Cost of Living in Brazil

By 22 September, 2011

Brazil demands the highest cost of living in all of South America. Rapid economic development over the past 10 years has seen the standard of living rise for millions of households. Brazil’s economy has grown into one of the major powerhouses of the world and in the process has created millions of jobs, raising average incomes and boosting consumer spending. The result has been a rapid rise in prices over the last couple of years and so the cost of living has risen for both tourists and Brazilians alike.

[NB. Brazil’s national currency is the Brazilian Real. We are abbreviating it to R$ throughout this article. BRL is another common abbreviation. All comparisons were made using conversion rates at time of writing]

One dollar gets you almost R$ 1.80. In 2001 you would have got around R$ 2.70 for the same amount. The story is the same for the pound which has dropped from close to R$ 4.00 in 2001 to just over R$ 2.80.

Food and Drink

One of the areas where there has been a big increase in prices is food and drink. Looking at The Economist’s Big Mac Index, which compares the price of Big Mac’s across the world, makes particularly uneasy reading. The index re-bases all prices to dollars making it easy to compare the price of a Big Mac in Brazil (which is $6.16) to say the US ($4.07). In fact, when you account for GDP per capita (output of the economy per person), Brazil has the most expensive Big Mac in the World!

Your expectations will also dictate how much you spend on food and drink. The cheapest quality wines are from Chile and Argentina and can be pricey, although Brazil’s own Miolo is on the rise. The same is true of cheese which is cheap for a very bland national variant but far more expensive for imported European cheeses.

Housing and Utilities

Rent has increased a lot, and in the cities is currently comparative with it’s counterparts in North America and Europe. The cost of a one bedroom furnished apartment could set you back around R$ 1,500 – (£550 / $900) per month, rising to well over R$ 2,000 if you want to live in the more exclusive neighbourhoods of Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo.

You’ll also find that if you want the Internet and a good flat-screen TV your costs will suddenly go through the roof. There’s a reason many Brazilians go to Paraguay to buy their home entertainment systems, mp3 players and laptops (which are ludicrously expensive in Brazil). A 40” flat-screen TV will cost you around R$ 2,117 (£782 / $1164) and a simple 8MB internet connection will cost roughly R$ 86 (£32 / $47) per month. This can get even more expensive in the smaller towns and rural areas as you may need to use the mobile phone network for your internet and will end up paying more for a worse connection!

Entertainment / Going Out

The cost of going out will always depend on your idea of a good night out. It’s fair to say that if you want to drink with the locals (far from other tourists) and are happy to drink the local cachaça then you can definitely have a cheap night in Brazil. However, if you want to go out on the town in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo you can easily have as expensive a night as anywhere. They are the kind of cities where the difference in price between a bus and a taxi, or a beer in a local bar or a nightclub really highlights the differing wealth of it’s residents.

Generally speaking though the cost of a cinema ticket (R$36 / £13 / $20) or a meal for two in a good restaurant with a bottle of wine (R$126 / £47 / $69) is comparable with the US or UK. It’s finding the cheap meal that can be a problem with most neighbourhood bars in the cities offering very little for less than R$ 58 (£21 / $32).

Sao Paulo in particular is also going through something of a craze for bringing international singers to the cities. A recent Paul McCartney concert cost R$ 150 (£53 / $82) for the cheapest ticket, rising to R$700 (£247 / $385) if you wanted to be close to the stage. Even LCD Soundsystem cost R$90-160 (£32-56 / $49-88) for a ticket, and this is what you can expect to pay for one of the many super-clubs in the city, which will also charge you over R$12 (£4.2 / $6.6) for a beer.

Here are a list of various essentials converted to pounds, dollar and euros, to give you an idea of what prices to expect:

Everyday shopping items

Want to find out more about the cost of living in other countries in South America. See our other articles: Cost of Living in Argentina, Cost of Living in Bolivia and Cost of Living in Chile.

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