Q&A: Doing Business in Brazil

Category: Culture, International Business

About guest author Rui Monteiro-Claro: Rui is a client development manager at Acclaro, with nearly 15 years experience in the translation and localization industry. Rui was born and raised in Portugal and often travels to Brazil for business and pleasure.

What makes Brazil such an appealing place for business?

Brazil has the world’s eighth-largest economy, despite the poverty and inequality that plagues this giant of the southern hemisphere. And as one of the fastest-growing economies on the planet, it’s become a much more attractive place to do business. Brazil is the second-largest exporter of agricultural products, has a large industrial sector, and vast mineral, oil and gas resources.

Starting in 2003, the government headed by President Lula (and now by his successor, Dilma Rousseff) put in place a mix of progressive social policies and excellent fiscal management. Domestic consumer demand is rising, GDP was more than $2 trillion in 2010, and the economy continues to enjoy healthy growth.

The official language of Brazil is Portuguese — not Spanish — and it’s very important to remember this. While most Brazilians can understand Spanish, they are proud of their status as the only Portuguese-speaking country in South America.

How should I prepare for business meetings in Brazil?

It’s important to schedule business meetings at least two or three weeks ahead of time, and confirm them when you arrive in Brazil. Make sure to leave a couple of hours in between meetings in case the meetings go on longer or start later than you’ve planned.

You’ll also need to adjust your own expectations of time. Brazilians approach scheduling with a very relaxed and flexible attitude and may arrive late — very late.

It’s extremely important to socialize a bit before you get down to business, because the first step to building trust and good relationships in Brazil is getting to know your colleagues personally. And personal relationships are one of the single most important keys to succeeding in business in Brazil. So you may start a meeting by sharing a cafezinho (a little cup of that famous Brazilian coffee) and talking about soccer and family before any actual business takes place. Make sure to accept any food and drink that you’re offered as refusing can be considered insulting.

How should I address and converse with my Brazilian business partners?

You should exchange business cards as an introduction, and shake hands at the first meeting. In more informal situations, women may greet each other with a kiss on each cheek; men may briefly embrace.

When you first meet someone, it’s polite to say muito prazer (my pleasure). Once you get to know a colleague, it’s great to say something like como vai? (how’s it going?) or tudo bem? (everything good?) as a less-formal hello that shows you’re trying to get to know them.

At the beginning, you should address a new contact with the formal o senhor or a senhora until they use the informal tu or você. Professionals will sometimes be addressed as o doutor (doctor), no matter their profession. Once you get to know people, it’s perfectly fine to simply use their first name.

Even though many Brazilian business executives speak English, it is better to conduct business in Portuguese, if at all possible. In meetings, you can expect to be interrupted — and it’s nothing personal. Brazilians will communicate with lots of overlapping comments and are not afraid to state what they think. However, you should not criticize your colleagues in public, but wait till you can tell them in private so they will not be embarrassed or lose face in front of others.

Should I translate my business cards?

It’s ideal to have bilingual business cards printed in English on one side and Portuguese on the other.

What’s most important in translating my company’s communications and web site for Brazil?

It’s critical that you have a localization partner that understands the differences between Portuguese as spoken in Brazil and as spoken in Portugal — the two are very different idiomatically. Your translation partner should also be familiar with the extensive regulations in Brazil with regards to laws and business practices. Brazilian bureaucracy is legendary for its delays, and improperly translated documents (English to Portuguese) could cause you further delays in getting your business up and running.

What are working relationships like in Brazil?

Brazil is a collectivist society in which both family and personal relationships are keys to successfully doing business. Knowing the right people will help you cut through some of the obstacles you may experience. For those reasons, it’s essential to spend time getting to know your Brazilian business partners personally and professionally. You should expect to be asked personal questions, and be prepared to answer them as part of your getting-to-know-each other conversations. Not answering such questions can be seen as rude and can also raise suspicions that can definitely hinder your professional relationships.

How is corporate decision-making structured?

Brazilian companies still have vertical hierarchies with top managers making most of the decisions. It’s critical to get to know the decision makers in the organizations you’re working with so you can work most efficiently.

How can I best navigate Brazilian bureaucratic systems?

Brazil’s extensive regulations (coupled with that relaxed sense of time) can lead to protracted interactions. It’s very important not to force or rush the process — and to spend your time improving professional and personal relationships to help move the negotiations along. Hiring a despachante, or middleman, can also help you cut through some of the knottier portions of Brazilian bureaucracies.

I usually have a half day free during business trips to Rio de Janeiro. What do you recommend that I do and see in Rio?

Rio is a very dynamic and fun city. I recommend the activities (and have done several of them myself) in our blog post “Been There, Never done That: Four Hours in Rio de Janeiro“.

Photo attribution: Héctor de Pereda