Interview with Jean-Pol Rihoux, expatriate in Brazil

Mondassur met Jean-Pol Rihoux, who has been living in Brazil for several years. Jean-Pol has launched a blog where he shares his chronicles to help us discover Brazil, a country that has become his own.

Could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I spent my youth in the province of Luxembourg in Belgium and then studied at the University of Liège. I spent most of my professional career in the public sector in Brussels, in a department responsible for providing financial assistance to companies.

Retired since the end of March 2017, I live in Brazil in Goiânia, the capital of the state of Goiás in central Brazil.

What made you decide to move abroad and choose Brazil?

My wife is Brazilian and I’ve always wanted to discover other countries and live elsewhere. When the time came to retire, the choice was obvious: I was going to live in Brazil, a country I’d visited several times before.

Did you speak Portuguese when you arrived in Brazil?

Yes, in everyday life with my wife.

Have you adapted easily to your new Brazilian life? Do you socialize with other expatriates, French or otherwise?

Adapting to life in Brazil was no problem at all. In Brussels, I used to socialize with Brazilians, and here in Goiânia, I have virtually no contact with other Europeans, nor do I seek any. I moved to Brazil to live with the locals.

What cultural changes in everyday life have surprised you the most?

Although Brazil is a blend of European, African and Amerindian cultures, the European contribution remains predominant, particularly in the South, South-East and Central-West regions. There’s no real culture shock for a European moving to Brazil, as there can be in Africa or Asia. Integrating in Brazil is no problem, especially as Brazilians are naturally welcoming and smiling.

You have a personal blog. Can you tell us about it?

In each of my blog columns,
Living in Brazil
I tackle a particular theme to help you discover Brazil: tourism, history, geography and nature, culture, the economy or everyday life.

Do you plan to return to your home country one day? Why?

My only ties in Europe are my 3 sisters, several nieces and nephews and a few friends, all of whom are very welcome in Brazil. I adapted to Brazil and its climate, to the Brazilians, their way of life and their cheerfulness. You will understand that I have no intention of returning to live in my native Belgium.

What advice would you give to people looking to move to Brazil?

Few foreigners live in Brazil. The country has a population of almost 215 million, of which less than 0.5% are foreigners, according to the latest official figures. With almost 25,000 people (including 19,000 on temporary contracts), the French make up the largest European contingent. Brazil is also a very small international tourist destination. Did you know that in 2019 (before the COVID pandemic), only 6.3 million foreigners (mainly Argentinians) visited Brazil… that’s fewer visitors than in Belgium! I mention these figures so that future expatriates are well aware that everything in Brazil (homes, restaurants, hotels, stores…) is adapted to Brazilian tastes and expectations. And it’s best to learn to get by in Portuguese, as few people speak any other language.

We also need to pay attention to one element that destabilizes the household budget and another that seriously affects it.

What about currency devaluation in Brazil?

Receiving a pension or other income in euros and living in Brazil means converting (mostly monthly) euros into Brazilian reais. As long as the real depreciates against the euro, all is well. In 2017, the euro was exchanged for 3.5 reais, and in 2020 it reached a record 7 reais. But between January and April this year, the euro fell from 6.5 reais to 5 reais. In practical terms, for a European who receives his income in euros, this means a cut of almost a quarter in his monthly income, while the prices of goods and services in Brazil have risen sharply. And what does the future hold? Among many other factors, European expatriates can look forward to a rise in the ECB’s key interest rate and a fall in the Brazilian Central Bank’s interest rate, which has jumped by around ten points in recent months.

Finally, what advice would you give about health insurance in Brazil?

As explained on the Mondassur website,
the Brazilian healthcare system
operates at two speeds. The public healthcare system is free, but in a deplorable state (dilapidated facilities, lack of staff…) and the private system is of a high standard. For an expatriate, it’s unthinkable not to opt for a private health plan. But it’s expensive: for my wife and myself, I have to spend a monthly budget of 2,000 reais, or +/- 400 euros. And the older you get, the higher your monthly payments.

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