What you need to know about exporting to Brazil

Fancy replicating Team GB's success in Rio?

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2016

The Rio games are all but over. But if you’ve not yet had your fill of Brazil then why not start exporting there? With patchy infrastructure and a big language barrier it’s not the easiest of places to do business but despite some recent economic wobbles it’s still a massive market of 202 million people, with the highest income per capita in the emerging BRICS economies. 

In the wake of the Olympics there are plenty of new opportunities (not least for pool cleaning companies...). But before you pack your bikini and make a date with the Girl From Ipanema, here are some things you might want to consider. 

Logistical nightmares

Brazil is absolutely massive – you could fit Britain into it 36 times. Much of its area is taken up by the Amazonian rainforest but sizeable cities like Manaus and Fortaleza are a real trek from the more populous area in the south of the country. It’s a problem made doubly challenging by its patchy infrastructure. Its two biggest cities, Sao Paulo and Rio, are a relatively short 225 miles apart. But a planned high speed rail link is still yet to materialise so if you’re relying on public transport and your budget won’t stretch to a plane ride it’ll be 6 hours on a coach.

Mind the (language) gap

Brazil’s official language is Portuguese and English is not widely spoken - even in some tourist areas you might struggle to find somebody who does. So never assume everyone you are arranging to meet will be easy to communicate with and consider getting an interpreter. And for heaven’s sake don’t rock up wishing everyone a ‘buenos dias’ – many Brazilians understand Spanish but it’s a bit rude to assume as much.

‘It’s also worth noting that anyone doing business in Brazil must have a customer service department that speaks Brazilian Portuguese,’ says Frederic Llordachs, the co-founder of the doctor booking platform Doctoralia, which has since merged with Docplanner. ‘The relationship between Brazil and Portugal is historically a negative one, so having a Portuguese-speaking call centre or sales department simply won’t work.’

Currency complications

The Brazilian Real is a non-convertible currency, which means it isn’t officially traded on foreign exchange markets. That makes it harder to hedge against the risk of currency fluctuations. Philippe Gelis, CEO and co-founder of foreign exchange and risk management company Kantox suggests using ‘non-deliverable forward contracts’, a financial product that lets companies ‘lock in’ an exchange rate for a certain period. But this doesn't sound like an option for the faint-hearted. 

Payment peculiarities

We often take the way we pay for things for granted, but it’s something that can vary massively between countries (in Germany for instance, online shoppers prefer using direct debit to paying by debit card). In Brazil most online shoppers pay for their goods in instalments, says Jean Christian Mies, vice president for Latin America for the payments technology firm Adyen. Two fifths of Brazilians don’t have bank accounts so it might also be worth familiarising yourself with Boleto Bancario, the leading cash-based payments system.

Get personal

‘Success in Brazil’s business culture relies heavily upon the development of strong personal relationships, the keystone of productive business partnerships,’ notes a US government guide to doing business in the country. ‘ Relationships are very important - spend time building a rapport and getting to know your customers and partners,’ adds Phil Morse of the Norfolk-based engineering firm Ansible Motion.

Ask for help

Brazil can be a tough place to do business but there are plenty of people who can help ‘The healthcare sector can be notoriously difficult to enter in any global market,’ says Richard Paxman, CEO of Paxman Coolers, which makes medical devices for cancer patients. He suggests making use of the government’s Department for International Trade (formerly UKTI), which was ‘invaluable in navigating the often complex regulatory process in order to gain approval for our device to be used in Brazil.’

Finding a local partner can make this easier too. ‘The Brazilian government can charge customers 40% (combined VAT and income tax) on any goods purchased online that have been imported from overseas,’ adds Llordachs ‘Therefore, companies exporting to Brazil should collaborate with a local Brazilian partner for the manufacture and distribution of their products as this is the cheaper and simpler option.’


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