Can I Live In Brazil Without Speaking Portuguese?

Living in a different country is always a challenge. Change is difficult and immigration is all about change. Brazil is a very friendly nation and welcoming to immigrants, but the Portuguese language can be a barrier to a lot of people.

It’s possible to live in Brazil without speaking Portuguese, but it’s not easy. Not knowing the language can make some activities harder, but there are a lot of immigrants living in Brazil that don’t speak Portuguese. As Spanish has similarities to Portuguese, knowing the language may help.

Depending on the city where you intend to live, you’ll find more people that can talk in your native language. Especially English, German and Spanish. Let’s dive deep into it.

Life in Brazil Without Portuguese

If you ever traveled to a country that you don’t speak the language, you know how challenging it can be. Even simple stuff like ordering food or asking for directions can be hard. But traveling is way easier than moving to a “new world”.

It would be irresponsible not to tell you that living in Brazil for a long time without knowing Portuguese will be very hard and it’s probably not a good decision. For tourists and people that want to spend a few months here, not knowing Portuguese is fine, but it’s different for those that want to move here definitely.

Even simples tasks will be hard in the beggining.

You don’t need to speak Portuguese fluently, but It’s better if you learn at least some of the language before moving. Especially if you wanna work here. If you’re serious about moving to Brazil, you must set a goal to become reasonably fluent in Portuguese sometime.

Either way, is certain that you’ll find challenges. Here I’ll list some of the the possible ones.

It’ll Be Lonely At The Beginning (If You’re Shy)

Moving to a different country is hard by itself. Everything is new in a culture that you don’t know, from food to the language. Plus: you have no friends in a place that you don’t know well. That sucks and will be lonely! Especially if you’re shy.

Your move to Brazil you’ll be way easier if you don’t be shy. Brazilians are very friendly and they’ll do whatever they can to communicate and help you the best way possible. But to do so, you can’t be shy, you need to try to blend in.

Be friendly, try to communicate. Maybe use a jersey from your national team (we’re passionate about soccer, It’ll definitely get you some attention in your social groups). Learn some words to describe where you are from and talk a little bit about your country.

In the beginning, it can be hard, but don’t give up: if you persist, in a short time you’ll make friends for life. In my opinion, that’s the best thing in Brazil: the people (and the food, well, it’s a tie).

You’ll Need To Learn New Ways of Communication

Nonverbal communication, pointing out stuff, memorizing words and sentences, making a lot of gestures… That’s something very common for immigrants living their first days or weeks in a different country without knowing the language.

As Brazil is a country that receives hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, from the entire world, our people are used to deal with this kind of lack of ability with Portuguese. Especially because we know well how hard it is to learn Portuguese.

Brazilians communicate a lot using gestures, It’ll not be awkward (maybe just a little). If you’re planning to move to a capital or a city that is known for tourism, you’ll probably find a good way to communicate (even with some people from your country, there are a lot of immigrant communities in Brazilian biggest cities).

If you’re moving to a smaller city I recommend you to learn at least some sentences in Portuguese for daily tasks, like asking for food, calling emergency, etc. It’ll help you to face the first days that will be the hardest.

You’ll Be Scammed Sometimes

It’s sad, but you’ll be scammed sometimes till you learn some Portuguese. That’s just the way it is. It happened to me more than I like to admit in my first travels to the United States. LOL.

I’m not talking about anything dangerous or very harmful, but you’ll probably be scammed by taxi drivers, buy some overpriced stuff, trust the words of a liar… Things that happen literally anywhere in the world, but that is harder to prevent when you can’t speak the local language.

Also, Brazil can be scary sometimes. Overall, it’s a safe country, but immigrants learn fast that there are places in the country that you must not go to.

You’ll Suffer From Cultural Differences

Our language is much more than a way of communication. It’s part of us, it connects people, remember home. The first time I realized that was when I was in New York for a few weeks and suddenly I heard in the middle of the store some Brazilians talking out loud.

That moment stuck in my mind and I still remember how warmful it was to listen to those voices and the accent of home. Since then, I have a better understanding of how much our culture is important for us, and how even the simplest things can make a lot of difference.

Adapting to a new life without knowing the language will be a hard task. Be prepared for it. But remember: It’ll be exciting as well.

The challenge of learning a new idiom, trying new food, visiting different places, and making friends. That’s something that I love and that I believe makes us stronger and more grateful.

It’ll Be Easier If You Know Spanish

Brazil is the only country in Latin America that has Portuguese as its first language, while most of the other countries adopted Spanish as their own. Although, knowing Spanish can make your life easier because the languages are similar.

As the languages are very similar, most Brazilians can understand Spanish, especially the ones living in the borders, close to Spanish-speaking cities. Brazilians are very friendly and they try hard to communicate with Spanish speakers.

That’s why It’s very common to find in Brazil a mixed language between Spanish and Portuguese, popularly called “Portuñol” (Portuguese + Espanhol, the Portuguese word for Spanish). This way, knowing Spanish gives you a better chance of setting up faster in Brazil.

Other Languages in Brazil

There are other languages spoken in the country, especially German and native indigenous languages. Also, according to the data shown in this article, about 5% of the Brazilian population can somehow communicate in English, and 1% is fluent in the language.

If you speak English, the two best cities with higher scores in English proficiency in the country are Curitiba and Belo Horizonte. Although not as good as these two, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasília are good options for English speakers as well.

RankLanguageSpeakers (% of Population)
3Indigenous Languages0.2
Data from


I hope that this article have gave you a better idea of how it is to Live In Brazil Without Speaking Portuguese.

If you have more doubts about the subject, feel free to leave a comment 🙂

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What’s up! I’m André, a Brazilian born and bred living in the South of Brazil in a little city called Guarapuava. I’m passionate about traveling and knowing different cultures and that’s why I love to share useful information about the Food, Travel, Facts, and Culture of my beloved country, Brazil.

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