Who am I and why am I writing this?
Hey! How are you doing? My name is Guillermo Moran, member of the team Intern Brazil, who was also a foreigner that went to study and live in Brazil! In this article, I listed a series of things I wish somebody had told me before coming, as I think some of this info could be helpful for you guys! I hope you find it interesting!
First of all, I want to say that these Brazilian tips and curiosities are for everyone, but specified for students. That is, young people who are going to do a study exchange or internship in Brazil. Even though, I think it could be interesting for everybody, regardless your age or your purpose in going to this beautiful country!
I am going to divide the article into the 7 basic and main things which I genuinely think could be more useful for you to know before going or, at least, for your first days in the country. I ordered them by the importance of the matter staff regarding my personal opinion.
Portuguese is an easy language which you can perfectly learn already in the country
Regarding the language, and as you can find in the articles How to learn Brazilian Portuguese and Why doing an internship abroad? Why Brazil?, this country is not used to English language as we are in other countries. That is, it is true that you should learn the language in order to live there. But it is not like learning Arab or Chinese! Portuguese is a much easier language, specially if you speak Spanish, and I can assure you that you can learn the language just by socializing with Brazilians.
It is true that there are some issues which are more difficult to learn in the street, as for example some verbal times, or grammatic stuff, so maybe it would not be a bad idea to study by an app (like Duolingo or Babbel, which you can find more info about both in the article How to speak Brazilian Portuguese), or by attending to some Portuguese classes or with particular teachers. Even so, if you do not have the time or the economic resources to do this, I can assure you that this language is easily learnable in the country itself! You can find useful some advices in the article mentioned before about some expressions and other efforts you can make in order to learn it, as for example trying not to use English, and using even signs and sounds in order to make yourself understandable.
Regarding this tip, I strongly recommend looking up both articles mentioned above, specially the first one, so you can find a better and more explained description of how easy can Portuguese be when it comes to learning it.
2. RNE, CPF, Visa and medical insurance
One of the best advices I can give you is related to a more bureaucratic area: the whole paperwork you have to do before coming to Brazil. The Student Visa that you´ll need to travel is processed by your country, concretely the Brazil´s embassy or consulate (depends on your country´s relationship with Brazil), and they will ask you for some basic documents, and then other no so basic that you will probably need to go to different places to take. For example, the Criminality Record, which of course must be in blank. In my case, I had to go the Justice Minister and pay a fee to get it. But that will depend on your country and the bureaucratic procedure they have.
Apart from all this bureaucracy that depends on the country you come from and that must be explained to you by them, there are some general tips regarding Brazilian procedure, which does not depend on where you come from and, above all, that sometimes they do not explain you quite correctly when you ask for your Visa.
In order to travel and work in Brazil, apart from the Visa itself, you need two other documents to be “legal” in the country: The CPF and the RNE.
The CPF (Cadastro de Pessoas Fisicas)
Although both documents can be purchased in Brazil, the CPF can be asked for in your country, as part of the procedure. I strongly recommend asking for it in the Visa process, as then it can get complicated when it comes to asking for it when you are already in the country and, above all, you are able to skip it.
Actually, in my case it was the Brazilian embassy that warned and at the same time advised me to ask for the CPF there, but for example I remember my French friends were not told about this possibility, and they had loads of problems after to get it. Besides, the loss of time during each procedure to get it is amazing. Unfortunately, the RNE is a document that you have to get in Brazil.
The RNE (Registro Nacional de Estrangeiro)
As a standard procedure, when your visa is already made, the Brazilian embassy of your country will give you a document, and tell you that you have to take it to a police station before the 90 first days in the country. CAREFUL! It is not as easy as they tell you; it is not just going to any police station and giving them this paper!
In my case for example, in Sao Paulo, I thought it was just going to any police station and handing them the paper. However, when I asked about how to do it, they told me a whole different thing. I had to be in one concrete police office (the one dealing with all the visa procedures, including Brazilian passports and nationalities), and be there minimum from 7AM as there was a same line for everyone.
That means, it was a process in which you had to be waiting in the street for like 1 hour, and then waiting inside going to different bureaus for another 3 or 4 hours. Normally, and from my experience and my friends´, the whole process was around 5 or 6 hours, depending on how early you got there, and how many people decided to go to do something the same day. Overall, it was a harsh morning.
Also, keep in mind that in order to do it, they ask you for some papers which were not part of the ones needed for the Student Visa in your country. So I strongly recommend you to do it as soon as possible, as if you do not do it in the first 90 days, when you leave the country (whenever that will be), you will have to pay around 100 reais (like 25-30$) for EACH DAY which you have been from those 90 days on.
This is just a tip about how you should try to do the process asap. Regarding the process itself and some advice about it, I strongly recommend you to look up for the article we also posted called “How to register and do all the paperwork at the Brazilian Federal Police”, as you will find there advice about the whole procedure and well explained.
The Medical Insurance
There is another issue: the medical insurance. In case you do not come from a country member of MERCOSUR, you will need a private medical insurance. It is true that sometimes, if you come from a program with your university, they help or even make that process for you, as they have agreements with private healthcare enterprises for their students. But sometimes, could be because your university does not have this kind of agreements or because you are coming to the country by your own, you have to do it by yourself.
In that case, there are many health insurance enterprises in which you can find different kind of insurances depending on how much money do you want to spend and how many things you want to cover.
These health insurances normally cover everything for the country you are going to be in. Nevertheless, in case you want to travel to another third countries when you are there, for example imagine you want to travel to Colombia for a month while you are in Brazil, there are normally some surpluses you can pay in order to cover also anything that happens in another third country. You will just have to look into their insurance packs, and sign for the one that better fits you! More than a tip, this is a warning! As normally in order to get your Student Visa, they will already ask you for a health insurance in order to ask for it.
In this image, I am going to leave you some of the enterprises which work with health insurances in Brazil.
3. Trips, distances and transportation inside Brazil
You may find this tip obvious, but you cannot imagine how useful it could be when it gets to planning different kind of trips throughout the country. So, even though it could sound childish, remember: be careful with Google Maps distances!
Specially if you are European, I am sure you are use to travel from one country to another in a maximum time of 4 hours by plane, as we have this thought of closeness, as well as of cheap flights. But careful if you are looking Brazil from Google Maps! It is not only that distances are much longer, but also that sometimes roads are unstable or not direct, so that you will need a lot more time than what you think if you just look at the map.
Just for you to understand, I am going to give you an example. If you just take a look in Google Maps for the distance between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, you will probably think there is not a long distance. However, we are talking about 6 hours and a half of bus!
So yeah, my tip is careful with distances. Brazil is really big and when you are planning a trip, you need to take into consideration how much time you are going to need just for the traveling, going and back. Also, bare in mind that if you are thinking about flights inside Brazil, they can be as expensive as international flights.
Regarding transportation, I strongly recommend the bus, taking night trips if possible. Buses in Brazil are well equipped and comfortable, and if you have no problem sleeping in buses, it might be a good idea to take night trips. Obviously, it is much cheaper then flights, and also you save the money from staying in a place for that night! That is my personal recommendation; I did that in most of my travels throughout South America, and I actually saved a lot of money (as well as time, as I do not spend a day in the bus!).
But it is true that sometimes you will need to go by plane. For example, from Sao Paulo to Salvador de Bahia or more to the North, or to the Amazons for example, you don´t have any other option (if you do not want to spend days on a bus!).
Also, another way we used to travel in case we were going to a nearest place (like for example to a nearby beach or to Santos from Sao Paulo), as well as if you are thinking for example on a week trip in which you just go along the state without any kind of plan, I can recommend you renting a car. There are many renting cars companies, actually really cheap (if you are 4 or 5 people you will save a lot of money!), so that you have much more freedom when it comes to deciding what to do for the next day.
Also, in case you are worried with accommodation, you will find everywhere, and not only in Brazil but in South America in general, cheap hostels (we even payed sometimes like 2 or 3 euros the night), or “Airbnbs” in case you are a big group of people.
4. Don´t make the currency change with your coin when it comes to paying things!
As everyone knows, South America is in general much cheaper than for example the US or Europe. Specially if you are a student, you will see how cheap is compared to your country. You can actually find a more explained description of how cheap it is in the article How much does it cost to live in Brazil as a student?
My tip here will be that, if for example you are European, you will have every time the need to change the price of the local coin to euros, in order to make a comparison between how much you are paying and how much you would be paying in your country. This is actually quite tricky, as you will see everything is much cheaper! But there is a dark side on this… After living there, I can tell you that there are things that you can label as “it is cheap if you are European, but it is expensive to be Brazil”.
I will give you an example. As you can find in the article “Why should you do an international internship? Why in Brazil?”, the prize for a Prato Feito (a brazilian dish) should be around 12 reais, that is like 3 euros.
So, imagine you go to a place where this dish costs 20 reais. If you are not in the beach or in a tourist place, it means it is well overprized. But if you think in euros, you will say to yourself that it is still 5 euros, and that in your native country it would be impossible to find something so cheap.
In this way, you will pay more for something it is actually cheaper, but you were tricked because you made the change to your coin. I think this is actually a quite useful tip, as I learned it after two or three months there, and it is something that you actually learn by yourself when travelling and living in the country. That is why I find really useful for you to know before going, or even if these are your first days or weeks in the country!
5. Weather and clothes
One of the biggest stereotypes of Brazil is probably related to weather conditions. That means, how we always think that Brazil is all sun, beaches and tropical vibes, and it is true; but careful! Brazil is really big, and there are regions colder than North Europe! There are many different weathers inside the country, and that will depend on where you are going to live. But there is something that mostly every city lives with: the rain and the tropical weather. Brazil is a country in which you really never know when it is going to be sunny, or when is it going to start an outrageous rain. And actually, sometimes is not a matter of days, but in the same day.
As an example, I can give you the comparison between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Even though it rains a lot in both cities, it is true that Rio is always hotter and sunnier. On the other hand, my opinion about SP regarding weather is: “you never know”. There are some days in which you wake up and it is sunny, but then maybe at 4PM starts raining, then you see the sun again, and then it is just cold. There were days in which I went to university at 10AM with just a jacket with me as the weather was like 25ºC, and when I came back in the afternoon I was literally cooling as there was 12ºC.
That’s why I added the “clothes” part in this tip. I suggest you to just take to Brazil some winter clothes and sunny ones, as I saw how some foreigners just came with flip flops and t-shirts, and after one month in the country they had to buy coats and long pants. Even so, I also suggest you not to bring a lot of clothes, as there are shops which are usually called breijos, in which you will find old and used clothes and sometimes you can find really cool stuff. The breijos are also explained in the article How much does it cost to live in Brazil as a student?
6. Food (specially for vegans and vegetarians)
Regarding food itself, you can find a description of the most known and typical dishes and food in Brazil in the article “Why should you do an international internship? Why in Brazil?”. Here, I am going to give a tip for all those people who do not eat meat and fish. I am also a vegetarian, and even though I knew there is a strong meat culture in South America, I would have had appreciated a heads-up regarding food in this matter.
So, first things first: Brazil, and the whole continent in general, is not a place for vegans and vegetarians. They have a strong meat culture, based on red meat and chicken. So, even though it is true that if you go to a rich city or neighbourhood you will always find veggie places or at least with veggie options, smaller or poorer places don´t. For example, when I travelled throughout the state of Minas Gerais, I could not find anything but cheese to eat. If you are ovolactovegetarian, that is, you eat eggs and cheese, you should not have a lot of problems: Brazil is a country with a lot of cheese and eggs culture, and at least you will always be able to find what they call queijo quente, which it basically means “hot cheese”: a sandwich with hot cheese inside. I remember how in that trip one of my friends who was also a vegetarian and me were just eating every day that, as the two only options were that or meat.
So, I can tell you: when it comes to travel, specially if you are going through small villages, you are probably going to have a hard time finding something to eat. Even in other countries, like for example Bolivia, everywhere I went there was just chicken everywhere. I could only eat 4-Cheese pizza or salads that I had to ask for to the waiter, as they were not even in the menu.
Even so, what I can tell is that the country has a good supply in vegetables and fruits. That is, they have also a kind of vegetables culture aside, with for example the best avocado I have ever tried, as well as good tomatoes, lettuce… It is not as easy to find as meat, but you just have to make the effort! For example, there are many street markets in which they sell fresh vegetables, cheap and more expensive. You already made the step of stop eating meat, so this is just going to be a small step for you!
7. Travelling to another Latin-American country from Brazil
Another thing you may be planning is the fact of travelling to another Latin-American country while you are still in Brazil. This is a common thing most of foreigners want to do before leaving. In this case, my only advice is to try booking everything ASAP. Why? Maybe if you are American or Australian you already know this, but if you are European you probably did not consider it: there are not “low-cost flight companies” in Latin-America. That means, there is no Ryanair or EasyJet with which you can get for example from a European country to another for 50 euros or even less. In this continent, every flight is as it would be a flight for example from France to Brazil. That is, with a small TV for each passenger, food, big airplanes…
So, flights are quite expensive. I remember when I wanted to go to Colombia from Brazil, and I realized flights Sao Paulo-Cali where as expensive as Madrid-Cali. It is insane! Also, and in relation with distances as I told you in the third tip, be careful when it comes to distance between different countries inside the continent, as distances are longer than what you might expect from the map. They are quite huge between countries, and communication between them sometimes is not direct. That means, you must also take into consideration, apart from price and dates, the timing. Normally the flights you will find “affordable”, are the ones in which you will have to take scales in other countries.
So bare in mind this tip if you are planning to go to another country. Plan it and buy it fast, so you can be sure the prize is not going to be surprisingly high. You can also look up for the connections between countries. I can tell you for example that travelling to Bolivia was always, regardless the dates, kind of cheap. However, travelling to Colombia from Brazil was always expensive, and I could not find a lot of flights if it is not from Bogota. So, if you are planning to flight to another city but the capital, you have to organize your trip twice as much, as you probably will not find flights for everyday (or with scales in which you will have to sleep in the airport), and they will be much more expensive than going to the capital, because of a lack of demand.
Overall, I hope these tips have been useful for you! And also, that encourage you more to come to this beautiful country! If you have any doubts about this tips or about any other inquiry or concern regarding anything related to living in Brazil, please do not hesitate in contacting with us! My e-mail is [email protected] and I will be glad to answer anything you need!
See you soon!
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