Brazil is known for its lush rainforests, white sandy beaches, colorful festivals, and beautiful people. All of these cliches are true, but the country is also a booming world economy with a strong presence in international business. This means that there's a wealth of opportunities for internships across the country, many of them in world-class institutions.
Of course, interning in Brazil also comes with a few other perks. A placement in Rio means you are never too far away from some of the world’s most iconic beaches and views, while bustling São Paulo has one of the best food and nightlife scenes in the world.
Best of all, the country’s astounding diversity of cultures and landscapes mean you are spoiled for choice when it comes to taking a break: head up north to discover Afro-Caribbean influences in Salvador, be awed by the largest waterfalls in the world at Iguazu Falls, or head to the Amazon to experience one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.
Brazil is a rapidly developing country with the largest economy in Latin America. Many big multinational companies have offices there, and national companies are booming as well. This means there are plenty of opportunities for internships, especially in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
Brazil is one of the world’s largest producers of hydroelectric power, and the oil and gas industry is also huge. Within the energy sector, you will find a wide variety of opportunities, from corporate positions in marketing, HR, and accounting to on-site engineering placements. This means that, unlike many other industries focused on the cities, internships in the energy sector could take you to anywhere across the country.
Brazil’s financial and banking sectors make up a large portion of the country’s revenue. Most international institutions have corporate offices in São Paulo, the financial capital of the country, where the Brazilian stock exchange is also located. This makes it the best place in Latin America for working in this industry, with a variety of placements available across all business areas.
Science & Technology
Brazil’s science and technology sector is becoming increasingly well-respected on the global stage. Most of the research in this area takes place at universities, meaning internships will tend to be based on campus as well. The country’s biggest university is the Universidade de São Paulo, considered the best in Latin America, which has a particularly prestigious School of Engineering.
Planning Your Internship
Internships are a compulsory part of most university courses in Brazil, which means that while there are plenty of opportunities, they tend to be quite competitive. Brazilian companies usually prefer hiring local talent, so your best chances are usually with the multinationals. These companies are also more likely to select an intern who does not speak Portuguese. That said, English-speaking opportunities in Brazilian companies do exist, so it's always worth having a look.
Best Time to Get an Internship in Brazil
Since most internships are geared towards college students or recent graduates, a lot of them start soon after the end of the academic year, which in Brazil means December. You can start looking for internships as early as a full year beforehand for larger multinationals, as application processes can be long.
Internships tend to look for candidates that are entering their final or penultimate year of higher education or who have graduated in the past two years. While it is not impossible to find an independent placement if you don’t fit into these categories, you may be excluded from more formal internship schemes at large companies.
Most internships will not include any form of accommodation, so you will need to arrange this separately. You will be able to find local rental opportunities on all the usual channels, including listings websites, local newspapers, and rental agency websites. Depending on how long your internship is, you may be better off seeking a short-term rental on somewhere like Airbnb.
Ask your company contact whether they can provide any advice or recommendations on good places to look and whether they can help you liaise with a local landlord or rental agency. You can also ask whether there are any other foreign interns at the company that they could put you in touch with so you can arrange to look for something together.
Many apartment buildings in Brazil come with additional features such as gyms, pools, and security guards. You should take these into consideration when selecting a flat, especially if you were thinking of joining a gym anyways.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Brazil is a relatively complex issue. This is because the country has an incredibly high rate of inequality. For the vast majority of Brazilians, who are relatively poor, the cost of living is quite low. However, once you start looking at the middle and upper classes, cost of living skyrockets. As a foreign intern in Brazil, you will be in this latter category, which means a higher cost of living than most people expect from a South American country.
Accommodation will be your biggest cost. Renting in a big city like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo can be quite expensive -- expect to pay around $600 to $800 per month for a flat in a good area. Eating in restaurants can also be quite pricey, but you can get relatively inexpensive meals from snack bars and other casual eateries. Groceries can also come in cheap if you buy local produce and avoid the high-end supermarkets.
Companies in Brazil are not allowed to pay foreign interns a salary, but they will usually give you a stipend. Usually, this will be enough to cover your costs during your stay. By law, internships also include a transportation stipend.
You will need a specific visa to do an internship in Brazil, called the Vitem IV. The exact price and documentation required will depend on your country of nationality, since Brazil has a policy of reciprocity for its visas. For U.S citizens, the Vitem IV costs $160. Get in touch with your local embassy to get a full list of the required documentation and to book an appointment.
The process of acquiring a visa in Brazil can be long and confusing, as the country’s public services are renowned for their layers of red tape. Make sure to start the process as early as possible and rely on the help of your employer wherever possible.
For the most part, Brazilian workplace culture is similar to what you would expect in the West. Companies tend to be hierarchical in nature, with a relatively formal corporate environment. Brazilians pay close attention to their appearance and a tidy, professional look will be expected at all times.
As a whole, Brazil has a laid-back approach to timekeeping. You may notice people arriving 10 to 20 minutes late to meetings on a regular basis. It will still be appreciated of you to arrive on time -- it’s just a matter of being patient with others.
Interpersonal relationships are incredibly important in the Brazilian workplace, so make an effort to get to know your co-workers. Foreigners may also be surprised at the level of personal contact -- kissing both cheeks is the norm when a greeting involves a woman, and hugs are not uncommon.
Most people at a corporate job will be well-educated, which means they will speak some English. This is especially true for younger people, who are likely to be more fluent due to a stronger focus on language education in recent years.
It is worth pointing out that, both in and out of the workplace, the north of the country tends to be more relaxed and informal than the south.
Health & Safety
The main health concerns for visitors to Brazil are:
- Dengue fever: You can avoid this by taking measures to protect yourself against mosquito bites
- Malaria: This is not likely to be relevant unless you plan to travel to the Amazon
- Typhoid: Recommended as you probably won’t be eating solely at upscale restaurants
- Yellow Fever: Highly recommended if you plan to travel outside the cities of Brazil
Food from market stalls and roadside eateries may be contaminated, so check the cleanliness and popularity of the establishment before buying. Tap water outside of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo may not be safe to drink, and even in the cities it does not taste very good. You will need to either boil your water, buy a filter, or drink bottled water.
Healthcare in the big cities is usually excellent but expensive, so make sure you have adequate insurance for your time in Brazil.
Brazil has a reputation as a dangerous country, which is not completely unearned. Crime has been steadily decreasing over the past few years and the cities have become much safer than they once were, but there is still some risk. Mugging in particular is common, so it is never advised to flash money or expensive goods (including clothes, accessories, or your phone) when walking down the street.
The cities are mostly safe during the day, especially in central areas, but it is not recommended to walk alone at night. You should also stay well away from the favelas (shanty towns) unless you are part of a dedicated tour with a local guide.