Cynthia Fujikawa Nes

Cynthia Fujikawa Nes

The Brazil Business


Jobs for Non-Portuguese Speakers in Brazil

Cynthia Fujikawa Nes

Cynthia Fujikawa Nes

The Brazil Business


Not everyone has the money, time and will to learn a new language. That's why we prepared this article, to discuss the real need of knowing Portuguese when considering working in Brazil.

With the interdependence growing between nations worldwide, it’s becoming more and more common to find people following international careers. But while pursuing this goal, one question remains: is it really necessary to speak the language of the country I’m seeking to work in?

We all know how difficult it is to dedicate time to learn a foreign language and how much money and studying is involved. So, unless it’s a requirement or a will, we won’t do it. Period. By the way, if it’s your will to learn Portuguese, look at this article.

Following the fundamental market logics, the areas that are more likely to employ a foreigner that doesn’t speak Portuguese are the ones where there’s a shortage of skilled professionals. Why would a national company hire someone that doesn’t speak Portuguese, if there are people who perfectly speak the language and are able to do the job?

Unless you are a very lucky person or recommended by an influential person, that won’t happen. You have to have an extra something, a differentiation factor that can compensate for your lack of Portuguese skills.

Bear in mind that foreigners that speak quality Portuguese in Brazil are really scarce, so it might be good for you to make some effort to learn the language.

Speaking English is already a good start

Though this article is entitled Jobs for Non-Portuguese Speakers in Brazil, which would include everyone that speaks other languages but Portuguese, we will assume that you are at least an English speaker, native or not.

That’s because not only is English the most spoken second language in Brazil, but also because it’s really difficult to find people communicating in languages other than Portuguese or English in working environments in Brazil.

Of all the world’s languages, communications in Spanish are more likely to happen here, but despite being a language similar to Portuguese, there are less Spanish speakers in Brazil than English speakers. Moreover, the amount of Brazilians that are able to communicate in English is already small, around 11% of the population.

What are your intentions while working in Brazil?

Obviously if the intentions are to live permanently in Brazil, establish relations and place roots in the country, the recommendation is to learn Portuguese.

However, if you are meaning to move with your family to Brazil and just work here for a period, without attaching your life to the country, it might not be necessary to learn Portuguese at all.

First, it’s important to consider how much your work depends on your relationship with people. The most you need people to do your job the better your Portuguese should be, right? Not all of your co-workers and clients will be able to speak your native language.

If you are a professional from Social and Human Sciences, I dare to say that it’s impossible to work in Brazil without knowing at least a little Portuguese, unless you are coming to occupy a management position. It’s not uncommon to see foreign CFOs, CEO’s and other C-level executive working in Brazilian companies without being fluent in Portuguese.

As for professionals coming from an Exact Sciences and more technical formation, life gets easier, mainly because engineers, technicians and other technology professionals are missing in Brazil. So even if the foreigner doesn't speak Portuguese their expertise is greatly valued and needed.

Multinationals are known for having multicultural staff. Depending on the company's’ policies some professionals don’t have to write or speak Portuguese at all. But of course it depends on the area these professionals work in.

Work activities where Portuguese is essential

  • Communications - for obvious reasons. Advertising, writing, interviewing, marketing etc are all done in the official language
  • All activities that put you in constant contact with clients, consumers, patients (that’s for you doctors!) etc
  • Companies where not a single soul speaks English or other foreign languages. Unless you are the boss, at some point in your work you will have to report to someone
  • Legal - all activities that involve some knowledge of Brazilian laws require fluency in Portuguese
  • Sales – selling is all about persuading. How you are going to persuade people in Brazil if you don’t speak their language?
  • Human Relations – HR people are dealing with the entire staff of the companies, from the maid to the CEO

Working areas for Non-Portuguese speakers

  • Oil & Gas industry – communications on a drilling platform, for example, are usually conducted in English, because this working environment commonly recruits people from several different countries
  • Information Technology – the IT segment follows international rules and most of the operations are in English. In large multinational IT companies it is possible to work without speaking Portuguese, mainly because there’s a huge shortage of skilled labour in this area in Brazil. As for IT professionals that work internally, supporting the other workers of a company, they will need to know the language
  • Scientific research – the laws of Science in general are universal. You can perfectly invent and manipulate formulas for a Brazilian company without speaking a word in Portuguese
  • Academic research - depending on the object of study it’s not necessary to know Portuguese. If necessary, the research can be copied in Portuguese by translators afterwards
  • Teaching – native foreign language teachers are greatly valued in Brazil and they don’t have to speak Portuguese, unless it’s a specific requirement of the school. Also, a lot of academic professors in Brazil don’t speak Portuguese either, especially in MBA programmes
  • Technicians in general – if you don’t have to deal with people often and you know how to do your business well, there’s no need to be fluent in Portuguese
  • Civil construction, Architecture and Design – delineating projects in these areas doesn't require skills in the Portuguese language
  • Finance – as you are dealing only with numbers, results and solutions there’s no specific need to speak Portuguese