Like most questions asked about Brazil, this doesn’t have a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Christian Taylor unpacks the pros and cons about freelancing online in Brazil.
So, you want to be a digital nomad. Is Brazil a good place to base yourself? A lot will depend on your tolerance levels for things like language barriers, bureaucracy and finding a decent WiFi connection.
Of course, for every negative, there are plenty of positives. In return for your patience you’ll be rewarded with a great lifestyle, wonderful people and more nature than you can poke a stick at!
My advice would be to come to Brazil because you want to be in Brazil. Come because you’re interested in the culture, the people or because you have friends or loved ones here. That way, you will be more motivated to find your own jeitinhos when you inevitably come up against obstacles.
Good things about being a digital nomad in Brazil
- Visas: depending on which country you come from, you should be able to come to Brazil as a tourist and spend 180 days here each year. If you want to stay longer, you can apply for a student visa. Once you have this visa in place, you can keep extending it as long as you continue to study (usually for up to 2 years). While current visa rules state that you need to be studying for at least 20 hours a week in order to qualify, some schools will still give you the letter you need in order to qualify, even if you plan to only study for a few hours a week.
- Warm people and culture: While you’ll always be a ‘gringo/a’ here, if you’re prepared to put in the work, you’ll be able to integrate yourself into Brazilian society and eventually find your place. Overall Brazilians are warm and welcoming, they want you to feel at home and if you’re open to it, you’ll find Brazil full of wonderful experiences that will keep you coming back for more. Brazilian society is a big melting pot, which is great if you’re a foreigner. You’ll feel less of an outsider here than you would in Asia for instance.
- Big country, big opportunities: If you’re an innovator, there are a lot of problems in Brazil that need solving and you might be just the person to do it. Also, this is a big country with many big, different cities to choose from. If you’re someone who likes adventure and exploring, Brazil is a great place to do that.
Things that make Brazil difficult for digital nomads:
- Language barrier and laborious bureaucracy: You’ll find that there aren’t a lot of people in Brazil who can speak English. If you’re setting up a life here, you’ll need to rely on Brazilian friends and Gringo groups online to help you solve problems that you come up against, like renting an apartment, getting a SIM card, etc. Or, you can always learn Portuguese before you arrive. You’ll also find that there’s a lot of bureaucracy here. It’s a good idea to commit your CPF to memory, because you’ll be asked for it a lot!
- Cost of living: Brazil isn’t a cheap place to live when you compare it to somewhere like Thailand for instance. However the current economic woes make it a more attractive option for freelancers spending foreign currency here. For example, my 2-bedroom apartment in the centre of Florianopolis is costing me about £250 a month including condominio, water and electricity. Good luck finding anything for that price in the UK!
- Internet connection: For most freelancers, this is their life-line and you’ll need good internet if you’re going to be able to get your work done here. Good internet does exist in Brazil, you’ll just need to spend time finding it when you arrive. In Florianopolis, I’ve found excellent connections around town in Jacks & Jacks (which now has a co-working space out back), Beijú, Café Cultura, Restaurante Maurílio II, Nosso Bar and Bocaiúva Brasserie Café. When I have internet issues at home, these are the places I go running to. Major cities like Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Florianopolis have co-working spaces which are basically like shared office spaces which you can use for a fee. You’ll just need to hunt them down. If you’re sticking around in one place, you can organise a broadband connection at home too.
Which cities are the best?
Everyone has different things that they’re looking for when choosing a place to base themselves. Nomad List is the best resource for helping you make this decision. They have ranked major Brazilian cities based on factors such as cost of living, safety, air quality, weather and fun. You can also see ratings on specific factors like how female-friendly or gay friendly a city is. Numbeo.com has also created an estimate of the cost of living in Brazil, compared to the USA and it’s also a useful tool to help you plan.
My life as a digital nomad in Brazil so far
I’ve been working in Brazil as a freelancer since November 2015 and it’s been wonderful so far. I wake up each morning, make a big pot of coffee and tap away on my laptop on the balcony while looking out to sea. On most days things go smoothly. My internet connection holds up and I’m able to get things done. When I Skype with people usually freezing in the UK, they’re jealous when they see the blue sky behind me or hear the birds chirping in the trees nearby. Of course, it hasn’t been plain sailing, and there have been days where I’ve been on deadline or late for a Skype call, desperately running from cafe to cafe trying to find a working WiFi connection!
I’ve based myself in Florianopolis for several reasons: life is a bit more relaxed here than in other Brazilian cities. If I wanted to live in the midst of a fast-paced city, I would have just stayed in London. Most days in Floripa feel like you’re on holiday. It’s safer and the quality of life is higher here than in say Rio or Sao Paulo. I feel like there’s less financial pressure on me here, as prices are a bit lower. And when you’re finished working for the day, you can head down to the beach for a swim.
Unlike a lot of digital nomads, I am actually staying put in one place for a solid amount of time, which means that when things go wrong, I know where to go to get online. I’ve also invested in a car, which has certainly made life easier when I’ve had problems with the internet at home and I’ve needed to get to a cafe to find a connection.
Even with the recent turmoil regarding Britain voting to leave the European Union, I am still getting a good exchange rate from British pounds to Reais. Long may it continue!
My advice for freelancers coming to Brazil would be to stay put in one place for a while, and get your internet sorted out first. Always have a back-up plan if your internet at home fails (like a 3g connection on your phone that you can turn to). Because Brazilians are so lovely, my neighbours have shared their WiFi password with me, so I have a back-up connection if things go wrong. If that still doesn’t cut it, I can go down to a cafe near home (a 10-minute walk down the hill) where the internet is great. Or if it’s lunchtime, I can head to Lagoa da Conceição, where there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to choose from, all with excellent WiFi. It’s lovely to sit at a table outside, look out over the lake and enjoy a tasty meal while I work. For the same price in London I’d be sitting in a cramped sandwich shop with my headphones in, trying to get a little peace.
If your Portuguese isn’t great, you’re going to need Brazilian friends who can help you when you run up against language barriers. Make use of Gringo groups online and start making those connections. Chances are, someone out there has already had to solve the problem you’re currently faced with.
I have to say, I have been so busy setting up my life here that I haven’t devoted as much time to learning Portuguese as I would like. I’ve been going to classes at a university here, but it’s all about being able to practice with people around you. I’m determined to make more progress as the year progresses! You really can’t get under the skin of Brazil without being able to speak to people.
And when it comes to spending money in Brazil, I’ve found Transferwise to be a life-saver. It allows you to send cash to Brazil at a much cheaper rate than your bank will give you! Click this affiliate link to get your first transfer for free!
Another great thing about being a digital nomad versus being an English teacher – for the last few weeks I have been travelling around Bahia, staying in beautiful pousadas, doing travel writing and swimming in the sea. Because my work is portable, it has been relatively easy to get work done while on the road. However, friends of mine who teach couldn’t do this without giving up classes or private clients, which ultimately eats into their earnings.
So – is Brazil a good place to be a digital nomad? It can be. It has been for me so far! It all depends on you!
Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be publishing further articles in this series which will guide you through the process of becoming a digital nomad in Brazil – or anywhere else in the world for that matter! As always, if you have any questions or comments, leave them below! You can also follow me on Twitter @xian_taylor.