How to adjust to life in the US as a Brazilian

TransferWise content team
3 minute read

There are over 330,000 Brazilians living outside of Brazil who call the U.S. their new home

Brazilian expats in the U.S. may see many familiar traits, such as a fun spirit and love of carne assada. And while our study of Brazilians living in the U.S. have shown that some have well adapted to the US culture, we found that some things just take a bit longer to get used to.

We gathered up some of our Brazilian TransferWise customers and coworkers in the U.S. for their advice on how to adapt to their new life in the States. From business etiquette to opening a bank account, here's what they said:

A touchy subject


Body language varies dramatically across different cultures.

Playfully poking someone or touching them on the arm when communicating may come second nature to many Brazilians. Yet the last time many Americans received a poke from a friend was when it was a feature on Facebook. Unless you are already close to someone, touching is generally less acceptable.

And while many Americans love peering into the personal lives of politicians and celebrities, they are less likely to be open about their own except for with close confidants. Ask your American friend all the questions you want about their job, but take greater care when it comes to their marriage.

Put your knives away


Unless a piece of food is difficult to cut, such as a steak at a Brazilian BBQ, Americans will rely purely on their forks to eat a meal.

A butter knife is usually just used to spread butter, not break apart your salads or pasta. And thinking of exercising a knife on that giant burrito? Calmly put it down, and eat it with your hands like your fellow compatriots.

Relationships before work


Before partnering with a company, Brazilians like to form relationships with the people behind it.

Yet Americans often prefer to get down to business, separating personal relationships from corporate ones. So don’t be offended if your colleague isn’t keen to grab dinner before sealing a

Ana, a Brazilian expat in California, observed:

“Americans just want to get the work done.”

Dressing down


Unless you are in heart of Manhattan, workplace attire in the U.S. tends to be more “business casual”, even for top managers.

And don’t be surprised if you see someone browsing the aisles of the grocery store in pajama pants: they are not a sleepwalker, but less concerned about coordinating clothes to buy their Cheerios.

The tipping point


The price of restaurant item may look like a good deal, but don’t make the classic U.S. expat rookie mistake: forgetting that there is an additional 15-20 percent tip on top of the meal.

This added bonus is how many restaurant employees make up a big part of their overall income. Most services, from a taxi ride to a haircut, also include tips of this scale.

Not a joking matter


Americans love to laugh, as seen in the great array of sitcoms, stand-up comedy and coverage of the 2016 presidential elections.

But there are some subjects are a bit too sensitive. “Don’t joke about terrorism or even be ironic about questions that might sound silly to you – it triggers trauma over here,” says Nana, a Brazilian expat in Washington, D.C..

Time is (not) money


Americans are masters at checking off bullet points: items on an agenda at a business meeting or in a class are closely followed.

And at a business lunch? While they may run long in Brazil, people are more likely to pack their to-go boxes and head back to the office at a set time.

Sports exclusive to seasons


With the exception of during the Olympics, sports tend to be like fashion in the U.S. – one popular in the spring, another in the summer, and so on.

“I always wondered, ‘Why did no one else feel like playing a game of baseball during football season?’ says Marcelo, a Brazilian expat in North Carolina.

Opening a Bank Account


The U.S. is strict about many aspects of life for foreigners, but generally opening a basic bank account is not one of them.

Many banks will allow you to open an account, even remotely, without a social security number, or just with a U.S. tax ID number. However, watch out for the fees. ATMs will hit you with a $1.50-$3.00 charge for each withdrawal. And that check book? $25 please...

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