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The Comprehensive Guide to Working in Brazil

By Volker Poelzl

Rio de Janeiro's business district
A View of Rio de Janeiro's business district.

Part 1: What Makes Brazil So Attractive?

Over the past two decades Brazil’s stable and steadily growing economy has significantly raised the country’s clout in the international marketplace. More and more people are realizing that Brazil is the world's 9th 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.

Economic Diversity

Brazil and the United States share a dynamic partnership that extends far beyond mere trade, natural resources, and biofuels. Their connection runs deep, weaving a tapestry of collaborations among universities, institutions, companies, and cultural, religious, and non-profit organizations. Beyond the corporate world, this vibrant relationship offers opportunities ranging from research and teaching positions at esteemed higher education institutions to pioneering roles in the global job market.

Notably, the United States ranks as Brazil's second-largest investor, following closely behind China. As American enterprises and organizations continue to establish their presence in Brazil, with partnerships forged with local businesses and institutions, there's an escalating demand for a workforce adept in international business practices — expertise many Brazilian professionals may not possess. Consequently, the burgeoning forces of globalization in Brazil are creating avenues for its citizens to explore overseas employment and opening a floodgate of professional opportunities for foreign talent on Brazilian shores.

Diving deeper into Brazil's economic landscape, we find a robust trifecta of manufacturing, mining, and petroleum industries standing alongside a diverse and thriving services sector. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is the fastest-growing and most extensive domain among these sectors. The pillars of banking, energy, and commerce closely follow it. Brazil's financial industry, now wielding global influence, fuels the demand for financial specialists seasoned in the intricacies of international business. This demand arises partly because many financial giants operating in Brazil have a multinational pedigree, thus necessitating a workforce with a keen understanding of global markets and practices.

Economic Outlook and Trends

Brazil's economic outlook remains notably positive, albeit with a slight moderation in the pace of growth compared to previous years. The country anticipates sustained economic expansion, albeit at a somewhat more measured tempo. Furthermore, the prospect of low inflation is on the horizon, promising price stability for the foreseeable future. This, coupled with a further expected decrease in unemployment rates, bodes well for Brazil's labor market.

In terms of fiscal health, Brazil is poised for continued improvement. The nation boasts substantial foreign currency reserves, maintaining a sturdy financial foundation. Moreover, a significant budget surplus and a robust trade surplus contribute to the country's overall economic resilience.

Brazil's financial sector is set for expansion, with increased access to credit for businesses. This augments the financial toolkit available to Brazilian companies, facilitating their ambitions for growth and innovation. Amid this backdrop of stability and opportunity, Brazil's businesses, spanning both manufacturing and the rapidly expanding services sectors, are primed for continued expansion.

Brazil and the Global Market

According to the most recent data from the Global Competitiveness Report, Brazil has made substantial progress in enhancing its global competitiveness. This improvement can be attributed, in part, to prudent management of public finances and the implementation of minor policy adjustments that have bolstered the competitive edge of Brazilian businesses on the international stage. Brazil's capacity to embrace and integrate new technologies, along with the vibrancy of its domestic innovative business environment and the maturation of its financial markets, have all played pivotal roles in elevating its global competitiveness. Another favorable factor is Brazil's expansive and steadily growing domestic market, which currently ranks as the tenth largest in the world.

However, Brazil's consistent challenge, as highlighted in the latest Global Competitiveness Report and other surveys, remains in the realm of education and workforce training. The nation's workforce is characterized by comparatively lower levels of education and specialization, compounded by significant regional disparities. In the most recent Global Competitiveness Report, Brazil occupies the 56th position in tertiary education, with 38% of the college-age population enrolled in universities and colleges. Additionally, the quality of mathematics and science education remains subpar, with Brazil ranking very low compared to other countries in several surveys. While President Lula initiated an ambitious education reform program, tangible improvements among high school graduates are expected to materialize over several years.

Although the shortage of a well-educated workforce may temper Brazil's short-term growth potential, the persistent demand for skilled personnel presents opportunities for foreign professionals interested in working within the country. As an increasing number of American and multinational enterprises and organizations establish operations in Brazil, there is a growing need for American and international employees. The most promising avenue for securing employment in Brazil lies in possessing professional skills that are both in high demand and relatively scarce within the Brazilian labor market. Common opportunities for foreigners encompass upper management roles at multinational corporations, as well as specialized fields such as computer science and information technology, which remain in short supply. Brazil also grapples with a shortage of scientists and engineers, ranking 90th in the availability of these professionals according to the Global Competitiveness Report, thereby offering further prospects for foreign experts. Notably, Brazil lacks a predefined list of occupations in high demand, as seen in many other countries. Instead, the allocation of work permits for foreigners is determined on an individual basis through a bureaucratic and time-intensive process, overseen by the labor department and immigration authorities as needed.

Work Opportunities for Foreigners

Navigating the Brazilian job market as an expatriate is an exciting journey that often leads to the bustling urban hubs of Southeastern and Southern Brazil. Cities like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba, and Porto Alegre proudly host vibrant foreign communities. In Brasília, a significant foreign presence exists, primarily tied to diplomatic and foreign mission roles. What's truly captivating is that Brazil's vastness and diverse economic landscape offer opportunities for expats across the spectrum.

Imagine this: deep in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, I encountered an engineer who had spent two years crafting diesel generators to power a remote town. It's a testament to the wide-ranging roles foreigners undertake in Brazil. From English teachers and executive assistants to dedicated wait staff, the options are as diverse as the country itself. The key takeaway? Your skill set, educational background, and experience are valuable assets, irrespective of your chosen field.

Compensation: while upper-tier professions can command salaries akin to those in the United States and Europe, there's an important nuance. Take, for instance, our Amazon engineer, employed by a Texas-based company and earning wages in mighty U.S. dollars. However, if you secure a position with a Brazilian firm and receive payment in local currency, it's wise to anticipate a different pay scale.

Acquiring a work permit for Brazil isn't a walk in the park. Stringent labor laws dictate that employers must prioritize qualified local candidates whenever available. Even if you successfully obtain a work permit, there's no guarantee it'll be renewed when it expires, adding an element of uncertainty to your Brazilian adventure. So, while the opportunities are boundless, the path to securing your spot in this vibrant nation requires determination and careful navigation of the regulatory landscape.

For More Info

U.S. State Department: Fact Sheet for Brazil

International Monetary Fund and Brazil.

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.

Inter-American Development Bank provides news and information about the development and infrastructure projects it funds in Brazil.

Part 2: Employment Opportunities in Brazil

Sao Paulo business district
A View of the São Paulo skyline.

Employment Opportunities in Brazil

Before considering 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. The visa process is easier if you work for a multinational company and are being transferred to Brazil. 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, many such multinational companies have 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 like general work visa applicants.

What Are the Jobs and Where Are They?

Most foreign jobs 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. Brasília's capital also has a large foreign population, but most work for embassies and foreign missions.

The careers and occupations of foreigners in Brazil vary significantly, depending on 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. Remember 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. Still, if a Brazilian company hires you, you will 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 specific 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, the 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). All foreigners have the same difficulty getting a job in Brazil since work permits for foreigners require a lengthy and expensive bureaucratic process. You can obtain a work permit if employers cannot find a qualified Brazilian applicant.

The resort town of Paraty
The resort town of Paraty.

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 free professions. However, you have entrepreneurial skills and want to start your own company in Brazil. In that case, you can get a permanent residency visa. To qualify for a permanent residency as an investor, you must invest the equivalent of US$50,000 (from a foreign source) in your business in Brazil. Suppose you cannot meet these investment criteria. In that case, 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 valuable information for starting a business in Brazil (see below).

Teaching English

Teaching English is popular with international students and travelers in Brazil. Especially native English speakers easily find part-time work as English teachers at language schools. However, 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 full supply of qualified teachers. Recruiting students individually for private classes is also possible, but this usually takes some time. Classified newspaper ads list English teachers (professor de Inglês) and language schools (escolas, 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.

Informal Work

Brazil has a near-infinite pool of unskilled workers willing to work in the service industry for meager wages. This makes it difficult for foreigners to find informal work that pays enough to cover their expenses and allows them to save a little for travel. In most cases, you will find that working for only a few dollars an hour is not worth it. However, suppose you are in Brazil as a tourist or a student and need to find a temporary job under the table. In that case, you can find work at a restaurant or bar in tourist resorts popular with foreigners. Many bars, restaurants, surf shops, hostels, and other venues are owned by foreigners all along Brazil’s coast. With some 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

The Language Factor

The language barrier is the most significant obstacle for foreigners to come to Brazil to work. Depending upon your job prospects and desired position, you can get away with speaking only English. Nevertheless, studying Portuguese is a good idea if you want to maximize your chances of finding a job in Brazil. Some multinational companies in Brazil hire some English-speaking staff. Still, few Brazilian employers will be interested in hiring Americans with little or no Portuguese knowledge. Plan to work for a Brazilian employer. You will 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 standard greetings and questions will show Brazilians that you have respect for their country and culture. To make an even 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 help break the ice at the beginning of a meeting or job interview. For English speakers, Portuguese is more difficult to learn than Spanish. You should ask yourself whether it is worthwhile 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, pursuing an internship in Brazil may be a good idea before seriously looking for a job. Internships are an excellent opportunity to gain work experience in Brazil without the complicated work visa process. Although most internships are unpaid, there are many 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 later, an internship is a great way to start out.

An internship in Brazil not only enhances your job prospects at home but is also helpful 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, making you a more competitive job candidate at home and for a job application in Brazil. Internships are also an excellent 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 a listing of internship opportunities, check out the Internships Abroad and Internships in Latin America sections of 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 cities, 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, employment, and corporate culture, the higher 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. Still, I also recommend reading about and researching the economy, employment trends, and labor practices. To use your newly acquired theoretical knowledge, 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. The Brazilian summer is the primary vacation season, and many Brazilians travel during this period.


Networking plays an essential role in finding a job in Brazil. Every local job seeker uses their social network to get their foot in the door with a company or land a job. I have talked to countless Brazilians who admitted 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. Therefore, spending some time in Brazil before you start applying for jobs and making as many contacts and connections as possible is helpful. Visit the consulate of your home country and the Chamber of Commerce and make business contacts. Visit multinational companies' local human resources departments and learn about hiring practices. The more people you talk to and connections you make, the more likely 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 helpful resource during your job search.

Resources for Finding Work in Brazil

Just Landed offers a lot of useful information about moving to and settling abroad, and the Brazil section provides information about visas and permits, the local job market, working conditions, employment agencies, salaries, business, and more.

The Red Tape

Although a job offer or employment contract from a company in Brazil is the most essential 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 takes time and effort. 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 overcome the bureaucratic hurdles on your way to starting your job in Brazil, I have outlined all the necessary procedures and documents to be a legal foreign resident in Brazil.

To avoid surprises and delays, find out the visa requirements details well before 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. 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 aspiring to work in Brazil must embark on a journey to secure a work visa, a crucial step in making their professional dreams come true. This process commences in your home country, where you'll engage with the Brazilian consulate and provide the necessary documentation.

Imagine yourself with a signed work contract from a reputable Brazilian company or a compelling job offer. These are your tickets to initiating the work visa application. Your application will undergo scrutiny by the Ministry of Labor and ultimately receive the green light from the Ministry of External Relations.

Now, for logistics. If your Brazil-bound journey involves conducting business on your own behalf or representing your company, be prepared to seek a business visa, referred to as a "Temporary Visa VITEM II." Visa fees may exhibit slight variations based on your nationality. For instance, American citizens can anticipate an application fee of US$100 and a US$150 reciprocity fee — a mirror image of the fees levied on Brazilians applying for U.S. visas.

For our friends from New Zealand, the sole nation with in a working holiday agreement with Brazil, the working holiday visa application fee is a reasonable NZ$144.

But wait, there's more! You'll need more than just funds to compile a comprehensive visa application at your chosen Brazilian consulate. Picture this checklist:

  • A valid passport
  • Proof of U.S. residency (essential for determining your consulate jurisdiction)
  • A recent police certificate from your residence
  • Two passport-worthy photographs

2) National Registry of Foreigners

Once the Brazilian Labor Department has approved your work visa and it has been issued to you by the Brazilian consulate, you can make the necessary travel arrangements. After you arrive 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 fingerprinting 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 take 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), 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 the employer signs it), is a record of your employment history and details your employment contract. This document also entitles you to many benefits, such as a 13th monthly salary paid in December, 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, a private pension plan, bonuses, and profit sharing. You need your work visa, passport, and two passport-size photographs to apply for the work card.

4) Tax Identification Card

If you will be working and paying taxes in Brazil, you must also get a tax identification card called CPF (Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas–Register of Individual Taxpayers). The CPF is used to withhold taxes and is 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 several 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 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 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. Suppose you have temporary residency status (through a work or student visa). In that case, 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, alien registration card (RNE), and passport.

Note: Ensure 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.

Useful Resources

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, with offices in several Brazilian cities, provides services, assistance, and information for companies and 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 in 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 worldwide, including Brazil.

Brazilian Revenue Service 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 He studied and worked in Brazil for several years, and he is the author of Culture Shock! Brazil.

Related Topics
Living Abroad in Brazil: Key Expatriate Resources and Articles
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Teaching English and Living Abroad in Brazil: Never a Better Time

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