Brazil - A Country Overview

Information on Brazil; its place geographically, history, government, climate, security, tourism and foreigners living in Brazil...


Brazil’s eastern side is entirely made up of coastline, with 7,367 Km on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The rest of Brazil is surrounded by a series of land borders, shared with 10 other South American nations.

With a surface area of 8,511,965 Km2, Brazil is almost as wide as it is long, stretching across almost half of South America. There are several river basins and networks throughout the country, with the most famous and most extensive being the Amazon Basin.

Brazil has a varied landscape: rainforests, wetland, mountainous areas, beaches and scrubland are among the numerous forms of terrain that make up this large country.

Brazil is well-connected through air travel, with 67 airports, 28 of which link to international flights. Several airports are currently in the process of being improved, in preparation for the 2014 World Cup that is due to be held in the country.

Once in Brazil, there are a number of transport options. With around 1.8 million Km of road, bus and car travel is the most common way to get around the country. The railway system is less popular, often used for trains transporting goods or, more recently, specific tourist trains, rather than a means of getting from place to place.

Metro systems exist in the major Brazilian cities, including Brasilia, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.


Brazil became part of the Portuguese empire in 1500, which held control over the region until the country’s liberation in 1822.

After gaining independence, a series of coups made the Brazilian political system relatively unstable: a situation that persisted until 1988, when the first Brazilian constitution was formally introduced.

In 2002, Brazil received its first working-class president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly referred to as 'Lula'. A former trade union representative, President Lula pushed to reduce poverty in Brazil, whilst maintaining a strict policy on government spending. President Lula was succeeded, after eight years, by the first female president of Brazil, Dilma Vana Rousseff.

Politics and Government

Brazil is a federative republic, headed by a democratically elected President.

The first constitution of Brazil was introduced in 1988. Since 1989, only popularly elected candidates have stood as government leaders. It is illegal not to vote in federal elections as a Brazilian citizen.


Brazil’s growing economy means it is fast becoming one of the leading players in the world economic market. The country is a member of the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund, and has an open policy to foreign trade.

Brazil has a wealth of natural resources that make up a large portion of its economy, including iron ore, oil, and pulp and paper. In addition, land cultivation in the form of both arable and pastoral farming is a dominant sector of Brazil’s GDP, export industry and job market.

Despite an overall expansion of the economy in recent years, there are many in the country who still live in poverty, with one third of the population of Brazil’s biggest cities (São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro) living in slums (favelas).


Due to its location between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, Brazil’s climate can be broadly considered as tropical. However, the size of the country means that the climate can vary across different areas, with average temperatures and rainfall tending to differ, sometimes considerably.

Brazil’s summer season lasts from December to March, with winter from June to September.

  • For more detailed information about the climate of Brazil, including tables of average temperatures and rainfall, see the Brazilian Embassy website


Brazil is commonly assumed to have a very high crime rate. Although crime rates continue to be relatively high in comparison to many other countries, in recent years there have been efforts to reduce these, with some success. In particular, measures have been put into place to restrict and control the sale and use of firearms, as well as to introduce tighter restrictions on the authorities, in order to reduce levels of violent police action.

It is advisable to remain safety-conscious at all times. Incidents of theft are not uncommon, ranging from pick-pocketing to mugging and car-jacking. Due to the large infiltration of tourists into Brazil for the Carnival parades, foreigners may be more vulnerable to petty crime at this time. Tourists are recommended to conceal all valuables, including jewelry and watches, and to dress conservatively in order to reduce the likelihood of being targeted.

It is suggested that drivers keep their windows closed and doors locked at all times, particularly when stopping at traffic lights.

Crime rates are higher in the cities than in more rural areas, particularly around the favelas, which tourists are generally advised to avoid.

Drug trafficking is a major problem in Brazil. Penalties for such activity are severe and are likely to involve extensive prison sentences; therefore it is advisable to avoid contact with illegal substances when in Brazil.

Foreigners Living in the Country

Throughout its history, Brazil has been home to huge numbers of foreign immigrants, and continues to attract many people from all over the world. It is estimated that over two million people born overseas are formally employed in Brazil, and foreign investment, particularly from the US, is vital to the country’s economy.


Brazil has a large and growing tourist industry: there were 7.8 million tourist visitors to the country in 2010. Most people visit Brazil for its natural sites, for example the Amazon rainforest or the numerous beaches, or conversely to experience the bustle of cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. There is also a growing trend towards medical tourism in Brazil, where foreigners head to the country solely to receive a medical procedure: in particular, cosmetic surgery.

The most popular destinations for tourists in Brazil are Rio de Janeiro, Foz do Iguaçu and Florianópolis. Tourists are attracted to the beaches of Florianópolis, the waterfalls of Foz do Iguaçu (Iguaçu Falls), and the beach-side sprawling city life of Rio de Janeiro, famed for sights such as the hilltop statue, Christ the Redeemer, and its vibrant culture.

  • For more information about the tourist industry in Brazil, see the Ministry of Tourism (Ministério do Turismo) website

Further Information