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Culture and lifestyle in Brazil

After gaining independence from Portugal in 1822, Brazil struggled with political uncertainty until becoming a democracy in 1985 and is now thriving.

Brazil is a leading economic power in the region and the richest country in South America in terms of gross domestic profit (GDP), which was recorded at $3,081billion USD in 2016.

With a population of 210 million, Brazil is also the fifth-most populous country in the world (May 2018). The 2010 census revealed that 50.7% of the population (97 million people) defined themselves as black or mixed race and 47.7% (91 million) as white, an ethnic mix that reflects the country’s diversity of culture.

Brazil runs across three time zones, one of which is just for Fernando de Noronha, a 21-island archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean. The main country is split between Eastern and Western time zones. Only half the states in the Eastern time zone observe Daylight Saving Times.

Local culture

From the Amazon rainforest to the beautiful eastern shores, Brazil’s regions and people are as varied as the country’s terrain. With a broad mix of ethnicities including German, Italian, Japanese, African and indigenous groups, each culture has had a significant influence over the years, building a welcoming and diverse national culture.


The north is the largest region, covering 45% of the country. Most of it is rainforest, which is used by many of the people as a resource for fishing and hunting. The culture is generally very traditional, reflected in the large indigenous population.

While poorer than the south, the north does have Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas, a popular city that combines business and culture, and acts as a gateway to the Amazon for many tourists.

North east

The north-east is famed for its agriculture and spectacular natural locations, which draw many tourists to the beaches and national parks. African culture has a strong influence on music and food in the region today, having been preserved by those brought to the region as slaves during the colonial years.

Central west

The political centre of the country is home to many of the indigenous population and the nation’s capital city, Brasilia. As much of the Brazilian population lives close to the coast (litoral), those who live inland (interior) are thought to live in rural areas. During the colonial era, missionaries established settlements in the area, but it has only really begun to grow as a population centre since the 1950s and the foundation of Brasilia.


The south’s subtropical climate makes it the most temperate region of the country, ideal for European expats. The first German immigrants to the region arrived in 1824 as colonists, setting up cities and towns which still reflect German culture, cuisine and architecture.

South east

One of the most diverse regions, the south-east is the most populous region of the country. African and European influences are noticeable across the region, and São Paulo has the largest community of Japanese immigrants outside of Japan.

Culture shock

Relocating to a country like Brazil can result in culture shock, especially for European or American expats. One of the most obvious changes are in simple things like greetings and etiquette. For example, it is common for conversations in Brazil to be animated and conducted in close physical proximity, as this is viewed as polite and demonstrating that the conversation is engaging. Greetings are often a kiss on the cheek, sometimes one or two, depending on the region — let the other person lead so as not to cause embarrassment.

Another example is something as simple as crossing the road. Crossings and traffic lights are no guarantee that vehicles will stop! However, pedestrians are equally unlikely to adhere to the rules, with 72% admitting they crossed the street without using a designated crossing.


After years of political struggle following independence from Portugal in 1822, Brazil finally adopted democracy in the 1980s. While still imperfect, as made clear by the slum areas located outside most major cities, Brazil is an economic global power with thriving industry.

The Brazilian people are proud of their nation and are keen to discuss its successes, although they are likely to take offence at expats criticising their country. This patriotism is reflected in voter turnout: 79% during recent elections.


The constitution declares the state to be secular, but Brazil’s people are spiritual and a large number identify as religious. The religious breakdown is estimated to be 64.6% Catholic and 22.2% Protestant, according to the last census in 2010.

Religions with a smaller following still find a home in Brazil, especially in major cities and metropolitan areas. Persecution on religious grounds is rare. A 2015 report on Government Restrictions on Religion noted that of the 26 most populous countries in the world, Brazil had the best record on religious freedom.


Socio-economic inequality is likely to be one of the largest examples of culture shock that expats will face when moving to Brazil. While expat life is typically comfortable, with cheap labour costs and health care, it is noticeable that this is not the case for many living outside the richer areas of the country.

After a financial dip in 2015, the Brazilian economy seemed to be recovering well, although business and consumer confidence dropped in early 2018.


Education is mandatory for children aged between seven and 14 (Ensino Fundamental) and is free to attend. For younger children there is optional pre-school (educação infantile) in the year before joining a school.

Ensino Médio is the equivalent of secondary school and is available to children aged between 15 and 18. Due to the lack of space available, schools often run three sessions per day — morning, afternoon and evening with children attending one of these sessions per day.

Education standards are poor in Brazil’s public school system: 75 years behind expected global standards for mathematics and 260 years behind for reading. With such a poor reputation, the public school system is mainly used by people who cannot afford private school fees. Expats tend to send their children to international schools or national schools that offer a foreign-style curriculum.

Schooling in Brazil operates on the southern hemisphere academic calendar, which runs from February to December. However, some international schools use the northern hemisphere calendar, so parents will need to be aware of this so that their child is placed within the correct group for their age and ability.

School holidays are set by local government and can vary between regions, but typically July and January are holiday months.

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