Managing in Brazil
Thriving in a Highly Regulated but Sociable Environment
What comes to mind when you think of Brazil? Maybe you picture the Amazon rain forest, bursting with colorful birds and flowers, or long stretches of beautiful beaches. Or, you might think of the vibrant and energetic cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, or the Brazilians' world-renowned passion for soccer.
If you're considering doing business in Brazil, or managing a Brazilian office remotely, you're probably excited about the opportunity. There's a lot to learn before you take your next step!
In this article, we explore what you need to know to live, work and manage successfully in Brazil.
This article is intended as general advice only. It's important to keep an open mind and use your best judgment, depending on your particular situation and the individuals that you're working with.
Setting the Scene
Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world, in both size and population. It spans three time zones, is bordered by 10 countries, and is home to more than 207 million people. Brazilians are ethnically diverse, embodying the legacies of indigenous peoples, Portuguese colonizers, African slaves, and more recent European, Arab and Japanese migrants.
Chances are, if you asked someone to name the capital of Brazil, his or her first answer would be Rio de Janeiro. This was true from 1763 to 1960, when the federal government was relocated to the new city of Brasilia, in the center of the country.
Brazil is a secular state with no official religion. However, almost 65 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, as represented by the world-famous Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks Rio de Janeiro.
Until recently, Brazil was considered one of the star performers of the developing world, and was one of the fast-emerging "BRIC" countries, along with Russia, India and China. The country is rich in natural resources, and its main industries are agriculture, oil and gas, and mining. Rapid economic growth from 2000 to 2012 lifted so many people out of poverty that the middle class is now in the majority. (The country's currency is the real (plural: reais).)
Since then, however, the economic landscape has changed. By 2016, Brazil was struggling with a huge budget deficit, a shrinking economy, deep recession, and allegations of government corruption. Giant shanty towns, known as favelas, still exist alongside richer neighborhoods.
Brazil is the world's fifth largest country.
In 2016, Rio de Janeiro hosted the Olympic and Paralympic games over four main sites. This event helped boost tourism in Brazil as over half a million people visited the city during August and September. It was a successful games for Brazil in terms of the sports, with competitors winning more medals than ever before for their country.
Doing Business in Brazil
Brazilians prefer to do business with people they know and trust, so building high-quality connections can be crucial to your success. Family ties are very important, and it is common to see family members working for the same organization.
Appearances count in Brazil. This includes which hotel you stay in, whether your hands are manicured, how clean your shoes are, and even what kind of pen you use. Men's suits should be tailored and of good quality. Women should dress smartly and elegantly, avoiding overly conservative, dark suits.
Meeting and Greeting
Here are some tips on understanding Brazilian etiquette and customs when you meet local team members, colleagues and contacts:
- Schedule business meetings two to three weeks in advance, and confirm them two days ahead. The best times are between 10 a.m. and noon, and from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., to accommodate long lunches. Meetings often overrun, so avoid scheduling them back-to-back.
- A man greeting a woman should wait for her to offer her hand for a handshake. Men exchange firm handshakes, and women greet one another with a kiss on each cheek.
- When you sit down with your team for a meeting, allow members time for social chitchat. This is an important part of getting to know one another, so take part and don't rush it.
- Be prepared for more physical contact than you might be used to. Touching arms, elbows and backs is common and should not be mistaken for sexual advances. Also, Brazilians tend to stand close when they talk to you. It would be seen as impolite to take a step away from them.
- Gift giving is uncommon in business relationships, as it could be seen as a bribe. If you do offer a gift, do so in a social environment. Avoid giving gifts that are purple or black, including flowers, as these colors are associated with mourning and funerals. Avoid giving handkerchiefs, for the same reason.
See our article, Gifts in the Workplace, for tips on appropriate gift giving. In particular, take care to understand your country's anti-corruption laws. U.S. readers can find more information in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and U.K. citizens should refer to the Bribery Act 2010.
Brazilians prefer to communicate in person, rather than by phone, IM or email. And they often talk over one another, especially at work. They don't consider this rude, so stay relaxed and be flexible. At the same time, Brazilian people pride themselves on staying in control emotionally, especially when they're upset or angry. Your team will expect you to behave likewise.
There are some topics to avoid until you know people better, for example marital status, salary, religion, or age. And try to steer clear of discussing Brazil's relationship with Argentina, crime, the rainforest deforestation, the Brazilian class system, and government corruption.
It's important that you never criticize a team member publicly. Not only will this embarrass him, it will also cause you to lose face with your people. Always give feedback privately, especially if it's negative. See our article on Cross-Culture Communication for more about this.
Food and Drink
It's common to eat lunch with your colleagues, team members or boss. Lunch is a leisurely affair, sometimes lasting two hours or more. Don't discuss business, unless your host brings up the topic first. Here are some other points of etiquette regarding food and drink:
- Coffee and light snacks are often served during business meetings. Always accept an offer of food and drink, even if you're not hungry. Refusing is considered an insult.
- Brazilian people always wash their hands before eating, and they rarely touch their food with their hands. Make sure that you practice good hygiene and use cutlery.
- If you're invited to someone's home for drinks or dinner, it's appropriate to bring a small gift such as flowers, wine, whiskey, or champagne. If children will be present, bring small gifts for them as well.
Brazil has complex and extensive employment laws, with an emphasis on protecting employees. For example, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone because of their sex, origin, race, marital status, family status, or age. Many regions have passed laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, but there is no specific legal protection nationwide.
The law does not require a contract that spells out the terms and conditions of employment, but most organizations provide one as best practice.
In general, the Federal Constitution limits working hours to eight hours a day and 44 hours per week. Employees who work more than six hours a day are entitled to a break of one to two hours.
Employers must pay people who work more than 15 hours a week a "13th month" salary at the end of the year. (This is a bit like a bonus payment.)
Your team members are entitled to a minimum of 30 days' vacation during each 12 months of consecutive employment, and there are also national and municipal public holidays. Employees also get a vacation bonus of 33 percent of their monthly salary.
New mothers are guaranteed six months' paid leave. People also receive five days' compassionate leave in the event of the death or serious illness of a partner, child or parent.
Terminating someone's employment is a complex process in Brazil. Companies have lost millions of reais over poorly handled terminations, so be extremely careful. Consult your HR team or legal department before taking any action.
This article can only offer a bite-sized introduction to Brazilian employment law. For more information about this, and issues such as work permits and visa requirements, consult your HR or legal department. You can find a comprehensive Q&A on Brazilian employment law here.
The official language is Brazilian Portuguese. English is not common, so it's worth learning at least some key phrases before you arrive.
|English||Brazilian Portuguese||Phonetic (emphasis in bold)|
|How are you?||Como vai||koh-moh vahy?|
|Fine, thank you (male/female)||Bem, obrigado/a||behn, oh-bree-gah-doh/dah|
|My name is||Chamo-me||sha-moh-meh|
|Please||Por favor||poor fah-vohr|
|Thank you (male/female)||Obrigado/a||oh-bree-gah-doh/dah|
|You're welcome||De nada||deh-nah-dah|
|I can't speak Portuguese well||Nao falo bem Portugues||now fah-loh behn poor-too-gehsh|
|Do you speak English?||Fala ingles?||fah-la een-glehsh|
|I don't understand||Nao compreendo||now kohn-pree-ehn-doh|
Personal Health and Safety
Malaria has long been a risk of travel in tropical regions. Now another mosquito-borne infection, Zika, has become a risk for some travelers in Central and South America. Most people show no symptoms, but it can cause serious birth defects if it is caught by pregnant women. All visitors are advised to protect themselves against mosquito bites, and men should use condoms to prevent transmission of Zika to their partners.
Meanwhile, Brazilian cities are notoriously violent places, and you need to be cautious. Do not show off any wealth in public, avoid carrying your passport, and take only registered taxis, especially at night. Do not resist if you are robbed.
- New Year's Day – January 1.
- Carnival – Date changes each year (February 10 to February 14 in 2018)
- Good Friday – Date changes each year (March 30 in 2018).
- Tiradentes (Brazilian Martyr for National Independence) – April 21.
- Labor Day – May 1.
- Corpus Christi – Date changes each year (May 31 in 2018).
- Independence Day – September 7.
- Our Saint Lady of Aparecida – October 12.
- All Souls' Day – November 2.
- Proclamation of the Republic – November 15.
- Christmas Day – December 25.
Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world, with a population of over 207 million people, and its official language is Brazilian Portuguese.
Brazilians consider family and relationships to be of the highest importance. They prefer to do business face-to-face, so try to limit your use of email and IM. Once you've established a solid, trusting relationship with your team members, they'll be highly motivated to work for you.
The country's employment laws are complex and are designed to protect employees. It's wise to consult with your boss or HR department, and do your own detailed research, before hiring or firing.