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November 06, 2008



I would add another item to your list: try to learn and understand all you can about taxes in Brazil. This is a very important issue as taxes in Brazil are somewhat complicated to get used to (especially the ICMS tax - service and goods tax). And for a business to be successful, this is for sure the first thing that should be looked into.




I am a Brazilian living and working in the USA now. From my experience when working in Brasil about 2 years ago, I never felt like it was any slower or less efficient than here. However, I was working for an American company and it was the American way of doing things. So maybe we, Brazilians, were still operating as Americans. I have to say, in the US it is work work work.

I have to agree with the email vs face-to-face comment because it is right on. My friends here use email a lot to plan things or send updates. In Brasil, that never worked. Always has to be face-to-face or over the phone.


Ray Adkins


Another interesting tip I recently learned:
There are two levels of confirmation in Brazilian business deals, yes, trust me on this one.
A meeting or conference call can be "confirmado" confirmed ( over the phone and not 100% guaranted ) or "confirmadissimo" super confirmed ( via email- 100% confirmed ).
I LOL when a banker explained me that one a couple of months ago.


Business done face to face is a dying tradition in the U.S. For understanding the other party, there is really no better method. Is that why the Treasury is now truly the Bank of America?


Rachel, the IFC has a publication entlited Doing business in Brazil. You might want to take a look.

And just out of curiosity, do you visit other blogs?


"Being able to speak Portuguese will not only enormously aid your work but will also earn you respect from Brazilian associates."

Of course. If you are in Brazil, you MUST speak portuguese, dear Watson. Daaaahhhhhh...

Rio Gringa


You would be surprised how many gringos work in Brazil speaking little to no Portuguese.


and do you comment on visitor's comments?

just wondering...


You may face a few problems in the near future if you follow this line. The most important thing to keep in mind when you are a foreigner doing business in Brazil is that business here is personal.

First of all, people get easily offended if you want to put things in writing, as it is perceived as implying the person has no honor and his word is worth nothing. What is put on paper is, by definition, something in which that has no honor involved (especially in the countriside, people will take a hair of their moustaches and offer it when asked to sign a contract, as if saying "I am a grown man, and my word is worth more than your piece of paper").

Written contracts are something that people will find easy to neglect or refuse to do, with no moral qualms whatsoever. Catholic Brazil does not have the fetish of the written word the Protestant USA have. As Brazilian courts are a (long and expensive) joke, if is usually just not worth to try to enforce a contract, unless spending a few tens of thousand dollars and waiting 10 years for the final word is OK. Notice that those who are offeded by the idea of putting things in writing will not confront you; they will just not show up or work less and less, trying to make you give up on them without ever saying "no". You must only make written contracts if you have a lawyer on retainer and you are dealing with a firm ("pessoa jurídica"), not a person, or when dealing in real estate (money enough to make it worth) or hiring employees (faster special courts which always benefit the employees). If you try to make your plumber sign a contract, for instance, he will either disappear (if you tell him to come back and sign it another day) or make sure you will have a leak in a few week's time (if you have the contract ready and ask him to sign it without giving him the chance to refuse without saying "no" by vanishing).

BTW, beware of contracts. They don't go very far in Brazil, and are almost impossible to enforce. There is usually a lot of paperwork for everything, and many foreigners have lost huge amounts of money because they thought a contract was all that was needed. If you buy an apartment, for instance, the contract is just the very first step in a long and complicate red-tape trail. Many foreigners lose the apartments they bought because they had not been told about the rest of the paperwork and assumed the contract was everything.

The matter of following-up is also very delicate, as it can easily be perceived as a lack of trust, leading to the same effects as above. While it must be done, it is often necessary to go about it in a roundabout way, hinting instead of demanding. If you annoy a Brazilian, he will work slower and slower, and try to "get even" somehow. He will never confront you and he will never say "no", but in the long run you'll have a huge problem.

The same goes for "going to the point". What the average gringo perceives as "going in circles or dancing around the point" is perceived by Brazilians as establishing a personal relationship of mutual trust that will allow them to work together. If is quite common to see gringoes who "go to the point" and are perceived as rude and obnoxious. Brazilians will not do business with a rude and obnoxious person unless they are forced to, and if they do they will make it a point to "get even" somehow. BTW, saying "no" make you a rude and obnoxious person. :) You must at the most look sad and say "desculpe, mas infelizmente eu acho que não vai dar" ("I'm sorry, but unfortunately I think it may not be possible") to keep within the bare limits of politeness.

Business relationships are expected to go beyond business: if you are the boss, it is worth a lot more to have a drink with your employees after hours and/or to help them with their personal problems than to give them a raise. You have to treat them as friends *and* establish your authority, especially if the employees are not members of the English-speaking middle-class.

The members of the English-speaking middle-class will resent authority, and will be expected to be treated as buddies. If they are not, they will sulk and work less and worse until you get rid of them, without ever confronting you. Poorer people will expect the boss to give them orders and help them with personal problems, and if the boss does not order them around they will perceive him/her as a weakling and try to take advantage of the situation.

I hope it helps.

Ray Adkins


You have to agree with me that Brazilians in general, business or personal are SUPER, HIPER sensitive!
Am I right?
At least that has been my personal and professional experience...
My experience also always reminds me that it is dangerous to generalize.
What you said about signed contracts over "a person's word", can easily be noted in the US as well.
In Boston you better have everything signed in paper while in Maine and parts of New Hampshire someone's word is worth more than any contract.
That is my experience.
A lot of what you said can also be applied for doing business in the US.



From the Brazilian perspective, Americans are usually very rude... and hyper sensitive. It happens because different things make Brazilians or Americans tick. Things that a Brazilian would expect and treat as normal are terribly annoying for an American (delays, the lack of a direct negative answer, etc.), and things that an American would expect and take for granted are absurd and rude for a Brazilian (like saying "no", starting meeting on time even if people are late, etc.).

The biggest difference is that, in Brazilian culture, everything is personal and must be personal. The Brazilian equivalent of "money talks and BS walks" is "mais vale ter amigos na praça do que dinheiro em caixa" ("friends in the market are worth more than cash").

Usually, the more traditional a culture is the more personal its business relationships are. The same difference you noted in your neck of the woods happens down here; the need for "personalness" is much more pronounced in the smaller towns, and in the richer zones of Rio (our Brahmin Boston, perhaps?) it is much easier to find people who will adapt to the American way of doing business. Nevertheless, these are the same who will ask a cop "do you know who you are talking to?" and name-drop him to death in order to avoid a traffic ticket, making it a personal relationship. The American way is accepted when it means money with no strings attached (something that *never* happens in Brazil; the wages are lower because the employer is supposed to become a protector of the employee, and so on), but as soon as the old ways will give someone an edge, the Modern way goes out the window.


Hi Rachel,

I really liked your tips and they do look very close to the truth in some (if not many) business deals.

However I have worked and lived in Europe for a few years, and am used to work within international enviroments and brazilians are more organized and efficient than some countries in some business areas, such as banking.

Opening a simple bank account can be a lot of hardwork in some countries.

I believe is nearly impossible to create "universal rules of business negotiation with brazilian companies". As companies (and individuals) have different ways of working... But your tips could be really useful in some cases for some tourists and small companies.

Anyway, congratulations on the blog, it is very interesting to see your honest point of view of this wonderful but complicated city (and country).



PS. Also, as a general tip (not a rule) always ask for a discount and research the real price of the product and/or service. Brazilians (and the rest of the world) tend to overcharge.

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