The Guide to Working Abroad in Brazil
By Volker Poelzl
A View of Rio de Janeiro's business district.
Part 1: What Makes Brazil So Attractive?
Over the past decade Brazil’s stable and steadily growing economy has significantly raised the country’s clout in the international marketplace. Few people know that Brazil is the world's 6th largest economy and that it is Latin America’s largest and wealthiest country.
Brazil is not only a manufacturing giant with huge exports of products from heavy industry (steel, vehicles) and light industry (textiles, leather goods), but also an increasingly important destination for outsourcing of software development and call centers.
Brazil’s economy never suffered the same downturn as most developed countries. While much of the world is still mired in slow growth and recession, Brazil’s economic output keeps growing at a steady pace. The economy is expected to grow a record 7.3 percent in 2010, boosted by strong domestic demand and investments in the private sector. Unemployment in Brazil only rose slightly during the global downturn, and the unemployment rate has been steadily declining since 2008, reaching 7.2% by June 2010. Foreign investment has also remained strong over the past decade encouraged by the fiscal discipline shown by the Brazilian government. Thanks to these stable economic indicators Brazil had a record US$34 billion in direct foreign investment in 2007 and ranks among the most attractive countries for foreign direct investment—a clear sign that foreign companies have confidence in Brazil’s economic future and seek to expand their economic activities in Brazil. In addition, in 2008 Standard & Poor's, a Wall Street company that conducts financial research and analysis on stocks and bonds, upgraded Brazil's debt to investment grade for the very first time. This improved rating makes Brazil an even more attractive destination for foreign investment and foreign lending and is another indicator that Brazil will play a growing role in international financial markets. Foreign direct investment not only brings capital but also know-how and new technologies, which require experts and specialists from abroad–a great opportunity for foreign engineers, technicians, and specialists to find work in Brazil.
Brazil is an important trading partner for North America, but the relations between the U.S. and Brazil are not just limited to trade, natural resources, and biofuels. There are active collaborations between U.S and Brazilian universities, institutions, and companies on research projects, as well as between cultural, religious and non-profit organizations. So, in addition to job opportunities with multinational corporations there are also opportunities for research and teaching positions at institutions of higher education. The U.S. is currently the second largest investor in Brazil after China. As more American companies and organizations operate in Brazil or collaborate with Brazilian businesses and institutions, there is also a growing demand for a workforce with experience in international business practices, which Brazilian employees often do not have. So while on one hand Brazil’s growing globalization leads to many overseas work opportunities for Brazilians, there are also a growing number of professional job opportunities for foreigners in Brazil.
In addition to a strong manufacturing, mining and petroleum sector, Brazil also has a diverse and well-developed services industry. Information and Communication Technology is the fastest-growing and largest sector, followed by banking, energy, and commerce. With Brazil’s finance sector playing a larger role globally than ever before, there is a demand for financial specialists with global and international business experience, especially since many financial firms operating in Brazil are multinational corporations.
Economic Outlook and Trends
The economic outlook for Brazil is very positive. The economy is expected to continue growing, although a little slower than the 7.2% forecast for 2010. Inflation is expected to be low, and unemployment will most likely decline further. Brazil’s finances are also expected to improve further with large foreign currency reserves, a large budget surplus and a large trade surplus. Credit to businesses is also expected to expand further, giving Brazilian companies the financial tools they need for expansion and innovation. Under the current stable conditions, Brazil’s businesses are expected to continue to grow and expand, creating new jobs both in the manufacturing and fast-growing services sectors. What this means for foreign employees with temporary work permits is that they are likely to keep their employment for the duration of their work contract, and that they may even be offered a contract extension should the positive economic conditions persist over the next few years.
Brazil and the Global Market
According to the Global Competitiveness Report published annually by the World Economic Forum, Brazil continues to improve its ranking. This is in part due to better managed public finances and small policy changes that help Brazilian businesses become more competitive on a global scale. The ability to absorb new technologies, Brazil’s own innovative domestic business climate, and increasingly sophisticated financial markets has also contributed to the improved ranking. Another positive factor is Brazil’s large and growing domestic market, which is already the tenth largest in the world.
Where Brazil ranks consistently low in the Global Competitiveness Report and other surveys is in education and the training of its work force. Brazil’s work force is characterized by a low level of education and specialization, and great regional differences. According to a recent New York Times article, the World Bank concluded in a 2008 report that Brazil’s current level of education is not sufficient in an era of global competition and that Brazil is likely to fall further behind. In the latest Global Competitiveness Report, Brazil only ranks 76th in tertiary education: only 25 % of the college-age population is enrolled in universities and colleges. In addition, the quality of math and science education remains low: Brazil ranks 117th out of 134 surveyed countries. President Lula began an ambitious education reform program, but it will be years before a significant improvement will be noticeable among high school graduates.
Although the lack of a well-educated work force will dampen Brazil’s near-term growth potential, the ongoing demand for educated personnel offers opportunities for skilled foreign professionals interested in working in Brazil. As more American and multinational companies and organizations operate in Brazil, there is growth in the demand for American and international employees. Having professional skills that are in great demand and that are not commonly found are the best way to get a job offer from a company in Brazil. The most common jobs available to foreigners are upper management positions at multinational companies and a number of other fields that require special skills that are hard to find in Brazil, such as computer science and information technology. Brazil also has a shortage of scientists and engineers (Brazil ranks 57th in availability of scientists and engineers in the Global Competitiveness Report), which provides additional work opportunities for foreign experts. Unfortunately, Brazil does not have an occupational shortage lists (occupations that are in high demand) as many other countries do. Instead, the merit of a work permit for a foreigner is assessed by the labor department and the immigration authorities on an individual basis as needed, which is a quite bureaucratic and time-consuming process.
Work Opportunities for Foreigners
Most expatriates find employment in the large urban centers in Southeastern and Southern Brazil. São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba, and Porto Alegre all have a significant foreign population. Brasília also has a large foreign population, but most work for embassies and foreign missions. The majority of foreigners hired from abroad work in middle/upper management and executive positions, but Brazil is so vast and its economic activities so diverse that foreigners are found in virtually every field of activity. For example, I met an engineer deep in the Amazon who had been working there for two years building diesel generators for the town’s electric supply. Other foreigners I met worked as English teachers, executive assistants, wait staff, and other jobs. So one’s skill level, education, and experience should not deter anyone from looking for a job in Brazil. Keep in mind though that only professions on the upper end of the scale are being paid wages comparable to those in the U.S. and Europe. The engineer in the Amazon was working for a Texas-based company and his salary was paid in U.S. dollars, but if you are hired by a Brazilian company and are paid in the local currency, you will most likely have to expect a pay cut.
But despite the shortage of skilled labor in a number of fields and economic sectors, getting a work permit for Brazil is not easy, since strict labor laws require that employers always give preference to qualified local candidates where available. Even if you are approved for a work permit, there is no guarantee it will be renewed when it expires.
For More Info
U.S. State Department, Background Note Brazil.
International Monetary Fund, Brazil and the IMF.
The World Bank provides vital statistics about Brazil. The World Bank also publishes the annual World Development Report, which provides a wide international readership with an extraordinary window on development economics. Each year, the report focuses on a specific aspect of development. The website also provides data, reports and articles about Brazil.
Inter-American Development Bank provides news and information about the development and infrastructure projects it funds in Brazil.
Part 2: Employment Opportunities in Brazil
A View of the São Paulo skyline.
Employment Opportunities in Brazil
Before considering some of the employment opportunities for foreigners in Brazil, you should know that every foreigner intending to work legally in Brazil needs a work visa. Work visas for foreigners are not easily obtained and depend on a signed work contract by a company operating in Brazil or an offer of employment. If you work for a multinational company and are being transferred to Brazil, the visa process is somewhat easier. You cannot apply for a work visa in Brazil—without exception. You must always return home to start the visa application process. To obtain a work visa, you must submit all the required documents (including the employment contract or job offer) and a work visa application to a Brazilian consulate in your home country. Your application for a work visa then needs to be approved by the Ministry of Labor and authorized by the Ministry of External Relations.
Your best chance of finding a job in Brazil is by contacting multinational companies in your home country to find out if they have any job openings in Brazil. If you are lucky, the company you are working for might have a branch in Brazil. Fortunately, there are many such multinational companies with branches in Brazil, including many bank branch offices. In this case, it is relatively easy to work in Brazil, since work visa applications for intra-company transfers are not scrutinized in the same way as general work visa applicants.
What Are the Jobs and Where Are They?
Most jobs for foreigners are located in Brazil’s large and dynamic metropolitan areas, such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, and the Southern cities of Curitiba and Porto Alegre. However, several large cities in the Northeast, such as Fortaleza, Recife, and Salvador, are becoming increasingly important players in Brazil’s economy, and you should not exclude them from your job search. The capital Brasília also has a large foreign population, but most of them work for embassies and foreign missions.
The careers and occupations of foreigners in Brazil vary significantly, depending upon their education, experience, and professional goals. Most foreigners hired from abroad work in middle/upper management and executive positions, or are highly skilled technicians and engineers. However, Brazil is so vast and its economic activities so diverse that foreigners are found in virtually every field of activity. For example, I met an engineer deep in the Amazon who had been working there for two years building diesel generators for the town’s electric supply. Other foreigners I met worked as English teachers, executive assistants, wait staff and more. Therefore, your skill level, education, and experience should not deter you from looking for a job in Brazil. Keep in mind though that only professions on the upper end of the scale are being paid wages comparable to those in the U.S. and Europe. The engineer in the Amazon was working for his Texas-based company, and his salary was paid in U.S. dollars, but if you are hired by a Brazilian company you will most likely have to expect a pay cut.
Traditionally a low wage country with a vast pool of unskilled workers in low-paying positions, the quality of jobs created in Brazil today is steadily improving. As outlined in the first part of this series, Brazil’s education system has serious shortcomings, and there is an ongoing shortage of skilled professionals in certain fields. This is why professional skills in high demand are the best way to secure a job in Brazil. As Brazil continues to develop economic sectors that require a lot of know-how and a highly skilled workforce, such as information technology, communications, engineering, finance, mining, aerospace industry, etc. there is also a greater need for specialists and experts in these fields. There is also an ongoing need for native English teachers. If you fall into one of these categories, your application for a work permit has a good chance of being approved.
Unfortunately, Brazil does not have any Free Movement of Labor agreements with any country, not even with its partners of the South American “Mercosul” (or Mercosur) Trade Association (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay). This means that all foreigners have the same difficulty getting a job in Brazil, since work permits for foreigners require a lengthy and expensive bureaucratic process and are only granted if employers cannot find a qualified Brazilian job applicant.
Visas for Investors, Entrepreneurs, and the Self-Employed
Brazil does not grant work or residency visas for freelancers or self-employed consultants and professionals, such as artists, writers, web developers, or any of the free professions. However, if you have entrepreneurial skills and would like to start your own company in Brazil, you may be able to get a permanent residency visa. To qualify for a permanent residency as an investor, you are required to invest the equivalent of US$50,000 (from a foreign source) in your business in Brazil. If you cannot meet these investment criteria, you may still be able to get permanent residency by making a smaller investment and creating at least ten new jobs. The American Chamber of Commerce provides a lot of useful information for starting a business in Brazil (see below).
Brazil has become one of the growing number of countries that admits foreigners on a working holiday visa. For the moment Brazil has only signed an agreement with New Zealand, which each year allows 300 young New Zealanders (aged 18-20) to come to Brazil to study, travel, and work for up to a year. The Brazilian Embassy in Wellington provides detailed information on this working holiday agreement.
Teaching English is popular with foreign students and travelers in Brazil. Especially native English speakers easily find part-time work as English teachers at language schools, although some schools may ask for your residency permit. Since it is difficult to find a language school that will offer you a work-contract and sponsor a work permit for you, the best option is to contact as many schools as possible, until you find one that is willing to hire you under the table. It is easier to find an English-teaching position outside the major metropolitan areas, which already have a large population of English-speaking expatriates and are in no short supply of qualified teachers. It is also possible to recruit students individually for private classes, but this usually takes some time. Classified ads in newspapers list English teachers (professor de Inglês), and language schools (escolas, or cursos, or escolas de idiomas). English or foreign language schools are also listed in the yellow pages (páginas amarelas) under the same headings. See this article on teaching English in Brazil for some inside information.
Brazil has a near-infinite pool of unskilled workers willing to work in the service industry for very low wages. This makes it difficult for foreigners to find informal work that pays enough to cover your expenses and allows you save a little for travel. In most cases you will find that it is not worth it to work for only a few dollars an hour. However, if you are in Brazil as a tourist or a student and you really need to find a temporary job under the table, you might be able to find work at a restaurant or bar in tourist resorts popular with foreigners. There are many bars, restaurants, surf shops, hostels, and other venues owned by foreigners all along Brazil’s coast, and with a little bit of patience you might be able to land a job somewhere. However, such work arrangements do not pay very much, usually do not last longer than a few weeks or months, and will at best supplement your travel budget.
Part 3: How to Prepare for a Job in Brazil
A street scene in Curitiba.
The Language Factor
The language barrier is perhaps the largest obstacle for foreigners to come to Brazil to work. Depending upon your job prospects and desired position, you may be able to get away with speaking only English, but if you want to maximize your chance of finding a job in Brazil, it is a good idea to study Portuguese. Some multinational companies in Brazil hire some English-speaking staff, but few Brazilian employers will be interested in hiring Americans who have little or no knowledge of Portuguese. If you plan to work for a Brazilian employer, you will most likely have to show that you speak enough Portuguese to perform your job duties adequately.
In addition, being able to speak a few phrases and respond to common greetings and questions will show Brazilians that you have respect for their country and culture. To make even a better impression, take the time to learn about Brazil and its cultural background before you go. Knowing a few Brazilian soccer players or being able to comment on the performance of the Brazilian soccer team will certainly help break the ice at the beginning of a meeting or job interview. For English-speakers, Portuguese is more difficult to learn than Spanish, and you should ask yourself ahead of time whether it is worthwhile for you to commit your time and effort to learning the language, or if you should look for employment in another country.
Start Out as an Intern
If you are a recent college graduate, it may be a good idea to pursue an internship in Brazil before seriously looking for a job. Internships are a great opportunity to gain work experience in Brazil without the complicated work visa process. Although most internships are unpaid, there are a number of opportunities, where interns earn a stipend that pays at least for their daily living expenses. If you are considering looking for a professional job in Brazil a few years down the road, then an internship is a great way to start out.
An internship in Brazil not only enhances your job prospects at home, but is also useful to make contacts in Brazil and get your foot in the door of a company in Brazil you might want to work for in the future. Few Brazilian employers are willing to hire someone for an overseas position or someone from a foreign country without any experience working in their country. As an intern you will gain international work experience, an international perspective, and cross-cultural communication skills that will make you a more competitive job candidate both at home and for a job application in Brazil. Internships are also a great opportunity to immerse yourself in Brazilian culture, learn about foreign business practices, study Portuguese, make business contacts, befriend co-workers, and make local friends.
To find an internship in Brazil and you are a university student, you might be able to find a placement through your university’s study abroad program, or you could contact one of the many well-known study abroad organizations or placement services that refer internships abroad. For more information and for a listing of internship opportunities, check out the Internships Abroad and Internships in Latin America sections of www.TransitionsAbroad.com. You can also contact an American consulate and the American Chamber of Commerce in Brazil, to ask if they offer internships. The American Chamber of Commerce, which has offices in several Brazilian city, may be able to recommend multinational companies in Brazil that welcome interns from the U.S.
Take a Fact-Finding Trip to Brazil
The more you know about Brazil, its culture, way of life, as well as employment and corporate culture, the higher are your chances to get a job offer. I suggest reading a few books about Brazil (see the Resources section below) to learn about the country, but I also recommend reading about and researching the economy, employment trends, and labor practices. To put your newly acquired theoretical knowledge to use, you should plan a fact-finding trip to Brazil to learn first-hand about the culture, economy, and way of life. Avoid scheduling a fact-finding trip during the Brazilian summer from December through February. This is the main vacation season, and many Brazilians travel during this period.
Networking plays an important role in finding a job in Brazil. Every local job seeker takes advantage of his or her social network to get their foot in the door with a company or land a job. I have talked to countless Brazilians who admitted to me that they got their job because of a relative, a friend, or a former boss who recommended them personally to their potential new employer. Foreign job applicants cannot usually take advantage of similar networking efforts, unless they already know people in Brazil. This is why it is helpful to spend some time in Brazil before you start applying for jobs and make as many contacts and connections and possible. Visit the consulate of your home country and/ or the Chamber of Commerce and find out about business contacts. Visit the local human resources departments of multinational companies and find out about hiring practices. They more people you talk to and the more contacts you make, the more likely it is that someone will remember you, when you apply for a job or need a recommendation or social introduction. At the end of this section I have listed several websites that provide information about businesses in Brazil, which can be a useful resource during your job search.
Resources for Finding Work in Brazil
Craigslist has websites for several locations in Brazil with classified ads that include job sections.
Jobline International lists jobs, recruiters and job boards in Brazil.
Just Landed offers a lot of useful information about moving to and settling in a foreign country. The Brazil section provides information about visas and permits, the local job market, working conditions, employment agencies, salaries, business, and much more.
The Red Tape
Although a job offer or employment contract from a company in Brazil is the most important first step toward working in Brazil, the bureaucratic process is now only getting started. Brazil is known for its ineffective bureaucracy, and submitting all the necessary application materials and getting all the required documents is time consuming and often frustrating. Your best survival tool for dealing with Brazil’s enormous tendency towards red tape is patience and a good sense of humor. In the end things will get done and you will get your documents, just not as quickly and efficiently as most foreigners would hope. To help you get past the bureaucratic hurdles on your way to starting your job in Brazil, I have outlined all the necessary procedures and documents you need to be a legal foreign resident in Brazil.
To avoid surprises and delays, find out the details of the visa requirement well ahead of your departure. Brazil’s bureaucracy is quite complex and the more you know about the visa process, the sooner you get your application process started, the better off you will be in the end. Visit the website of a Brazilian consulate or embassy, or call the nearest consulate to get the details. Be prepared to spend several hundred dollars on application fees, translations, notarizations, and other bureaucratic procedures.
1) Work Visa
Every foreigner intending to work in Brazil needs a work visa. This must be obtained in your country of residence by submitting the required documents to a Brazilian consulate, including a signed work contract from a company operating in Brazil, or an offer of employment. The application for a work visa needs to be approved by the Ministry of Labor and authorized by the Ministry of External Relations. If you are traveling to Brazil to do business on your behalf or on behalf of your company, you will have to apply for a business visa (called a “Temporary Visa VITEM II”). Visa fees may vary depending on your nationality, but for American citizens the application for a work visa (called a “Temporary Visa VITEM V”) is currently US$100 in addition to a US$150 reciprocity fee (which is equal to the fee U.S. consulates charge for visa applications for Brazilians). For citizens of New Zealand, the only country that has a working holiday agreement with Brazil, the working holiday visa application fee is NZ $144. To submit a complete visa application at a Brazilian consulate you need to include several documents in addition to the visa fees. In addition to the appropriate visa application form you need a valid passport, proof of residency in the U.S. to determine the jurisdiction of the nearest Brazilian consulate, a recent police certificate from where you live, and 2 passport photographs. Please note that all application fees must be paid with U.S. postal service money orders. Visa processing times vary depending on the type of visa, and should find out the details at the consulate where you file your application.
2) National Registry of Foreigners
Once your work visa has been approved by the Brazilian Labor department and has been issued to you by the Brazilian consulate, you can make the necessary travel arrangements. After your arrival in Brazil, you need to apply for several documents before you can start working. All foreigners with a visa granting temporary residence (such as a work visa, student visa, or Working Holiday Visa) are required to register with the federal police within 30 days of their arrival, for finger printing and to get their alien registration card (RNE-Registro Nacional de Estrangeiro). You will need an application form, your passport, passport-size photographs, proof of payment of the processing fee, and several other documents. It is best to enquire at the Brazilian consulate for a detailed list of required items. The RNE is your official Brazilian identification card, which you are required to carry at all times. You are allowed to carry a notarized copy and keep the original in a safe place.
3) Brazilian Labor and Social Security Booklet (CTPS)
After you have registered with the Federal Police and have received your Alien Registration card (RNE-see above), you can apply for a Labor and Social Security booklet (Carteira de Trabalho e Previdência Social - CTPS) with the Ministry of Labor and Employment (Ministério do Trabalho e Emprego) or at a regional employment agency (delegacia regional do trabalho). This document, commonly known as carteira assinada (which means "signed work card," since it is signed by the employer) is a record of your employment history and provides details about your employment contract. This document also entitles you to a number of benefits, such as a 13th monthly salary paid in December, as well as paid vacation, and 120 days of maternity leave for women. Other benefits may include meal coupons and transportation or fuel subsidies. Foreign professionals in Brazil can expect to receive several other benefits such as health insurance, a company car, private pension plan, bonuses, and profit sharing. To apply for the work card you need your work visa, passport, and two passport-size photographs.
4) Tax Identification Card
If you will be working and paying taxes in Brazil, you also need to get a tax identification card, called CPF (Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas–Register of Individual Taxpayers). The CPF is not only used to withhold taxes, but is also necessary to open a bank account, finance a purchase or take out a loan. You can apply for the CPF at a Brazilian consulate or at the Federal Tax Office (Receita Federal) in Brazil. Brazil has different tax rates for foreigners, based on the length of their stay in Brazil. For tax purposes you are considered a Brazilian resident, if you stay in Brazil for more than six months. The income tax for residents in Brazil, national and foreign alike is based on a progressive rate, depending on income, anywhere from zero to 15 to 27.5 %. Foreign employees who spend less than six months in Brazil are not considered residents, and their income tax rate is a flat 25%. Brazil has also signed double taxation treaties with a number of countries, to assure that foreign workers in Brazil are not taxed on their income both in Brazil and in their home country. Check with the tax department of your home country to find out the details. Foreigners are also subject to withholdings for social security (Previdência Social), even though most of them will never take advantage of the services. The employee portion of the social security tax ranges from 7.65%-11% and is withheld by the employer. Brazil has reciprocal social security agreements with several countries, and it is worth finding out if your country is among them. Unfortunately, the U.S. has currently no double taxation treaty or social security agreement with Brazil.
5) Driver’s License
To legally drive a car in Brazil you need a valid driver’s license, the vehicle registration (certificado de registro de veículo), a receipt proving the payment of the highway tax (imposto sobre a propriedade de veículos automotores, IPVA), which is issued by the traffic department (DETRAN) of the state where you live, and proof of compulsory insurance (seguro obrigatório, DPVAT). To drive in Brazil for a short period, you can use an international or inter-American driving permit, issued by an automobile association in your country. For the international permit to be valid you need to carry your regular driver’s license with you as well. If you have temporary residency status (through a work or student visa), you need to get a Brazilian driver’s license at the local DETRAN (Traffic Department), if you want to drive in Brazil. It is not required to take a driving test. All you need is your valid license from your home country, your alien registration card (RNE) and your passport.
Note: Make sure that you are dressed appropriately, when visiting Brazilian government offices in person. I was denied entry to the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rio de Janeiro, because I wore shorts.
The website of the Consulate-General of Brazil in Washington D.C. explains all types of visas for Brazil, including work visas. To find the appropriate consulate in your jurisdiction for your visa application, see other Brazilian consulates in the U.S.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Brazil, www.amcham.com.br, with offices in several Brazilian cities, not only provides services, assistance, and information for companies, but also for Americans interested in working in Brazil or establishing a business. Especially useful are the free downloadable “How-to” publications on a number of topics, including:
- How to Obtain Tourist, Business, and Work Visas for Brazil
- How to Obtain Permanent Visas and Citizenship to Brazil
- How to Establish a Company in Brazil
- How to Import into Brazil
- How to Obtain Financing in Brazil
- How to Generate Innovation using governmental incentives in Brazil
International Labor Organization provides information about national labor laws for countries around the world, including Brazil.
Brazilian Revenue Service (Receita Federal) provides information in English about the Brazilian tax system and general tax-related issues and questions.
Volker Poelzl is a Living Abroad Contributing Editor for TransitionsAbroad.com. He studied and worked in Brazil for several years, and he is the author of Culture Shock! Brazil.