One of the inconveniences of living in Brazil is the difficulty in purchasing consumer goods that are so common in other places.
Due to a series of factors, including: protectionist policies created by the Brazilian government to protect local industry against foreign competition, a slew of import tariffs designed to raise additional revenue for government coffers, as well as good old fashioned Brazilian bureaucracy, the cost of buying foreign produced items in Brazil is often prohibitively expensive. That is if you can even find the item that you’re looking for.
In the US we’re accustomed to having so many options as consumers that it borders on insanity. The level of competition is so high in some markets that in order to differentiate their products, producers have to add additional layers of specialization and customization in order to stand out. Just take a walk down the toothpaste aisle the next time you’re at the grocery store to see what I mean. You get to pick a toothpaste that comes in the size and flavor you want, with or without whatever extra features that brand carries.
Due to the uncompetitive nature of Brazil’s economy, these options just simply don’t exist and most Brazilians are none the wiser. If average Brazilians could take a trip to a Whole Foods Market or a Costco and see the plethora of goods that are available to US consumers often times at lower prices than in Brazil, there would be protests in the street over Brazil’s economic policies.
Economics aside, at the end of the day what we’re faced with is a situation in Brazil where you want things that you can’t easily get your hands on. Either you learn to do without those things or you find an alternative solution for procuring them.
In this article we’re going to go over some of the most common ways of making sure that you can improve your consumer satisfaction in Brazil.
Stocking Up Beforehand
Before you leave for Brazil you should stock up on items that will be hard or expensive for you to get in Brazil.
The items that many foreigners complain about is kitchenware. Specialty kitchen appliances like juicers or high-end blenders should be brought from abroad. If you plan on cooking a lot at home you’ll want to do a search on Lojas Americanas to make sure that what you need is available in Brazil.
Any devices that you need should be bought and maintained in the US. Not only should you buy any electronics that you might need such as computers, tablets and cell phones in the US, but you should also buy any parts or accessories that you might need for them as well. If any of your devices are on the verge of breaking down, it’s best to get them fixed or replaced before you go to Brazil. Just ask anyone who has had a Macbook break down in Brazil and they’ll tell you horror stories of having to wait 2 weeks just to get a diagnosis of the problem and another few weeks before it was actually fixed.
Aside from all of that, if you have a special diet or enjoy unique flavors with your food, make sure to stock up before going to Brazil. Common items that people bring are peanut butter, vegemite and hot sauces. Once you’ve been to a Brazilian super market you’ll have a better understanding of what’s available and not, and on subsequent trips you’ll know what you need to get.
Stocking up on goods in the US is a common practice that Brazilians participate in. Anyone who has taken a flight to Brazil from Miami has undoubtedly seen that family with six luggage carts to carry their 10 bags filled with designer clothes, a case of Johnny Walker Black Label and the newest gadgets from Apple.
Just be aware that by law you’re supposed to declare goods exceeding the amount of $500 when you fly into Brazil. If you are caught bringing goods that exceed this amount without declaring them you could face fines or have your items taken and sold at government auction.The law is mostly used to go after muambeiros who make a living by bringing in undeclared iPhones in their socks. You’re not likely to have any trouble if you’re just bringing in foodstuffs and appliances for your kitchen.
Asking A Friend To Bring Something
As a foreigner in Brazil you’re more likely than not going to meet lots of other foreigners as well as Brazilians who like to travel abroad. If you’re a moderately social person you should know of at least one person every quarter who is taking a trip abroad that you can ask to bring you something back for you.
There are also a number of online networks and Facebook groups that frequent travelers belong to where you might be able to make a request for someone to bring something for you. Here is a list of some groups that you might look into, but take some time to understand where it would be most appropriate for you to make your ask.
That being said, don’t just assume that because someone you know is traveling abroad that they’ll be able to bring something back for you. It’s likely that a lot of people will have asked them to bring them something and they might start to feel burdened by the requests.
Especially if your request involves them traveling to a specialty store or your item takes up a lot of space, you should offer to pay them for the service of bringing you your item. If they need to bring an extra suitcase to fit your item, make sure they have an extra suitcase and pay any additional fees that come with bringing extra bags.
On the other hand, if you’re the friend who is traveling abroad, be very careful about saying “Yes” when people ask if they can send something to your address to have you bring back. Many good natured offers at helping out have resulted in Gringos having a dozen items show up at their doorstep from Amazon from the cousins and uncles of the original friend they agreed to bring an item for. Don’t be too nice without putting boundaries in place .
Ordering Goods Through Entrusters
If you don’t have any friends who are coming back from abroad any time soon there is another option for you to get your items delivered to you.
There is a fairly new Startup called Entrusters that makes it easier for international consumers to get hard to find items from abroad. It’s essentially a marketplace where buyers can submit a request for the item that they want, and international travelers who are headed in their direction can purchase the item and bring it to you for a fee.
As more and more people are becoming aware of this service, the time you’ll have to wait for a traveler going in your direction will go down. If you’re luck you might be able to get your items in as little as a week, but expect to wait a month, especially if you’re requesting a larger item.
You can either pre-purchase the item on the site and offer a fixed bounty, or you can accept an offer from one of the travelers who will buy the item and get reimbursed later.
In practice this is a little bit safer than finding someone on a Facebook group to bring an item for you, since there’s a third party involved who has an interest in making sure that everything goes smoothly for the buyer and seller.
I’m planning on trying this out on my next trip back to Brazil and I’ll be sure to report back and let you know how the experience went. In the mean time you can check out the service and learn more about how it works.
While not impossible to recreate an American consumer experience in Brazil, it will cost additional time and money for it to happen. The options above are the best bet you have at getting what you need in Brazil until there is a substantive change in economic policy.
You’ll have to give up some of the comforts that you’re used to back home in order to live in Brazil. Never forget that you’re the one who chose to live in Brazil. Brazil is not the US, Brazil is not Europe, Brazil is not Japan. Brazil is Brazil.
If you ever find yourself complaining about the way things are in Brazil, stop for a moment, take a deep breathe, let go of the need to fight against things that you cannot change and accept the reality of your situation. You’ll be a lot happier this way.