7 Things I DON’T Love about Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It’s not that I don’t like Rio de Janeiro…

So, I’ve been living in Brazil for almost 9 months now. In that span, I’ve left the country 3 times – to Israel and Italy once, and to the US twice.

When I’m gone, there’s a lot I miss about Rio de Janeiro – the beaches, my apartment, the amazing warm weather (especially when I went home to Michigan at Christmas!! EEEK), and the ease of walking down the street to a supermarket. I don’t need a car to get around, and I LOVE that. Almost every day is a beach day, and I LOVE that too. People here are friendly, and warm, and I’ve met some of the most inspiring people I could imagine.

But every time I leave here, I also breathe a sigh of relief. Because there’s a lot I DON’T love about this city, and that I wish I would have known before moving to Rio de Janeiro.

I’m sure you think I’m crazy, and ungrateful, to live in such a dreamy city and have anything negative to say. Please don’t get me wrong – I am extremely thankful to be here. But every city has its downside, even Rio de Janeiro. It’s not all sunshine and beaches.

Rio de Janeiro Leme Beach

7 Things I DON’T Love About Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

(everything I wish I would have known before moving to Rio de Janeiro)

From the Insignificant to the Most Important

No one has change in Rio de Janeiro.

Especially in grocery stores. Even large ones.

Only once have I gone to a supermarket in Rio de Janeiro where the clerk actually has proper change.

I’m still waiting for the definitive answer on this, but what I’ve been told is that cashiers are not allowed to have much change in their drawers, for fear of stealing (both by the clerk and by a robber). So, in order to get change, a clerk needs to ask for change from the supervisor or the change desk.

Which takes forever.

So I’ve switched to a credit card… except for when I forget.

The restaurant food in Rio de Janeiro isn’t for me.

I’m a vegetarian (currently vegan). And I don’t like almost anything about the food the restaurants serve in Rio. There’s a lot of meat, cheese, everything fried and breaded and salty and practically impossible to find a good salad. If you hate healthy food, avoid fresh greens, LOVE pizza and fries, and/or are a true carnivore (in other words, you’re just like my brother), you will LOVE Rio.

There’s rarely a decent vegetarian option, and when I ask to hold off the meat from a main dish, there’s always a mass of confusion and usually a mistake. Which I understand – I’m the strange one here, not them.

I tend to avoid Brazilian restaurants altogether (other than “by-kilo” restaurants, blessed be their existence) aside from Arabic restaurants. I used to have a few Mexican favorites but have given up as they’re quite hit or miss (running out of beans doesn’t mean you should substitute carrot.. and twice I’ve been told that they’ve run out of vegetables. As in, every vegetable other than lettuce. What?!)

They’re also generally terribly overpriced for what you actually get.

(I need to point out though, this is just restaurant food. Grocery stores and markets have great veggies and amazing fruits.. sometimes I just crave eating out!)

chowing down on fajitas in Buzios Brazilthe vegetarianly altered fajitas that later made me sick

Crowds are (almost) unavoidable in Rio de Janeiro.

There are always a ton of people, and not enough of anything. This means long lines at the grocery store because there aren’t enough check out clerks, long lines in the women’s restroom because there aren’t enough stalls, and hordes shoving at the metro because there aren’t enough trains at rush hour.

The crowds are also noticeable when trying to walk down the street. Opposite of in the US, when you stay on the right side of the sidewalk and walk in pairs or singly, groups of Brazilians will walk across the whole sidewalk, forcing someone coming in the oncoming direction to wait for them to pass or get pushed onto the street.

Rio Brazil Carnaval Crowdduring Carnaval, crowds are fun! Other times, not so much

It is expensive in Rio de Janeiro. (NOTE: It’s a lot more affordable now!)

An apartment that would cost be less than $500 equivalent in Bangkok is $1500 in Rio de Janeiro. The buses are twice as expensive as in Bangkok, and the metro is as well.

Movie ticket prices are on par with the US, as is dining out and most travel expenses (like hotels and rental cars).

While the prices match the US or are even higher, the quality and the service that you receive is much worse.. which feels disappointing. It’s harder to save money here, and you need to be really on top of your budget because the “little” expenses in Rio actually aren’t so little. In reality, the cost of living in Rio de Janeiro is way higher than I ever could have imagined, and much higher than the cost of living in Bangkok.

Apartment in Rio De Janeiro3x as expensive as Bangkok

The bureaucracy is unreal.

Filling out what should be a simple form is like trying to complete a crossword puzzle scavenger hunt written in Chinese. And a 100 step Rube Goldberg contraption is more efficient than the process for foreign registration.

A trip to the Federal Police is more painful than a root canal and wayyyy less productive. It’s necessary to extend a visa, and to register a working visa (both of which I’ve had to suffer through). Always, it will take at least a half day to complete and you’d better speak Portuguese or bring a Portuguese-speaking friend, because even in the foreigners office, no one speaks English.

Also, there are never clear English directions for any procedure, and there are always further requirements than listed (how you are supposed to figure this out? I guess through hearsay and blogs like mine!)

Disrespect towards women is rampant.

I have never been catcalled like in Rio. Obscene, pervasive, and inescapable, on a tired day sometimes I don’t even want to leave my house.

Which is sad.

I’m blonde and foreign, and lived in Thailand previously, so I am used to and understanding of curiosity and staring.

But having sucking and other obscene noises made at me, rude gestures, explicit comments, and being physically touched… it all gets taken to a whole new level on a literally daily basis in Rio. I thought I had thick skin, but I was wrong. It’s exhausting and I’m sick of it.

The only thing that helps is being with a man – then the people on the street cut it out and its only guys on the buses that pass by, which isn’t so bad.

Rio Brazil Walking homewalking alone = catcalling assured

Sometimes, it is downright dangerous.

In Rio, I never wear any jewelry that could be mistaken for expensive, as it makes you a target for theft, which is very common even in the safe areas of Zona Sul where I live. My area is supposed to be very safe (Leme/Copacabana), but recently a friend saw a homeless man get stabbed outside my metro station, in full view of police who did nothing.

Violent and sexual crime is not uncommon in Rio. A friend who lived one metro stop away in an equally “safe” neighborhood used to watch people get robbed every day from outside her window.

This is daily life, and it is part of my “norm”.

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  or Airbnb is a great value in Rio de Janeiro. You can use this link for 39USD off your first stay!
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

 

What do you wish you’d known about Rio?

Steph

A short vacation in Thailand turned into a life abroad with a canceled ticket home. 6 years later and after living in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, and Puebla, Steph is on to her next adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She is traveling and living around the world to find the beautiful, inspirational, and interesting while sharing it with you!

Find me on: Web | Twitter | Facebook

25 Comments

  1. Laura
    July 22, 2015 / 11:54 am

    Hi Stephanie, eventhough I have only been in Rio a short while, I have my sister who lives their and I have had a full view of life in Rio, living in Catete. I can relate to your story hundred percent. For me a huge reason not to want to live in Rio is the daily conversations and media about the violence. I was mainly surrounded by Cariocas and not foreighners and one subject they can talk about all day is how many people get stabbed or robbed per day. This because everywhere you look: tv and newspapers mainly talk about that. The fear that people have is huge and when something happens in a public area near your house like the park or metro, it takes away peoples freedom because they decided to avoid those places.
    In my opinion Rio is very much romantized by tourists. They stay near the beaches and see the positive sides, which ofcourse is what you want when you are on holiday. But the south-part of Rio is not Rio as it is for most Cariocas, they can’t walk to the beach and grocerie shopping gets way worse a little bit further from South Rio and even parts of South, to do cheap shopping you need to take a bus.
    I also have a other side which is more positive. It has features you wont find in any other city and thats worth a trip for a lot of people. This is ofcourse my own experience and reality. If it comes down to choosing a city to live in, Rio isnt on my list.
    Good luck with the less bright sides! And enjoy the good ones to the fullest!

    • July 22, 2015 / 12:03 pm

      Hi Laura! Thanks so much for sharing so completely and thoughtfully.
      I agree completely about the romanticization – it IS a very beautiful, romantic place but has dark sides that might not been seen be a tourist who stays for a short time. I think it is a city more enjoyable for tourists than for people who live here.
      For me, the scary part is the violence. Getting robbed would be awful but it is the fear of being hurt that is even more.
      I realize that I live in one of the safest and most convenient areas and am grateful for this. I know that unfortunately this is not the situation that most Cariocas experience.
      The 8th thing, and most huge, that I don’t love about Rio, which I haven’t written about, is the vast wealth disparity between “have” and “have-not”, and the differences in safety, respect, and opportunities.

  2. rav.
    July 22, 2015 / 4:11 pm

    i would like to give u some suggestion
    1. in rio always try to use card as is safe from robbers and faster.
    2.as u said that u r veggie, there in centro near tiradente one veg. resturent is quite good bt is (comida de kilo)
    3. here i feel crowd only on carnival or new year bt is depend on habit some people like crowd some not.
    4. u said true thing that rio is really costly compare to US. bt problem is they charge same price of US.(almost) bt doesnt provide equal service., sometime i feel as here gov. is like communist or socialist), every year need to pay so much money of tax of car also high price of insurence and if u live in favela is double.
    5. yes i faced same problem in policia federal. the best way is search all things by internet and bring all things to policia federal then u will nt spend more time there (with appointment).
    6. desrespect is not so commen here bt as u said u r blonde so i noticed that here peoples try to flirt more with blonde girls.
    7. haha yes is really dengerous. the best way is not to go outside with costly things. and if someone try to rob u with gun or by knife only advice to give him wt he asked. as we know life is above all.

    • July 22, 2015 / 4:25 pm

      Hi Rav! Thanks for your tips I really appreciate them!
      Regarding #6, I am guessing you aren’t a 20something female? Most men don’t notice and are quick to dismiss women who complain of sexual harassment.
      “Flirting” is entirely different, as it is consensual.
      Sexual harassment is NOT consensual.
      Yelling graphic sexual comments at and grabbing a woman (or any purposeful touch that is not requested or approved of) are NOT flirting – they ARE sexual harassment and they are not acceptable.

      • rav.
        July 23, 2015 / 5:35 pm

        hi steph, i understood well wt u said it is really a bad thing, i was trying to say u in my comment that, sometime when u r in public place or in disco some brazillian try to be very friendly to start friendship…, bt wt experience u r facing its really not flirt bt it is sexual harassment and if is matter of “grabbing a woman” is sexual assault. so i can just say to take care and be safe. and BTW u guessed right i m nt 20something famale. bt u r taking wrong that most men dont notice if any women complain of sexual haressmant. ofcourse everyone notice. bt maybe when women goes with bfriend outside, the sexual assaulter feel scare and dont do any comment and bfriend dont notice any sexual harassmant and when women go alone she feel problem of hasassment bcus that time she is not with bfriend 🙁

  3. August 9, 2015 / 12:20 pm

    I can definitely see how these things would wear on you over time. Since I’ve only vacationed in Rio, I know I don’t have the full picture. And I imagine it’s incredibly difficult being a veg here in Brazil. I can’t wait to go back to DC for proper salads and lighter fare. I will say, smaller town life in Brazil is incredibly cheap and has been really rewarding, but you miss out on that excitement and, obviously, the beach. Always enjoy reading your posts!

    • August 10, 2015 / 9:45 am

      I think Rio is AMAZING for vacationing and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone (and I do). The lack of veg food and slow supermarkets are sometimes frustrating and while I don’t like it, I don’t fault Cariocas for that (it’s just interesting to share!) – I’m the odd one here and it’s up to me to adapt! But the ever-increasing robberies and violence are harder to handle, for me.
      Second that on the lighter fare and salads!! Not sure if you’re familiar with it, but Panera bread (soup and salads) was a mainstay in my two week visit back to the US. Big salads with lots of fresh veggies and a light vinegar-based dressing, and light soups full of veggies instead of heavy with oil… oh how I dream of it! 😉
      I haven’t been to smaller towns yet (just Buzios and Arraial do Cabo but those are quite pricey as they attract all the Rio tourists) and I must say I really look forward to it! You must be having a really interesting (and relaxing?) experience.
      I definitely have ZERO complaints about the beach!! Gosh I love it!!! Thanks for coming by 🙂

  4. Ana
    December 22, 2015 / 1:59 pm

    That’s why we surprised when foreigners come to live here. The reality is quite different from postcards. (Translated by Google)

    • December 23, 2015 / 9:23 am

      Rio is very beautiful but there are definite downsides never pictured in pretty postcards!

  5. Hol
    May 2, 2016 / 8:57 am

    Hi Steph,

    I am very interested reading your article. Are you still in Rio? Did you visit it before moving there? Have you been able to see past these issues or is
    life in Rio not for you?

    I have recently returned from three months in South America and spent about a fortnight in Rio in total spread across two visits so I’d say I have had a tourist’s perspective. I have completely fallen in love with it and I am thinking of coming back towards the end of the year and perhaps teaching English after carnival. I am doing my research and do not wish to bury my head in the sand regarding the facts.

    Any advice would be much appreciated!

    Thanks

    • May 9, 2016 / 10:20 am

      Hi Hol! I moved away from Rio in December. I did not visit before moving, however my fiancé did. Unfortunately, I was not able to see past the issues (many of which are continuing to worsen with the upcoming Olympics, and will probably become drastically worse after the Olympics which is almost certain to be a total flop).

      Rio is an amazing, beautiful, interesting city, especially for tourists, and I have many friends who live there still and love it as well. Be sure to do your research before deciding to move and on which career – while certified teachers in international schools make okay money but you will of course need to know Portuguese then as well, and the private English teachers are paid quite poorly compared to the rest of the world (including Asia), especially as the Brazilian Real continues to drop. Rio is a fairly expensive city (especially in terms of apartments) and the wages are not great. Additionally, it is hard to find a school that will support your working visa (unless you are in an international or private school as mentioned above).

      That being said, every person values different aspects of a city and of a lifestyle, so just because Rio was not for me will not mean that it is not for you!

  6. Amy
    March 31, 2017 / 12:10 pm

    Hi I like reading your article it amazing can you tell me some stuff to do when you go on a trip!

    • April 2, 2017 / 1:45 pm

      Sure! All of my tips for a trip to Rio are here

  7. Bhoko Harum
    May 28, 2017 / 10:53 am

    Rio de Janeiro has the fame of its name… but in reality, the city is total shit. Lot of slums, drug dealers, criminal police officers, corruption, homicides on news everyday. I don’t know how tourists have the desire to visit Rio de Janeiro. Hopefully, I don’t live there, I live in São Paulo City, it’s a bit better. In general, southern brazilian states are a better place to live, but northern states sucks a lot. Brazil is a decadent country, ruled by corrupted politicians and populated by a disgraceful people, it’s a country where workers pay high taxes and don’t have the basic needs returned, like public transportation, health care, education, it’s a fault from its own population and partly from politicians. Brazilian beaches are dirty as hell, people don’t have the awareness of ambiental problems, brazilians streets are dirty, cities are badly planned, ineffective sewage systems, the nature in Brazil are poorly protected, but yeah… Brazil has its own supreme oversight, the one that is only interest is corrupted money to feed the stupid public offices.

    • May 29, 2017 / 10:10 am

      Tell us how you REALLY feel!
      😉 Just kidding…
      Thanks for sharing your opinion! Recognizing there is a problem is the first step in working towards a solution.

      Brazil definitely has its share of problems (as does Rio), but I think so does every country. I’ve yet to visit a perfect place, though I’ve got Bhutan in my sights for my 30th birthday and that’s reputed to be a fairly idyllic country so maybe I’ll have to retract my first statement then.

  8. July 26, 2017 / 9:27 am

    HI I THINK RIO IS NORMAL. THERE”RE ADVANTAGE AND DISADVANTAGE. I DONT KNOW WHAT I”M TALKING ABOUT> BYE!!!!

    • Steph
      Author
      July 26, 2017 / 2:18 pm

      Thanks for sharing your opinion!

  9. Proud Carioca
    December 27, 2017 / 4:22 pm

    G’day Steph,
    I believe it’s not only Rio… rather is the whole world going insane!! For example, your country has cities that are plagued by violence and social decay (San Francisco, Washington DC, Chicago, Detroit, etc), a extremely high level of corruption in the top government echelons and also in law enforcement but only a handful of Brazilians would know about it… Brazilians have this complex of inferiority which takes the majority to look at the US as a beacon for justice and democratic values. They swap our beautiful culture for English business names (like the famous “Delivery entrega”) and American icons (like that awful statue of “liberty” in Barra da Tijuca)…. and that’s, in my opinion, is disgraceful. So you’d rarely hear a Brazilian pointing out the negative aspect of life in the US, on the contrary, they would basically only highlight the positives. As far as I understand, every place in the world has pros and cons …. I look for the pros and settle for a place where I can put up with the cons… Another thing to consider is the cultural differences between our countries: catcalling in Brazil is not necessarily an offensive behaviour here …. one can’t just bring American values and apply them here (thank god as these days everything is considerate “offensive” in the US…. a total shutdown on free thinking, free speech, humour, free independent press and cultural freedom …. ).
    In a nutshell, I agree with you on most of your report about the negative aspects of our life here but…. tough, that’s how the cookie crumbles around here… just learn how to swim in this beautiful Brazilian ocean without hitting the floating debris….
    I really hope you have a great time here, despite of your bad experiences. You are more than welcome in our country!
    Merry Xmas and Happy New Year

    • Steph
      Author
      December 28, 2017 / 6:06 am

      Hi! Thanks so much for sharing!
      I love reading cultural observations of the US, especially the negative ones, and I agree with most (which is why I don’t live there, and while it’s the country of my birth, definitely don’t consider it to be “my” country as you’ve stated). I’m glad that every corner of the internet doesn’t portray a falsely positive picture, and I’m fine to be the one in this sphere doing so.
      I do have to touch on your point about catcalling. I don’t think that respect for women is an “American value” but rather a universal value that should be upheld regardless the location. None of the women I talked to, including local Cariocas, enjoyed the perverse catcalling that occurs. Most had been affected by sexual and physical street abuse. Just because sexual harassment is normalized in a place doesn’t mean that it’s okay, and anyone that shrugs their shoulders, watches it go on apathetically, and says that it isn’t “necessarily an offensive behaviour” is just as much part of the problem (maybe even more so? because they know better and choose not to help) as the guy shouting he wants to rape the woman walking down the street minding her own business.

  10. Rio Jack
    January 8, 2018 / 6:17 pm

    Yeah, it’s the Kim Kardashian of destinations… famous for being famous, and terrible in every way.

    • Steph
      Author
      January 9, 2018 / 9:15 am

      Lol I don’t know if I’d go THAT far (though I do love the analogy and it literally did make me “laugh out loud”), as I really think Rio is a fabulous vacation destination, just not a great choice for me, personally, as a place to live.

  11. February 8, 2018 / 5:48 pm

    I am in Rio now, and honestly this is not my city. It is beautiful as main sightseeing places but city is way too crowded, dirty, people lie here a lot, corruption everywhere. I do not care much about beaches, and Copacabana is dirty trash for me. I came, I visit, I see it but I won’t return back. Those who come here either want sex or see Carnival, majority of them, not all of them. I traveled in Africa a lot and I love Africa.

    • Steph
      Author
      February 19, 2018 / 1:39 pm

      Interesting! Thank you for sharing – I haven’t been to Africa yet but look forward to a future visit.
      I know a lot of people who do really love Rio, so it’s fascinating to see what draws some and pushes some away. I was also surprised at the dirtiness of Copacabana beach, but found it really beautiful at sunset or sunrise (with the amazing landscape/mountains in the background).

  12. Aaron
    June 29, 2018 / 4:51 pm

    I live in Rio but really can’t wait to get back to the UK. This is a corrupt city. I teach but I get let down pretty much every week without fail. I teach private classes and people cancel all the time and just make up any excuse. I should have left months ago and now my family had to send me money to get home. When I first arrived I thought that the jeitinho brasileiro was actually fine and essential, but actually it’s simply the manifestation of a corrupt society without integrity. It was my dream for years to live in Rio but not anymore. Behind all the smiles is jealousy and disrespect for others. Cariocas can be lovely people, if you have something to offer them. My ex-gf is from Brazil and she and her family (and others) told me not to come here. I wish I would have listened. Rude at the check out (if they even speak to or look at you ), completely ignorant to people that might want to pass them on the sidewalk, and no problem telling lies whatsoever. Having said this, Rio without the people would be a beautiful city

    • Steph
      Author
      July 1, 2018 / 11:31 am

      I’m so sorry you had a bad experience! I met so many lovely people in Rio: my most vivid memory was one morning, my bike chain popped off, and I didn’t know how to fix it. Immediately, a guy in a full business suit stopped and insisted on helping me (and it was SCORCHING heat). He put the chain back on, good as new.
      That being said… personally, I did find service people to be ruder (goodness gracious, especially at checkout counters and in restaurants!) and less courteous in Rio than in other places in Brazil (like Sao Paulo, for example) or elsewhere in Latin America, but I assumed the difference to be having to deal with the hassles of constant tourism, watching others on vacation while you work day in and out for a low wage (“tourism fatigue”?), and being consistently screwed over by the government officials (like with the Olympics).

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