How immigration will change Brazil



As we're stuck in traffic on Avenida Paulista, São Paulo's most famous boulevard, the cab driver interrupts our small talk, struggling to hide his disbelief and skepticism. "But why, after having completed your education abroad, would you want to come back and live here, in a third world country, rather than in Europe or America?" Even after many years, fellow university professors politely inquire how many months I intend to conduct research in Brazil before supposedly returning to the safe and cozy environment of an American university. The notion that an educated foreigner would decide to pursue his or her career in Brazil - for purely professional reasons, that is - still strikes Brazilians as difficult to digest. There has always been the odd gringo who fell in love with a Brazilian and who ended up in Brazil, but they were numerically insignificant. For decades, going abroad was seen as the ultimate dream for young educated Brazilians. "Out there," (as Brazilians say when they refer to any place outside of Brazil's borders), was the place to go, so seeing young, mobile foreigners, who could find a job anywhere on earth, arrive and settle in Brazil can be outright disconcerting. Yet the number of foreigners is rising, largely in the private sector, lured by spectacular economic growth, competitive salaries and a more Western society than in any of the other BRIC countries.

From a historical point of view, Brazil is, not unlike the United States, a country built on the backs of hard-working immigrants from Europe and slaves from Africa (although mixing with the native population was more common than in the US). Brazil is thus a true immigrant nation, and its rich history of recurrent waves of immigration from places such as Portugal, Africa, Italy, Germany, Poland and Japan have turned the country into the culturally and ethnically diverse melting pot that shaped its national identity. In the course I currently teach, my students' names point to ancestors from Japan, Hungary, Portugal, Italy, Germany, China, Lebanon, Spain and the Netherlands - a degree of diversity comparable to any major US university.

Yet despite the important role immigration has played during Brazil's history, Brazil no longer receives outsiders with the ease other countries such as the United States do. Few immigrants have arrived in Brazil after 1990. Today Brazil strikes the visitor as fairly isolated from the rest of the world. Brazilians say this can be explained by the geographic distance between them and the rest of the world. The Amazon forest in the West and the Atlantic Ocean in the East created formidable barriers for centuries. While the United States proved to be a magnet for immigrants with its dynamic economy and liberal and socially mobile society throughout the second half of the 20th century, Brazil's economy stagnated, its government driving it even further into isolation with the import-substitution model during the Cold War. Brazil's immigration policy makes it difficult for foreigners to work in Brazil. While immigrants in the United States can eventually turn into US-American citizens, obtaining Brazilian citizenship is difficult. This is all the more paradoxical since the lack of skilled workers is one of the key obstacles that may keep Brazil from sustaining its growth in the long term.

Yet even cumbersome immigration rules cannot undo the fact that Brazil's recent economic miracle attracts a growing number of skilled immigrations from all over the world. Language proves a significant barrier, as fluency in Portuguese is an absolute necessity in order to find work in Brazil. But it also presents a golden opportunity for foreigners willing to learn the language, as Brazilian companies desperately seek engineers, IT experts and finance professionals who speak both Portuguese and English. As The Economist recently noted, Brazil is one of the only countries with a shortage of PhDs. Culture matters, too. A European or American engineer with job offers from companies in São Paulo, Dubai, Delhi and Beijing, with similar financial and career perspectives, may opt for Brazil as it is by far the easiest country to integrate. The number of foreigners seeking jobs in Brazil is growing, and is likely to increase further. Not a single week passes without friends or friends' friends from Italy, Portugal, Greece or the United States inquiring about job opportunities in Brazil.

The growing number of job seekers from abroad will change the way Brazil relates to foreigners. Visitors from abroad are well liked in Brazil, because they are few, they are rich, and they usually do not stay for long. In the future, immigrants will be plenty, relatively poor (as they are beginning their careers), and intent on settling in Brazil. Both skilled and unskilled workers will seek to benefit from Brazil's rise. Cleaning ladies in Brazil's large cities will no longer hail from the country's poor rural areas, but from Argentina, Paraguay, and possibly Portugal and Spain. While it may take decades until immigration to Brazil reaches proportions known in Europe, it remains to be seen how well Brazil can deal with a new wave of immigration and the challenges that come with it. Brazil's public schools, for example, offer few extra courses to help non-Portuguese speaking students catch up. Illegal immigration in São Paulo is already a problem, but it is not yet part of the public debate. Yet, despite all the difficulties, Brazil's past is likely to help it master the challenges immigration brings with it, and cherish its new role as the land of opportunity and destination of immigrants from all over the world.

Read also:

Fight for talents among the BRICS set to intensify

In break with tradition, Brazil moves to curb Haitian influx

Will Brazil let Haiti’s huddled masses in?

As Brazil turns into 6th largest economy, unfamiliar challenges loom

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Comments 045

  • Atul

    April 10, 2011 5:00 pm · Reply


    Immigrants will bring down the cost of living for Brazilians. I believe from my 4 visits in this year that the cost of living is very high

    • Michael

      May 21, 2012 1:57 am · Reply

      Not true at least here in the USA, Immigrants here have saturated the rental maket causing rents to increase and jobs to decrease. There are around 20 million illegal immigrants in the USA and roughly 20 million USA citizens are unemployed, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out Immigrant hurts the job market here. I do believe that there is a place for skilled Immigrants however Brazil should focus more educating and employing it’s own citizens first.

      • Nick Sanders

        November 12, 2013 1:08 pm · Reply

        You’re nuts and lazy. Quit blaming others and go look for a job!

    • Mark

      June 29, 2012 1:01 pm · Reply

      If you think the cost of living in Brasil is high, you ought to try it here in Canada. Certainly there are differences in Brasil such as the price of a car (considerably higher) but things like food and the basic necessities are noticeably less expensive than Canada.
      My first trip to Brasil was in 2005 and I have been back 9 times since then (fiance). I’ve watched the price of things creep upwards somewhat but they still remain lower for the most part with great differences in prices depending on where you shop.
      Of course I can’t speak for Brasil in it’s entirety, but for a tourist-cum-resident like myself, what’s not to like about the fact I can drink a 750ml cerveja for half the price of a 350ml bottle in Canada?

      I feel fortunate to have learned the language relatively quickly and certainly look forward to becoming a permanent resident there. I never liked the cold anyway.

  • Daniel Godoy LOpes

    April 11, 2011 1:02 am · Reply

    Hello Mr. Stuenkel,

    First of all, great article. A young Brazilian diplomat acquaintance shared it with me on Facebook and I shared it there and on Twitter (@DanielBrasilia). My mother is a case-in-point of a German “lost” in Brazil because she married a Brazilian and most foreigners who have settled in Brasília over the years follow that route. So I agree that it’s essential for Brazil to again have that dynamic mix of immigration that was so common about 1 century ago.

    However, it may be because they arrived when they were still children, but I’d like to point out Guido Mantega (Italian), Felix Fischer (German) and Helmut Schwarzer (German, if I’m not mistaken), who have all reached high levels of government positions, though they are not born Brazilians. So, it’s not necessarily an impediment. Of course, by our Constitution, some positions cannot go to foreigners, even if naturalized Brazilians, but they can still make a difference.

    Hope you have success in your Brazilian adventure – or even immigration!

    Daniel Godoy
    works at STJ – Brasília.

  • JR Belmonte

    November 25, 2011 3:59 pm · Reply


    I’m a Filipino and thank you for posting this article. It further enhanced my knowledge about the differences and similarities of Newly Industrialized Countries (NIC’s), which I am an avid reader and truth-seeker about those countries. I’m so happy that Brazil which is also a Christian nation and a member of NIC’s, like the Philippines, is booming, beginning to shine again and are attracting tourists, investors and immigrants from European countries. But one thing that called my attention while reading this article is that, despite of the booming economy of Brazil, why is that more and more Brazilians are going abroad to find jobs. It is very apparent in my country since many Brazilians are coming here to search for better jobs. This is different somehow on what’s going on in my country. Although Filipinos are still sending millions abroad to work, but an increasing number of OFW’s (Overseas Filipino Workers) are going back home to take advantage of different opportunities brought by our emerging economy. We have no reservations toward Brazilians, as a matter of fact, their characters and attitude are almost the same with Filipinos and we find Brazilian culture very similar to ours.

    I hope you will also post articles about it.

    Thank you again and more power! Obrigado/Salamat.

  • Carlos

    November 26, 2011 5:34 am · Reply


    “more competitive salaries and a more Western society than in any of the other BRIC countries”.

    Well, that is not true.

    Brazil may be more Western than China and India, but Russia is definitely more Western than Brazil.

    Rio and Sao Paolo look like crme-ridden African slums compared with Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

    • Glauber Costa

      December 29, 2011 8:19 am · Reply

      I am a Brazilian doing the opposite way: I am now living in Russia. And I’m sorry, but the notion that Russia is “more western” than Brazil, is just nuts.
      Of course they have western elements, but take as an small example my search for a flat here: there are the ones I was willing to live in, and the ones I wasn’t. The former, are referred to by their English-speaking real estate agencies are “western renovation”.

      Also, a foreign going to Brazil, can read signs, even if he does not speak Portuguese. In Russia, you have the extra initial barrier of the Cyrillic alphabet. (And yes, it does make things more difficult)

      Of course moving here was less culturally-traumatic for me than China or India would be, for instance. But Brazil, obviously with its particularities, is most certainly a Western culture (with its virtues and vices).

    • Nicholas

      January 24, 2012 1:04 am · Reply

      Dear Carlos,

      Crime and that cities Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo has it’s problems with slums has nothing to do with the words “Western World”.
      Moscow and Saint Petersburg and even nations like the US that claims to be the top of the world of everthing has it’s slums and high crime, no matter how people manipulate the numbers (statistic freaks)

      Fact is Russia is a slavic nation and Brazil is a nation of immigrants from all over the world and is a Westernized nation compare to the nations that are in the BRIC.

      • Nick Sanders

        November 12, 2013 1:12 pm · Reply

        Now I live in Brazil and love it! Even though I’m 71 years old I feel safer here. Who know who may shoot you in the USA when you go to the super market? The USA has become greedy and indifferent to the world’s problems. Not for me. I want to spend the rest of my life in Brazil and love the people and the culture.

  • Oliver Stuenkel

    November 26, 2011 2:09 pm · Reply

    Thank you for your comments.
    Regarding Brazilians in the Philippines: This is an interesting information and I will seek to find data on how many Brazilians live abroad. Yet my general sense is that as Brazil’s economy grows, many Brazilians are returning home, particularly from the United States and Europe, where unemployment is high and growth sluggish.

    Regarding Carlos’ comment: This questions depends, in my eyes, on how one defines the West. In case you are interested, I have written an article about competing versions of the West:

    link to

    If you define the West along religious lines, then catholic Brazil is certainly as Western as Russia, if not more so. If you look at history, Russia played an important role in Western history, but it is rarely regarded as an integral part of the West. Many have sought to define the West using geography, but that is difficult, too: What about, just to give some examples, Iceland, Israel, Ukraine, Turkey, or Georgia?

    When you argue that São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro “do not look Western”, you seem to be referring to urban infrastructure or the ethnic origin of its inhabitants. If it is infrastructure, then Shanghai or Singapore should be part of the West as well, right? If you decide to use a society’s ethnic composition, then Argentina should be Western, but the United States should clearly not.

    So I agree that my claim that liberal and democratic Brazil is ‘more Western’ than autocratic Russia is a difficult one to make as the West is such an ill-defined concept. But you will have similar difficulty proving that Russia is in fact more Western than Brazil.

    • Adolf kong

      June 27, 2013 4:41 pm · Reply

      Too much Filthy, Barbarian and idiota commentas. I don’t know how peoples think about the “Western”? May as peoples too much worship “Western”?. And every one wants to be western.
      If we conside west europe, north america are western countries, so:
      On race: Russia and 55% of Brasilian belong to western,
      On culture: Russia and Brasil belong to western,
      On politica: Both Brasil and Russia are different with western,
      On economy: West Europe and North America are better than Ruussia and Brasil, but
      Western economy have been going down, and Russia and Brasil are going
      up, and going on.
      On criminal: During USSR, Russian crimial rate was very low, and now Russian criminal
      cases are rising, and the rate are same with Western countries. But Brasilian
      criminal rate may high than Western countries.
      On living: During USSR, Russia no had rich and poor peoples, that time all peoples there
      belong to the middle class peoples. But now Russia are same with Western
      countries. And all politica reformists have been belonging to billionarios since
      USSR fall. In Brasil, middle class peoples’ living are better than western
      countries. But rich and poor peoples’ living are bad than Western countries.

  • Otto

    December 26, 2011 12:52 pm · Reply

    Indeed, the main barrier for foreigners is the language. Most Brazilians speak just Portuguese and for a foreigner it is hard to find a job if he does not master the local language. Moreover we have a culture of “tribes”, you must belong to one tribe of friends to find the good opportunities.

    Welcome to everybody who wants to work hard.

    • Adolf kong

      June 27, 2013 4:58 pm · Reply


      Same, if peoples wants to live in France, he(she) should speak French. If people wants to live in the United States, He(she) should learn English. And If people wants to live in Japan, He(she) must to speak Japanese to get as good jobs.
      Your Brasilian peoples should learn how to build your country, and how to get your life better.this is the prime thing you have to know.

  • Oliver Stuenkel

    December 27, 2011 2:42 pm · Reply

    Your comment reflects what a many foreigners experience upon arriving in Brazil – despite the shortage of qualified labor, international applicants often struggle to land a permanent job. Most of my students obtain jobs through networks – university, extended family, or even social clubs – which one cannot easily adhere to (interestingly, this also reduces social mobility). Yet I think this is also true in many European countries or the United States, where jobs are often advertised openly, but often individuals are hired that were previously known to the employer.
    The principal difficulty in Brazil remains immigration legislation, which makes it extremely difficult and expensive for Brazilian companies to obtain a work visa for a foreigner. Rather than going through this lengthy and uncertain process, companies simply prefer to hire locals, even if they are less qualified. Despite all these difficulties, the number of foreigners working in Brazil steadily increases, and as I write in the article, I am convinced it will increase further.

  • Daniel

    December 28, 2011 12:46 pm · Reply

    Great article, however I think that you should have analyzed a bit more the immigration laws of other countries before saying that it is difficult for a foreigner to live in Brazil. I agree that the process could be simplified, however you should take a look at the bigger picture. The fact is that immigrating is not simple these days due to the worldwide recession. Governments are scared of “mass invasion of immigrants”, “lowering of wages due to unskilled immigrants” and other perceptions. I experienced this “fear” while living in Europe, and as a consequence I partially understand the restrictions imposed by the Brazilian govt.

    Just take a look at Europe, which tightened up their controls after the recession. There is a heavy debate on the role of immigration on every election, and even the Schengen agreement was revised to allow for temporary closings of the borders. This occurred after the “closing down” of the France/Italy border, which was heavily discussed in the EU parlament, after a number of Tunisians fled to Italy on boats.

    Another example is the US, which is more than selective with its immigrants. If you are an EU citizen, you can visit without a visa. However, ask any Latin American or African citizen how complicated and time-consuming it is to get a tourist visa.

  • Oliver Stuenkel

    December 28, 2011 1:49 pm · Reply


    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I fully agree with you – in times of economic hardship, no country is eager to receive immigrants, particularly unskilled ones. I have spoken to many ‘illegal’ immigrants in the United States and Europe and I am aware of the difficulties they go through. Our world looks globalized at first sight, yet particularly labor is not very mobile, and national borders pose formidable barriers.

    What I do believe though is that Brazil suffers much more from a shortage of skilled labor than the EU and the United States, so its reluctance to let highly qualified immigrants enter is problematic, reducing Brazilian companies’ capacity to compete internationally. Many Brazilian companies are unable to hire graduates from the world’s best universities simply because hiring a foreigner is too complex and bureaucratic. In conversations with HR staff of large Brazilian companies, a regular complaint was that American or Australian competitors were able to obtain a work visa for an international specialist within days, while it takes months to do so in Brazil. Even if Brazilian education improved radically over the next days, the government should still facilitate its immigration legislation to make sure that Brazil turns into a magnet for top talents from around the globe.

    • Daniel

      December 28, 2011 2:29 pm · Reply

      I understand your point now, and I see the same thing happening to public jobs. In academia there is an ongoing discussion on how to improve the Brazilian “research universities”, and the fact that a foreigner must undergo a series of tests, which are only in Portuguese, is a big impediment. We cannot just propose a good salary to an outstanding candidate, as it is the case in the US and Europe. The candidates still must undergo our complex and morose selection process.

  • Nitai Panchmatia

    December 28, 2011 3:01 pm · Reply

    Dear Oliver,

    Excellent article! Most of your points are valid and i agree that this paradox of Brazil’s hunger for more skilled labour and its stringent immigration policies is one to be deliberated further. But, despite all the reasons you mentioned why Brazil attracts foreigners for jobs, one of the most important is the ‘Calor Humano’ factor and the respect/acceptance that a foreigner receives in Brazil. How long this will last (as you mention in your article), we don’t know! Being an Indian expatriate and having worked in Hong Kong, Dubai and in Brazil for last 13 years, I must mention that Brazil provides for the most comforting and welcome environment for a foreigner, despite all its inherent problems. Security is an issue, yes! But Brazil has the X-factor which makes foreigners ‘passionate’ about the land and its opportunities. I cannot say that I have been passionate about Dubai or HongKong or for that matter any other place.
    Having said that, I do feel that immigration policy needs to be tweaked to allow ‘skilled’ labour to enter in Brazil without such a lengthy and expensive process for Brazilian companies. Its noteworthy that Brazil offers Permanent visa to ‘retirees’ with evidence of proof of monthly income worth USD 2000/month but to bring in skilled labour which contributes to the economy, they make it tougher.

  • Leonardo

    January 5, 2012 8:36 pm · Reply

    Dear Daniel,

    I think the article is almost perfect. It would be perfect if you also described the rising immigration of Chineses in Brazil as an example of low-paid workers seeking better salaries here. I live in Rio and it is very common for us to see turists, but immigrants we can only find out (when they are dressed to work) when they open their mouths and speak their mother language or try to speak portuguese because of our history of miscegenation. Surely, the number of immigrantes are rising, you can clearly notice that when you enter the subway going to work. But what amazes me is the number of Chinese I’ve seen last year. They are increasing. Fast, really fast. To conclude, it is missing in your article the migration from BRICS countries to BRICS countries, a trend that is rising just like theirs economies. Great article though!

  • Barbara Emanuel

    January 11, 2012 2:47 pm · Reply

    Nice article.

    -As for Brazilians abroad:

    I’m a Brazilian and in 2010, after a few years in Germany, I decided to come back to Rio. I heard exactly the same things you did… People just cannot believe I actually chose to leave Europe behind!

    Now, 18 months later, I am doing way better than some of my former European colleagues, and many of my Brazilian friends living in Europe are either back in Brazil, or looking for an opportunity to do so.

    – As for the cost of living:

    It was mentioned in a comment here that they hope the cost of living will go down because of immigrants. Unfortunately, this is not true, at least here in Rio… Real state prices are through the roof, and one reason, according to realters, is the high number of foreigners who are moving here and the apartments big companies are buying to lodge them.

    – As for immigration laws:

    As a Brazilian who lived abroad, I can tell immigration laws are pretty tough in the USA and in Europe (except for the Netherlands). The United States make it even hard for us to visit them, since the tourist visa is getting harder and harder to get, even though Brazilians are among the US visitors who spend most money. It feels really absurd to wait for 3 months to get an appointment and go through a grueling interview process only so that I can spend a few days shopping in NYC…

    – As for the Brazil / Russia comparison:

    It looks like the one who compared São Paulo and Rio to “crime-ridden Africa slums” is purely referring to race. Yeah, for SURE you can find more skin diversity here than in Russia. And a LOT more dark-skinned people. And that is great! 🙂

    • Alfred Carter

      May 10, 2012 2:10 pm · Reply


      The United States government is making efforts in two ways to reduce the terrible backlogs in processing tourist visa requests from Brazil. First, the Department of State has initiated a new program to identify and train special visa adjudicators to work at the US embassy and consulates in Brazil. The first group is already there and on duty. Second, Secretary Clinton has announced the Department’s plan to open two new consulates in Brazil, one in Belo Horizonte and the other in Porto Alegre. Here is a link with more information: link to


      • Carla Silva

        September 17, 2012 4:51 pm · Reply

        And, why do you think they are doing this now (after years of doing the opposite)? This is a good question…

  • Alex Fomin

    January 20, 2012 7:08 pm · Reply

    I believe Brazil and USA are the top melting pot of peoples from all over the world. My family and life is so different from others, I can write a book about it. My father was Russian, my mother was Ukrainian, my sister was born in Salzburg, I was born in Sao Paulo, now living in Chicago. So I speak Portuguese, Spanish, English, Russian, and German. From all my travels and meeting people from all over the world I learned most people believe Brazilians are somehow “Hispanic”, not so. Not that I dislike “Hispanics” some of my best friends are “Hispanics”, but Brazilians are really a distinct peoples that is hard to explain. They are simply a collection or mix of a multitude of nationalities and races that evolved into something called “Brazilians” that are very unique among all peoples of the world. I am speciall y proud that I am Brazilian, and also love all the peoples of the world, regards.

  • Nicholas

    January 24, 2012 1:49 am · Reply

    Hello Mr Stuenkel, You have a great website and I hope you continue with your great work. First, I do not believe Brazil is more diverse than the US. I know that Brazil is more diverse than the US. Knowing and believing are two different words and have different meanings. I’m amazed that people still confuse themself with those words. I’m Brazilian, living in Miami Florida with great regrets but have to make the best of it. Yes I can leave, but not yet (this is for blowhards who will complain “ohh why don’t you leave if you don’t like it there”). My father is a Brazilian from German-Norwegian mother and a second generation brazilian father who’s roots are from a cabloco mother (native american mother and white portuguese) and a mulatto father, both from the State of Espirito Santo. My Brazilian mother is from black-dutch mother from the north east and Scottish-India father also from the north-east state of Para. Yes, you read that well..also from India. They also entered Brazil direct and indirect to work. You can find them in the north and north east. Anyway This kind of mix you won’t find in the US nor in Canada that wants to include itself in the so called multi cultural subject. Back to the topic:

    Brazil should change it’s immigration policy because it will benifit them but I do say also it should not copy the liberal immigration policy of the US what is a disaster. living here and seeing how it’s destroying itself is amazing but at the otherside understandable since the people continue to believe everything is just fine. Brazil should indeed look at the programs like the use in Canada and Australia. Those nations understand how it should be done. To bad those countries have adopted the US style neoliberal style economy that is another disaster. In reality after doing my own homework, they are loosing people and their economies are weak.

    Immigration will not only make Brazil stronger it will make the Brazilian people more rich when they share new ideas and also bring back thoughts about how Brazil was when it received immigrants in the 18 century. Brazilians of today should not fear the integration process, because when those thoughts of immigration of the past comes back, what they read in history, they will see again that integration works better when you allow them to keep their own traditions and languages and by time they speak better brazilian portuguese. Conclusion, if they want to be succesful in Brazil, the shall learn the language alone or with help, so not they shall fail and from that they will learn. Only the weak will surrender and leave.

  • Marcus Maher

    February 22, 2012 6:20 pm · Reply

    Hi Oliver,

    Interesting article.

    I’m Irish and I moved to Brazil last year. Firstly, I took some months to get used to the place and travelled quite a bit to ‘soak’ in the atmosphere of the Brazilian culture and demography. I travelled extensively for 6 months from North to South, Sao Luis to Porto Alegre. I must say the contrast I experienced was mind-boggling, in fact I can honestly say there are ‘3’ countries in Brazil, the North, the Centre and the South, all variable and different by its people, climate and economic aspirations.

    To address a few of the other bloggers points, I can say the people are the key to the future of whether Brazil makes it as a ‘serious’ economic country or not? Frustrating as it seems, there are still things here that wouldn’t go on in Europe for example, high level corruption, sycphoning off of public funding, police complicity in a few nasty events, et al. There seems to be an ‘unwritten’ rule as well that the more you can get away with things then that shows enterprise and ingenuity-whereas in Ireland that type of thing just wouldn’t happen, Bertie Ahern, our former Taioseach, resigned over a 25.000 euro loan, that type of money, as one Brazilian explained to me ‘Is just a weekend at the local department of agricultures’ wine reception’ things here are just accepted and nobody seems outraged.

    Brazilians complain a lot, but are not prepared to change it. It seems the Government knows that as well, give them Samba, Football, Cachaca, Churasco and the beach and they’ll ‘shut up’ that seems to be true from my observation here, politics and ‘Politicians’ are seen as inherently corrupt, the system even more so.

    My actual profession is as an English teacher. Also it is a myth that Brazilians speak and know ‘English’. I’ve had to learn Portuguese fast here just to get by, when they try to speak English with me and they know my level of Portuguese is far better then they resort to speaking Portuguese. Also in my profession it is a little depressing to see how ‘English’ is taught here? They have school’s here that are clearly money making operations, giving very little feedback and facilitation, ie: care, with regard to the ‘rules’ and ‘pronunciation’ of the language. I was shocked by the teaching level of English, something they consider to be the single most ‘important’ language to learn, especially with the forthcoming WC and Olympics, the level is truly sub-standard. The fact that natives don’t help when they show up and say ‘I can speak English’ when clearly they can, but can they teach? everything here is clearly backwards with regard to this and I would it hope it changes fast, as it won’t help the Brazilians in the long term.

    Hitherto,I find Brazil I wonderful country, the people extremely helpful and open. The beaucracy is a nightmare and I’m currently going through the arduous process of obtaining a work visa, that said, I wouldn’t change it for Ireland at the moment, I feel I can contribute a lot here and I’m hoping to stay for the forseeable future.

    Valeu e abracos

    • Otto Triebe

      February 22, 2012 9:21 pm · Reply

      Hello Marcus:

      You are right, most Brazilians do not speak English and they really don’t care about this. There is a sense in Brasil that the universe is just Brasil and the rest is just the outside, without any attractive things for them in the long term.

      We are not very well educated and the english courses around here, as you may already have noticed, very poor with some rare exceptions.

      Living in Brasil you already perceived that a foreigner is really lost if he does not speak the local language. Even at the banks, with more educated employees, you would not find people who can communicate with you.

      Once you learn Portuguese, if you do, then Brasil is open for you, with many opportunities.


      • Alex Fomin

        February 23, 2012 1:31 pm · Reply


        Funny you mention about Brasilians feeling ” the universe is Brasilian”, I am Brasilian from Sao Paulo ( capital ) with Russian and German parents, but been living in the USA for 40 years. I always found and still find that most middle class and lower class ( financially ) Americans feel the USA is the center of the universe and speak and are comfortable with absolutely only English. I mean, so that if you do not pronounce each word perfectly they do not understand ! Also, they do not know much about other nations and cultures at all, even today in 2012, I recently met at American individual in a Chicago sports bar and said I’m from Brasil, she asked if Brasil is in Africa. I am not saying they are stupid or not intelligent, they just I believe do not care enough as well. They are like Brasilians very nice and friendly.

        Of course, nowadays with the large influx of people from different cultures into the USA, the internet, high speed mobility and information processing and transfer of information things are changing very fast. I live in Chicago but spend a lot of time in Florida, when in Miami Dade County or up in Deerfield Broward I don’t even epeak English in the streets, its Portuguese all over the place, Brahma, Cacacha, feijoada, empadinha, pastels, guarana, and beach volley futebol, its paradise. I love the USA and Brasil, best 2 countries in the world,

        Abracos, Alex ( Scientista ) meu apelido, so escuto isso na minha vida !

      • Marcus Maher

        February 23, 2012 7:29 pm · Reply

        Hello Otto,

        Thanks for your reply.

        Firstly, I must say my comments weren’t meant to cast ‘Brazil’ as some poorly educated place where only a small surfeit of people know the English language? If that was the case regarding language then the US would be bottom of the pile, as would other English speaking countries such as England, Australia et al, that said, Brazil still has some way to go if you were to compare it to other countries when it comes to the language, compare it to say Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, even Japan- well it’s a ‘no-brainer’ – this is partly down to education and the standard of living in those countries.

        I truly believe if Brazil can close that gap between the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’ then it will prosper, how long that will take is any ones guess? I hope to learn Portuguese as fast as I can. I am teacher so I know grammar, the conversation side is brilliant because I live with the Mother of my friend (she doesn’t speak English) so all in all it’s positive.

        Thanks for your comments.



        • Otto Triebe

          February 23, 2012 8:06 pm · Reply

          Hello Marcus:

          Grato por sua resposta. E’ um fato que a educacao brasileira esta muito aquem do que deveria ser, basta ir a qualquer escola publica. Ha algum tempo haviam aulas de espanhol nas escolas e, mesmo sendo 90% parecido com portugues a maioria ainda sentia dificuldades em acompanhar as aulas. Morei na Suecia por quase 3 anos e sei que la a maioria fala ingles, sendo este o mesmo caso em varios paises arabes, o que reflete uma excelente educacao de insercao em um mundo globalizado.

          Sobre a diferenca entre as classes mais fovorecidas e as mais pobres esta ainda continua grande. Mesmo assim, segundo vi em uma reportagem (nao sei se corresponde inteiramente `a verdade, nos ultimos 10 anos uma populacao equivalente `a da Argentina saiu da miseria absoluta, o que, se nao resolveu o problema, pelo menos diminuiu sensivelmente a presente injustica social.

          Sonho que com a possibilidade dos recursos provenientes do pre-sal o Governo possa focar mais na educacao e reduzir ainda mais essa disparidade entre classes sociais, mas ainda e’ so um sonho.

          Desculpe, meu micro esta com configuracao americana e ainda nao converti o teclado.

          Desejo a vc uma boa estadia no Brasil!

          Saudacoes, Otto

  • Luiz Henrique Magalhães

    March 5, 2012 8:23 pm · Reply

    Dear friends,

    I have read all the testimonies, after reading this amazing article about what is actually happening in my country. Indeed, Brazil is growing and a lot is changing, for the best, and I will agree with a lot of people here, but not so much with others that just increase when they see a little diversity of what reality really is.

    First, yes, our bureaucracy is a nightmare, but is getting better, not only for immigrants, but for our companies too. How someone said already here, I have noticed a lot of chinese on what we call “Feira dos Importados” (but unfortunately the uneducated ones).

    I am going to disagree that we only have bad english school, I was educated on “Cultura Inglesa” and most of people that I know in my foreign trips told me not that they did not notice that I am actually a foreigner, mainly from Brazil. I know a lot of people that speak english and other languages as well. Of course not everybody does speak english, but is already our second most spoken language.

    Someone here compared our criminality even with africans city, and said that Russia is a more western country than Brazil is. I can not even start with this lack of knowledge about that statement. Our cities are growing in a never seen way, I lived in São Paulo in the 90’s, I go there now, and can’t remember anything about how it was, I lived in Belo Horizonte also, as well in Rio, and now in Brasília, and can say the same.

    But in fact we have to learn to do something about the corruption that is a “cancer” here. In fact something is going on already, we have a new law about corrupt politics that can’t candidate themselves again, Corruption March (that I participated). I know it’s not much, but it’s a start.

    And how it was said, we have “Calor Humano”, the beauty of our cities, our women, and combined with our “new” economy I can only see a glorious future here.

    But back on the article, it’s not a say thing, it’s statistical the growth number of immigrants coming to Brazil. My brother for example, is roommate with a germany guy. And everyday is turning more common to see foreigners to move here.

    Not only statistic as well when they say more than a hole Argentina population is out of poverty. In my entire life I get used to have more than one made to clean, cook an arrange everything in my house, now it’s hard to have a made, and if you have they are charging so much more (by the way I think it is wonderful that they are getting better). We see people here buying like they never did before. Here the car costs more than any place in the world, even so we are bomming on automobilist industry.

    About ethnic, like many others I have portuguese, spanish, italian blood, that’s Brazil. Like someone said here before it’s wrong to think we are hispanic, not because I think it’s bad (what I really don’t), but because we have all the faces, all the mixtures possible. In USA most of them thought that I am italian because of my look, and seems surprised when I tell that I’m brazilian.

    We have a lot, a lot and a lot to improve, but, I truly believe that we are in a path of growth, equality, prosperity never seen before.

    Regards from a citizen from the WORLD.

  • Nicholas

    March 13, 2012 3:13 am · Reply

    Brazilians complain alot…that’s so true. I have no problem with that, but what about….when are Brazilians themsels do something about the “Bureaucratie” itself? Brazilians vote for the people (clowns) in the government. If you are not happy with them, vote them out. Remember, Brazil is a REPUBLIC.

    Don’t wait for government, you control the government. Brazil is WE the representatives of the Brazilian people must obey what the Brazilian people demand.

  • Homer

    April 14, 2012 11:14 pm · Reply

    I´m a Brazillian from SP, fourth generation of Italians/Spanish who have immigrated to our southern states, in the middle of XXth century.

    I dont´have Italian neighter Spanish passport, and don´t care about having one: besides that, there´s a lot of bureaucracy to get an european citizenship, and many friends who whave tried and got one, always complained about the difficulties. And none of them moved to Europe, it only make things easier as tourists.

    It´s common among foreigners here complaints about the lack of English knowledge among Brazillians.

    Though I think public education should provide English and Spanish classes (and true classes, not fake classes), I think the main problem is the dayly life: ordering something at a caffe, at a restaurant, taking a bus, a cab, but I think everywhere in the world it´s hard to find people working in low-skilled jobs who can speak more than their homeland language.

    And, if you´re immigrating for a country other than yours, you should (not only for that) learn its language.

    I know many coutries, and I don´t think it is much different.

    Middle class people in Brazil and high-skilled professionals do speak English, and many times another or more languages.

    Surelly, as we´ll have the WC, the Olimpcs, and the country is prospering, people should care more about learning English and other languages, for their own succes.

    As Portuguese is a language less spoken worldwide, it may be harder for a foreigner to adapt to those dayly situations – if you demand the taxidriver, the bus driver, or a restaurant/coffee atendant to know other languages, then I think they will soon get a better job, leaving theirs for others less qualified (and that includes immigrants, as someone above noticed the case of mades, which is clear here in SP: Brazilian mades now prefer to work on a dayly basis or are getting better jobs, leaving theirs for people from Paraguai, Peru, Bolivia).

    As for violence, surelly SP and Rio are more violent than most American or European cities, but also nothing comparable to Africans or Middle-Eastearn cities. As people emerge from pooverty to middle class, crime rates are also in constant decline. Too much to do yet, but we are in the right way.

    That put, very nice article (not a passionate one!), congratulations.

  • Juan España

    April 18, 2012 11:55 pm · Reply

    Brazil needs to let in skilled workers from around the world to become a country of technology and innovation.
    Brazilian companies would be required to advertise a job and if no suitable Brazilian resident applies, the foreign applicant should ne hired.
    Most skilled workers will come from Europe and Asia.

    Hiring a foreign skilled worker should take one month, not 6 months.

    Brazil should avoid attracting poor and uneducated workers. That will only create a negative image of foreigners and create additional problems.

    Lastly, Brazil’s population in mostly European (even though another large part is mixed), but Europeans have come to Brazil for centuries and there is no reason to expect that flow to stop.

  • Marc

    May 4, 2012 5:29 am · Reply

    “Samantha Power (born in Ireland) and Ivo Daalder (born in the Netherlands) occupy important positions in the US foreign policy making apparatus, something they probably would not have achieved had they emigrated to Brazil.”

    Oh, come on…
    Guido Mantega (Finance Minister) is italian.
    Brazil is not like that, really. My grandfather is portuguese and he could have been anything he wanted here in Brazil.

    And I really don’t know how a wave of immigrants will change Brazil in any way, since we have always lived surrounded by immigrants, your student’s surnames are a good example. Immigrants from aborad are really anything new to Brazil. My european grandparents are a good example as well. I really couldn’t understand your point, maybe I’m just stupid.

    • Mauro

      May 30, 2012 2:22 am · Reply

      Decades ago they were immigrants, today they are brazilians.
      His students are brazilians, born here and apart from their background, their culture is tottally NOT european..

    • wisemann

      September 17, 2012 11:37 pm · Reply

      both samantha & ivo are disasters for u.s. foreign policy……

  • Felipe

    May 18, 2012 6:19 pm · Reply

    Nice article! It’s interesthing how those changes had come so fast on the last 10 years. When I was a high school student going ‘out there’ was the matter and now I wouldn’t even think about it. In deed, the article tells the true about fluency: you would’t work even on a mc-job without a nice portuguese.

  • Gabriel Walmory

    June 8, 2012 5:41 pm · Reply

    I fully agree with your point about the low quality of the english courses in Brazil. It was created a common sense that you must know english if you wanna be somebody in Brazil. Now is not more a differential to know english, its a must. But Brazilian people are used to low education standards, which reflects directly on their passional behaviour over bad english courses. They simply dont know that the course could be 10 times better.

    I´ve worked with head-hunting for europeans companies with start-ups in Brazil and I know how difficult is to find qualified professionals with good english. Im not talking about fluent, but most of them can not simply make a conversation. I´ve seen same crazy sheet as one Italian company expatriating a sales man to Brazil which didnt know how to speak portuguese and english.
    About the time for get a work permit in Brazil, you can do it in “just” 1 month, but not by your own. You need to have outsoursed this bureaucry from a specialized agencie. The number of agencies specialized on that are growning fast and some of them are not reliable. I can recommend one called “Living in Brazil” which has large experience on this market.

    Oliver, I´ve watched your debate about immigration in Brazil with Mr. Paulo Sérgio, via internet, and find it pretty interesting, congrats. Thats gonna be my theme for TCC on my International Relations graduation at PUC-SP.

  • Sean O'Broin

    June 12, 2012 2:16 pm · Reply


    Fascinating article!

    I am reminded of Argentina as an emerging power back in late 19th Century, attracting waves of sometimes impoverished Europeans immigrants. I once spoke to an old man in Co. Longford, Ireland back in the day (actually the terrible Falklands war was raging) who had been raised in Argentina and then came back to Ireland many years earlier with his parents, “returned” Irish emigrants, as they would have been called back then. Che Guevara had some Irish blood! In any event, the economy of Argentina eventually faded through either bad look or poor economic and political judgement. Bits of them all probably.

    Indeed, there are some distinct European “ethnic” groups in Argentina today not the least of which are the Irish. Though assimilation I understand into Argentine society was never a long-term issue. On that note, I had heard it said that the Catholic Church historically looked favorably on the idea of intermarriage between local natives and Spanish settlers in Latin America. The idea of ethnic fortresses never took root in these countries. Maybe you could comment?

    A couple of points:

    I have read and heard anecdotally that quite a few Irish are now immigrating to Brazil driven there by the poor state of today’s Irish economy. (One of your commentators is Irish as am I living for years in the US). Do you have any stats on this and on the number of US residents and citizens immigrating there. What kind of jobs are they doing? I am a writer and journalist and may pursue this theme. In any event, I am curious.

    Secondly, have you thought about how foreign currency exchange plays into this phenomena? Reason being is that historically immigrants repatriated much of their hard earned savings back to their motherlands. A favorable exchange rate (as well as jobs obviously) has played a leading role in luring immigrants to countries like Spain and Ireland during the recent boom years that are now, sadly, a memory. Finally, I would add my editorial comment that every country in growth mode or expanding economically or with job opportunities should be open to the idea of immigration and do their utmost to assist and assimilate immigrants in their adopted lands. It is the decent and humanitarian thing to do.

    USA (via Ireland)

  • Sean O'Broin

    June 12, 2012 2:24 pm · Reply

    Comments welcome

  • Richard Bond

    June 16, 2013 11:54 pm · Reply

    Reading this it seems that you have forgotten that there is unskilled Portuguese speaking immigration from Angola. There are also Haitians coming in with education coming into Rondon. The latter seems to have resulted from the recent occupation of Haiti by UN soldiers from Brazil. Returnees brought Haitians they worked with to work with them who in turn are bringing in friends and relatives.

  • Alessandro Pereira

    June 18, 2013 11:21 am · Reply

    Hello there.
    I have been a humanitarian worker in Central Asia for over 14 years, and am well acquainted with the former Soviet block. Wanted to point out that the reason why Saint Pete and Moscow remain slumless (on the outside) is because of demographic control policies that remain from Soviet times. People can’t move around freely from province to province. They need permission. It’s been like that since the USSR was put in place. In Brazil, slums are made up mostly by those who came freely to Rio and Sao Paulo to look for jobs from the poorer NE. And many of those slums remain existing due to land dispute laws in Brazil which will grant the occupier ownership given he or she has been there for over 5 years. We lack law enforcement in Brazil many times for a self-inflicted passivity to ensure democracy won’t be hurt. Not that I say this is right, but people are free to make a lot of choices in Brazil. Not the same in Russia. Not to compare, just to point out.

  • Guilherme

    June 28, 2013 10:18 pm · Reply

    For real, I would laugh my head off if illegal spaniards and portuguese, and other europeans start to imigrate to Brazil to work as cleaners and maid lol

  • John

    January 19, 2015 11:32 pm · Reply

    Still, the Portuguese in Brazil were like the English in Canada, USA, etc. They could be whatever they wanted to be in their respective countries – with relative ease. They already had the language for example. And traditionally they constituted the power bases in society in those countries. Generally, they had a quasi monopoly on all of the top positions in society i.e., presidents, judges, lawyers, politicians, CEOs of big corporations, business owners, banking, military, police, etc.


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