Brazilians Are Leaving. This Time, For Good.

Blog, Brazil, Issue 4 - June 2016, Issue 4 Blog

By Tania Menai

Joyless Privilege

They live in lavishly decorated apartments, some with astonishing views of the ocean. They have doormen opening their doors, maids cooking their meals, nannies pushing their strollers. Their kids attend private schools and practice sports in members-only clubs. Some have country houses, other enjoy their weekends in beach resorts. This is the usual lifestyle led by the Brazilian upper and upper-middle-class. Surprisingly, many aren’t happy.

By Agência Brasil Fotografias [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Agência Brasil Fotografias [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

As Brazil sinks into economic turmoil and continues to be shaken by urban violence and revelations of deep political corruption, an increasing number of the highly privileged give up their luxurious amenities,pack their bags, and leave the country for a place that can offer them better opportunities. They are lawyers, doctors, engineers, businessmen and academics who focus on their children’s future before their own.  “Raising two teenage girls in Vancouver will certainly be easier when it comes to safety”, says Ana Stein (not her real name), a therapist who moved there a year ago from Rio de Janeiro, and has helped her two daughters adapt to high school, catch up with the English language and make new friends. “Since we come from a culture of hugs and kisses, we had also work on that. People here do not display too much affection, so we had some funny situations in this regard,” she adds.

In the last two years, the number of Brazilians who had at least semi-permanently left their country to establish themselves abroad has increased by at least forty percent. Between 2011 and 2015 this increase was sixty-seven percent – from eight thousand to over thirteen thousand out of a population of 205 million.

Then and Now

The profile of today’s emigrants differs fundamentally from those who left in the 1980s without their families, knowledge of a second language or even proper documentation. At the time, most were without formal higher education and therefore worked in housekeeping, landscaping, construction, or childcare, anything that would let them survive and send some money back home. The goal for most was to eventually return to Brazil and retire surrounded by their family.

The new Brazilian emigrants are in their 40s, speak English, are moving with spouses and kids, and cannot wait to see their children flourish in good schools in countries like United States, Australia, Canada, Israel or Europe. They sell their apartments and cars and don’t look back.

By Surian (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Surian (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Yet life is definitely no cakewalk for many of these emigrants. Well-connected professionals back home, most now lack a business network and therefore are compelled to significantly downgrade their professional status. Some start out again as students on student visas, pursuing MBAs or language studies, others become investors which, under certain conditions, may allow them to apply for a green card in the U.S., yet again others apply for legal residency before leaving Brazil so they can hit the ground running. This is particularly so for Brazilians emigrating to Canada, a country that welcomes people with higher education

Such was the case of Betina Z. Cynamon and her husband, both in their 40s, and their two sons, age 15 and 6, who moved to Vancouver in the summer of 2015 to escape the daily violence that consumes their hometown, Rio de Janeiro, and live among those that share their social values they appreciate. Fluent in English and with solid careers in Brazil, they had spent an entire year prior to their departure dealing with the paperwork as well as connecting with schools in their new home country. The decision to leave their near and dear was not an easy one.

“We left our families and close friends behind, not to mention good careers. We are very frustrated with our professional options here, but the kids are adapting better every day. This is what gives us strength”, says Betina. “Plus, seeing what Brazil is going through right now, we know we made the right decision.”

Catering to the needs of emigrants has spurred an entire new industry. A number of Brazilian real state agencies, law offices and business consultancies have popped up in Miami, Orlando, Lisbon and Tel Aviv. The owners help the newcomers navigate immigration laws, search for suitable neighborhoods, and explore schools and job options. Israel has recently announced a fund of $470,000 to assist the relocation efforts of the almost five hundred Jewish Brazilians who made aliyah only last year and many of whom have to learn Hebrew from scratch. An additional 750 immigrants are expected in Israel by the end of this year.

More than 110,000 Brazilians have moved to Portugal, reestablishing old family ties to obtain a Portuguese passport and thus gain a foothold in the European Union. In fact, Brazilians now top the list of non-nationals in Portugal, accounting for about eleven thousand immigrants.

Make no mistake. Brazilians are attached to their land and culture – they know well the meaning of saudade or “longing” – so this new willingness to sever all ties to Brazil is quite shocking to New York-based anthropologist Maxine Margolis, an expert on Brazilian emigration and author of three books on the subject.

In a recent interview she said that this current wave of immigrants is “very bad news to Brazil: the country is losing the human capital needed to re-establish its economy.”  The second bad news is this wave doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.

As they say it in Brazil to the last one to leave, “please, turn out the light.”

*TOP PHOTO CREDIT: By Agência Brasil [CC BY 3.0 br ], via Wikimedia Commons


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