16 Realizations about Rio de Janeiro: Life as an Expat

After a little over a year in Rio de Janeiro as an expat, here are my top realizations about the city that I wouldn’t have picked up on as a tourist. Some are silly, some are serious, and some were just plain frustrating.


A trip to the federal police will take the majority of your day, even if you plan ahead and arrive before it opens. The bureaucracy in Brazil is ridiculous, and no amount of time, energy, or thought on your part will change it. Don’t fight it, and the only thing that can help is proper preparation and being sure you have all the necessary documentation. Bring a book, laptop, snacks, and settle in for the long haul.

Brazilian Visa Form Receita STN

one of the many Brazilian visa forms (and fees)


If you make eye contact (even accidental) with a guy, he is WAY more likely to hit on you, shout at you, or try to grab or touch you. One of the best ways to minimize sexual harassment is (unfortunately) to avoid eye contact.


There are WAY more beaches than Copacabana or Ipanema. Leme ended up being my favorite, but Sao Conrado was amazing as well.

Rio de Janeiro Leme Beach

Leme Beach


You will always hug and kiss upon greeting and when saying goodbye – including strangers. That habit might stick with you (I accidentally cheek kissed my dad for the first time ever last week). But is it 2 kisses or 1?!


There are hikes hiding in plain sight, and walking distance from the tourist district. Morro da Urca and Morro do Leme are two of the easiest to reach, and extremely safe (with amazing views).

Morro da Urca view

on the hike up Morro da Urca


Princesa Isabel supermarket is not cheaper than Zona Sul, though it looks much crappier and the quality and service is worse.


Renting one of those orange bikes is cheaper and easier than you’d imagine.

BikeRio Bike Share Review Rio de Janeiro Bicycle


Everyone is late. An hour or more. Just plan on it, don’t ever be early, and if you can’t force yourself to be late as well – bring something to do.


Portuguese is so much harder than Spanish for me. I’ll never ever be able to properly pronounce the difference between nasal pao (bread) and pao (penis). Even though I loved my language school, it was almost impossible (and I just suck at languages).

Rio de Janeiro Casa do Caminho Party

one of the many events held at Casa do Caminhos


Solid dish soap looks weird but actually works much better than liquid dish soap with the cold kitchen sink water.


Drink fewer caipirinhas than you’d assume for your liquor tolerance. They are potent, the drunk creeps up on you, and they are the WORST hangover.

Maracuja Caipirinha Rio de Janeiro Leme Brazil

maracuja caipirinha 


In Rio de Janeiro, it’s all about that (b)ass. The glorious glorioso (buttocks) reigns supreme, on the beach and especially in the gym. Trainers tend to focus on looks and not on strength, and tailor their workout plans around improving physique. A trainer I’d worked with told me that he’d never before had a woman ask to be stronger. Mostly, they want to increase the size of their butt. Unfortunately, my butt didn’t make any major gains as I only trained for a few months before moving to Mexico.


Rio de Janeiro has the BEST sweets and snacks. But the majority of the food is really not healthy. Good god I craved for a decent salad not covered in cream dressing or cheese.

Rio de Janeiro Churro


Everything (not just the federal police) takes way longer than you’d expect, and way longer than it should. Whether you’re getting an AC installed, visiting the grocery store, or having an appointment – bring a kindle or book everywhere. You’ll reflect on your weeks and realize you’ve spent hours wasted waiting otherwise.


Bring a canga to the beach and little else. A towel makes you look like a tourist.

Cangas and Havaianas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

canga and havaianas? you’re set for the beach!


It’s not just your appearance that will make you look like a foreigner, it’s your attitude. Adopt the confidence of locals to fit in better, or at least stick out less.

Rio de Janeiro Jiu Jitsu

learning some confidence, Brazilian style, with jiu jitsu!


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16 realizations about rio de janeiro life as an expat

Necessary Details: Rio de Janeiro

What Else to Do in Rio de Janeiro
Check out my full guide to Rio de Janeiro here, which includes the best suggestions for hiking (including my favorite Morro do Leme hike), where to eat, weekend getaways from the city (including Buzios), and the best beaches.
You can read every article I’ve ever written about Rio de Janeiro (and there’s a lot: I lived there for almost two years!) here.
Viator offers a bunch of different Rio de Janeiro tour options, including for visiting Christ the Redeemer, and provides excellent customer service and refunds if anything goes wrong — much more than local operators would do.
Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro
If you have around $100 per night to spend, you can’t get a better value than Rio 180 hotel — each room is a suite and has its own private hot tub along with incredible views!
For a wider range of pricing options, check here
How to Arrive to Rio de Janeiro 
You can take the bus into Rio de Janeiro from many destinations within Brazil, but most people choose to fly. While Copa Airlines isn’t my favorite carrier, they do usually offer the cheapest flights. To check the latest low prices on airfare to Brazil, try Skyscanner , or if you have some date and/or destination flexibility and want to score the absolute lowest prices, try Kiwi.com.
Visa information for Brazil and Visa Renewal in Rio de Janeiro
I’ve written an extensive post (along with Q&A about the topic in the comments) here

Do you have any realizations about Rio de Janeiro to share, or about any other city you’ve lived in as an expat?

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