Is Brazil Expensive? (My Findings From The Southern Region)

One of the primary things I was curious about before I decided to go on this blitz through southern Brazil was the cost of living in the country.

Rumor had it that Brazil was ridiculously expensive.

Some articles I read recommended a budget of $100 per day. Others told me that São Paulo and Rio were among the most expensive cities in the world, according to global rankings.

So, I was partly prepared for a tsunami of costs. In fact, part of the reason for limiting my in-country time to 7-weeks was because I didn’t feel I could afford to live in Brazil for a much longer period.

So, here are some of my findings for southern Brazil (haven’t been to the eastern cost or the north yet).

1) The cost of imported goods is higher.

Western clothing brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Aeropostale, etc. all sell for premium prices, as well as Western technology brands like Apple. So, for example, a shirt that costs $25 USD in the states can cost $50 USD in Brazil. So buy all your clothes back in the US.

This price hike is (so I’ve heard) due to a near 100% import tax that is in place in Brazil. It’s common for Brazilians to cross the border into Paraguay to go shopping and return the same day or next day, for the sheer savings over buying things in Brazil.

2) The cost of accomodation is higher than other parts of South America.

In my time here, I found a really good hostel in Florianopolis at 30 reals a night (which is at current exchange rates is about $15) for a dorm bed. Through Foz do Iguazu, Porto Alegre, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte, I couldn’t find anything of decent quality for less than that number. Often times I was paying over $20 USD for a bed in a 6, 8, or even a 15-person dorm!

This is quite a change from, say, Ecuador, where private rooms for $8 USD are common.

3) The cost of food is definitely higher.

In Colombia, there are a bunch of places that have an almuerzo (lunch) for something like $3-$5. And, although they are simple lunches, they are normally just around the corner wherever you are and very convenient. In Brazil, there tend to be places with an menu do dia for around $5-$6 but for some reason they have been hard for me to find when I need them… If you are in the middle of a higher-end district of Rio de Janeiro, for example, they can be much harder to find.

I usually opted for per-kilo meals, where I piled on food from the buffet. The price of these varies, but I usually ended up spending $8-$10 for a meal. Plus a drink puts it roughly between $10-$15 a pop. On the higher end, I once paid $18 for a huge plate of food at an upscale mall in Belo Horizonte.

If I were to live in Brazil longer term, I would budget $20-$25 a day just for food, mainly because my lifestyle is that I eat out 2x per day. You could definitely save money by cooking your own meals.

Oh, and Brazilians love McDonald’s– they are everywhere here. Prices are comparable to the US.

4) The cost of transportation is definitely higher.

I’ve found buses from city to city in Brazil are quite comfortable. Much better than other bus rides I’ve been in. The roads seem to be less prone to potholes as well. I’ve payed anywhere from $25-40 for bus rides on this Brazil blitz, up to 7 hours long each. Not too bad.

Taxi meters in Brazil seem to climb pretty quickly, though… In Florianopolis, it costs about 25 reals ($12-$13) to return back to the hostel from a place just over the hillside. In Rio, getting stuck in a traffic jam means you are going to fork over $20 USD for what should have been a $7 trip. These prices are much higher than Colombia (which I was expecting, duh), but all things considered they are lower than what you would find in many places in the US.

If you go to Sao Paulo, plan on spending some time in the metros. They cost 3+ reals ($1.50 USD) a pop.

5) The cost of going out is, sadly, higher.

Brazil is definitely a place for nightlife. In many cities in Brazil, you can literally go out every night and have a ball, if that’s something that interests you.

The downside is, of course, is that going out a lot will increase your costs. In Florianopolis, the better clubs I went to had a cover of 35+ reals ($18 USD). Beers in clubs tends to be 7-10 reals ($3.50-$5). The price of caipirinhas (the national drink) vary, but usually are 14+ reals ($7+ USD). Unlike Colombia, it doesn’t seem like groups get together to buy a big bottle of rum and split it.

So, in summary, the costs of living are higher than other places in South America (not surprising), but I wouldn’t say they are astronomical. In case you haven’t heard me say it before, currency exchange rates can make a significant difference. With a relatively more favorable BRL / USD exchange rate of 2.0, I’d put the cost of living in southern Brazil equivalent to, and even lower than, many parts of the United States.

Brazil should not be considered a place to minimize your costs, which could be relevant to you if you are trying to bootstrap an internet-based business… But it should be considered a great destination if you want fantastic new experiences and/or if you can handle the higher expenses.

So, how much would it cost for a single guy to live in Brazil?

During this trip, I have made mental notes as to the prices of apartments that I could theoretically rent in the future in the bigger cities. As a sensible-but-lively-bootstrapper, I tend to be interested in simple 1-bedroom apartments, or 1 room in a shared apartment or house.

Based on my initial findings, I was pleasantly surprised to find available rooms within a very decent price range. I could live in a good spot in Rio de Janeiro, for example, for 500-1000 reals ($250-$500) per month for a room in a shared apartment (utilities not included). This was a lot lower than I expected. I also found a nice little apartment in Florianopolis for 600 reals ($300) per month.

Seasons have a significant impact on rental prices in Brazil. Everything in Florianopolis and Rio spike significantly in the summer, and especially around New Year’s and carnival. The accommodation prices in Florianopolis, for example, are subject to a 2x-3x increase.

Like with my other cost-of-living analyses, I’ve come the conclusion that so much depends on your lifestyle, and on what you’re willing to put up with. Heck, if you go live in a favela in Rio, you could pay 150-200 reals a month ($100), but obviously you’re trading security.

Another factor is how well connected you are, and whether you meet the right people where you decide to plop down. In Belo Horizonte, for example, I’ve met guys who are renting rooms in nice neighborhoods of town for 500 reals ($250 USD) per month, fully furnished. So a lot of it depends on what you know and who you know.

How about a number…?

Having said this, I think I’ve settled on a number to plan for monthly expenses, if I were to live in Brazil.

Taking into account my own personal lifestyle, what I am (and am not) willing to put up with, how much I go out, how much I eat out, living in one of the big cities etc., the number I have in my head for monthly expenditures in Brazil living long term would be around $1800 USD per month.

FYI, this compares with $1000-$1100 while in Colombia. So it is about a 1.7x increase.

Again, you could go lower than $1800 USD/ month if you plan well, eat in more, go out less, know the right people, or live the life of an indestructible vagabond. (I actually met one of these recently– an American guy who sleeps on a yoga mat in a living room and consequently pays zero in rent– in Brazil!)

Nevertheless, my number for living in Brazil is $1800 USD / month. It’s for a single male who is a lively-but-sensible bootstrapper, who doesn’t have too many other attachments, and who is too lazy to cook for himself, but who might want to chase girls in southern Brazil a little longer. 😉

Published July 22, 2012

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  • Very informative and useful, thank you.  I’d be really interested in seeing what the same numbers are for Northern Brazil–do you plan on going there?


    • Northern Brazil will have to wait a little bit, not sure when I’ll get there… cheers, man!

  • It’s all about becoming bed independent. 😉

    • Boom! Bed independence can save you some serious cash. haha

  • Ryan,

    I’ve heard that Brazil is one of the most expensive countries down there. If you’re on a tight budget then I’d give it a skip or spend just a little time there.

    I still haven’t made it down to South America, but your blog is tempting me 🙂

    • Well I do view expenses as only one part of the equation… It’s also a matter of what lifestyle you’re getting in exchange. But you’re right, Brazil has the reputation of being the most expensive in South Am.

  • I wish I could do something like this I mean you make it sound easy but, do you have like a career you can just work online? Read your whole blog haha great stuff! 🙂 I’m glad you enjoy medellin, since I was born there I thought I was biased in saying it’s a nice city

    • Thanks for the comment! Yep, working online is one part of the dream equation… and I love Medellin!

  • Luís Roberto Weck

    Sorry to bring an old post back to life, but it is quite interesting. I live in Santa Catarina and I would say that to have a reasonably comfortable life as a single person in Brazil, I would need around U$1500. That equates more or less to R$3000 which is 3x my monthly income. Unfornately, to an american, 1500 dollars may not seem much, but local payment is very different from the US.

    • Yeah I hear you! A roving single man’s income level needs to be a bit higher than typical income level in Brazil.

  • Chuck

    would it be necessary to learn the language