The Adventures of a New York Girl Living in Rio de Janeiro

Earlier visits to South American nations - especially Brazil - made a profound impression on American expat Rachel. She fell deeply in love with the country, as well with a Brazilian, and now lives with him in Rio de Janeiro. This young American expat gives us a rundown on her career in Rio, her opinions about the locals, and the ups and downs of living in Brazil.

Rachel G

-Where were you born?

I was born in Manhattan and grew up in Westchester, a suburb of New York City.

-In which country and city are you living now?

I now live in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

-Are you living alone or with your family?

I live with my Brazilian boyfriend.

-How long have you been living in Brazil?

I have lived here since June 2007, but went to New York for two months, so a little over a year.

-What is your age?

I will be 24 in December. 

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Brazil?

In college, I studied abroad for a year: half the year in the Dominican Republic, and the other half in Argentina. I had a blast living in Latin America and being an expat. After school ended that year, I traveled throughout Brazil and fell in love with the country and a Brazilian man. I went back to college for my last year and applied for fellowships that would enable me to do a public service project in a Rio slum. I didn't get the fellowship, but I decided to find my own project and find work when I got there. So here I am.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?

The type of visa I got initially was fairly easy to get. The one I have now was a bit trickier, but was easier than I expected.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

I have travel insurance, which covers me in every country except the US. I bought it while I was still stateside.

-How do you make your living in Brazil? Do you have any type of income generated?

I've had several jobs since I've been here. I taught English for a business English school for a year, taught at an English school for kids for a month, and did private English lessons for awhile. When I first got here, I had already been in touch with the school after lots of research and applying everywhere, and I got the job two days after I arrived.

I also started a career in freelance writing. I've been writing a blog for a language company since February, about learning Portuguese and Brazilian culture. I write my own blog ( for pleasure, and recently got an ad company to place ads there so I'm actually earning revenue. I wrote a huge non-fiction article on Brazil for an American research company, and still have hope the New York Times will publish me sometime soon. I'm also a consultant, and help gringos moving to and traveling to Brazil with critical information that guidebooks just don't have.

I've done all sorts of work, including voice recording, teaching at a language intensive program, marketing for a website, and currently, freelance writing.

-Do you speak Portuguese and do you think it's important to speak the local language?

I do speak Portuguese. My boyfriend helped me learn even before I moved to Brazil, and I was already fluent in Spanish, which helped. It's essential to learn the local language not only for survival but to really understand the local people. It's also important for expats to learn about the local customs and to try to respect them as much as possible.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes? 

I miss my family and friends all the time, but I have new family and friends here, too. Here, there's so much to do, besides travel: the beach, hiking in the mountains, siteseeing in the city, nightlife...Rio is a city of endless possibilities. Also, I finally found the project I was hoping to do in September 2007 and have been working on it ever since: I give ballet classes to slum kids at an NGO nearby, and also give support to the organization, helping recruit and communicate with gringo volunteers.

-Do you have other plans for the future?

Since the economy has gone down the tubes at home, my boyfriend and I put plans on hold to try to go to the US to start a life there. Eventually, I want to go to grad school in the US and start a career. I don't know yet in what!

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

We rent a one-bedroom apartment in a middle-class neighborhood, that at the current exchange rate is about US$480 per month before bills for TV, Internet, phone, gas, and electricity. We lucked out with this price since we've been here since I first arrived, and housing prices have rapidly been rising.

-What is the cost of living in Brazil?

The cost of living here is extremely high and not always on par with salaries. I think I might be spending as much or more money than I would living in New York.

-What do you think about the Brazilians? 

I have mixed feelings about the locals. Brazilians are incredibly warm, friendly and welcoming, but Cariocas (people who live in Rio) have a reputation for being rude and pushy (kind of like New Yorkers!). Brazilians love foreigners and even sometimes give special treatment to them. 

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Brazil?

The positive aspects are the weather, proximity to the beach, relaxed attitude toward life, the food, the views (this city is insanely beautiful), and living in such a rich culture.

The negative aspects are the distance from home, the high cost of living and low salaries, the dangers of living in Rio (robbery and homicide rates are high), and inefficiency/illogical way some things work here.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Brazil?

Patience and faith! Having patience is essential to not spontaneously combusting. Know when it's necessary to bribe yourself out of a situation (I've never had to, thankfully, but sometimes you must). Know your life is worth more than your wallet. Have faith that everything will eventually fall into place.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Brazil?

My blog about my life in Rio and my take on Brazil:

My consulting website, that gives tips about what to do in Rio and offers full advice for gringos in Brazil:

The blog I'm paid to write, about Portuguese and Brazilian culture:

Rio living

johnnydel's picture

Rachel: I enjoyed your Rio artice very much but I dare say Rio is not nearly as expensive as NY. I have an apt in chicago(1br) and its $1500/month. I have been to Rio 30 times and have great friends there who live like kings on $2000/month. You cannot get a studio in NY for that. Rio is much cheaper than LA,NY or Chicago by far. Respectfully submited, John.