13 Things They Don’t Tell You About Living in Rio de Janeiro

Samba | © werner22brigitte / Pixabay
Sarah Brown

Lazy days of golden beaches and sipping on caipirinhas, before heading to an outdoor samba party to dance until dawn – this is the lifestyle tourists can expect when visiting Rio. For expats, however, life goes on, and the everyday tasks of paying bills and booking appointments continue. While life in Rio is good, it is also full of surprises. Here are some things they don’t tell you about living in Rio de Janeiro.

When it rains, you can expect your plans to be cancelled

Even if the plan was to sit inside a warm, dry bar, if it’s raining outside, you can expect your Carioca (people born in Rio) friends to postpone for another day. The logic is that Rio has so many sunny days, so why go out in the rain when you can wait for a better day?

Storm in Rio de Janeiro

Toilet paper goes in the bin and not the toilet

Old habits die hard, and depending on where you are from, this can be tricky to remember if you’re used to throwing paper in the basin. The toilets in Rio are prone to blocking, and adding paper there doesn’t bode well for them. Although it’s an easy rule to forget, you will quickly learn after blocking a public toilet or two.

Popcorn is served with bacon

Not only is it served with bacon, but also bits of cheese sometimes. It seems like an odd combination but one that leaves you wondering why you haven’t tried it before. Also, popcorn isn’t just for evenings at the cinema; it’s also served on street corners and near metro entrances in buzzing central areas as an on-the-go snack.

The active lifestyle will rub off on you

Cariocas are extremely active. A combination of a beach-centric lifestyle that makes people body-conscious and incredible outdoor activities gives ample opportunities to do a range of enjoyable sports such as surfing, football, beach circuit training, and hiking. In terms of beach fashion in Rio, a strong, lean body is the perfect accessory. This presence of a healthy lifestyle and conscious eating will eventually rub off on you.

Playing sports in Rio

The bureaucracy will test your patience

The simplest of bureaucratic processes can turn into a mountain of documents, several trips to the cartorio (notary’s office) to authenticate paperwork, and a maze of confusion. Things such as a CPF is quite easy and essential for longer trips to Brazil. However, move onto more complex processes such as visas, opening a business, or buying an apartment, and it becomes a whole new level of complexity.

‘Let’s meet!’ doesn’t always mean that

Cariocas are exceptionally friendly people and love making new friends, but it does lead to an inability to say ‘no’ and deciding last minute what to do before cancelling other plans. It’s nothing personal; it’s just a case of keeping all options open and being friendly. So when someone says ‘vamos marcar’ (let’s meet!), it doesn’t necessarily mean this will happen soon.

Meeting friends

There are women-only carriages on the metro

During the peak hours, there are carriages on the subway just for women. They are in place to provide women comfort whilst travelling around the city during the busiest times so that they don’t have to worry about any unwanted male attention. Guards are on hand to give any man that tries to enter a quick warning before sending them off to the appropriate carriage.

The sea is cold

For a tropical city, the sea remains cold all year round. However, on the days where the temperatures are at their hottest, the shallow water can actually get warm, and the cold water becomes a welcome retreat.

Warm days and cold seas

You can visit or even live in favelas

Despite the negative media attention, some favelas are safe. The one that has been consistently stable for the past five years is Vidigal, which is not only the base of the Dois Irmaos hike but also the home to several cool bars and trendy restaurants. A thriving expat community resides there too, drawn to the laid-back lifestyle, proximity to the beach, and the stunning hillside views.

Rio is not all about samba

While samba is an important music genre in Rio, so is funk. Carioca funk is not like American funk and comes with its own style, sound, culture, and dance. Although most of the lyrics are about butts, the music is catchy and is common in Rio. The dance is a significant part of the music and is comparable to ‘twerking’.


Leave your book at home when you go to the beach

If you are planning to meet friends at the beach, put the book back in the suitcase. Brazilians go to the beach to socialise, not to read, so bringing a book with you will be redundant. Instead, grab a caipirinha and get involved with the general chit-chat.

Tinder dating is the norm

Don’t be shy to use dating apps in Rio. Tinder is an important part of the dating scene in the city, and using it to meet people for hookups or romance is perfectly acceptable. It’s not unheard of for couples to have met on Tinder, and they will be quite open about it.

Guava ketchup is a thing

Guava ketchup is an actual thing in Rio, and it’s delicious. It is available at most supermarkets and is perfect with a burger.

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