What Do You Need to Know to Do Business in Rio?

Rio skyline

Nicholas Bittencourt/Flickr

Surprising local customs and language barriers impact the way you conduct business in Brazil’s growing economy. Personal ties to local contacts prove essential in this South American market.

Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city in Brazil and a popular tourist destination. For travelers’ purposes, the media often misrepresents Rio, and Brazil for that matter: outsiders operate under the misconception that the country embodies what they see on postcards: sandy beaches and dancing.

In Rio’s case, tourists expect local culture to revolve around some combination of Carnival and Christ the Redeemer.

While Rio de Janeiro has some beautiful beaches and locals certainly know how to party, travelers should appreciate that the cosmopolitan city also has one of the largest economies in Latin America, one that’s steadily growing.

Foreigners flock for fun and each year, more and more businesspeople make the trek down South for work. If business takes you to Rio, here’s what you really need to know to make the most of a good opportunity.

Big Business in Rio

Tourism flourishes in Rio de Janeiro. Among the most frequently visited cities in the southern hemisphere, Rio is well-known for its carnival celebrations and natural settings.

One of the Seven Wonders of the World, a giant statue of Christ the Redeemer, sits atop nearby Corcovado Mountain. Football fans will note Rio’s Sambodromo and Maracana Stadium, one of the largest for soccer on the planet.

But more than tourism has business booming in Brazil’s second largest city. In 2008, Rio de Janeiro had the 30th largest GDP in the world and still represents the second largest in Brazil.

Two of Brazil’s largest corporationsPetrobras Oil & Gas and Vale Mining Company, established headquarters in Rio. The largest communications and media company in Latin America, Globo Organizations, also calls the region home.

Economist.com outlines how Globo dominates the local market with an old-fashioned business model. Rio’s sophisticated environment includes numerous institutions and universities as well as Brazil’s second largest research and development center.

What It Takes to Do Business in Brazil: The Importance of Local Contacts

Cdmn.ca reports how there are many business opportunities in Brazil and presently many Canadian companies are having success in the region, but even they have only just begun to tap the potential.

To successfully conduct business in Brazil requires patience, understanding, and a serious commitment to the market. Official expansion will likely demand many trips to specific regions to acquire first-hand knowledge of the business environment and avoid common pitfalls.

There are numerous ways for businesses to tap the Brazilian market. Some hire local representatives while others work through a distributor. Regardless, foreign companies do well to maintain solid relationships with local firms to protect and promote their interests.

In many cases, negotiations emphasize high-quality, technical assistance and training as part of the business package.

Whether you choose to work with a distributor, a consulting local firm, or local hires, it’s important to nurture local contacts. Not only do Brazilian regions have special business customs that outsiders must learn and observe but most Brazilian businesses place high value on personal relationships. If you’re going to Brazil, take the time to review local customs and learn a few conversational pointers before you go.

Brazilian Business Customs: Personal Ties and Punctuality in a Man’s World

Brazil has a unique business culture. Brazilian businesses operate differently according to size, industry, and region, but there are many common customs that, according to tradition, must be observed by foreign parties as well.

Naturally, businesses begin by getting to know new, local partners, but this step is especially important in Rio as Brazilians like to establish personal relationships before getting down to business.

Before dealmaking begins, businesses work hard to gain trust and make authentic, personal connections. Ultimately, business friendship underlies longterm partnerships.

InterNations.org explains how this personal approach makes for a slow pace of business as parties balance working with spending quality time. On top of the “smalltalk lag,” business gets slower still when fashionable lateness is not only perfectly acceptable but the general rule.

While the notion of routinely arriving late for meetings represents an adjustment for many modern businesspeople, Brazilians relate differently to their schedules and business parties do not have to be punctual.

Businesswomen should be advised that these personal relationships are generally man to man, which is to say, working in Rio in particular could be quite difficult when there are few Brazilian women in corporate positions of authority.

Women should prepare to enter what the country considers a man’s world and earn the respect of her colleagues.

Business communication is usually done in English, but promotional materials should be available in Portuguese. Knowledge of Spanish can be beneficial for conducting transactions, but in most cases Brazilian businesses will prefer speaking English.

Language Barriers in Brazilian Business: Know When to Ask for an Interpreter

Experts claim that Brazil represents one of the most difficult climates for coping with language barriers. In many situations, these barriers hinder business deals.

The language situation is complicated as there are old and new economies at work in Brazil. As these economies become more interdependent, communications skills become even more critical.

English is generally recognized as the international language of business and Brazilian companies are moving beyond local markets to become more integrated into the global economy.

To ensure a solid business deal against the odds, it is good practice to establish the preferred language when setting up a meeting. Though many Brazilian executives speak English, when making an appointment one should always ask if the contact would be more comfortable with an interpreter.

Communication is vital to successful business transactions and it’s important to ensure parties have the means to communicate fully.

Asking the question also demonstrates commitment to communication and awareness of the needs of the other, in keeping with Brazil’s personal approach to business.

As language is so crucial for maintaining contacts and closing a deal, it’s worth revising your Portuguese before heading down to Brazil’s burgeoning business world. Contact Language Trainers to meet a native, qualified Portuguese tutor in your area. Can’t wait to get started? Take a free online Portuguese test to see how good your language skills are!