Rio de Janeiro is known for its vibrant culture and delicious cuisine, making it a popular spot for expats. Located on Brazil’s southwestern coast, this city is home to 6.7 million people and boasts a diverse tropical landscape of beaches and hiking trails that leave plenty of space to explore.
People come from all over the world to enjoy Rio’s festivities and music. The city leaves little room for boredom, even when it’s not celebrating. As the largest Portuguese city outside Portugal, its diverse population, opportunities for education, and casual lifestyle make it ideal for expats who want to live well at a lower cost.
Expats choose Rio de Janeiro for its convenience, lively atmosphere, and gorgeous scenery. Whether you’re traveling here for work, study, or retirement, Rio allows you to build a lifestyle that suits your needs.
This guide is here to help you live in Rio de Janeiro on a budget. This will allow you to make the most of this beautiful coastal city, no matter how long you plan to stay. Read below to discover how to enjoy living on a budget in Brazil.
Budget-Friendly Housing in Rio De Janeiro
As with many large cities, rent will make up the bulk of your monthly expenses. Therefore, it’s important to choose your living arrangements carefully when attempting to live on a budget in Brazil. Most people in Rio live in apartments, which makes it a good place to start looking.
Renting in Rio
Because Rio de Janeiro is a coastal city, you’ll see a big gap between apartment prices on the beach compared to city neighborhoods. If you plan to live there long term, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a furnished flat without roommates. Your rent will include expenses like condo fees and property taxes since renters generally cover those costs for the landlord.
Rent in Rio de Janeiro is about 88% lower than in New York City, making it an extremely affordable city to live in. Even without factoring in rent, the overall cost of living is almost 60% lower than in NYC.
A one-bedroom apartment in Rio de Janeiro can cost as little as $450 per month, depending on where you live. In beachfront or city-center apartments, you’re more likely to see rent prices exceed $1,000 per month. Similar to other places around the world, location is important. Consider your location carefully before you settle on a neighborhood.
It can help to search online before you officially start your move. EasyQuarto shows you a long list of available apartments, along with neighborhood safety and other local stats. Homes In Rio is a website built for expats looking for places to live in this city, so it is worth spending time looking for apartments there.
Look Further from the Beach
Many expats rent beach apartments in neighborhoods like Ipanema, Gávea, and Leblon. It’s hard to blame them as the beach is incredibly beautiful. However, living in Brazil on a budget may mean looking for apartments deeper in the city.
Rio de Janeiro has a reputation for high numbers of non-violent crime, especially theft. We recommend you account for safety before you choose a neighborhood. While Ipanema and Santa Teresa may provide you peace of mind, the rent prices there reflect that. Copacabana, by contrast, is a good place for expats who want a safe beach location with affordable rent.
If beach living isn’t your priority, it’s worth checking out Catete. It has reasonable rent and a lively bar scene and nightlife.
Likewise, Botafogo’s affordable rent prices give you a beach view. However, it’s not as pretty as the white sands and clear waters you’d expect from neighborhoods farther to the south. Still, it has plenty to explore in its museums and cafes, where you can sit down and relax while you drink your coffee.
In these neighborhoods, you’re likely to find some apartments in the $500 to $600 range. Some people in these areas can live on as little as $1,000 per month in total.
Split the Cost
Sharing your space is the easiest way when living on a budget in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It dramatically cuts down on the cost of living in the city. However, while it works for singles, it isn’t comfortable if you’re moving with your family.
One benefit to moving in with other expats is you probably won’t have to worry about budgeting for appliances or furniture. Another positive is you will acclimate to the area quicker. You can draw on the experience of your roommates to learn how to live in the city, where to shop, and how to have fun.
Similar as in the United States, you can search for roommates on many online platforms. A few of these include Craigslist and Erasmusu as well as expat-specific platforms like Easy Expat and Coliving.com.
Transportation in Walkable Rio
With so many walkable neighborhoods and easy access to public transportation, you don’t need to own a car. This will save a large amount of money and is a great strategy when living on a budget in Brazil.
Rio’s Metro and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems take you almost anywhere for less than you would pay to put gas in your tank. The Metro subway has several lines — Orange, Green, and Yellow, numbered Line 1, 2, and 4, respectively. The system can confuse expats, as Line 3 still hasn’t been built.
Either a Giro card or Bilhete Único will cover your transportation costs, and you can recharge them whenever you need to. A Bilhete Único works for the subway and BRT, making it the most convenient option if you plan to use both. The Metro makes travel easier for families with children, as its pink car exclusively seats women and children during rush hours.
Public transportation in Rio de Janeiro is very affordable as most rides cost less than $2. If you don’t plan to take the Metro often, you can stick to buying a Unitário, or one-way card, when you need one. One downside is the city bus system isn’t always safe to ride, especially at night, so plan your travel accordingly.
As an alternative to the bus system, Rio de Janeiro’s taxis offer a safer and more private way to travel. They’re more expensive than the subway or bus but only cost around $2 to $10.
The taxis are typically driven by locals — many of whom only speak Portuguese — so it’s a good idea to write down your destination’s address if you don’t speak the local language. Even without speaking Portuguese, taking a taxi saves you the trouble of learning to drive in Rio de Janeiro. This will help you avoid frequent traffic jams and road systems that make it easy to get lost.
Local Cuisine and Markets
Rio de Janeiro is a foodie heaven. Even if you’re living in Brazil on a budget, you can find plenty of amazing food to try.
One thing to note is that Brazilians typically don’t eat frozen food like people in the United States. This means purchasing healthy food for a month might cost as much as rent. It also takes more time to browse the markets, looking for the right produce, meat, fish, and other groceries to prepare your meals.
When you want to save on groceries, choose locally grown fruits, vegetables, and nuts. You can find cheap cashews and Brazil nuts, passionfruit, corn, and coconut water straight from the fruit itself for less than the imported versions you’re used to back home.
Here are some shops and restaurants that you may want to explore in Rio de Janeiro:
- Where to go shopping in Rio de Janeiro – “The first thing you must know is that shopping in Rio de Janeiro can cater to people on all kinds of budgets…”
- Where to shop in Rio De Janeiro – Best Places – “…Rio de Janeiro is an expensive city indeed, but there are many markets and places where it is possible to do some cheaper shopping…”
- The Best Street Food Markets in Rio de Janeiro – “Sometimes, it’s not in the fancy restaurants or amidst a medley of complex ingredients where you find the best food in a city, but rather on the street corners or in backstreets…”
- 6 best CHEAP EATS in Rio de Janeiro you must know and try – “Forget the fancy and expensive restaurants in Rio and avoid at all cost the restaurants located at Copacabana Avenue. Rio has wonderful restaurants with low prices that will surprise…”
- If you are on a budget, you can hit the street markets or go to SAARA, the popular open market of the city. Depending on your bargaining skills, you can get great deals on it.
Still, the cost of food is much lower than what you’ll find anywhere in the United States, even when you dine out. You’ve also got plenty of variety with street food, markets, and local restaurant cuisine. For instance, if you’re spending the day at the beach, you can enjoy some roasted corn as a snack.
Different areas’ specialties vary, but you can find incredible Brazilian barbecue for around $7 at Copacabana’s Quick Galetos and similar restaurants. Here is a great guide for surviving on a budget in Rio de Janeiro: Ultimate Guide to Rio de Janeiro on the Cheap
Fun and Fitness
Depending on where you live, you can skip the treadmill and run on the beach or the streets. Sadly, not everywhere has access to good running locations. Days in Rio start early, making it a great location for active expats to make friends to join for running, hiking, and swimming.
Gym memberships are plentiful and affordable in the United States. However, they can cost up to $60 per month in Rio de Janeiro.
Some gyms offer day passes, but those can get pricey. If you’re set on joining a gym, Smart Fit in Copacabana is an affordable place to work out and has several locations.
Living on a budget in Brazil doesn’t have to mean cutting down on fun. You can still make the most of your environment when you’re living in a tourist-friendly beach city. Some options include hanging out in the sand and surfing without spending any money, hiking at Pico da Tijuca, or enjoying the clubs, bars, and nightlife in the city center.
Rio de Janeiro is a cultural hub with diverse forms of entertainment, from sports to festivals. Get a group together to enjoy a game of futbol (soccer) at Maracana Stadium. This will allow you to experience Brazil’s favorite sport unlike anywhere else in the world.
Each year, Rio de Janeiro hosts Carnival (pronounced car-ni-VAHL), the most anticipated event in Rio and the largest carnival in the world. Two million people attend each day, making it an integral part of experiencing life in this South American city.
International Education for Expat Children
When you move your family to Brazil, you might worry about whether your child’s education will be similar with what they were learning in your home country. Children can get overwhelmed by living in a new country. Finding an international school or taking advantage of online education can keep their curriculum more consistent, making the overall transition easier.
Rio de Janeiro has seven international schools. They mainly cater to families from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Switzerland.
Some offer multilingual course options to create a more familiar environment for children to learn. Private international schools in Rio are usually Catholic and co-ed. Here are a handful of other links to great international schools in Rio.
- Best schools in Rio de Janeiro
- International Schools in Rio De Janeiro – List with Reviews
- The British School
- The Best International Schools in Rio de Janeiro
- The Best Private Schools in Rio de Janeiro
Before considering enrolling your child in one of Rio’s public schools, you should know that these systems require expat children to pass a Portuguese proficiency exam. This exam determines whether they can enroll in public school based on how well they know the local language.
Some children benefit more from online education, which allows for more flexibility, quick enrollment, and comfortable pacing. Online international schools, like the Pearson Online Academy and King’s InterHigh, can help students keep up. Plus, they offer more accommodations for children with disabilities. No single schooling option works best for every child, so consider individual needs before you decide where to enroll.
Don’t Forget to Travel Safely as an Expat!
It’s true that medical care is cheaper in most countries than here in the U.S. But that does not mean you should skip out of international health insurance when living on a budget in Brazil.
Other parts of the world are seeing higher medical care costs. Singapore is a great example of this. Costs can be even higher than the U.S in some medical centers.
But one thing expatriates forget is that the emergency medical flight, when needed, can be very expensive. Emergency medical evacuation can easily start at USD25,000. We have even seen it be as high as USD120,000. Especially when one needs a specialized plane to help stabilize one’s medical condition as they are flown to another country.
Since our founding in 1997, Good Neighbor Insurance has provided a variety of expatriate medical insurance options to fit one’s request and budget. And all of our expatriate medical insurance provides the vital emergency medical evacuation benefit!
Good Neighbor Insurance Global Brokerage also provides videos on how to best use your expatriate insurance with answers that our clients over the course of our founding back in 1997 has asked us over the years. You may find some of our great expat insurance videos here.