Brasil tips

I lived in Brasil in October 2016 until March 2019. Here are a few tips on how to get used to the Brasilian culture from a UK expat perspective.


  • You will need to have at least a CPF, RNE, proof of address, and proof of income to open a bank account. Often, the proof of address is the most complex of these – you need to make sure that all of your information is included on this for the document to be valid.
  • Brasilian debit cards do not work the same way as UK debit cards do. You can pay for most local transactions using them, but you won’t be able to use them online, or for big transactions.
  • For online transactions, get used to paying by “boleta”. You pay this by requesting a long numerical code from the supplier, which you can then enter on your online bank account to authorise the transaction.
  • Getting a Brasilian credit card is very, very difficult!


  • Expect a lot of this!
  • You will need to get a CPF (equivalent to a National Insurance number). This is actually relatively easy – just take your visa documentation along to the relevant government office, and they’ll give you one fairly quickly. Note that they no longer use plastic cards, so you’ll receive a CPF card on a printed A4 sheet instead!
  • Getting an RNE is a lot more difficult!


  • You won’t be allowed to fill your car’s fuel tank yourself – you have to let the attendants do this for you. You just have to hand over your key and sit in your car while they do so. You may be able to pay by card from your car seat, or you may need to go to the shop to pay, it varies by shop.
  • There are three types of petrol available: Gasolina Comum, Gasolina Aditivada, and a higher octane one. Unless you have an expensive car, Comum is normally OK, but Aditivada (with cleaning additives) is the equivalent to the petrol that you would normally buy in the UK . However, avoid buying very cheap petrol (whether it’s comum or aditivada) – although it may seem like a bargain, the quality level isn’t guaranteed, and low-quality fuel could cause your car to stall, and your ‘check engine’ light to appear. It’s best to stick with known distributors if you can (e.g., Shell, Ipiranga, Petrobras/BS).
  • You need to have your lights on when driving on a motorway. You can be fined if you don’t have them on, but only if you are given a fine by a policeman
  • MOTs don’t exist here. Cars that would not be allowed to drive in the UK are common here, particularly old ones. Cars without brake lights are common – so watch the cars, not the lights.
  • Motorbikes are everywhere, and they are crazy. If you are changing lane, make sure there isn’t a motorbike driving alongside you before moving over – even if you are indicating. Even if you are just driving along your lane, be careful of bikers over- and under-taking you!
  • Turning right into an exit from the second lane of a multi-lane road is common if the exit also has multiple lanes. If you’re in the first lane and are planning on going straight on, be very careful!
  • Mid-laning is very common, and is almost the norm. If in doubt, just move to the middle lane and stay there. Don’t worry, people will overtake and undertake you as needed …
  • Main roads are sometimes divided into multiple parts. You can have an expressway alongside a mid-speed road alongside a local road quite often. These are divided by concrete barriers, with cross-over points between them. If you need to turn off soon, make sure you are in the right-most road – but beware that these are also the busiest, and you often have lanes and vehicles joining/leaving at short notice!
  • As a result, you will find situations where lorries move to the outside lane to change to a different road, and move to the slow lane from the outside lane, very regularly. Although this very rarely happens in the UK, you just have to get used to it in Brasil!

Electronic equipment

  • This is very expensive in Brasil, as there are 60% import taxes on most electronic items
  • It’s much cheaper to buy them in your origin country and bring them into the country with you
  • Be very careful when using expensive items outside – if you show off your expensive phone, camera, etc. in the wrong area, then it will be stolen!


  • The sewage system is not very good here. Rather than putting your toilet paper into the toilet and flushing it down the loo, you are supposed to place it in a bin next to the toilet!
  • If you leave food out on a table for any length of time, ants will find it. It’s best to keep food in a sealed container unless you’re eating it!
  • Similarly, if you buy a can to drink, also get a plastic cup to go with it. Insects (which are very common) might fly into a can and you might not notice them, but if you pour it into a plastic cup then you can see the insects before you drink them!


  • Don’t expect anyone to be able to speak English! “Nao fala portuges” (“No speak portuguese”) is an important phrase to know!


  • Sometimes you can order “a la carte” – by a menu – but more often you’ll end up with a buffet that you either pay by the weight of your plate, or as a flat fee for as much food as you want.


  • Online shops like Amazon and eBay don’t exist here. Mercado Livre is sort of an eBay equivalent, but not as good (it’s mostly a “buy-it-now” shop, and free/quick postage is rare!)
  • Shopping malls are very common – but you’ll most likely need to drive to them.


  • Vegetarian options are normally available in restaurants, particularly those that have buffets. Normally, there are very good salad options that are aimed at filling people up before they get to the meat options!
  • Rice and beans is very common – but be careful with black beans, as they can contain meat (particularly on Wednesdays), known as Feijoada;. Brown beans are normally OK, and available alongside black beans.
  • Vegetarian ready meals are rare. You can nearly always find margarita pizzas (but they nearly always have olives!). Cheese lasagnas are also common, but they mostly either have a “flavour of meat” or contain fish! You might be able to find soja burgers, but beyond that you won’t have much choice!
  • There are some vegetarian restaurants!