It’s World Cup time, and here at Escape From America magazine we thought we would have our own Expat World Cup. Which country, if paired head-to-head with a different country, would win for being the best all around for expats who are looking to move overseas? In this article we will have a showdown between two Portuguese-speaking nations, Brazil and Portugal. We will compare cost of living, health care, education, job opportunities, ease and cost of buying real estate, and climate. Which country do you place your bets on?
Cost of Living
The cost of living has been approximated to be one third to one quarter that of living in the US. The Brazilian unit of currency is the Real (R$ or BRL), and at time of writing this article was valued at .57 BRL for every USD, meaning that your dollar gets stretched almost twice as far. The cost of living in Brazil is especially low for those who have an overseas income or earn foreign currency. However, local salaries are very low, so if you are employed by a Brazilian company and earn Reals, you may find your living costs to affect your budget much more. The cost of real estate is low compared with many western countries. Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil are among the cheapest big cities in the world to live in. From talking to other expats, I have heard that it is very possible to live comfortably off of $10,000 annually.
Although currently it can still be cheaper to live in Portugal than in some other EU nations, the cost of living in Portugal is slowly moving up to par with the rest of the EU, and gets more expensive every year. Portugal is considered a developed country with a high standard of living, and its costs reflects that. Compared to the US or the UK, housing and leisure activities are less expensive, but the dollar against the strong euro is always a factor. It is possible to live simply and basically in Portugal off of $1000 euro a month, which isn’t terribly much…but it is no match for Brazil.
Score: Brazil 1, Portugal 0
Free public medical care is available to anyone who is legally in Brazil, which, of course, includes foreign residents. They pay nothing for doctors’ fees, lab fees, hospitalization, surgery, or even prescription drugs. Even sex-change operations have been covered, in case you were wondering! Brazil’s national health care system is roughly equal to the caliber and operational style of the Veterans Administration hospital system in the U.S., which is to say that it is adequate, but not stellar. For the highest quality of health care in Brazil, the private system is generally better than the public system, with shorter waits and better care, and private insurance coverage can be bought relatively inexpensively. The cost can vary, according to the provider, coverage, and region. I spoke with one expat (over 50 years old) whose plan came with a free complete physical, medicine, hospitalization with a private room, dentistry, and eye care. His cost was $124 per month, and his premium goes down if he makes no claims. The medical provider UniMed quotes $277 for full coverage for a family of three.
Basically any legal resident of Portugal is entitled to free basic health care under the Portuguese Public Health System – this includes free essential medicines, free GP appointments, etc. If you work in Portugal and therefore pay into the social security system in the country, you automatically become entitled. Non-essential medicines are not free. In Portugal you pay between 40 and 100% of the cost of the medicine. Although it used to have a reputation for being downright horrible, since 2002 the Portuguese health care system has been undergoing a major and long awaited reform, and has seen much success. The quality of care is still not up to the standards taken for granted in North America or northern Europe. Health care costs per head in Portugal are lower than average in the EU, and the country spends a relatively small percentage of its GDP on health. If you are not a resident, you will need private coverage, which will be less than what you would pay in the US, but considerably more than what you would pay in Brazil.
Score: Brazil 2, Portugal 0
Brazilian education level is considered low compared to other developed countries, especially in public schools. Most elementary schools are maintained either by municipalities or the States. Both entities are obliged to apply at least 25% of their budgets in education, but this generates a problem: richer States and richer cities have more money to invest and obtain a better education with better paid teachers and better infrastructure, whereas in the poorer cities and States the education will be generally of ridiculously low standards. The nation currently invests only 4.3% of GDP on Education. As of 2008, the literacy rate was a mere 84.1% for people aged 15 to 17.
The functional literacy rate in Portugal is amongst the lowest in Europe. According to official sources in 2007, 64% of the population never read one single book; within the population component that is functionally literate, only 17.9% read more than two books in one year (data collected by Marktest for TSF). According to the Portuguese Institute for National Statistics, only 3.7 million Portuguese workers (67% of the working active population) completed basic education. Also, the higher-education rate in the country still remains the lowest in the European Union, this rate was around 11% in 2007, compared to Germany’s, Estonia, Spain’s and Ireland’s 28%; or Belgium’s, Netherland’s, Denmark’s, Finland’s, Cyprus’s and UK’s, over 30%. Schools also do not provide any books or materials. In my opinion, neither country deserves a point.
Score: Brazil 2, Portugal 0
Getting a work visa in Brazil can be fairly straightforward. Once your application is approved by the Ministry of Labor, you just need to provide a valid, original passport with an expiration date at least six months beyond the intended date that you will be arriving in Brazil, two Visa Application Forms per applicant, filled out in their entirety, and a non-refundable visa fee of $100.00(USD.) But finding an employer to begin with may not be so straightforward. As it is in many Latin countries, the employment system in Brazil operates less on what you know than who you know. So what if you have a PhD in the target area…Marcos’ brother who just graduated form high school needs a job, and he plays futbol with the President of the company, so he will probably be hired over you any day of the week. This does not mean you can not get a job, you just have to play the game differently and make more personal contacts than you would normally think.
By December 2009, unemployment had surpassed the 10% mark nationwide in Portugal. Jobs for foreigners are definitely not aplenty in Portugal. Portugal has the lowest GDP per capita in Western Europe and is among the poorest member states of the European Union. The minimum wage, which is regulated by law, is 475€ per month, which you basically can never live off of. As for securing a work visa, good luck. As with any other EU country, a prospective employer needs to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they could not give the job that you want to a local. The process is lengthy and frustrating, and many employers would rather not deal with it, and would prefer to just hire a local. Neither country here is overflowing with job opportunities for foreigners, but for the ease of securing a work visa, I have to say Brazil just barely edges out Portugal for this point.
Score: Brazil 3, Portugal 0
Ease and cost of buying Real Estate
Lack of transparency makes property investing a little difficult in Brazil. There are no official statistics on real estate prices and transactions, so everything is word on the street. The Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE) does not even have official data on construction output or dwelling permits. To buy real estate, you just need a CPF card which is easy enough to get within 2 months with a passport and birth certificate. After a contract is agreed upon, it is common to pay around $3500 as a down payment until everything is finalized. Mortgages can be found, but at astronomically high interest rates. Also to consider is the shifting values of currency. Depending on how the Real reacts to the dollar, your investment that looked solid today may not be so great next year. Developers are cancelling or suspending projects, as the housing boom that lasted from 2006-2008 appears to have stalled. On a more optimistic note, it may be a good time to get into the market, because in the next few years Brazil is set to host both the next World Cup and Olympics. A lot of improvements are looking to be made and a lot of money will be pumped into the economy…a surefire bet that housing prices will rise considerably in the next few years.
On the contrary, high build quality and relatively low prices are continual attractions for property investors in Portugal. It is one of the least expensive places to buy real estate in the EU, and deals can be had. Older, inland properties can still be found from 50,000 euros, which is unheard of in many other places in Europe. Construction orders have leapt 12.3 per cent in the second three-month period of 2009. Information is fairly easy to obtain in regards to clear title, property rights, etc, making the process much more transparent and confidence-inducing than in Brazil. The latest figures from the Global Property Guide show that the country exhibited both regional and national rises in the average house value over the last three months.
Score: Brazil 3, Portugal 1
Brazil is a tropical country but extends well into the temperate zone. The Amazon Basin has a typically hot, tropical climate, with annual rainfall exceeding 117 inches in some areas. The Brazilian Highlands, which include roughly half of the total area, are subtropical. The narrow coastal lowland area ranges from tropical in the north to temperate in the south. The cool upland plains of the south have a temperate climate and an occasional snowfall. This basically means that there is something for everyone! The only downfall would be that the rainy season lasts quite long, from October to May.
Spring and fall are definitely the best times of year to visit mainland Portugal. Winter starts in November or December and lasts to February or March. Especially in the north and central regions, including Lisbon, the winter is rainy and chilly, but even in the winter you can still expect up to 6 hours of sunshine per day. The weather usually stays consistently warm from May to September. The Algarve is moderate year-round, with extremely hot summers and a lot of sun even in the winter. I am tempted to give this one to Brazil…but the fact that Portugal has the Mediterranean kept it alive. I am making this category a tie, because they both have amazing areas for climate, and they both have areas of a lot of rain.
Score: Brazil 3, Portugal 1
Hmmm, Brazil kicking some butt at a World Cup event? Not surprising. But do you agree with the outcome? Are you an expat living in one of these countries and do you have a totally different opinion? We would love to hear it, so send us your comments!
About the author: Cathy Brown is a mother, writer, artist, teacher, traveller and explorer originally from Michigan. She has a serious case of wanderlust and currently lives in Argentina with her three amazing children, ages nine, seven, and five. She writes for and maintains Expat Daily News – South America