Saunders 1865 | Moving to Rio de Janeiro

Moving to Rio de Janeiro

Are you moving to Rio de Janeiro? Often known as the Marvellous City, Rio is a one of the most visited cities in the southern hemisphere, a very glamorous tourist destination.  Popular for its sandy beaches, lively culture and annual festivities, including the Rio Carnival and New Year’s Eve, its pace is laid-back.  However, the locals (known as Cariocas) work hard, albeit with a lack of punctuality and place family alongside their jobs.  This vibrant city is cultural, traditional and has a mix of ethnicities.  This major commercial hub is second only to Sao Paolo in terms of economy, and it is the entertainment capital of Brazil.

Our free, in-depth Moving to Rio de Janeiro report includes info on:

• The best areas to live
• The good schools
• The average monthly rental prices
• The excellent public transport system in the city

Putting Rio de Janeiro on the Map

Cidade de São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, or simply Rio is the capital of the state of Rio de Janeiro.  Situated on the Atlantic Ocean, in south-east South America, this port city is unique in Brazil due to its location, inhabitants, lifestyle and architecture.  The capital, Brasilia, is much smaller while Sao Paulo is much bigger and more industrialised, but neither have the beauty of Rio, and both are located inland on flat plateaux.

Rio is a sprawling city but is not a difficult city to get around, despite the relative chaos seen here.  Buses, the metro and ferries – all part of the integrated transport system – are efficient and punctual.  There are plenty of taxis, but it is necessary to watch that you are not ripped off.  Take note of a driver who you find trustworthy for future reference.  Uber is considered safer than licensed and unlicensed taxi drivers.

  • Galeão-Antônio Carlos Jobim International Airport is Rio’s main airport for all international and the majority of domestic flights. Its capacity is around 30 million passengers per annum, and it is around 12 miles from the city centre.
  • Buses are the most popular form of public transport and, generally, traverse the main roads in the city. Take note, the bus will not stop unless would-be passengers wave.  The buses are overcrowded, and it is recommended that night travel should not be an option in terms of safety.
  • The Metro Rio, as it is known, is the easiest and quickest, safest and cleanest. There are three lines, 1, 2 and 4.  Care should be taken at night on the metro and all forms of transport.  Tickets can be bought at the stations.  For frequent users, a rechargeable magnetic card can be purchased.
  • Taxis usual congregate around the many taxi ranks and major hotels. The drivers often speak Portuguese only, so destinations should be written down, and a rate for the trip agreed upon.  Uber is usually cheaper.
  • The excellent public transport makes car ownership unnecessary. Despite this, many expats either rent or buy vehicles to make travel outside of the city easier.  Initially, drivers may use drivers licences issued in their home country or an international drivers licence.  However, a Brazilian drivers licence will become essential in time.  Peak hour traffic is a nightmare, along with the aggressive behaviour of the local drivers, and parking is extremely frustrating and expensive.
  • Commuters from Niterói, located the other side of Guanabara Bay, often commute via ferry. The ferries are operational on weekdays, with infrequent services over the weekends.
  • Cycling has become very popular, with dedicated cycle lanes throughout the city and around the tourist areas and beaches. Shared bike rental is in operation, with cycle racks all around Rio.

Walking is also popular, but care should be taken at night due to the risk of muggings.

The Areas

Rio is not cheap and rental accommodation will most likely be your biggest expense. Although living outside of the central areas will be less expensive, transportation costs will increase.  Most importantly, living close to the kids’ schools and the workplace will make life easier so many expats choose to live in apartments in Zona Sul.  This is one of the more affluent areas which include Ipanema, Lagoa and Leblon, all convenient to the CBD.  Should a larger house with a garden be on the wish list then suburbs outside the city should be considered.

The city is split into four districts.  The city centre or Centro; the south zone, Zona Sul; the west zone, Zona Oeste; and the northern zone, Zona Norte.  Each has its own neighbourhoods, known as barrios.

Liberally spread amongst the mountains and beaches, with pockets of protected forests, Rio rates highly on the beautiful city list.

Image result for rio de janeiro zone map


Including the city and commercial centre, the architecture is a contrast between skyscrapers, hotels and colonial architecture of old.  This area is most likely to be where the majority of expats will work, as most corporate and financial addresses are here.  The district has been revamped in places, but that doesn’t make it a great place to live.  However, the public transport system is efficient with buses and the metro covering the area.  Popular with singles and younger couples, bars, clubs and restaurants line the streets, especially in Lapa.  It is also a famous tourist area, famed for its museums and historical buildings.


Not a good choice for expats, the area is industrialised, with pockets of lower-income family dwellings.  However, this is the home of the Maracanã Stadium, with an 80,000 capacity famously hosting World Cups, music concerts and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic.  Rio’s largest indoor market, Feira Nordestina São Cristóvão, and a wealth of excellent samba schools are all here.


Located on the coast, this is a popular residential area for foreigners.  Barra de Tijuca, or simply Barra, in particular, offers beach-front properties, including large apartments in high-rise buildings along with big houses, some with swimming pools and gardens.  The area is relatively safe, with bars, shops and restaurants, and lower rental costs than Zona Sul.  For shopaholics, Shopping New York Centre has a range of shops at affordable prices, or the upscale and very exclusive Village Mall is ideal for a splurge.  Pedra Branca State Park, the largest urban state park in the world, is here, with its historical sites, waterfalls and biological diversity.

Zona Oeste is at a distance from the CBD and public transport is mediocre, so you are likely to need a car.  A number of international companies are situated here, so travel time would be minimal for those lucky enough to be employed here.


A major tourist attraction, Ipanema, in particular, is far less tacky than its neighbour, Copacabana, with less traffic and fewer tourists.  Along with the neighbouring barrios of Leblon and Lagoa, these affluent areas are the choice of many expats, from singles to families, offering spacious apartments in towering buildings.  The beaches are nearby, along with many shops, restaurants and bars, including the bar where the famous song, The Girl from Ipanema, was written.  The nightlife is first-class, and the clubs are often a short walk from each other.  For those needing to be close to nature and the ocean, this is the district for you.

If you want to see real gridlocked traffic, then be here on New Year’s Eve, with over a million people, all dressed in white, crowding the beaches while celebrating and watching a magnificent firework display over the Atlantic.  And early the next morning the huge clean-up operation begins.

Leblon is the wealthiest suburb in Rio, with house prices often equalling New York and London, and this is the place to be seen hanging out with the rich and famous.  The Rua Dias Ferreira is the road for partying, with chic restaurants and upmarket bars, along with prices to match.  But this leafy avenue is one of the best places to eat out in this fun city.

Who Lives and Works in Rio?

Rio has a population of around 6.45 million and is an important commercial hub with the second largest economy in Brazil after Sao Paulo.  Strengths in agriculture include sugar cane, oranges and sardine fishing and all play a significant role in the country’s economy.  Brazil was well-known for its coffee production but has lost its importance due to environmental factors.

With the discovery of oil in the Campos basin, many oil companies have their headquarters here, along with telecommunications companies such as Embratel and Oi.  Oil companies represented here include Esso, Shell and EBX.  Rio is a leading force in the financial and service sectors, dominated by banking and Bolsa da Valores, Rio’s stock exchange is the second most dynamic in Brazil.  Tourism is a huge industry, with visitors pouring in for the beaches, the carnival and the ecological beauty.  The multiculturalism found here is rare in the rest of the world, so the diversity in cuisine, lifestyle and traditions attracts many visitors.  Along with oil, shipbuilding, textiles, pharmaceutical, communications and media all have a strong presence in the city.

The tourist influx means that many Cariocas speak English, but expats wanting to integrate fully into life here would do well to learn Portuguese.

Brazil has a machismo culture, with women taking traditional roles in society and business and many female expats find this difficult to deal with.  Generally, though, expats here live more than comfortably, with domestic help, health insurance, and taking local and overseas holidays.  Brazilian etiquette determines that a kiss on each cheek, or air kiss, is the correct way to greet people.

The Best Bits

Crime is a problem, with the abject poverty in some areas, but salaries are good and the local scenery is exceptional.

  • Pristine beaches certainly top the list of the best things in Rio.
  • Praia do Abrico in Gurmari is Rio’s only nudist beach.
  • Secondly must come the beautiful mountains and forests.
  • Cariocas don’t lie on the beaches, they stand and chat to one another. There is certainly no shyness here, women of all ages and shapes wear bikinis.
  • Shopping rates highly in popularity, with glitzy boutiques and many shopping malls. Centro has an eclectic mix of new and old, with antique, books and clothing stores.
  • The vibrant entertainment industry ensures different cuisines, with great restaurants lining the beachfront in Ipanema, Copacabana and Barra.
  • The nightlife is dynamic and exciting and includes the ever-popular salsa, along with reggae, hip hop and jazz clubs.
  • Brazilians are football crazy, and the Maracanã Stadium has a festive and noisy atmosphere.
  • Cycling is a popular sport, and locals take to the beachfront for exercise and fresh air. The Rio Circuit is a massive sports event, with cyclists racing over mountains from Niterói to Rio.
  • The Christ the Redeemer statue towers over Rio and can be seen from most of the city. However, the tram trip up Corcovado Mountain is a worthwhile trip and the views from the top are simply spectacular.  It is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, is 30 metres tall and is the largest Art Deco statue in the world.
  • Sugarloaf Mountain, with two cable car trips to reach the top, offers unparalleled views across the city and the coastline.
  • Rio has a rich cultural history. The National Museum of Brazil is a treasure trove made up of permanent exhibitions and temporary ones, which make subsequent visits interesting for the whole family.
  • Escadaria Selarón is also known as the Selarón Steps and features more than 200 steps. Uniquely they are covered in tiles, ceramics and mirrors, creating a fresco of colour and artistry.  This fabulous artwork took Jorge Selarón more than twenty years to complete.
  • The botanic gardens, Jardim Botânico, offer respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. With over 140 bird species, including the native colourful parrots, and thousands of plant and trees species, this is one for nature lovers.
  • Based on a survey done in 2006, Rio has the bluest sky in the world.
  • Rio’s bus drivers are always in a hurry and often leave slower passengers standing at the bus stop. A survey showed that Cariocas are the quickest in the world to get onto a bus, taking 1.85 seconds on average.  Londoners take 2.4 seconds.
  • Strangely, the word Carioca means white man’s house and dates back to the indigenous people who inhabited Rio long before the Europeans arrived. They named the Portuguese colonisers Kari’Oka.
  • Rio was once the only European capital outside Europe.
Bringing the Kids

With accessible international schools for children of all ages, Rio is the ideal place to raise a family.  Stunning weather, beaches and outdoor life ensure that your kids spend time outdoors.

  • The low standard of education at public schools is due to a lack of teachers and materials, along with overcrowding and violence. Thus, many Brazilians choose private and international schools to educate their children, ensuring a good standard of teaching.
  • The six international schools are multicultural, and kids from the world over are educated here.
  • Private schools follow the Brazil’s local curriculum, with some of them offering bilingual instruction, and other have a religious foundation. These schools are less expensive than the international schools and are often the choice of expats.  These schools often work on the catchment system.
  • Most of the internationals schools follow the American or British curriculum, with others following the German or French curricula.
  • Universities in Rio include Universidade Federal do Rio de JaneiroPontificia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro – PUCUniversidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ); and Universidade Federal Fluminense.
Relocating to Rio

This beautiful city, watched over by the magnificent Christ the Redeemer statue, with forests and mountains dotted all over, and an average seven hours of sunshine per day, encourages the family to pursue outdoor activities and makes Rio a great choice for expats.  Its strengths in finance, tourism and communications make it an ideal workplace, and the many international and private schools ensure a good education.  Accommodation varies from large houses with gardens to towering apartments with sublime views, to suit people from all walks of life.  With all that in mind, the language barrier could be an issue and a cause for concern.  Saunders 1865 offers VIP global moving made easy, offering professional relocations with a complete suite of services.  These include home-finding, lease negotiations, school selection, general form-filling and visa and immigration issues.  Our expert relocation specialists have on-the-ground knowledge, making the whole experience fun and exciting.


Young Professionals
Average Monthly Rent - Rio de Janeiro
Apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre 1,788.32 R$
Apartment (1 bedroom) outside of centre 1,236.36 R$
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in city centre 3,583.48 R$
Apartment (3 bedrooms) outside of centre 2,552.38 R$
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