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The Freelancer’s Guide to Brazil

The Freelancer’s Guide to Brazil
Mosaic staircase created by ceramic street artist Jorge Selarón. Photo by Christopher Haugen.

Brazil is the largest country in both South and Latin America. It is the world’s fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population. And the official language there is Portuguese, not Spanish.

Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro glistens in the sunset. Photo by Lima Pix.


There are 204 million people in Brazil. Most of the population live along the eastern coastline. The largest cities are São Paulo (the “working people”), Rio de Janeiro (the “party people”), Porto Alegre (the “gauchos” i.e. people that know how to grill meat), and Recife and Salvador to the northeast — both cities known for their unique music and colorful dancing.

What is spoken:

Brazil’s official language is Portuguese. Other languages spoken (but far less common) are Spanish (in border areas), German, Italian, Japanese, English and a large number of Native Amazonian languages.

If I only speak English, do I need a fixer?

Yes. Few Brazilians speak English and the ones who do might have very limited skills, especially outside of the main cities, like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Visa requirements:

Working foreign journalists in Brazil need to have a Temporary Visa VI (Vitem VI). It is usually issued for professional journalists who plan on long-term assignments.

Documents required: Double-check the requirements with the consulate where you’ll apply for the visa, as details and fees might vary. This is a general list of what’s required:

  • Original signed passport valid for at least six months. It must have at least two blank visa pages.
  • One recent individual passport photo, white background;
  • One electronic visa application form. Don’t leave any blank fields, because this could cause your application to be delayed or even refused. Please, make sure to provide full information, even those supposedly not required. When you are done, print the application receipt, glue your picture and sign on the required field;
  • Letter from employer or sponsoring organization, on company’s letterhead, specifying the nature of the job to be performed and duration of contract;
  • Yellow Fever International Certificate (when applicable). It is recommended if the journalist intends to visit one of the following states: Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Federal District, Goiás, Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima, Tocantins.
  • Recent non-criminal record certificate issued by applicant’s local Police Department;
  • Proof that applicant will be paid solely by non-Brazilian entity;
  • Those applying through a third party must present proof of residence within the jurisdiction of the Consulate you are applying: copy of Driver’s License or any recent utility bill — issued within the past 90 days);
  • Visa fee’s proof of payment. The fee varies according to country of citizenship. See table below:

CountryFeeUSA$180United Kingdom$0-$175*United Arab Emirates$75Other countries that are not exempted$20-$195*

*Amount varies according to length of stay.

Press card requirement:

The national press card in Brazil is only available for Brazilian journalists. Most of them use their own work badges and get accreditations to specific events (like the FIFA World Cup). Foreign journalists should get the International Federation of Journalists card, available through their local unions.

Press clubs:

Associação Brasileira de Imprensa — http://www.abi.org.br.

Permit requirements:

Journalistic productions don’t need special permits from the Brazilian government. You might need accreditation or permission in a case by case basis.

For non-journalistic audiovisuals, check the Brazilian government requirements here: Here’s a PDF booklet with info.

Government press office:

Secretaria da Imprensa do Palácio do Planalto
Praça dos Três Poderes, Brasília — DF, 70150–900, Brazil
International press desk:
E-mail: internacional.imprensa@planalto.gov.br
Tel.: (0xx61) 3411–1130 ou 3411- 1450

Other good source can be the press department of your local Brazilian consulate. Here’s a list of all Brazilian diplomatic missions abroad.

What to be careful for:

It might not look like it when you walk on the beachfront in Rio or in the posh neighborhoods of São Paulo, but there is a lot of violent crime in Brazil. You should always be aware of your surroundings. Essentially, do your best not to look like a tourist. Try not to carry a lot of money or many credit cards, and keep notarized copies of your documents in your wallet instead of the original ones. If you absolutely must carry your debit/banking card with you, try to keep it separately than your wallet.

It’s a good idea to have your equipment insured and if you need to shoot in dangerous areas, don’t go by yourself. Don’t flaunt expensive cameras or expensive watches and jewelry. Keep your smartphone use while walking in the street to a minimum.

If you are robbed, stay calm, don’t react and as soon as it’s over you should call 190 and make a complaint in the nearest police precinct as soon as you can.

Security issues:

If you are going to shoot in a favela (slum), make some kind of contact with a community leadership first and bring someone with you, even if the favela is considered safe.

Emergency numbers:

191: Federal Highway Police
192: Ambulance
193: Firefighters
194: Federal Police
197: Civil Police
198: State Highway Patrol
199: Civil Defense

Estação da Luz train station in São Paulo by Leonardo Shinagawa.

If the city you’re going to has a good public transportation system, take advantage of it! Otherwise you might want to rent a car to get around faster.

Taxis are not expensive but traffic can be heavy and then the rates go up. Hailing taxis from the street is not the safest thing to do; always look for a taxi stand (“ponto de taxi”) as they are pretty common in the big cities or use taxi apps, like 99Taxis, Easy Taxi or TaxiJá. Uber is becoming more common but service can be spotty because a lot of taxi unions are fighting the startup.

Don’t trust that your country’s driver’s license will be recognized and get an international driver’s license to be on the safe side. Brazilian drive their cars on the right hand, but automatic shifts are not so common, make sure you practice driving a stick for a bit before you come or expect to pay more for an automatic car.

‘Welcome to Brazil’ mural in São Paulo. Photo by Kocian Kocian.

Predominant religions:

Catholicism is still the most prevalent religion in the country, with Protestantism (especially Pentecostal churches) rapidly gaining ground. Spiritism, Candomble are other popular religions, and there are Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist communities as well.

How is religion visible in day-to-day life?

Brazilians are superstitious and you will see small instances of it in everyday life — from the habit of wearing white on Fridays and New Years’ Eve (from Candomblé), dropping a bit of your drink in the floor as an offer “to the saint”, making the sign of the cross when passing by a church.

Things you’ll find here that you won’t find anywhere:

Two things: Guaraná (a soda derived from the “superfruit” from the Amazon) and coxinha (a fried, doughy chicken pastry). You have to try them.

What are major faux-pas:

The OK sign where you touch the tips of the index finger and the thumb is a very offensive gesture in Brazil.

Also, be really careful when criticizing Brazil around Brazilians. They will say whatever they want about their own country, but take offense on foreigners doing the same.

Are there restrictions to working as a male or female journalist?


São Paulo’s skyline as seen from Terraço Itália. Still from Rachel Vianna’s short documentary “The Wanderer”.
The sun sets after a hot day in Ipanema beach, Rio. Photo by Mariana Keller

Foreign journalists tend to stay in Vila Madalena neighborhood in São Paulo, and in Zona Sul, in Rio de Janeiro.

Great places to work from:

It’s not hard to find cafés with wi-fi to work from, but one thing that has becoming trendy especially in Rio and São Paulo is coworking spaces.

TimeOut magazine lists a few co-working places in São Paulo and this site lists coworking spaces all over the country.

Equipment rental shops:

A place to start is the Brazilian association of video equipment rental companies’ website. (in Portuguese).

Internet access:

A few apps can point to you to Wi-Fi access inside Brazil’s major cities, like 4sqwifi for iPhone and Android and Brazilian Mandic Magic for iPhone and Android.

On a related note, to have a cellphone line in Brazil can take some time and cutting through red tape. Prepaid lines require a CPF (taxpayers’ registration number). According to this post at Brazil Business, two big operators, Tim and Vivo, will accept your passport number instead and have better service for English-speaking customers.

For more tips on how to get a cellphone, check this post.

Getting a CPF will be crucial if you want to spend some time in Brazil. Here’s a guide how to get one.

Electric plugs:

Standard voltage is 127/220 V. Always check the voltage because it can vary from 127 to 220 in the same state.

Power sockets are type N, with two round pins and a grounding pin, and it is used almost exclusively in Brazil. Type C (two round pins) adaptors can work on these sockets.

Money matters:

The Brazilian currency is the Real. Although the exchange rate can be quite favorable these days for people earning in dollars or in euros, bear in mind that the cost of living in Brazil can be higher than you expect, especially in São Paulo and Rio. People use debit cards for almost everything — you’ll hear a lot “Débito or Crédito?” when paying for anything.

Brazilians don’t tip — an optional 10% “service fee” is added to bars and restaurants’ bills. Usually people pay up, unless the service was truly terrible.

O Rio de Janeiro continua lindo by Nicholas Bittencourt.

Bars/restaurants where expat journalists tend to gather:

São Paulo

  • Mercearia São Pedro: A very old bar which is both simple restaurant and bar. They serve a typical Brazilian daily food, and have a miscellaneous store.
  • Bar Genial: Nice and informal setting with great capirinhas, delicious snacks and constant stream of ice cold “chopp” (draft beer). I recommend the Bolinhos de Mandioca con Camarao or the Bolinho de Risotto.
  • Filial: From the same owner of Bar Genial, Filial has strong drinks, great service and they serve food until they close. It’s a good, laid back spot.
  • Genésio: A cozy place with great food, caipirinha and nice beer! The staff is also very friendly.
  • Sabiá: Low key bar and restaurant in Vila Madalena. Good bar food, normally not too busy, and good service.
  • Astor: A great ambience, old world charm, and good beer.

Other bars are:

  • Balcão: Great for happy hour and draft beer.
  • Pinheirinho: Everything is prepared with great care and the service is really helpful. It’s a family bar.

Rio de Janeiro:

  • o Hipódromo in Gávea is a very typical Rio bar with draft beer and eat a delicious picanha with arroz-feijao.
  • o Jobi in Leblon is a trademark of Rio de Janeiro. Feijoada on Saturdays is sensational.
  • Bip Bip: In Copacabana, Bip Bip is a small pub that serves cold beer and snacks and has live music every night.


  • Bar Central: Regional food in a relaxed atmosphere in the city centre.

Porto Alegre:

  • o Parangolé: Intimate bar with good service and live music.
  • Odeon: Ultra-traditional and very bohemian pub. It has an old place look and many city artists perform here: tango, jazz, chorro, MP, etc.

To find expats in general, a good bet is the pub-styled bars in the city you are staying.

Not-to-be missed places

Everybody knows (and goes) to Rio, of course. But there is so much more to see in Brazil! If you like history, check the historical towns of Minas Gerais, the great beaches of Southern Bahia or cool Florianópolis.

3 best local restaurants/watering holes in town:


I’m from São Paulo, so I’m going to list my favorite spots there:

  • Ritz, a small diner in Jardins that has great burgers and is always packed with fashion people; and my favorite sushi place
  • Lika in the Japanese neighborhood Liberdade.
  • And if you want to try the best caipirinhas in town, spend a sunny Saturday afternoon in Veloso and take the subway home.

Helpful resources for journalists: (sites, magazines, apps):

Waze — GPS map with an amazing crowd sourced feature to find the best routes during rush hours/traffic jams in the big cities, specially São Paulo.

99Taxis — Reliable way to get a cab anywhere in São Paulo. You can see all cabs nearby, choose a payment method and communicate directly to the driver. Better than trying to hail a cab on the street (São Paulo is not New York) or calling a “ponto de taxi”, which are not always operating.

Guide by Natasha Madov

Storyhunter Natasha Madov is a multimedia journalist based in New York. She hails from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and runs a tech news website geared to Brazilian women entrepreneurs called Ada (ada.vc). Find her on Twitter (@sulfurica) or Facebook.