What to Know Before Volunteering in Brazil
Brazil is a huge country in every sense. It is the 5th biggest in territory and population, there is plenty of culture, art and nature, and the people is a beautiful mixture of many ethnic groups. Its weather goes from mildly cold on the south region from really hot on everywhere else, as it is a tropical country. It has the greatest variety of animals in the entire world, and some breathtaking landscapes, beaches and jungles, include most of the Atlantic Rain Forest. Stereotypes aside, Brazil also has a lot of big cities, like São Paulo, the biggest metropolis in all America, with a population of over 12 million. Rio de Janeiro, one of the most desired destinies for tourists, is the most famous Brazilian city. The capital though is neither of these, it is a huge territorial city, positioned in the center of the country and carefully planned, named Brasilia.
Brazilians are an extremely warm and welcoming people, ready to receive foreign friends from all around the globe with open arms. It shares borders with all South America countries, except Ecuador and Chile. And on its east side, the Atlantic Ocean bathes an immense coastline, dotted with unique beaches. If you choose Brazil to spend some time as a volunteer, one thing is for certain, you will enjoy a lot! But to take the most of it, it is very important to be prepared and know how some things work. So here you will find some precious info and tips about Brazil.
The official currency in Brazil is called Real, and its symbol is R$. You can easily change most of the currencies in the airports or exchange houses. Dollars are generally not accepted here. The bank ATMs and 24h ATM spread in the cities will most likely accept your international card, but it is always best to make sure beforehand with your bank or card company. Our currency always was devalued compered to the American dollar, and as of 2020, the relation is around R$ 5 for U$ 1. Vehicles, fuel and electronics are historically and relatively expensive here, but basic products like food, health and cleaning products has reasonable prices.
Contrary to the belief, Brazilians DO NOT speak Spanish, like the rest of the Latin America. The country was colony of Portugal, and thus Portuguese is the official language. But there is a catch there. Trough the years, Brazil and Portugal language got quite a bit different, and although they officially have the same name, Portuguese, they are practically different languages. Similar to American and Britain English.
The confusion with Brazil speaking Spanish is understandable, as it is a little bit similar to Portuguese. So if you know Spanish, it will be a bit easier for you to go around. We even have a joke here, Portunhol is how we call the mixture of both languages, which is basically speaking Spanish with a Portuguese accent or vice-versa.
Most of Brazilians do not know English, but you may find a fair amount that know enough to communicate, as USA culture is really beloved here, although the accent could be a challenge. You will often find signs, product names, food names, figures of speech and slangs, in English. Also, there is a strong trend of bilingual schools going on, and on the business and professional side, there is a lot of people who speaks well, as this is a recurrent requirement to get good jobs.
The people are Brazil’s gems. Very friendly and warm, easy to talk to and usually respectful. You are bound to make good friends here. Most people will be glad to help you, will be patient with you and will try their best to understand you. Prejudice is on an all times low. Be aware that Brazilians like a lot of hugs, to greet with kisses on the cheeks and things like that, but they also will respect your personal space and culture.
The other side of the coin is very true and a real worry, sadly. There is also many thieves, pick pocketers and burglars in Brazil, mainly on touristic cities like Rio de Janeiro. You have to be very careful with your belongings and avoid walking alone late on the night in big cities, it can be very dangerous. We also have an annoying number of scammers here, that will try to get your money no matter what. Prisoners spend their day calling people and trying to trick them to make a deposit or a transfer. Yes, I know, they should not have access to cell phones, but somehow they do.
Brazilians are majorly Christians (87%) of many variations, but we have seen a rapid expansion of other religions, like Umbanda (African derived religion), Budism and also atheism. The state is laic, but that is not respected many times, with strongly religious politicians working towards religious goals. There are a lot of religious holidays also, with huge gatherings, walks, fests and other events commemorating saints, Jesus and other entities. We have beautiful and historical churches in every corner of the country, which are often famous touristic points.
I am sure your will be welcomed here whatever is your religion, most of us are open minded. But as always, there are some extremists and intolerant people. They will do no harm to you if you have a different religion, but it is always good to avoid conversation with such people.
Brazilians are also extremely superstitious and often believe in myths, omens, zodiac signs, the power of the mind, fen shui and things like that.
As I said, Brazil is large, but most of it is in a tropical region, so the climate is generally warm. Brazil is divided into 5 regions, North, Northeast, Center-West, Southeast and South. It is important to say that as Brazil is in the southern hemisphere, winter is in the middle of the year (June, July) and summer is on the end and beginning (December, January). A little tip, we use Celsius degrees to measure temperature, so get used to it! Ok, I also give it in °F here. Belém, a capital city from the Center-West region, has daily means throughout the year at a toasty 26 °C (79 °F), with also a fair amount of rain (60mm on the average). São Paulo, on the Southeast, has an average of 25 °C (76 °F) and 170mm of rain. In the winter, June, it gets to more reasonable temperatures of 19 °C (66 °F). Curitiba, on the South region, is a little colder. It gets to 22 °C (72 °F) on average during February and drops to 15°C (59 °F) during June. The coldest cities in Brazil can get to around 0 °C (32 °F), but you won’t find much lower temperatures than this here. So, don’t bother bringing heavy coats and things like that, focus more on light and refreshing clothes and also some waterproof pieces if you come on the rainy season. Also do not forget to always use sunscreen, as the sun light here is very strong and the ozone layer is not so healthy. Most of the year we have sunny bright days.
Rice and beans, some meat and salad. That is the daily lunch of a typical Brazilian. We eat literally every day at lunch, rice and beans. Not sweet beans as some countries are used to, it is a different cooking. We have a lot of red meat here, and plain and simple steak is among the favorites. But is also abundant and relatively cheap, chicken, pork and fish. The typical dish of the country is said to come from the slaves in the colony era, where they often mixed the meat lefts with black beans. Today the dish was improved and is served with high quality pork meat, black beans, manioc flor and braised cabbage.
You can also find a vast variety of foreign culinary here, often tweak for Brazilians! It is really popular here Japanese food, pizza, hamburger, hot dog, Italian food and Arabic food. You also can easily find all the myriads of candies and industrialized food, like sodas, chips, crakers, etc.
Our meals are typically divided into a light breakfast (usually bread and butter, cheese, juice or chocolate milk), lunch, a coffee break at afternoon and a substantial diner, often what was left from lunch with something more. Beer and alcoholic beverages are super cheap and can be bought almost anywhere. Tap water is not safe to drink, but it is cheap and easy to find filtered water. Tea is not very popular here, but coffee is a must every house or restaurant you go. Fruits and vegetables are cheap and plenty also, you can find almost anything anytime in the year.
We also have all the most known fast foods, like Mc Donalds, Outback, Subway, etc
Brazil is on GMT-3. The official workload per week is 44 hours, usually being 8 hours per week day and 4 hours on Saturday morning. But you can find any kind of work here, partial time, home office, shifts, etc. There is a fair number of holidays, including the famous Carnival in February that some people take off an entire week to enjoy the festivities. The law states at least 30 days of vacation per year, with the possibility to sell 10 of those. Extra hours are regulated by law, they have a limit and must be paid with bonuses, but unfortunately not all companies follow those correctly.
If you want to know a bit of everything of Brazil, you will spend some time traveling. The bus service works pretty well, and the prices are not abusive. For long voyages, the buses are often comfortable, with a toilet and air conditioner, wifi and big chairs. The inner city buses are way more uncomfortable, but ok for short travels. Flight tickets are expensive and it is often cheaper to travel to another countries than inside Brazil by plane. Train is very rare, and not a really used transportation. On big cities like São Paulo you will heavily depend on subways, which although very crowded, work fine and are cheap. I do not recommend hitchhike as it is against the law and always has its risks, but many travel all around Brazil this way. We also have many cell phone app options, like Uber, or the old trusty taxis, which are more expensive. You can also rent a car, which may be more comfortable and cheaper for your planned trip, even more if you are going with friends.
I know that this is gross, but do not flush your toilet paper on Brazil, if you do not want to end with a clogged toilet. Our plumbs are old and were not meant to flush paper.
Stay close to your belongings when walking on the street and leave you vehicle on safe places, as there are many bad intentioned people on Brazil streets.
We have a free health program that can take care of simple things if you need medical attention, this is a huge plus side as many countries have really expensive hospital services.
Use sunscreen all the time on the open, even more if your skin is a light tone.
Brazil’s beaches have very little shark accidents, they are mostly safe.
Bring an electric racket and lots of repellent. Mosquitos are really annoying.
Bring an universal power outlet adapter. We have a standard here, but there are many different outlets. Also, the energy voltage varies between 110V and 220V, depending on the city, so take care not to burn your electronics.
Internet services are not so good and expensive, be prepared for that.
While driving here, be aware of the speed radars. They are every where on the roads.
This was a little taste of Brazil, but if I was to told you everything about it, this article would go for miles! Brazil is amazing, even with all its flaws and problems. It only depends on you to make your stay in here the most enjoyable days of your life. Don’t be afraid to settle here for some time, everyone will be helpful and you will learn so many new things. On your spare time you can get to know unbelievably beautiful places, go to the best parties in the world and make friends for life. If you wish a deep, lovely, adventurous and remarkable experience, we are waiting you here!
DECIDING WHERE TO VOLUNTEER?
Brazil is filled with volunteer opportunities. We have many ONGs that can help you volunteer here. You can start to decide which one to join by this list: