” “I spend a 100 reales in 30 minutes in Brazil.” My shopping cart is almost empty.”

I then wondered how I could compare prices in the US (just as an example, as we are almost in the same “continent”). I won´t include Europe as everything is simply too different. Medicine there is very cheap, healthcare is free and top quality for residents, transport is abundant and affordable, cars are 50% cheaper than in Brazil, education is reliable and salaries are 100% higher. So it would be unfair to compare a Latin American country with a country from the “old” continent.

I will compare everyday articles and some other items such as cars and computers.

Prices are all in USD. 1 US dollar is currently (June 2012) 2,00 Brazilian Reais.

Cornflakes (12 0z)   US 3.85 (12 oz)  Brazil 3,13 (240 grams)

Milk (Parmalat) US 2.94 (carton, fresh) Brazil 1,22 (carton, long life)

Lettuce (iceberg) US 3.75 (packet 7 oz) Brazil 1,00 (whole, unit)

Dove antiperspirant aerosol US 5.49 Brazil 4,45

Washing powder US  (Tide, 700 grams) 8.69  Brazil (OMO, 1 kilo) 3,00

TV Sony Bravia C/KDL 40-inch US 1,199     Brazil 1.586

Motorola RAZR V3 US 64   Brazil 172,50

Ford Fusion 2006 V6 SE  US max. 22,300  Brazil 42,000 (yes, double!)

1-bedroom furnished flat in the centre of São Paulo (50m2)  1.000/month

1-bedroom furnished flat in the centre of NY (60m2) 2,200/month

Fee English teacher US 30-100/hour  Brazil 20-50/hour

Bank manager salary (without benefits) US 4,000      Brazil 2.000

Maid/house cleaner salary US 1,800/month  Brazil 300/min. month

Getting a cavity filled at the dentist US 100-250  Brazil 20-50

A medium-quality sofa (chenille) US 615       Brazil 800

Sony Vaio VPC-EB15 US 815  Brazil 1.815

Looking at these prices, you can live a decent life in Brazil if you make more than 5.000 a month and don´t care about fancy cars and the latest electronics.

On the other hand, you will also need to pay for your child´s education from daycare to college, health insurance, unless you want to face the dreaded but sometimes kinder Public Health System (SUS) and all leisure-related costs.

Although life in Brazil may seem cheap or similar price-wise, there are lots of tweaks offered to consumers in the US or any European country that are simply non-existent in Brazil and most Latin American countries, such as good social services (as I insist on pointing out because it makes a HUGE difference), decent sales and offers (buy one get one free, something Brazilian have never heard of), and most importantly, good quality items. Brazilian furniture, for example, is very poor in quality unless you are willing to cough up more than 4000 reales for a sofa. A “designer” kitchen rack can cost as much as 200 USD, although a shaky, cheap version can cost around 20,00 USD, which would get you a decent rack in the US. Basic things such as light bulbs, switches and rubbish bags are comically bad in quality, so you end up having to buy these things various times in the same time period.

Another very annoying thing are rates and taxes people choose to add without any regard to the law. The other day my real estate agent added a 5% fine to my overdue rent (I already had a fine). When I said I would not pay another fine, they said nothing and accepted the correct amount.

My bank charged 37 reales fine which is illegal. When I complained, they gave it back.

Maybe life seems so expensive in Brazil because you are ALWAYS paying for things you shouldn´t be paying for.


8 thoughts on “Is Brazil cheap? (Updated June 2012)

  1. I totally share your opinions and frustrations. I lived in Brazil for six months in 2012 and found everything to be ridiculously expensive and of poor quality.
    You can live well in Brazil only if you stay in the countryside and eat meat, fruit and vegetables, anything else is luxury.


  2. I’m going to rio later in the year, from reading this article, I may convert my money now, while the Australian dollar buys 2.04 Brazilan


  3. Just back from Barcelona but live in Rio. I bought six shopping bags full of basic foodstuff in Barcelona and would only have managed to purchase two bags full of similar items in Rio for the same amount. Rio is absurdly expensive and supermarkets in particular offer poor choice and poor quality for consumers, too.


    1. Rio is especially expensive, but even here in the interior of SP people are starting to really complain about the price of things. Half a shopping cart with basic stuff costs at least 180 BRL, which would buy you a full shopping cart in any European country or the US. Prices are almost double, I agree.


  4. i love this piece because it’s a question i am asked quite frequently when i travel back to brazil. even in applying for research grants in latin america, i have to stress that brazil, despite the assumption otherwise, is far more expensive than its other south american counterparts. i’ve found that every time i return, i bring more from the u.s. (my country of citizenship) to offset costs (i.e. tampons! cookware with teflon or silicone coating! extra adapters for phones/computers etc!) people think i am crazy when i do it, but it definitely keeps me from spending more. it’s not a place where a typical american (u.s.) can come and easily replace the things from home without paying a ton. i’ve also learned to do the opposite on my way back (i.e. buying a ton of brazilian hair products, which tend to work better for my curly hair) and stocking up for the year. what has helped a lot is to put things in perspective. whenever i go to brazil, which now happens once a year for at least a month, sometimes more, the experience makes me re-evaluate my needs vs. wants. my understanding of amenities is challenged but made more flexible. i have to get rid of the “in new york, this only costs $XX” and instead just BRING that thing with me instead of freaking out about it when i get here.

    all in all, great lesson for anyone traveling to the B. p.s. love your blog. keep up the great work!

    ~Wendi (presently in Rio)


    1. Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, Brazil is very expensive, a lot more than other Latin American countries. My mother always asks for clothes pegs, plugs, really simple things that are not good quality here and quite expensive. Tampons are incredibly expensive! I agree that you have to stop comparing at one point and just find a way to get these things from your home country. Great comment, thanks again.


  5. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!



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