RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Just two years ago, visitors to Brazil were in for an unwelcome surprise.
This country, where annual income averaged a little less than $12,000 in 2013, had nevertheless become eye-wateringly expensive for locals and visitors alike. The New York Times ran a story about $30 cheese pizzas in Brazil’s restaurants, and Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s two largest cities, featured regularly on lists of the most expensive places for tourists to visit and foreigners to settle.
What a difference two years can make.
For those fortunate enough to earn US dollars or euros, Brazil has been transformed from rip-off to reasonable in just the last 24 months. Political crises, a growing scandal at the country’s national oil company, and an economic slowdown in China — Brazil’s largest trading partner — have contributed to a 40 percent drop in the value of the Brazilian currency, the real, since September 2013.
A year before this country hosts the Summer Olympic Games, the drop translates to a host of good deals for visitors and migrants heading to Brazil.
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Not that everything for sale here could be considered cheap, however. Electronics and imported goods, for example, remain more expensive in Brazil than in the United States, thanks to sky-high import duties and taxes. But basic goods like groceries are getting cheaper every day.
Take this basket of items from a local farmers’ market in the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood. It contains: 1 whole roasting chicken, 1 dozen free-range eggs, 1 kg. artisanal pork sausage, 1 bunch of broccoli, 1 bunch of carrots, 1 pineapple and 4 small papayas.
Total cost: 68 Brazilian reals, or about $17.50.
Eating out has become a lot cheaper, too, at least for those converting foreign currency. Remember that $30 cheese pizza? For less than that price in Rio today a family of four can enjoy unlimited slices, plus sides, at Pizza Hut. (Well, for lunch. During the week. Still, $5.13 each to stuff your face every lunchtime from Monday to Friday is a pretty good deal.)
Local attractions have also gotten a lot cheaper for those spending dollars. The price for a trip up the famous Pao de Azucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) cable car remains steady at 62 Brazilian reals for adults ($16) and just 31 reals ($8) for those aged 6-21. Two years ago the adult fare amounted to $27, while the youth rate was equal to $13.50.
Gerardo Robledillo, founder and CEO of Expatistan.com, a website that monitors the cost of living in almost 200 cities across the world, said there’s been a significant uptick in the number of people checking out Brazil as a possible destination to move to. He attributed the interest to the plummeting cost of living for migrants bringing foreign currency with them.
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In the last two years, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have both fallen dramatically on the Expatistan.com ranking of the most expensive cities to live.
“If you’re earning in dollars or euros, your cost of living [is] basically halved or more,” Robledillo said.
In July, residential rental prices in Rio actually decreased for the first time since 2008, according to an index of real estate prices maintained by Rio’s ZAP real estate website.
Office rental prices in Rio have also been falling steeply, thanks to an excess of supply and a sharp drop in demand, leading Bloomberg to recently report that the city’s real estate bubble was bursting.
Thanks to those sky-high import duties, however, certain luxuries still remain more expensive — or at least around the same price — here as in the United States.
Take the Land Rover Evoque. The luxury car has sold in Brazil for a stable price of 170,000 Brazilian reals since 2013. In September that year, an American spending US dollars would have paid the equivalent of $74,000 for a new standard Evoque at a dealership in Rio’s Barra de Tijuca neighborhood.
Today, the same car costs the equivalent of $43,814.
That looks like a stunning bargain until you compare it to buying the same car in the United States, where a base-model Evoque sells for about $41,475.
If the real continues its historic decline, then even some luxury goods could move into the bargain basement. But for now dollar-earners will have to make do with cheap pineapples and pizzas.