Global Leadership Blog

Cross Cultural Tips for Travelers to Brazil

I was in Brazil for a client last week and came up with a list of tips I would pass along to any business travelers to Brazil:

  1. Re flying: From the US I would fly United if you can. TAM isn’t quite as comfortable (although amazing service!). Within Brazil they’re fine and probably the best option to get around the country.
  2. I really adore Brazil but it also has its challenges. Before you leave, get the immunizations you need (or the minimum you want to get) and carry the little card with you that says what you received. Sometimes they ask to see it in immigration.
  3. Don’t wear a lot of valuables or obvious expensive brand names while traveling at least. I carry a backpack to and from the office with my computer so as not to look too obvious like a “wealthy business person”. There is still a lot of poverty and crime in Brazil.
  4. You should make sure you have a driver that comes recommended by your local office. And if you don’t speak Portuguese, make sure the driver speaks whatever language you do speak. English-speakers are rare in Brazil (outside the company) even in hotels, shops, the airport(!) etc. If you speak Spanish or Italian they understand those well, otherwise it’s hands and feet.
  5. The main thing is safety in Sao Paolo (and Brazil generally). Use your driver for all transport everywhere. Don’t just walk around the city alone unless you’re with colleagues and they say its ok. Brazilians tend to be more worried about your safety than you might be, so follow their lead. Get your colleagues recommendations for transport, hotels, restaurants, etc. They’ll steer you right.
  6. I eat and drink everything in Brazil in hotels and restaurants but you might want to be a little careful of the water. I wouldn’t guzzle water from the tap. (I probably wouldn’t do that in many places in the US either.) But I eat fresh fruit and veggies everyday, they taste wonderful in Brazil -especially papaya and mango- but they have lots of good salads and greens there, too.
  7. Things I would bring: a) earplugs (people stay up late and sometimes it gets loud) b) presents for key colleagues who are helpful (be prepared to receive gifts too).
  8. If you travel there May – October, you need layers and a warm-ish jacket. It’s like San Francisco/Peninsula winter, can be 40’s but also 70’s during the day. (it’s winter there now for example) I wore blazers/jackets, scarves and boots with jeans or black pants everyday.
  9. People are super hospitable and will want to take you out in the evenings. It’s a great chance to experience true Latin American social life which is great fun, in my opinion. Take advantage of it!
  10. Everything is crazy expensive there! But if you like to shop, shoes are the best thing to buy there. Brazilians do all their shopping in the US and you’ll see them with huge suitcases at the airport filled with stuff they bought abroad.
  11. The key cultural value is “friendliness” so take time to talk, socialize, get to know people personally, it makes a huge difference in building trust, doing business and having an overall excellent experience. Negative feedback is rarely given so it will be hard to tell if someone doesn’t like something.
  12. If you’re comfortable with it, cheek-kissing and hugs are common, especially among women. Men also touch a bit more, don’t take it the wrong way.

Hope this was helpful. Enjoy Brazil! And if you want some more facts about the country and people, please see my Tumblr post:

Melissa Lamson

About The Author

Melissa Lamson, Founder and President of Lamson Consulting, is an author, consultant, and speaker who accelerates the business expansion goals of today’s most successful companies by developing global mindset, refining leadership skills, and bridging cross cultural communication. More About Melissa Lamson