Living in Belo Horizonte – Moving to Brazil
There’s fairly good chance that you’ve never heard of Belo Horizonte or even know which country it is in. BH is widely considered as Brazil’s third biggest city after Rio and São Paulo and is located in Minas Gerais, located further inland from Rio and above the state of São Paulo. Belo Horizonte is one of Brazil’s best kept secrets, precisely due to the fact that it’s off the radar for most people thinking about living in Brazil.
Thoughts of Living in Belo Horizonte
Whilst I was having a great time travelling around Latin America for months and living in Rio de Janeiro, I couldn’t help but feeling that something was missing. Living and staying in hostels and going to popular backpacking destinations was good fun, but i found myself having the same experiences over and over again and spending much less time with locals than i’d initially hoped for. In many ways it felt that i was observing and watching the culture and life in brazil as it were a part of some TV show, rather than actually being a part of it.
After coming to realise this, I decided that it was time for a new challenge – moving to a relatively unheard-of city and throwing myself in the deep-end. Belo Horizonte sounded like a good choice, but the prospect of moving there was daunting and felt deeply outside of my comfort zone. Looking back, living in Belo Horizonte was a true adventure. I was thrown into a place where i had no choice but to reach a level of fluency in the portuguese language and start my social and professional life from scratch.
The Medellin of Brazil
If there’s one place that i would compare Belo Horizonte to, it would be Medellin. With friendly people, great night life, a pleasant climate and more of a small town vibe, Belo Horizonte is in many ways Brazil’s Medellin, but with one key difference – far less foreigners.
Whilst Medellin has become one of the key destinations in Latin America for backpackers i can’t help but feeling that the city has lost much of its original charm and authenticity, whilst Belo Horizonte, on the other hand, is still right off the beaten track, allowing for a stimulating and original experience for those choosing Belo Horizonte as their city when moving to Brazil.
Where to Live
The best places to live are located within the confines of the Avenida de Contorno, a ring road that circles around the central area of the city. Within this area or very close by you’ll have access to the best nightlife spots and commercial areas.
Inside of Av de Contorno, Savassi and Lourdes were my favourite spots, due to their location and atmosphere. The caveat is that these areas can be more on the pricey side..
Santo Antônio/São Pedro/Cruzeiro
Located on the outside southern edge of the Avenida de Contorno, these three neighbourhoods are perfect if you’re looking for a more residential and tranquil area whilst still being right next to the central areas of Savassi and Lourdes. The tree lined and hilly streets make it a very pleasant area to live in (if you don’t mind walking uphill) and rental prices can be significantly cheaper than in Savassi.
Due to its distance from the rest of the city (around 30 minutes driving) i only ended up going to Pampulha only once during my stay in the city, but regret doing so. The area’s natural beauty makes up for its distance and is home to the “Lagoa da Pampulha” a giant lake surrounded by colonial houses and forest, which makes it a nice change from the dense areas of high rises in the central area. Pampulha also has its own nightlife scene on Avenida Fleming and is right next to the UFMG, one of the main universities in the city.
Safety & Security
Compared to Rio de janeiro, Belo Horizonte is relatively safe and is comparable to São Paulo in the sense that violence tends to be focused in the favelas and the periphery of the city. Whilst it’s wise to be streetwise and to exercise caution (as in any Latin American city), the safety and security should definitely not put you off from coming here. As in most Brazilian cities, “Centro” can also be sketchy, and is worth avoiding after commercial hours.
Compared to Northern Europe, the weather is fantastic in Belo Horizonte, with around 2500 sunshine hours per year. Cloudy days are a fairly regular occurrence, but you’ll never have to wait too long to see the sun. As in the rest of south-eastern Brazil, rainfall is also abundant, particularly between October and March. The temperature never really gets above 33 degrees or below 10, making Belo Horizonte very pleasant in terms of climate when living in Brazil.
Cost of Living
Living in Belo Horizonte is a fair amount cheaper than living in São Paulo or Rio, and therefore makes a good spot to have a decent life in brazil at a low price. To get an idea of everyday costs, check out this article.
The 4 Key Ways to Thriving in Belo Horizonte
As in the rest of Brazil, finding a job in Brazil is no easy task, primarily due to Visa Restrictions, whilst longer hours and lower wages than Europe can be disheartening. That being said, finding work is possible (if you speak Portuguese), and outside of São Paulo, Belo Horizonte is one of your best bets for getting a job. The city also has a thriving Start-Up scene called São Pedro valley, and as foreigner who speaks both Portuguese and English, you should have a competitive advantage due to the fact that there are few expats living in Belo Horizonte. As in the rest of Latin America, Networking is vital, meaning that your best bet is inserting yourself into the community and building contacts.
As a Brit, Australian or american living in Belo Horizonte, working in a hostel and teaching english are always options, but in my opinion aren’t really long term solutions to thriving when living in Belo Horizonte. In you’re interesting in hearing about other ways to thrive economically in Brazil, feel free to drop me an email.
To cut to the point, dealing with Visas or opening a bank account in Brazil is a nightmare, and Belo Horizonte is no exception.
If you’ve wondered where the city in the world is with the friendliest people is, then look no further, as Belo Horizonte is a serious contender. People will break their backs here to help you out and make you feel at home, and a lot of the time all it takes is striking up a basic small-talk conversation to become friends with someone. As a bonus, you’ll likely spark curiosity amongst the locals due to the lack of foreigners in the city. Despite its size of 5 million people, living in Belo Horizonte has more of small-town feel, meaning that most people tend to have well-established and close knitted social circles. Despite this, you’ll find that a lot of people will happily let you join in.
As a European or American living in Belo Horizonte, It goes without saying that one of the keys of establishing a strong social circle is through the Portuguese Language, which brings us up to our next point.
If you are think about living in Belo Horizonte and don’t have any plans to learn Portuguese, then exit this page right now and don’t even bother thinking about living in Brazil. Whilst you’ll find some people who speak english well (although you’ll have to look hard) I would compare coming to Belo Horizonte and learning Portuguese to seeing someone else having a trip of their lifetime via their instagram story as oppose to experiencing this for yourself.
However, learning Portuguese is easier said than done, and it’s no secret that some people struggle with language learning more than others. Whilst most people will be afraid to admit it to others, learning a language is often an extremely daunting process and getting over mental blockages is a large part of the process (something they don’t teach you at most language schools.) However, with the right mindset, you’ll not only be able to speak Portuguese fluently in a relatively short amount of time but will massively stand out from most expats living in Belo Horizonte or elsewhere in Latin America. For more guides on Tips for Learning Portuguese, check out these posts.
The nightlife in Belo Horizonte is one of the best in Brazil, and there are several different Spots
A great spot to go for a bottle of Original and to have an espetinho after work, Savassi is home to hundreds of botecos where people will sit outside until the wee hours of the morning. Lourdes takes it a step further, with its more upscale vibe. Top picks – Cipriano and Laicos.
Centered around the Street Rua Pium-í, Cruzeiro is a great spot on a Friday or Saturday if you’re living in Belo Horizonte, with Bars lining the hilly street right until the bottom. Top pick – Muu Bar
Located around 15 mins drive to the south of Avenida Contorno, Buritis is a middle class neighbourhood located on nearer to the outskirts of the city. It’s also home to some of the best bars and clubs. Top picks – Like bar, Bebs Raja and Chalezinho.
Living in Belo Horizonte is a true adventure and could be a great spot for you if you’re looking for something different from the status quo or wanting to completely immerse yourself in Brazilian Culture. However, making a big move to such a far-flung destination isn’t exactly easy, so feel free to get in touch with me with any tips or further questions if you’re thinking of moving to Brazil.