THE ELABORATED GUIDE / FAQ SITE ON BRAZIL
On heavy request I have finally made a guide / FAQ site about my experiences from Brazil including tips to travelling, living, studying and working in Brazil. Please note that these are not official guidelines. As well that I am not trying to scare you nor sell Brazil as your next travel destination - this is simply my honest and own personal experiences.
In short: my relation to Brazil
Who the hell are you to make such a guide to Brazil?
My first encounter with Brazilian culture was when I started practizing the Brazilian martial art Capoeira in 2004. I fell in love at the age of 14 in 2005 when I first visited Brazil and especially Rio de Janeiro. Ever since the first visit I knew I had to live in Rio de Janeiro at some point. This happend in 2014/2015 when I did a study exchange in relation to my 5th semester of my undergraduate program. During my exchange period I also did an internship at the Danish Cultural Institute experiencing the work life in Brazil. Besides that I've returned for several vacations and to work with different travel and turism-agencies and latest during the Olympic Games for the Official Danish Delegation. I speak portuguese fluently, I've had a Brazilian boyfriend (first ever BF in life), eaten endlessly amounts of açai before it became a thing, been assaulted and slightly traumatized, as well as gained the most magical memories of my life on Brazilian ground.
Duration: 3 weeks in Rio de Janeiro, Foz do Iguaçu, Ilha Grande
Accomodation: Copacabana Beach, Apartment
What: Vacation, Capoeira workshop, New Years in Rio de Janeiro
Duration: 1,5 month in Rio de Janeiro
Accomodation: Copacabana Beach, Apartment
What: Vacation & Capoeira workshop
Duration: 1 month in Rio de Janeiro
Accomodation: Laranjeiras, Cosme Velho, Apartment
What: Vacation & Carnival in Rio
Duration: 7 months in Rio de Janeiro
Accomodation: Copacabana & Gavea, Apartment
What: 6 months study exchange at PUC (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro), 5 months internship at Danish Cultural Institute
Travel to the rest of Brasil:
Bahia: Salvador, chapada diamantina
Pernambuco: New Years in Olinda and Recife
Rio Grande do Norte: Pipa Beach (Praia de Pipa)
Duration: 2 weeks in Rio de Janeiro
Accomodation: Gavea & Barra da Tijuca, Apartment
What: Vacation & work
Duration: 2 weeks in Rio de Janeiro
Accomodation: Copacabana, Hotel
What: Work during the Olympic Games 2016
FINDING A PLACE TO LIVE
In general I recommend living in Zona Sul when you are a foreigner. More specifically Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Gavea or Jardim Botanico. These are also the neighbourhoods closest to PUC and the famous beaches as well as the most turistic, safe* and upperclass areas. If you're not studying at PUC I want to include Botafogo, Lanranjeiras, Santa Teresa and Barra da Tijuca. These neighbourhoods are also safe*, upperclass, a bit further away from the popular beaches but are still considered close to them.
Some have had great experiences with living in the favela Vidigal as it has evolved a lot during the recent years. I've visited a few people and loved it, but have never lived there.
*Upperclass / expensive areas are often considered to be more safe. This is to some extend true, but be aware that this also means a better environment for thieves to work. Robberies happen where value is. So don't be fooled to think its a complete safe zone.
How to find a place
There are many ways to find rentals in Rio and there are plenty of them. It is a major business. My experience is that especially Facebook groups and Airbnb's are the most powerful tools (anno 2017), if you don't have anyone in your network that knows someone who rents out.
FACEBOOK: in regards to finding the groups try search words such as 'exchange student', 'puc', 'rio', 'year', 'intercambio' (exchange) in your search query, these groups always change names etc. so be creative when searching.
AIRBNB: It's obvious what to do here. Search for the desired area.
GENERAL: I would not recommend to pay a rent before you have seen what you're paying for - as there are quite some scams around in town. Both in terms of false descriptions of size, disgusting/dirty flats and weird landlords renting it out. Don't be desperate and do not loose faith in the process even tho it might be frustrating - which it is for most exchange students arriving to the city. Be creative, ask around at hostels or at social events.
Having troubles with finding a place
If you are having troubles finding anything my experience is that it will always get solved. If you are an exchange student PUC has contact with host families which can be a solution the whole stay or just the first months if you plan to find something else. When I was doing the exchange a lot of exchange students got together and found bigger rental appartments to live in when they had all started at PUC.
PUC is a great place. You're basically going to study in what feels like a jungle. I was overall very happy about studying there. That being said here are some bits and pieces to consider:
The way things work in Brazil in terms getting practical and administrative things done is a killer compared to how fast things are solved in eg. Denmark. All exchange students experienced problems in terms of courses and ECTS points during my stay. There is a lot of bureaucracy and laziness that are slowing the process. But eventually everything will be sorted out. Just prepare yourself to knock on a lot of doors. Be insisting, smart and kind - and administrative problems will get solved.
I recommend you to get as many courses approved in your home country (more than you need) as possible. The reason for this is that the system of applying for courses at PUC is a bit of a race between time and open spots on the courses. The courses are quickly getting full, and you might end up having to take other courses than those you've planned out initially. I took all my classes in Portuguese so I had more options of courses to choose from than exchange students only applying for classes in english. This was in year 2014 but the sortware and process might have changed since then.
Intensive Portuguese language course
It is mandatory to follow a Portuguese language course while taking your other courses. You will be tested in the beginning of the semester to know your languages capabilities and place you in a class according to your level. If you want to be a bit a head of this course or in general just learn Portuguese I would recommend you to take the intensive Portuguese language course which you will follow for 2-3 weeks before the semester start. Tho it is not a requirement.
I've had a lot of questions about this actually. Automatically you will find someone to hang with from the exchange program. Every thursday a lot of students (both national and inernational) gather at the nearby area called Baixo Gavea to have beers and hang out on the street. It's a good way to meet some of the other students or pick up a flirt. If you have an interest in finding Brazilian friends, you will have to make a bit of an effort not to get stuck with all the exchange students, who all speak english perfectly and make you feel safe and comfortable. You have to throw yourself out into the unknown to make Brazilian friends. At PUC the national students are very very used to the big amount of exchange students every semester, which means they also know that eventually you will go home. So be aware that some are looking for a 5 months hot flirt, not nessesarily a relationship or a new best friend. But you can of course prove them otherwise, and generally Brazilians are extremely friendly and make you feel welcome.
I would ALWAYS recommend you to aim to make Brazilian friends as it is just a whole other experience. I would never have gotten to experience the culture and know the real Rio de Janeiro without my Brazilian friends taking me to weird parties in the surbubs, favorite local restaurants, concerts, their families and the list continues. I am fortunate that I naturally made a lot of friends through my capoeira group and through my work of photography. So my advice would be to engage yourself in associations that can be related to your hobbies from home. This might be my biggest advice!
Topics often asked about:
I speak fluent portuguese and have learned without taking classes. Despite this being the situation I do recommend you to take classes at some point to really own the complex grammatics of Portuguese. Life is easier if you know the basics (as with all other countries), but brazilians a generally very kind and helpful even if you're not speaking the same language.
For the past three years (anno 2017), Brazil has been gripped by a scandal which started with a state-owned oil company and grew to encapsulate people at the very top of business - and even presidents. Read more here for an overview. Corruption is very present in Brazil and be aware that the people are not trusting the public institutions and rarely each other as well. I have experienced a lot of fishy situations, with landlords and others. I have probably been tricked in terms of payments a couple of times, nothing I know of though, but it is a premise when living in Brazil.
My experience: I have seen and heard about several robberies and I was also once badly assaulted by a group of young men.
Acknowledge that Brazil has high crime rates. The people are both exstremely poor and exstremely rich due to the massive gap between social classes. This doesn't mean you can not walk at the streets or go out at night. It just means that you need to be careful, smart and plan ahead of a situation that you're putting yourself into.
Examples I also give are: Don't walk at the beach when it's dark even tho it seems like a romantic thing to do. Don't bring yourself into situations that obviously expose you to major risks, unless your willing to take it and prepare your way out. Don't walk with your phone on the street or use it public places such as busses. If you have to use it on the go use it inside a store. Don't wear your grandmothers gold jewellery or anything of high value unless youre willing to risk it getting stolen/robbed. All of this should be common sense, but after numerous successful outings in a place, the rules of common sense can easily be forgotten or brushed aside.
Health services are free for all, but the service can be questionable. Stay calm in caotic situations and think rational even if you have a hard time communicating with the health services. I recommend you to buy a insurance from your home country. I once had to go to a hospital and it was a good experience, so don’t worry too much about that.
When so dangerous, why go?
This section might make a trip to Brazil come off as terrifying, but I want to stress that Brazil is absolutely amazing. You should definitely go. You will feel very enriched by the heartwarm people. The brazilians are some of the best in the world, and in general I’ve found them extremely friendly and welcoming to foreigners. In Brazil, a friend of a friend is your friend. The benefits far outweigh the miniscule negatives.