10 tips for doing business in Brazil

Published on March 3rd, 2021

Doing business in today’s world means doing it in a globalized, interconnected multicultural market. In that setting, many businesses faced with a challenge to their growth turn to other countries in search of new markets. In this case, Brazil. 

With a population of more than 210 million, Brazil is by far the largest country in South America and is the second-largest economy in the Americas, second only to the USA. The country is known as one of the world’s giants in mining, agriculture, and manufacturing. It is the world leader in the exploitation of many valuable minerals, and the leading exporter of coffee and oranges as well as one of the biggest producers of sugar, soy, and beef. So, with that in mind, it’s no surprise that more and more businesses turn to Brazil in search of new partners and customers.

Doing business in Brazil

In the book, Ethical Business Cultures: Country Perspectives, writers note that doing business in Brazil, or any other country other than your own, requires a thorough understanding of its ethical and cultural specifics and how those specifics are related to the opportunities or threats in the business environment. They also point out that particularly in Brazil, historical and cultural factors, such as jeitinho, still permeate social and business behavior, and exploring the country in that context will enable investors and others to cautiously enter the market, but also appreciate how local businessmen and women apply local business processes. 

It should be noted that we’re talking about a country whose culture is a celebration of its rich history, influenced over many centuries by different ethnic groups (indigenous people, Portuguese colonists, and immigrants from around the world), and that weaving through this rich cultural setting is no small feat. 

If you’re interested in doing business in Brazil, here are 10 essential tips that will help you navigate through the sixth-largest economy in the world:

1. Business culture is as diverse as the country

Differences between Brazilians coming from different regions of the country are very clear. All those identities have their similarities when compared to other Brazilians, they have their customs and manners which affect how they do business. Some of the biggest groups in the country are Paulistas (reigning from the business metropolis of the country), Minerios (coming from the mountains of the countryside), Baianos (coming from the land of the beaches), Cariocas (coming from Rio de Janeiro) Gauchos (inhabiting southernmost tip of the country), etc.

Even within those groups, there are divisions. For example, Paulistas come from the state of Sao Paulo, but Paulistano is born in the city of Sao Paulo. 

2. Brazilian company structure

All international negotiators and businesses that have partners in Brazil are advised to pay attention to their companies’ structures, and how the power flows through the organization. 

As in many other South American cultures, companies in Brazil tend to be hierarchically structured with most of the decisions being made through various chains of command. Key decisions are made by the most senior members of the group. 

A major part of the economy of Brazil consists of family businesses, an important factor to keep in mind while doing business.

3. Personal relationships

As we said in the previous tip, key decisions are made by the most senior members. Since Brazilians greatly value personal relationships over company relationships, it is those senior managers with whom you should look to develop them. 

Most of them want to meet you as a person before any talk about business begins. For any business relationship to last, professionals advise you to constantly stay in touch with your associates.

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4. Communication

With personal relationships in mind, small talk plays a pivotal role in Brazilian business culture, and if you don’t know what to say, any of the popular themes in the country go (family, football, music, and so on). They value face-to-face conversations more and physical contact is also used during casual or business conversations. Overlapping speech, enthusiastic gestures, back-slapping – all are very common parts of the Brazilian communication style.

Many sources say that the farther the south one goes in Brazil, the business etiquette and culture become less and less relaxed. 

5. Time management

Brazilians shouldn’t be expected to arrive on time, and although the Brazilian approach to time management is flexible, foreigners are advised to be punctual and even book appointments weeks in advance. Coming in without an appointment is considered rude.

They take time with everything, even negotiating. Expect to spend a great deal of time reviewing every possible detail of the contract.

6. Working hours

In most Brazilian cities, working hours are 8:30 am to 5.00 pm with an hour or two in the middle for lunch. Businesses are usually open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm Monday-Friday and 9:00-1:00 pm on Saturday. 

Senior members that we previously mentioned tend to arrive later in the morning, but stay in the office longer than the rest. 

7. Jeitinho

One of the most important cultural specifics of Brazil is jeitinho. It is defined in a paper, Brazilian jeitinho: Understanding and explaining an indigenous psychological construct, as a social influence strategy, and as a creative solution to an emergency, whether in the form of cheating some predetermined norm or in the form of cleverness or ability.

Duarte studied the historical roots of jeitinho, acknowledging that it “emerged as a response to the excessive legalism and formalism of Brazilian society inherited from its Portuguese colonizers”. Over time, she states, it evolved into a way of escaping rules applicable to all and to enable corruption since it often comes with some kind of bribe or counter-favor.

Despite the corruption-enabling principles of jeitinho, it has its good sides. Interpersonal and communication skills, which are commonly associated with creativity, teamwork, and flexibility (all necessary for jeitinho), are considered in a study done by Oxford Economics to be valuable skills for enterprising future managers and leaders under pressure from continuous and radical market changes.

8. Despachante

In Brazil, it is a common practice to hire a despachante (middle man), to help you navigate through the bureaucracy. 

Despachante charges a fixed fee for their services, and its price fluctuates with the complexity of the problem. They are a key part of Brazilian public life, as many people don’t have time to wait in lines or repeatedly return to the same government office.

9. Language

Even though many managers in Brazil can speak English, and English words are used in technical fields, they hardly ever speak it. Learning Portuguese is essential for anyone looking to start a branch of their business in this country. 

An alternative is to hire an interpreter, and many people do coming into Brazil, as it makes the other party much more comfortable

10. Dress code

We stated several times through the blog that Brazilians are informal in their business practices. However, they take great pride in dressing well, and it’s expected of everyone to be formally attired in a business setting. 

Learn more about Brazil with our quick video guide:

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