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The Ultimate Guide to Moving to Rio de Janeiro

I’m a huge believer in the idea that everyone that has it within their abilities should live abroad at least once in their lifetime. If you’ve decided to pursue this, and Rio is your destination, then congratulations!

Rio de Janeiro is, in my opinion, one of the best cities in the world. Where else can you find a rainforest in the middle of a bustling city with mountains, beaches and some of the best live music in the world?

The first time I moved to Rio, I was excited, but unprepared. I was going in almost blind, which made adapting while learning a new language more difficult than it needed to be. 

This experience taught me a lot of lessons, and I’ve gathered together plenty of ways to prepare before jumping into life abroad that will make things much easier. That way, you have more time and energy for the fun stuff.

Be prepared to take many of the societal norms you’ve become used to from your home country and throw them out the window, and learn to adjust to the Carioca way of life.

If you’re planning to move to Rio de Janeiro, then this guide is for you. 

Rio de Janeiro General Info

Country Code: +55
Currency: Real (pronounced hey-al, or hey-eyes in the plural)
Language: Portuguese
Population: 6 million
Region of Brazil: Southeast 
State: Rio de Janeiro

Is Rio de Janeiro safe? Here are must read tips on safety in Rio de Janeiro and how to avoid unwanted incidents. 

Neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro

Rio is broken up into four major zones. They are:

  • Zona Sul (South Zone)
  • Zona Oeste (West Zone)
  • Zona Norte (North Zone)
  • Centro (the Center)

Zona Sul 

Zona Sul is where the well-known and wealthier neighborhoods like Copacabana, Ipanema and Botafogo are located. 

If you’re a foreigner with a little savings and moving to Rio, chances are you’ll be looking for a place to live in Zona Sul. It’s the easiest area to get around in, with the most restaurants, shops and attractions. It also has great beaches, which is a major plus. 

Zona Norte

The North Zone is a residential area that’s home to attractions like the Maracanã soccer stadium, Tijuca National Forest (Floresta da Tijuca), the Feira Nordestina/São Cristóvão (the Northeastern Fair), Quinta da Boa Vista Park and the Igreja da Penha (Penha Church).

Zona Oeste

The West Zone is where the 2016 Olympic Games were held. It’s known for it’s beaches (Grumari and Prainha) and neighborhoods like Jacarepaguá and Barra da Tijuca. It’s the fastest growing part of Rio, and has the highest population relative to the rest of the city. 

Centro

Centro is the “downtown,” commercial area of Rio. 

It’s the financial center of the city, full of offices and federal buildings. In Centro you’ll find the Municipal Theater, the Pedro Ernesto Palace, the Royal Portuguese Reading Room and other historical buildings.

It’s not a super residential area, however it is home to Lapa, one of the classic nightlife spots. 

Take note: There is a Central and a Centro. Central refers to Central do Brazil, the major transportation hub where the metro, trains, buses and the light rail converge. Central is located within Centro. Centro refers to the city’s commercial downtown area. 

A crowded beach in Rio de Janeiro.

Renting an apartment in Rio de Janeiro

Short Term Rentals

If you’re only moving to Rio for a short period of time (less than a year), then you’ll need a short term rental. 

Short term rentals typically come furnished, so you won’t have to go through the hassle of buying furniture or household goods. Plus, you won’t have to deal with annoying things like setting up WiFi or finding a fiador (more on that later). 

Rental Websites: There are a few websites that list available housing in Rio. Scroll down for a list. 

Airbnb: Airbnb places tend to be pricier, but they come furnished and with reviews. If you find a place you like, see if they’ll give you a discount for staying longer than a week or two. We found a great house on Airbnb and ended up staying for six months. 

Facebook: Expat groups on Facebook typically list rooms and/or apartment for rent. If you’re ok with having roommates, they’re a great resource to find a place. Scroll down for a list. 

Long Term Rentals

If you’re staying in Rio long term, you’ll want to rent an apartment or house.

Unless you hunt down a furnished rental, you’ll most likely be renting an empty apartment. Be advised that rentals in Rio don’t come with appliances like refrigerators or stoves, so you’ll have to get your own. 

Rentals usually come with a two year lease (or more).

Cost breakdown

Rent: The price of monthly rent. 
Condomínio: The maintenance fee for the building. 
IPTU: A tax paid to the city (basically a portion of the building’s property taxes).

As a renter, you’ll be required to cover all three costs. 

Your landlord will also require a fiador. A fiador is a guarantor who can step in and cover expenses should you as the renter fail to comply with the contractual obligations. Fiadors typically have to live in Rio de Janeiro and own property themselves. 

If you’re a foreigner, chances are you won’t have a fiador to lean on. Some places will allow you to guarantee payment in other ways. A common alternative is to give them a deposit of three months rent. 

Helpful Websites for Renting an Apartment in Rio de Janeiro

The following websites are useful if you’re looking to rent a place in Rio. 

Zap Moveis: www.zapimoveis.com.br

Viva Real: www.vivareal.com.br

Olx: rj.olx.com.br

Helpful Facebook groups if you’re moving to Rio de Janeiro

Gringos Buy, Sell, & Donate: There are a bunch of groups where people in Rio buy, sell, trade and/or donate goods they no longer want or need. They’re a great spot to get used items from those who are moving and/or leaving the country. 

There are many groups available, and the majority of them are incredibly active. Check out this one, this one and this one

Expats living in Rio de Janeiro: The foreigner groups on Facebook are a great resource for people new to the city. You can find all sorts of useful information by searching through their archive, or posting a question of your own. There are a lot of “Where can I find X?” or “How much does X typically cost here?” types of questions that only someone living there would know. Plus, it’s a great way to meet other expats (if you’re into that sort of thing). 

Check out this one and this one. If you’re a female moving to Rio, check out the Rio chapter of the Girl Gone International group. 

Moradores do ________: Many neighborhoods in Rio have a Facebook group for people who live in the area. They’re a great place to get updated information on what’s going on in the neighborhood. Join yours and stay in the loop. Search for “Moradores do” and insert your neighborhood name. 

SIM Cards in Rio de Janeiro

There are a few different phone companies in Rio. The main ones are Tim, Vivo and Claro. Ask any Brazilian which company is best and you’ll get a different answer each time. 

If you’re staying less than a year: If you’re staying in Rio short term, you’ll need a pre-paid SIM card. Pre-paid SIM cards are pay-as-you-go. There’s no contract, and no extra fees. 

To get a pre-paid SIM card, you have to purchase one (it usually costs anywhere from R$5 to R$15) and activate the number. You can buy the sim card at any Banca de Jornal (news stand) or Lojas Americanas. 

To register and activate the phone line you’ll need a CPF number. You can ask the person at the Banca de Jornal or a Brazilian friend to do it for you. 

Or, do the following:

  1. Buy a Tim SIM card. 
  2. Insert the sim card and restart your phone until it’s connected to the network. 
  3. Dial *144.
  4. When the menu comes on, choose option 3 (for English). 
  5. An operator speaking English will answer. Have your passport information handy. 

Another option is to go to your chosen carrier’s store directly, with your passport. Some will allow you to purchase a pre-paid SIM card and set it up for you right then and there. 

To top off your credit, you can visit any Banca de Jornal or Lojas Americanas and ask to do a recarga. They’ll ask you for the company, phone number and the amount you want to charge. Once it’s done, you’ll get a text confirming your top off. 

If you’re staying over a year: If you’re staying in Rio long term, you can sign up for a monthly cell phone plan. To do so, head to your chosen carrier’s store and bring your passport. They’ll be able to outfit you with a SIM card and a plan. 

To pay your monthly bill, you’ll either need  to pay online or on the app with a Brazilian debit card, or you can pay in cash at your local loteria (these are physical locations where people pay bills and/or buy lottery tickets). 

A dog outside of a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro.

How to Get a CPF in Rio

If you’re staying in Rio de Janeiro for a few months or more, it’s in your best interest to get a CPF. 

What is a CPF?

CPF stands for Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas or “Physical Person Registration.”

They’re Brazil’s version of a Social Security Number.

Every Brazilian has their CPF number memorized, as it’s a number that’s used often in day to day life. 

Luckily, getting your own CPF number is quick and easy, even if you’re not Brazilian.

What are CPFs used for?

CPFs are used for a variety of things in Brazil. You might need to provide a CPF to buy something, like a bus ticket, a domestic flight or tickets to a soccer game. Most shops will ask for one if you’re purchasing an item or getting a discount card. 

A passport number can often be used in place of a CPF, but the truth is, having a CPF makes life easier.

If you’re planning to live in Rio, you’ll need a CPF to open a bank account, set up internet and get a cell phone number.

How to get a CPF in Rio

There are a few different ways to get a CPF number while in Rio. 

Online: To register to get a CPF online, visit the Receita Fazenda website. Click on CPF, and then Inscrição – Estrangeiros Residentes no Brasil ou em Trânsito no País.

Note that the address they ask for in the form is your country’s home address, NOT your address in Brazil (unless you’re actually living here).

Brazilian bureaucracy can be slow and frustrating, so while this is a great option, it’s not necessarily the easiest – especially if you can’t read Portuguese!

In Person: To register in person, there are a few different locations you can visit.

Head to the nearest Banco do Brasil or post office. Bring a photocopy of your passport and your actual passport. You’ll be asked to pay a R$7 fee and receive a receipt. Keep that receipt! 

Then visit the Receita Federal – there’s one in Ipanema (Rua Barão da Torre, 296) and one in Centro (Av. Pres. Antônio Carlos, 375), with your passport, passport copy and receipt.  It’s open on Monday – Friday from 10:00am – 3:00pm. 

I recommend getting there early, so you don’t have to wait on a huge line.

The process is generally pretty fast, but they only issue a certain number of CPFs per day so you don’t want to miss out.

Once you receive a document with your CPF number on it, write the number down (I keep it in my notes app on my phone) and then visit a photocopy store to get the sheet laminated. You’ll need this sheet of paper for certain things, like signing up for a notary, so it’s best to keep it in good shape so it’ll last. 

A crowd of people hang out in a plaza in Rio de Janeiro.

Public Transportation in Rio de Janeiro

Ride shares are super cheap in Rio, but, given the city’s traffic, sometimes it’s easier and cheaper to just hop on public transportation. 

Metrô Rio (Subway):

The Metro in Rio has three different lines: Línea 1, 2, and 4 – there’s no línea 3!

 

It’s clean, safe and reliable. 

It’s open from Monday to Saturday from 5:00am to midnight, and on Sundays and holidays from 7:00am to 11:00pm. There is free WiFi in the metro stations, but unfortunately it only works when you’re on the platform. 

During peak rush hour there are “Women Only” cars that are bright pink on the outside. They’re great to take advantage of if you’re a female traveling solo.

You can pay for the metro using cash (at the teller), a Giro Card or the RioCard. 

Bus

The bus system in Rio is massive, with over 500 lines, and many run 24 hours. 

When I first moved to Rio in 2011, I got the bus system down pretty quickly and would hop on and off buses all throughout the week.

When I returned a few years later, the system had completely changed. Whomp whomp. That, coupled with the introduction of ride shares and increasing traffic, meant I now hardly ever used the bus. 

However, it’s still a great option if you’re going to certain areas of the city without a metro stop (I’m looking at you, Urca) and if the traffic isn’t too bad. Plus, the city introduced the BRS system (Rapid Bus Service), with exclusive lanes for buses that made peak hours bearable. 

You can pay for the bus using cash or your RioCard. 

VLT Carioca (Light Rail)

The VLT, Rio’s light rail, runs on a 28 kilometer track with 32 stops all throughout Centro and the Port region of the city. There are three different lines, and it costs R$ 3.80 to ride. 

You’re trusted to pay your fare, and there are no ticket collectors or turnstiles – you can just hop on and off! – so you can’t pay with straight up cash. You can pay using the Bilhete Único (more on that below), and you need to have one card per person (no sharing). 

Be aware that there are fare-checkers who walk around validating fares, and if you haven’t paid, you’ll get a hefty fine. 

SuperVia (Rio Commuter Train)

The SuperVia is a commuter train that takes passengers from the main station at Central to the outer suburbs of Rio in Zona Oeste and Zone Norte. 

Like with the Metro, there are “Women Only” cars during peak rush hour.

Ferries

Praça XV, in Centro, has ferries that shuttle people back and forth from Rio to Niteroí or Paquetá. The ferries are large and have both indoor and outdoor areas. Check the schedule before going. 

You can pay for the ferry using cash or the RioCard. 

Paying for Public Transportation in Rio

The RioCard+Mais (Bilhete Único)

This is the card to get. The RioCard works all types of public transportation: buses, the metro, the VLT, trains and ferries. 

You can download the app and add money to your card right from your phone. 

Giro Card

The Giro Card is a prepaid fare card that only works for the Metro. 

The purple Giro is meant to replace the blue prepaid card (cartão pré-pago). 

You can top up your card on the app, online or at Metro stations. 

Two cups of beer in Santa Teresa.

Taxis and Ride shares in Rio de Janeiro

While Rio has their own version of the yellow taxi, the truth is that their ride shares are much cheaper. 

  • Uber: Chances are you’ve used Uber, or at least heard of it. It’s big in Rio, and used all throughout the city. Sign up for Uber and get free rides.
  • 99pop: 99pop is a ride sharing app that’s similar to Uber. I use both Uber and 99pop, but the latter tends to be a bit cheaper and always gives out discount codes. Get $10 worth of free rides here

Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.

Supermarkets in Rio de Janeiro

There’s a good number of supermarkets in Rio, ranging in size, specialty and price. While you won’t find the same type of item variety you’d find in the States, you can still get quality items and incredibly fresh produce. 

Zona Sul: Zona Sul is the most popular brand of supermarket in, you guessed it, Zona Sul. You’ll find them in each neighborhood. They have a great selection of cheeses, and are especially known for their bread, made in France! Larger Zona Suls sell food, like fresh pizza, that’s worth trying. Pro Tip: Head to the Zona Sul in Leme for some pizza post beach time!

Mundial: Mundials are huge supermarkets that run on the cheaper side. They’re great if you want to stock up on lots of food. There’s a Mundial in Lapa, Botafogo and Copacabana. 

Pão de Açucar: Pão de Açucar are upscale supermarkets, usually found in upscale neighborhoods. They carry imported items that you won’t find in other supermarkets. They’re pricey, so expect to pay more for items than average. 

Extra: This general supermarket is decent when it comes to variety and pricing. There is a huge Extra located in Largo do Machado that’s worth visiting if you live in the area. 

Hortifruti: Hortifruti is a brand of small market that sells fresh produce. They’re found all throughout the city. 

Casas Pedro: Casas Pedro is the place to go for nuts, spices, and dried herbs and fruit. Their walls are lined with dispensers, and workers are readily available to scoop goods for you. You pay by weight. There’s a Casas Pedro in just about every neighborhood in Zona Sul, but if you can’t find one, look for a Mundo Verde, which is a good alternative.

Asian markets: There are a few Asian supermarkets, mostly in Zona Sul, that sell imported items you won’t find at the Brazilian supermarkets. They’re a great place to stock up on things like soy sauce, frozen gyoza, teas, sesame oil, noodles, etc. 

A few favorites include:

Wah Sin Comestíveis
Location: R. Marquês de Abrantes, 207 – Flamengo

Aomori Copacabana Asian Market
Location: R. Felipe de Oliveira, 4 – Loja C – Copacabana

Feiras: Every neighborhood has a day or two a week where vendors take over the street and open a fresh food market. You can find lots of local produce, fish, meats and food items. Ask locals in your neighborhood for the day and location of the feira, and hit it up for fruits and vegetables. One of the biggest and most popular ones happens every Sunday from early in the morning to early afternoon in Gloria, right by the metro station on Rua Benjamin Constante. 

A fruit stand in Rio de Janeiro.

Must Use Apps in Rio de Janeiro

Besides the ride share apps listed above, there are a few other apps that will make life easier in the Cidade Maravilhosa.

  • WhatsApp: This messaging app is wildly popular in Brazil, and the best part is, it’s free! You can use it to text and make calls. Beware: Brazilians love to send voice messages. 
  • Moovit: Moovit is an urban mobility app that helps you get from Point A to Point B. It shows you nearby bus stops and metro stations, and shares real-time arrival times. Plus, their maps give directions for every type of transportation, including walking, metro, bus, ferry, bike and even scooter. 
  • Bike Itaú: Bike Itaú is an urban bike share program with stations everywhere. It’s a quick and cheap way to get around, and a great way to sightsee. You can rent by the minute, day or month, depending on your package. You’ll see these bright orange bikes all throughout the city, you can’t miss them! 
  • Google Translate: If your Portuguese needs help, keep this app handy so you can translate on the go. 
  • Guia Pet-Friendly: Guia Pet-Friendly is a digital directory of pet-friendly places in popular Brazilian cities. 

Dogs in Rio de Janeiro

Are you moving to Rio, or thinking of moving to Rio? Tell us about it in the comments!

Learn more about living in Rio here. 


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If you're planning to move to Rio de Janeiro, then this guide is for you. Learn about this Brazilian city so you're prepared to go abroad.

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