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Posted by on Jun 19, 2011 | 51 comments

It is just me or is Brazil expensive?

When I visited Brazil, a rush of emotions invaded my body as soon as I got out of the airport. While riding to Copacabana, I was faced with favelas (slums), intricate graffiti, rough streets and terrible traffic at the Centro (downtown area). Everything looked very different from what I have seen in other South American countries. However, I was able to overcome the differences and get into the local vibe after a couple of days. Well, I was able to get use to all the things locals except for one. I couldn’t get over (and still can’t) the prices. I mean the unbelievable high prices. After a while, I started to ask myself: it is me or is everything expensive in here?

 

Let me get you an idea of what I am talking about. Here is an example of some of the prices (prices are in dollars and I am assuming 1 dollar = 1.5 reales):

  • Private double room at a hostel = 60 dollars (and I am talking about a bare bones, small room).  You can find private double rooms for 20 or less in other countries in the area.
  • Big Mac combo – 10 dollars.
  • Subway Footlong (without chips or drink) – 10 dollars.
  • Typical lunch of rice, beans and chicken fillet – 8 dollars (more expensive if you order meat, drink is not included).
  • There is a 10% service tax and most restaurants charge you for the entertainment offered while dining.  Their charge you for something as simple as a guy playing a guitar and singing.

Sometimes you will have to eat something very local and tasty like this salgadinho complemented with fresh passion fruit juice.

 

After experiencing this kind of prices (and more expensive ones), I wanted to understand if more people were feeling the pain when paying for food and services (because maybe Rio is expensive and the rest of the country is not that bad).  Let me clarify that I wanted to investigate the topic because it was my desire to understand better the country.  I wasn’t questioning this as the horrible witch that comes from the United States and was expecting to find an uniform, cheap and poor South America.  As a traveler, I wanted to take that opportunity to learn about the economics and ways of live in Brazil.

I found out that I wasn’t the only person noticing the high cost of life in Brazil.

  • I asked some locals about the prices.  A guide told me the minimum salary was 340 dollars a month and that it was difficult for some to keep up with the prices.  Another guy told me that the country’s economic expansion is not necessarily benefiting the lower classes.
  • I compared notes with other travelers I met on the road (some have been all over Brazil).  They told me how some services are less expensive in other areas of the country.  However, food and transportation are also costly in other areas.
  • I decided Rio de Janeiro was the second most expensive city I have visited after London.  Then I met two couples from London and they told me Rio is as expensive as London.
  • The research firm Employment Conditions Abroad (the firm studies living costs of international assignees) ranks Rio de Janeiro as 23th most expensive city in the world in its Cost of Living Survey.  The most expensive city in the United States in New York which was ranked 44th.
  • Michael Sommers, author of the Moon Handbooks’ Brazil guide (this is the guide I used to navigate thru the country), recently posted in his blog how he had to adjust the third edition of the guide to focus on budget or good value opportunities.  He couldn’t release a guide of the country by just updating the content.  He felt like he needed to help travelers to deal with the rising costs.
  • And let not forget about the concrete reasons.  In recent years, the Brazilian economy has boomed.  As a result, increased wealth and inflation have augmented the prices.  Also, the real has valorized like never before and the dollar has taken a plunge lower than the Grand Canyon.

Visit places like the Jardim Botanico or Botanical Garden

 

So, why you should care about all this?

Brazil is an interesting, diverse, cosmopolitan and beautiful country (and this is my impression after the few places I experienced).  I think every hard core traveler considers the possibility of visiting this superlative nation.  So if you are planning to visit soon or somewhere in the future (when things are probably going to be more expensive), you should prepare accordingly.  The cost of living of a particular country should not kill your dreams of visiting.

What can I recommend?

  • Research, plan and budget accordingly.  You don’t want to find yourself short of money while visiting.
  • Focus on local places, food options and experiences.  In coastal cities, there is a craze about the beach.  You can have a good time in some of them without spending a lot.  You can always find informal and cheap places to eat things like sandwiches, salads and salgadinhos (fried goodies).  Fresh fruit juices and smoothies are everywhere for reasonable prices.
  • Buying food and drinks right on the beach can be expensive.  Prices drop as soon as you cross the street and walk to a restaurant not directly across the beach.
  • Supermarkets offer tasty and hot meals for very good prices.  I was surprised at how good the food was.
  • Ask if your hostel offer dining opportunities.  Our hostel in Paraty offered the option to sign up for the daily dinner offering.  The food was flavorsome, local, homey and rightly priced.  Plus, there were tons of new people to meet.
  • I know that you would like to eat Brazilian food everyday.  However, if you want to give your wallet a break, consider eating at “ethnic” places (Chinese and/or Middle Eastern).  Make sure you try a beirute (Middle Eastern specialty).
  • Ask locals for recommendations.  I found extremely good options thanks to friendly locals.
  • Consider small or off the beaten path places.  Brazil is huge. Therefore, you should be able to find you own paradise.  I went to the town of Paraty (not so off the beaten path but much smaller than Rio) and I was able to find accommodation for half the price (when compared to Rio).  Additionally, we had double the room space and a fantastic included breakfast.  The excursions in the area were reasonably priced.
  • If possible, book accommodation in advance.
  • Travel in the off season (but take into consideration the weather).
  • If you are planning to go to the World Cup or to the Olympics (everybody wants to go), prepare way ahead of time.
  • Take taxis when necessary.  Public buses and the metro can take you anywhere (and look safe).
  • Remember that a 10% service tax is almost included in restaurant bills.  Always check your bill and avoid tipping twice.
  • Always carry enough reales (in Brazil, the dollar is like the devil, nobody wants to see it).  Don’t assume an ATM machine is going to save you (I learned this the hard way).  There are a lot of banks but not all are connected to international ATM networks (or they are not connected to Cirrus which is one of the networks we use in the United States).  Result: a lot of ATMs situated in local banks are not going to give you money.  Go to Bradesco or an international bank (like HSBC) to get money out.

 

 

I hope I will make it to Brazil some other day and I will plan accordingly. At least, there are some good news in the horizon.  A new Open Skies Agreement with the United States means more airlines flying to the country and possibly a drop in fares.  There are rumors that Brazil is going to stop requiring visas for United Stated citizens (U.S. is going to do the same for Brazilians).  That equals to savings of 130 dollars per person.

What about you?  Have you been to Brazil? What are your impressions? Do you have some money saving tips?

Read more about the costs of traveling in Brazil in this post -> Cost of Traveling in Rio de Janeiro.

UPDATE: Seems like the Open Skies Agreement is not going to materialize anytime soon (as of 2013).

51 Comments

    • The visa fee is part of a reciprocity policy adopted by Itamaraty, a sort of Brazilian Foreign Affairs Office, in response to the hundreds of Brazilians who don’t get to enter the US because of their immigration policy. Citizens from many countrie don’t even have to get a visa to come here.

  1. Brazil is suuuper expensive! I noticed this back in Feb 10 when I was there for Carnaval. It cost me way more than I thought it would and I was totally taken off-guard! Good tips for money saving!

    • I think things are way more expensive during Carnival. I imagine everybody increases the accommodation prices. It sucks to pay a lot of money to stay in bare bones room. A lot of my friends want to visit for the World Cup. I am telling them to prepare way earlier because the prices are going to be insane.
      Ruth recently posted..Know your World – PhilippinnesMy Profile

      • I’m brazillian, and now you both have an idea how expensive everything in this country is! That’s life for brazillian… if you pay 10U$ in US on something, here we pay at least 50 Reais (25 U$).

  2. I have not been and because of the extra visa cost plus the high cost of traveling there, I decided to leave it off of my South America itinerary. You have just confirmed what I had read and heard from others. I think Argentina and Chile are already going to blow my meager budget :-)

    I hadn’t heard that they were thinking of removing the visa requirement for US citizens. Very good to know.
    The Travel Chica recently posted..My Little Wine Experiment- Can You Tell the DifferenceMy Profile

    • I have noticed that most people traveling thru South America skip Brazil. I don’t blame them. You can find accomodation for 20 bucks (or less) in other South American countries. In Brazil, is 60 dollars or more (for a private room at a hostel). That fact alone will eat your budget quickly.

      I went to Argentina and I didn’t find it expensive. I haven’t been to Chile. How expensive it is? Because the airfares to Santiago are way beyond my budget. For those prices, I can go to Asia or to Europe and still end up with extra money.
      Ruth recently posted..Vancouver’s Viceroy- IntroductionMy Profile

    • Caanan,
      Glad to see you found th epost informative and interesting. I think is better to go to Rio sooner than later.
      Ruth recently posted..Flavors of El SalvadorMy Profile

  3. I’ve heard this from many people who have visited Brazil and this is one of the reasons I don’t have a big desire to travel there. Like the Travel Chica mentioned, the visa is expensive compared to other places also. I could see myself visiting every country in SA and skip Brazil.
    Christy @ Ordinary Traveler recently posted..Video- Time is Running OutMy Profile

    • Christy,
      You and many other commenters have referred to the Brazilian visa. I know it is expensive but hopefully Brazil will eliminate this requirement for U.S. citizens soon.

      The sad thing is that other South American countries are following this trend (they are not calling it visa but tax to enter the country). I think you have to pay 100 dollars to enter Chile. Argentina is now charging 100 to enter the country (but this is valid for the life of your passport). This prices may be different if you enter the countries by land (or it may be included in you airfare and you don’t notice). This is making traveling to those countries more expensive.

      Am I right on this? Does anybody knows how much are other countries charging to enter?
      Ruth recently posted..9 Things Tour Companies Don’t Tell YouMy Profile

  4. The ViSA Fee bites, but it sounds like Brazil is just as expensive as Oz.

    • Wow, didn’t know Australia was that expensive. Well, I am know remebering that I read an article stating that Australian cities are getting more expensive every year.
      Ruth recently posted..A Cosmopolitan- Ghosts and Old San DiegoMy Profile

    • Ayngelina,
      Not necessarily. In the post, I mentioned that a typical lunch of rice, beans and meat will cost you between 8 to 10 dollars (depending on what type of meat you order). That is not including the drink.

      In the United States, lunch will cost you that and typically the drink is included. Plus, there are always places offering specials. I didn’t see a lot of those in Brazil. In other Central and South American, the typical dish costs less (sometimes way less).

      You can find snacks (like fried goodies) and pastries for cheap prices (like for $1.50). However, I am the type of person that can’t live on those for more than 2 days. Sandwiches and salads can be found for a little bit than 8 dollars.

      Now, other Brazilian food, in my opinion, is more expensive. In a “comida a kilo” restaurant (they weight the food and there is a fixed price for every 100 grams), you can eat for about 15 dollars (more if you want churrasco or meat). Now, you can eat at a buffet for less than that (like in the States). Plus, the times I ate in the comida a kilo places, I didn’t even ended up full.

      And I don’t want to talk about restaurants and churrasquerias. A meal at a churrasqueria will cost you between 40 to 45 dollars.

      Outside Rio de Janeiro, I found the food is also expensive (the food prices does not go down like accommodations and sightseeing prices).

      So, in summary, I don’t think the food is cheaper if you go completely Brazilian.
      Ruth recently posted..Papillon Photos- Old Town San DiegoMy Profile

  5. A good person to talk to about the costs of Brazil would be @Thismyhappiness. Jenna is married to a Brazilian and makes trips back there just about every year. She would be a good resource and person to ask about costs. However, you have to love any of the free things to do any time you travel! I am sure beaches in Brazil are high on many people’s list! :)
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..5 ways sports and travel unite passion and culture around the worldMy Profile

    • Jeremy,
      Thanks for the contact info. Like you said it would be great to talk to a person that knows about the place. I am sure she an provide good money saving tips.
      Ruth recently posted..Vancouver’s Viceroy: Day 2 (Scene 1)My Profile

      • I just saw this post for the first time and noticed Jeremy’s recommendation for me as a person who knows the cost of traveling in Brazil. It IS crazy expensive. The big cities, especially Sao Paulo and Rio, are much worse. However, the economy has been slowing, so let’s see if prices start to stabilize. About skipping Brazil, I think that is a shame because Brazil is unique among the countries of South America.
        Jenna recently posted..Art Exhibitions in 2013: Art Worth Traveling ForMy Profile

  6. I totally agree with you. I was in Rio for Reveillon (New Years) a couple years back, so everything was even more expensive than usual too. I’d love to visit other cities and see if they’re any cheaper.

  7. You offered some great insight into ways to save money. It sounds really pricey in Brazil. The day sail sounds like fun and I love the fresh fruit smoothies.
    Lisa recently posted..Three Funny Travel ExperiencesMy Profile

    • Thanks, Lisa. Just wanted to shed some light since I was really surprised when I saw the prices and did the math.

      There are a lot of great things in Brazil. The sail was great. The smoothies were even better. There are more than 40 flavors to choose from.
      Ruth recently posted..Vancouver’s Viceroy: Day 2 (Scene 1)My Profile

  8. You are correct alright. I’ve been twice firstly in 2006 and then in 2010. By 2010, I decided that the costs really has got too much and I don’t have plans to go back. Brazil has very high levels of taxation and the Real has appreciated very significantly against other currencies and many feel it is over-valued. Add to that a property boom (or bubble depending on your opinion) and you have all the ingredients of an expensive destination.

    My fondness for Brazil has greatly diminished from my first visit and I now know that there are other places that offer much of what Brazil has but at a lower cost, with reduced (but not absent) levels of crime and with friendlier people. Whilst Brazilians are generally ok, I’ve never found the people in Rio to be as friendly as is often made out. As someone who speaks converational Portugese, I have been barked at in shops for not understanding everything first time and treated in an offhand manner in restaurants. Sorry for going off topic, but it’s all part of the bigger picture.

  9. I am, like you, a worl traveller; I have been to Brazil 5 times. You are very correct about the recent price hike. In years 1999 to 2004 Brazil was extremely cheap. But South America in general took a price hike, not always to their inherent econonomical boost. First price increase all over the world as part of inflation, second the Dollar lost value greatly in recent year; third, when price go up, they take forever to come down if at all (see gas prices); The flights to Brazil was nothing more than $600-650, at any given season; Airlines ejected the prices up, almost double; and they collaborate not to reduce it. Brazil is still an enigma, with workers getting low pay (and it used to be 300R a month, that was around $300, and later valued at $100) on one end, and appartments in Ipanema valued at Millions ($) at the other hand.

    I do not agree with you that “The cost of living of a particular country should not kill your dreams of visiting”… there are plenty of (equivalent) places to visit with the option of not getting stunned at every corner by “Is this really the price”….

    And for your recommendations…ehhh… I can counter most of them; Let me just mention (for the sake of any reader), that it is NOT recommended to move around with large chuncks of Reis; it is after all a high crime place (in some places);
    As for your sending readers to eat beirute (Middle Eastern specialty), ehh, I do not think there is a need to support the Arabs; they are getting by just fine; especially in Brazil.

  10. Hi, I’m from Brazil, and let me tell you: Everything in Brazil costs more than other countries. For example, a normal car, like Civic, is considered here a luxury car (costs US$50,000.00)!!!!!; The taxes from the government, about 40% of the salary, wich isn’t good at all. The base salary is about R$2.72 per hour, and this in US$ is unbelievebles 1.70!!!!

    Brazil have been announced as the country of the future, but I don’t believe on it. There is a lot of things to be done, and the politicians simply don’t care to the people.They think only in themselves.

    It’s hard to live in Brazil, you see all the wrong things happend in front of you and you just can’t do anything about!!!

    PS. Sorry for the English mistakes, here in this shit of country isn’t an investments in education, and only 6% of population knows another language decently.

    • If you really wanted to learn another language you would, like I did, you shouldn’t use the government as an excuse for your vagrancy and lazyness. Brazil is the country of the future, but corruption and local CEOs are the reason this place is so expensive. They really invest almost nothing on public health and education, and the lower classes, although in better situation than 10 years ago, still have a very poor quality of life. Our GDP is one of the greatest in the world, being higher even than Russia, so yes, if our government gave a single **** about us, we would be already a developed country. It’s revolting, shocking, outragenous.

  11. Im Portuguese, my company sells a lot to brazil… I visit brazil since 1994… good times are over if you are looking for a cheap tourist destination.

    about the last decade …. not much have changed in the last 10 years, execpt THE PRICES since the socialist comunnist party toke the power.

    mainstrean media keeps 99% of the brazilians thinking they are now richer, banks sell more money today at 200% a year then they never before… people dont stop using their credit card…its all they have cause salaries are a joke… huge monopolies are built in almost all areas….reason why prices went up and up and up.

    im sure for now you already know where this will end.

    Today brazil its a country without value….everything more expensive compared with western europe and usa or canada… but the price its not the point …the point is you pay more for much less quality and quantity.

    dotn believe in everything you see on television…brazil is today one poor country like always have been…poor education, poor health services, poor roads, poor public transportation… etc etc….with HIGH PRICES.

    enjoy it if you have lots of money to spend and dont care about poor services and products.

    thats brazil since 2003

    • 2003? Are you kidding me? It has always been like this, and in fact Brazil did improve a lot in life quality over the last 10 years, thanks to the Worker’s Party and the Lula government, but it is yet a poor country.

  12. I’ve been to Brazil ten times. We started in 2003, when the reis was 4 to the dollar. Now it’s not just a matter of the exchange rate, it’s the fact that Brazil has woken up and decided it doen’t want to be thought of as a cheap vacation anymore. I’ve been to Rio three times, having spent half of my honeymoon there. Now my husband and I go a beach town in the NE. We’ve made many freinds there and consider it a home away from home.We haven’t been in two years. We’re afraid we will be devastated by the increase in prices if we return in November, as we wish to do. I love Brazil but if you see the infrastructure it scares you. It’s basically what will happen to the USA if we don’t wake up and realize that “free enterprise” isn’t taking care of anybody but the richest people in the country. Seriously I’m not kidding.

    • 10 times? For us, brazilian, you’re a rich person! I’ve never been in US once (we can’t afford).

  13. hello, okay?
    I am Brazilian, and I wanted to say that the problem of prices found in the river foia lack of information, I am of mine Araxa general tourist town land of bay, and here you find meals of up to $ 3 meals for $ 10 ..
    hugs.

  14. The point is: WHY SHOULD YOU PAY TOP EUROS FOR A LOW QUALITY SERVICE AND PRODUCT MADE IN BRAZIL?

    Like the Portuguese guy wrote above, absolutly agree, BRAZIL IS ULTRA LOW VALUE FOR MONEY.

    Brazil its a typical third world country but more expensive and much lower quality when compared with EUROPE.

    theres no point of visiting brazil, everything its built to scam tourists….YOU.

    • You are an ignorant. You don´t know anything about your own country.

    • Oh man, u guys are breaking my balls big time abou’t checking out brazil. I am 25 and wanna backpack through parts of brazil. I have a much better idea on prices after reading these blogs so i thank u.

      P.s if australian ladies were like portugese ladies i’d be in heaven ;)

  15. Hello guys!!

    I am currently living in Brazil. I am Brazilian on my father’s side and American on my mother’s.
    I speak fluent Brazilian Portuguese and know the country very well.

    I just wanted to take the opportunity to tell you guys about my blog on Brazil (http://livinginbrasil-theoliveking.blogspot.com.br/) and tell you all if you are interested in asking me questions to feel free.

    Alright, here is hoping to here from someone!

    um abraço
    José Francisco recently posted..Living in Brasil – More listsMy Profile

  16. Rio de Janeiro is expensive because there are too many tourists. If you go to unvisited places, such as the many beachs in the south and northeast, the prices will be lower.

  17. Brazil is an expensive country to live in. Born in Sao Paulo, I have lived there up to my 45th. The beauty is diluted when you know the country only offers you quality of life if you are financially wealthy. It is a pity, really, because it is a country where the culture is rich, varied and fun.

    You can still feel the remaining of the colonization of exploitation in the air, everywhere you go.
    And we cannot erase a country’s tradition or history. That is a fact.

    A friend of mine, recently, came to London and she said one interesting thing about people in Brazil:
    Brazilian people in general has the habit to apologise for something when they are saying good bye to you, which in Portuguese is: “Desculpe de alguma coisa”, meaning, sorry for something I did or said that you did not like. It is almost an apology for being kind. What do you think about it?

    • the last part is not true

  18. Yessssss.I’m from Brazil,living in the US and you’re 100% right.Brazil is very expensive place to visit or to live.

  19. That visa fee won’t go away so long as the USA or other nations demand a tourist visa for brazilians to go to other countries….. It’s reciprocity….
    And to add to this blog; me an my fiance are down in Brazil right now we are from Canada and the USA.
    One thing she and I noticed was the price of renting a car in brazil. A simple stickshift vehicle is approx $60 usd and an automatic is over $200 usd! So if you can help it, drive a stick shift!
    We are in paranagua and for it being one of the biggest ports in the world you would think that would reflect on the city’s looks but it appears no money actually stops in the port city… It flys right past it into Sao Paulo and rio. We came in the off season and prices remain the same for food and clothes all through out the year. Basically, if you come to brazil, expect to bring as much money as you would if you were to backpack/hotel travel in Europe. But don’t let it discourage you! It is a place where you can budget if you got the time and it is really such an amazing place!

  20. I just went to an Irish Pub in Copacabana and an entrance was 30R and four Guiness beers cost me over $13 usd each.
    Altogether 150R or $69 for four freaking beers and an entrance fee that shouldn’thaveexisted in the first place. Brazil is super expensive!
    Way more expensive than USA. I was stunned!
    Not even Singapore or Norway were this roothless to my wallet.
    Don’t go to Rio unless you’ve got some bucks to blow or unless you’re willing to spend your time there holed up in your expensive shit hole room, but what’s the point!? I will definitely not be coming back. You’re better off going to Argentina instead.

  21. It is vey sad to see a third world country like Brazil get so expensive,
    I used to travel to there at least once a year since 2000
    the dollar was 3 to 1 rs
    A 3 star hotel in Rio used to cost no more than $60.00 usd breakfast included
    but you could find them for as low as $30.00 usd away from the beach
    eating at churrasquerias used to cost 3 to 5 dollars ,a beer 25c
    in towns outside Rio you cold find much better deals like in paraty or buzios,
    I feel sorry for Brazilians they are nice people I, dot know how long they can afford to pay for that type of infliation is not real, eventually the bubble is going to burst. so much for socialisim

  22. I just want to mention I’m beginner to blogging and certainly liked you’re page. Likely I’m going to bookmark your site . You actually have remarkable writings. Regards for sharing with us your webpage.

  23. Brazil is way too expensive for what you get in return i am married to a brazilian living in the United Kingdom and travel there every other year, for me the fare prices are way over the odds, I think this is having a knock on affect on the country as it would bring a lot more people to the country to spend their money, the government should look into this and maybe also put and end to the monopoly that TAM airlines have over the flights into and out of the country, a little competition would be good for the service or lack of when flying with TAM, I think Brazil is going to have a shock if the prices they are charging for airline fees are going to stay the same people just will not travel there, I think the government should look at other very successful business models like Easyjet and many other who have helped failing economies by bringing in many many tourists to spend their cash, BRAZIL LOOK AT THE BIGGER PICTURE PLEASEEEEE!!!!!

  24. I was there and i think that if you visit brazil as a tourist, yeah it would be so expensive.

  25. hello. i am from brazil. the things here are expensive, mainly in touristic cityes, like Rio. i live in Porto Alegre if i can help you with informations you want to know…..just ask.

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