Brazil: Cultural Considerations When Doing Business In Brazil

With almost 210 million inhabitants, Brazil is the largest country in South America making it an exciting place full of business opportunities. But it is important to understand the cultural differences in order to ensure success.

Brazil's culture is a celebration of the country's rich history, infused with the influence of diverse ethnic groups over many centuries. In addition to the indigenous Indians and Portuguese colonists, various immigrants have helped to weave the colourful fabric that is Brazil's modern culture today.

For more than 300 years, Brazil was part of the Portuguese Empire, and this foundation continues to set the country apart from its South American neighbours. The country is the largest in the world to have Portuguese as its official language, and the only one in South America.

Brazil is known for its open hospitality and flamboyant events involving music and dance. Many of these events are rooted in Catholic tradition – not surprising as Brazil boasts the largest Catholic population in the world.

Family and personal relationships have central importance in Brazilian society and these values also permeate the way of business. Building strong personal connections with your business partners, especially before negotiations take place, is often a vital element of success.

So if you're impatient, pushy or in a hurry, you will need to rethink your approach. Simply grab another cup of Brazilian coffee (the national drink of the world's biggest coffee producer) and get to know each other a little better first.

The personal touch

Brazilian business relationships are built on trust and it's important to get to know your Brazilian partners both professionally and personally. Face-to-face meetings or calls are preferred over emails. Brazilians love to talk and conversations are often very animated. Interrupting (on topic) is not necessarily considered rude – it's often seen as a sign that you're interested and involved in the conversation. Overlapping speech, enthusiastic gestures, back slapping between men and speaking at close quarters – which some could see as "invasion of personal space" - are quite common.

Good conversation starters include family, football, food, music, Brazil's natural beauty or its growing economy - Brazil is regarded as one of the world's emerging economic powers. Avoid talking about religion, politics, corruption, poverty, crime and deforestation.

It certainly helps if you are mostly fluent in Portuguese (or hire a translator), because English is not widely spoken.

Slow down

Brazilians have a more fluid notion of time, meaning they are often late to meetings (but expect foreigners to be on time). Also, it's best to plan more time into your schedule than normal – both for meetings and the negotiation process overall, since activities in Brazil often take longer than expected, partly due the country's complex regulations. Meals are regarded as a celebration and are usually enjoyed at a relaxed pace. Patience is the key at all times – visible annoyance or pushiness is not appreciated.

Meet and greet in Brazil

It is recommended to make appointments well in advance (2-3 weeks) and confirm them in writing, as it is common for Brazilians to cancel or reschedule meetings. Upon greeting, men shake hands and women generally air kiss each other on each cheek. If a woman wishes to shake hands with a man, she should extend her hand first.

The term 'Senhor' is used for men and 'Senhora' for women, while single and younger women are greeted as 'Senhorita'. Business cards are often exchanged during introductions and it's best to have the reverse side of your business card translated into Portuguese.

Start with small talk, showing genuine interest in all participants and maintaining eye contact. If you are invited to someone's home, it's considered polite to bring flowers or a small gift – but avoid giving handkerchiefs or anything coloured purple or black as these colours are associated with funerals and mourning.

It's important to note that businesses in Brazil are typically hierarchical in nature and the authority to make decisions usually lies with the most senior member of staff, which is another reason why progress can be slow.

Dress to impress

Brazilians take enormous pride in their appearance and believe that people who put effort into their presentation also pay good attention to their work. Conservative companies prefer formal business attire such as dark-coloured suits with a tie for men, and elegant attire for women. Modern companies allow more casual clothing (but not jeans and t-shirts). Overdressing is acceptable but underdressing is seen as disrespectful. Make sure your clothing is smart, your shoes are shiny and your hair and nails are tidy.

It's also important to show that you are empowered to make decisions for your company. The Brazilian emphasis on appearance also extends to your hotel of choice. It will not impress your potential business partners if you choose to stay at a budget hotel.

Brazil's current labour landscape 

Brazilian employees are allowed to work up to 44 hours per week and receive a 13th salary for Christmas (paid in two parts in November and December).

Maternity leave is four months' paid leave, with registered companies offering an additional 60 days paid leave which can be deducted from corporate income tax. New fathers can take up to five days of leave.

Traditionally, men occupied higher professional roles while women were responsible for domestic affairs, but there are ongoing attempts to change this attitude (such as the Afro-Brazilian feminist movement). Meanwhile, Egon Zehnder's 'Leaders and Daughters Global Survey, 2017' ranked Brazilian women as number one globally in ambition and career development.

TMF Group: local support and expert guidance

TMF Group's Brazil office is the largest in the group, with hundreds of staff on hand to share local knowledge and expertise to guide you through the intricacies of doing business in Brazil. Whether you want to set up in Brazil or just want to streamline operations, talk to us today.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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