12 Harsh Truths about Being an Awkward American Girl in Rio de Janeiro

A year and a half living in Rio de Janeiro as an American expat lady left me with some fond memories, more than a few regrets (I should have spent more time on the beach!), and more than a few moments that still leave me shaking my head and laughing. If I could travel back in time, and tell just-coming-from-Bangkok-me a few things… these would be it!

You will gain weight.

Rio de Janeiro Caipirinha

cheese salgados and caipirinhas: the lunch of champions (also the fast track to gaining a pound a week)

It doesnt matter if you seem to eat the same as everyone else.

A churro, salgado, and juice caipirinha everyday = an extra 10 pounds of flab for you, even if it somehow translates into firm but curvy bodies for everyone else.

You should NOT have “just one more” caipirinha.

Maracuja Caipirinha Rio de Janeiro Leme Brazil


If you’re second guessing me, I dare you to do it. And tomorrow when your head feels like it’s splitting in half and your stomach is rebelling and trying to dispel all the sugary, limey, cachaca-y mess you’ve given it… you won’t ask again.


Everyone else will always be wearing less than you at the beach and FLAUNTING it.

With my Dad in Rio de Janeiro

with my dad on Ipanema beach – how cute is he?

Even that 75 year old grandma. In the meantime, you’ll be struggling to keep yourself canga-covered for as long as possible.

You will be the worst dancer at the party.

Bachelorette Party in Grand Rapids Michigan

I don’t have a photo of me Samba-ing, because I suck and wouldn’t want that documented. Instead, here’s a photo of me looking totally insane at my bachelorette party. You’re welcome

Without fail. You will never be able to samba, it doesn’t matter whether you throw away thousands of reais into lessons (unless you’ve been blessedly gifted with ridiculously more innate rhythm than the average American Jane).

Ain’t happening.

You’ll love the women’s only car on the metro.

For the most part…

But you won’t understand why there are consistently dudes in there if the cop isn’t hauling them out. And it will piss you off.

You’ll have to strategically plan your haircuts to coincide with trips outside of the country.

long and stringy was my only hair option

No one will know how to cut your thin/fine/naturally blonde hair. Step AWAY with that straight razor!

Save yourself pain and agony (or your fiance cutting your hair in the shower with a pair of cheap kitchen shears), and just get a haircut every time you’re in the US.

The struggle is real with Portuguese.

Rio de Janeiro Casa do Caminho Party

outside the language school where I burned hundreds of dollars and failed miserably at Portuguese (my fault, not theirs)

Don’t even try to order bread. Your “pao” will always be the wrong one. You’ll think you’re asking for some brown bread, and you’re actually asking for some brown (penis). Understand the difference here, but don’t attempt it.

Your dad will always want to come visit and for once doesn’t encourage you to move back to the US.

With my Dad in Rio de Janeiro

… the lady to the right of us

If you haven’t been to Brazil, I’ll let you in on a not very well kept secret: the women are absolutely stunning and wear almost nothing on the beach.

One word: glorioso

(also, see the third Truth about beach wear)

You WILL be constantly hit on everywhere you go.

Morro do Leme Hike Rio de Janeiro

Even when you’re sweaty and gross

It doesn’t matter how mediocre you think you are everywhere else in the world. Machismo is alive and well in Rio, and almost every man you come across will feel fine and pleased to tell you exactly what he thinks of your ass/body/face. From 7 years old to 97 years old.

You don’t think you could ever get bored of flattery and attention from guys.

Rio de Janeiro Jiu Jitsu

learn self defense to combat all those grabby-grabbers

Until you do. An hour later.

You’re still sick of it, a week later when you vow to never leave the house unless your hair is back in a greasy ponytail, your face is makeup free, and you’re as covered as possible. The key is to try and look as unattractive and unappealing as womanly possible.

And learn Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

You need to stop being on time.

You NEED to just give in and enjoy the lateness. Everyone will always be thirty minutes to three hours late. Stop stressing and embrace the lax time attitudes. And always tell everyone at least 30 minutes BEFORE you plan to have the main dish ready at the dinner party.

Everyone else back home will assume you practically live at the beach.

Rio de Janeiro Leme Beach

makes sense when this beach is just a block away from home

You’ll feed into that fantasy, and never tell anyone it’s overrated and you only go on weekends with friends because
1. the sea is super wavy and sometimes dirty (especially Copacabana)
2. it is hot as FUCK and humid on the beach
3. the sexual harassment is out of control

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12 Harsh Truths about being an Awkward American Girl in Rio de Janeiro

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

Did I miss any harsh truths?


A short vacation in Thailand turned into a life abroad with a canceled ticket home. Nearly a decade later and after living in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Puebla, and Puerto Vallarta, Steph is on to her next adventure and living back in beautiful, cosmopolitan Mexico City. She is living, traveling, and working (both as an expat therapist and an international health insurance representative) around the world to find the beautiful, inspirational, and interesting while sharing it with you!

Find me on: Web | Instagram | Facebook

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