scorecardI left NYC and moved to Rio de Janeiro – now I live in a huge apartment and can pay my student loans
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I left NYC and moved to Rio de Janeiro – now I live in a huge apartment and can pay my student loans

Carla Vianna   

I left NYC and moved to Rio de Janeiro – now I live in a huge apartment and can pay my student loans
LifeThelife3 min read
  • In 2020, Carla Vianna was sharing a $2,250 studio apartment in New York with her Brazilian partner.
  • She knew it was time to move when she started using her savings to keep up with rent payments.

When my partner and I moved to Brazil in October 2020, I was heartbroken to leave New York City. But months of lockdown in our 300-square-foot studio had worn off the city's "tiny-living" charm.

We moved to NYC in summer 2018, and my partner had promised me "two winters." He grew up in Rio de Janeiro's tropical heat and wanted to return.

Relocating wouldn't be difficult: My parents immigrated to US from Brazil before I was born, gifting me double citizenship. But I had never imagined living there, especially when it meant leaving the relative safety of the US behind.

In late 2019, I left a stable journalism job to become a travel blogger. Then the pandemic hit — I was newly self-employed facing a decimated travel industry. I lost most of my work and began chipping away at my savings. Brazil won me over when I realized my income would stretch five to six times as far there as in the US.

My quality of life has improved exponentially — here's what it costs to live and work remotely in Rio de Janeiro

Rio is far from the cheapest city in Latin America. But with the US dollar valued at five times the Brazilian real, living comfortably here is much more attainable than it is in Manhattan.

Cheap rent plays a big part in keeping costs down. My partner and I paid $2,250 a month for a studio in NYC. In Rio, we pay 5,000 reals, or about $1,000, for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with a home office and 24-hour doorman. We split that cost, so rent costs me about 2,500 reals a month.

After relocating to Rio in October 2020, I pivoted to freelance writing. I lived off my savings for a couple of months until I'd landed enough work to cover my living expenses. This was much more sustainable in Rio than in New York. I continued to build my travel blog.

My writing business now brings in between $4,000 and $7,000 monthly from freelance copywriting and journalism work with US companies. My blog generates a few hundred dollars in affiliate-link income and ad revenue each month.

I also create travel content for brands on Instagram and TikTok. This year, I've worked with Google, Priceline, and Priority Pass, among others.

My monthly budget is 10,365 reals. It includes rent, electricity, internet, groceries, shopping, beauty-salon services, restaurant meals, and outings with friends. Most of the travel I do falls under business expenses.

My living expenses each month:

  • Rent (including property taxes and condominium fees): 2,500 reals
  • Electricity bill: 100 to 250 reals
  • High-speed internet: 75 reals
  • Gas: 25 reals
  • Cleaner: 800 reals
  • Up-front moving costs (most apartments don't come with stoves or fridges): 6,000 reals for a stove, fridge, and washing machine, which my boyfriend and I split

I've achieved a level of financial freedom I didn't have in Manhattan

My neighborhood is among the most expensive in Brazil. Our apartment is on a canopied street two blocks from Ipanema Beach, and I sometimes spot monkeys outside my window.

I eat at high-end restaurants, travel at least once a month, and hire someone to help clean my apartment — all while paying off nearly $9,000 in student-loan debt.

I mostly cook at home Monday through Friday and spend about 400 to 500 reals on groceries each week. My partner and I dine out at least twice a week, usually with friends. We try to spend under 2,000 reals a month on restaurant trips, but we often go over.

Hiring a cleaner was a big culture shock for me. I never had one growing up, but it's the norm in upper-middle-class households in Brazil. It's been a real benefit, and I've developed a close relationship with our housekeeper; we often swap gossip and recipes, and she gives me local travel tips.

When I first arrived in Rio, I was too afraid to leave my apartment

I grew up hearing from my family how dangerous Brazil could be. "Leave your phone at home," they'd say. "Don't wear flashy jewelry. Stay alert." Their advice kept me up at night. I cocooned myself at home for the first few months. I wouldn't even go to the beach alone.

As COVID-19 cases decreased in Rio, I started to meet people. Many were expats or digital nomads who had fallen in love with Rio's vacationlike lifestyle. Their confidence exploring the city ignited my own.

It took me almost a year to realize Rio de Janeiro is divided: It has the protected upper class and the rest of the population.

Living in Ipanema, a wealthy neighborhood in the city's tourist-friendly South Zone, is vastly different from living in the favelas nearby. My neighborhood is heavily policed, which reduces violent crime. While cellphone muggings can happen, especially during peak tourist season, I feel mostly safe day-to-day.

Because my income is in a strong currency, I can experience the best of Brazil. I recognize this privilege. It's my daily reminder to support my local businesses and fight against rental-rate hikes — even if I can afford them — because they make local inflation worse than it already is.