How to Find a Place to Live in Rio de Janeiro

Luckily, we went and did the groundwork ourselves and are reporting back so you know before you go. These are our top tips for how to find somewhere to live in Rio de Janeiro, whether it’s long term, short term, on any type of budget.

Moving to Rio de Janeiro? Finding somewhere to live isn’t always the easiest task in the city, and you’ll find a lot of news about rooms or apartments for rent is by word of mouth.

How to Find Somewhere to Live in Rio de Janeiro (Blog Post) --- The Borderless Project

How to Find an Apartment in Rio de Janeiro: Short Term

If you’re staying for short term, obviously AirBnb has the market nailed down, and is a lot more reliable than some Brazilian versions. Short term rentals are best found through AirBnb or Hostelworld (sometimes they have apartments in addition to hostels). Make sure to read the full description though. Many Brazilians rent full apartments, as well as individual rooms to stay in (while they occupy the rest of the house). Make sure you know if others will be there!

Because AirBnb regulates better than local sites, you can generally trust listings you find here. Of course, some make it sound nicer than it is or fluff it up in another way, but with everything the site offers you don’t have to worry about paying for an apartment that doesn’t exist or things like that.

How to Find an Apartment in Rio de Janeiro: Long Term

To find a long-term apartment in Rio, you’re going to have your work cut out for you a little more. If money isn’t an issue, it’s a lot easier, but if you’re trying to pay even remotely close to what Brazilians pay, you’ll have to work for it.

Rental Sites

While some American sites such as AirBnb exist and are definitely an option for long-term, the non-gringo prices are on the Brazilian sites. Easyquarto is the most popular local room/apartment rental site. Heads up though- it’s all in Portuguese, and you’ll likely have to message people in Portuguese too. Also, you have to be very careful about the type of situation you get yourself into- know which red flags to look more (more on this under “Everything You Need to Know”).

Expat Groups

There are quite a few forums online targeted at foreigners moving to Rio de Janeiro, and can be an amazing resource for finding a great space (and being able to do all the communicating in English as you find/secure it!). InterNations, ExpatExchange, and AngloInfo are just some of the sites that have forums (InterNations is by far the largest and most extensive network), and you can find apartment listings as well as post that you are seeking something. Also, they’re a great way to start meeting people in your new city. People here have all gone through what you’re going through, so you’re sure to find some helpful expats.

Through Friends/Connections

My personal recommendation is to find a room through connections. If this is even remotely an option, it will work out so much better and easier every single time. Every time.

Do know someone? Ask them to ask everyone they know. Maybe post on Facebook that you’re looking to rent! This is how you find the best deals and end up in the best living situations. Local connections are goldmines (and local friends are great at making sure you’re getting a fair deal), but I know that few people have these connections going in.

Don’t know a soul in Brazil? I recommend reaching out to people on the Facebook groups or expat forums. Even if nobody responds or there are no current postings suiting your needs, start talking to people directly. Maybe you saw they’re also looking, or they’ve been posting about something else and clearly have been living in Rio for awhile. Are you already in Brazil? Start going to expat events. Ask people how they found their apartment. Do they have a landlord? See if there are other properties they are renting. Are they living with Brazilian roommates? See if the roommates have heard of anything. You’ll have to be a bit aggressive to find what you need in this largely word-of-mouth network, so go full force from the start and save yourself a ton of time (and money). There are also a ton of language exchange events, expat soccer teams, or other types of places to meet expats, and someone is bound to know of something! It sounds like a lot of effort, and it is, but in the long run these approaches end up working so much better than the online rental sites for foreigners.

Lastly, my personal favorite solution, make connections in your hostel. If you don’t want to bother with searching online before you’re in Rio de Janeiro, I recommend staying in a hostel for a few weeks while you look. Not a hotel. A hostel where other young people are. Try not to stay in one of the most popular crazy party ones, but anyone where people talk about the awesome staff. Maybe even one in an area you’d like to live (doesn’t matter that much, though). Get there, and start asking around. The staff obviously live in the city, and usually have connections. They can always tell you where to look. Also, you may meet other newcomers to the city in the same situation and you can join forces. In my experience, this is the next best thing to having a local friend already (if you’re willing to live in a hostel for a few weeks). You will make local friends through the staff, and you can still do the other approaches above at the same time.

Facebook Groups for Students

If you’re a student (or of student age, somewhere in your 20s), you can also find many groups on Facebook where other students or renters post available spaces. REI Moradis is a big one. Or, you can find postings in groups for any of the universities (UFRJ, UERJ, PUC). Likewise, you can post asking about a room for rent in any of them.

How to Find Somewhere to Live in Rio de Janeiro (Blog Post) --- The Borderless Project

Everything You Need to Know About Renting in Rio de Janeiro

The Types of Places You Can Rent

Coming from the USA where all my friends live in apartments with other friends and do whatever they want, I was shocked to find so few young people renting in Rio de Janeiro. The thing is, most twenty-somethings in Brazil live at home with their family. Culturally, that’s what people do. Also, even for those who do want to live on their own, it can be very hard to get your own place. This is only really possible if their family owns the apartment, or multiple wealthy family members or friends are willing to co-sign on the place.

So, finding an apartment of all young people renting a room out is challenging. You’ll find a lot of families renting out their spare room, university students who live in shared-room apartments with bunk beds (the few cheap options, know for wild partying and obviously not for everyone), and you’ll find apartments with multiple rooms that you can rent as a whole (and fill yourself- if you get lucky, you find another expat who has done this and can just fill one space). If you’re very lucky, you can also find homes (in areas like Santa Teresa), or a room in these. Because these are not in an apartment building and more informally-managed, you may be able to find these with young people living in them and rent just one room.

Weird House Rules for Renters

Whether it’s on AirBnB, EasyQuarto, Facebook, or sometimes even an email about a room from a new friend, read rules for renters carefully. You’ll see many little things that seem like side notes, stating bizarre rules they have and you might wonder if you’re reading correctly (you are). It’s not uncommon for these postings to say: no guests, no use of common areas, no use of kitchen, use of kitchen allowed during day only, no “vices” (actually), no noise, must be gone most of the day, etc. (These are all exact examples taken from EasyQuarto.)

This will mainly be an issue with finding somewhere online, but it’s important to consider that these are factors when renting a room in Brazil and are all points worth clarifying.

Take these seriously, because as ridiculous as they may sound, these people mean it. If a listing does not say these, make sure to clarify on any that matter to you if you pursue a listing, even through a connection (better be on the safe side). Think you’ll have friends potentially coming to visit you at any point? Make sure that will be allowed. Wonder if a boyfriend or girlfriend would be allowed to stay the night? Ask. Want to be able to play your music on your laptop or have friends over for dinner? Ask all of it. Frankly, you should be able to do all of these in a place you pay to live in, but that idea of freedom in your apartment is more of a sense of entitlement here, and Brazilians have their own codes for cohabitation.

Again, this is why it’s best to try to find somewhere through connections. All those cool, young friends who have a place? They probably don’t care what you do, but not everyone will have cool options like that and have to choose between some of those rules above.

Tips for Using Sites Like EasyQuarto

Sort of like the Craiglist of finding a room in Brazil, Easyquarto and similar sites are largely unmonitored. Users post, you respond, you figure it out amongst yourselves. When using Easyquarto, be very wary of posts and make sure to meet and see a space before ever sending any money. Try to avoid deposits even when you’ve begun renting (or at least make sure it’s an amount you’re willing to risk since they don’t often get returned). Make sure to really investigate anything you find on a site like this, and be prepared to find quite a few fails before a good option (unless you get lucky!).

Also, notice that announcements that have English descriptions are usually at higher prices. Work the Portuguese if you can.

If a place doesn’t have a lot of pictures, be suspicious. It probably exists, but it’s probably tiny or old or something. One of the many reasons you always see it first. Make sure to keep an eye out for maid’s rooms being passed off as real rooms (more on this below).

*If a place says it is located in a “communidade”, it means “favela” (slum). Many will say they are in Ipanema or Copacabana as their location, but the description will say they are located in a communidade. This is not a gated community or something else, it’s a nice way of saying slum. (Read more on living in favelas below).

Most importantly, make sure you read all of the weird rules they put (details below).

How to Find Somewhere to Live in Rio de Janeiro (Blog Post) --- The Borderless Project

Where to Live in Rio de Janeiro: Neighborhoods

Zona Sul

Wondering where to live in Rio de Janeiro as an expat? (Or a study abroad student or long-term traveler or whatever you are?!) Zona Sul is where all of the best neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro are found, and it has the best places to live for expats and foreigners. It’s safe, clean, and probably the only place you’ll really hang out (that may change after the 6-month mark depending on the type of person you are/how integrated you get). A huge community of foreigners and expats lives here, and it’s the area that looks like the Rio de Janeiro you expected. There’s something for everyone here, you might even end up trying out several places to live. Popular neighborhoods in Zona Sul are:

  • Leblon: Quiet, very high-end, very clean and safe. Fancy restaurants, nightclubs and shopping.
  • Ipanema: Also upscale but more accessible than Leblon. Beachier vibe, full of bars, restaurants and shopping. Biggest place for tourists, endless things to do, one of the best neighborhoods and easily the most popular place to stay for travelers.
  • Flamengo: Many Brazilian students live here. It’s a cheaper alternative that blends a bit with Botafogo. Local bars and restaurants on most streets, has it’s own beach but it’s not good one for swimming. Pretty centrally-located between downtown and the beaches.
  • Santa Teresa: Beautiful, artsy neighborhood on a hilltop near downtown. Usually a favorite neighborhood of anyone who visits, but the location is it’s downfall (or for many creative types, it’s appeal). A bit hard to access as you have the hill between you and most public transportation (only 2 buses go up, can be hard to find cabs up the hill at night, very steep walk up during day, not safe to walk up at night). Close to downtown for work but about 5 metro stops from the beach.
  • Copacabana: Cheaper alternative to Ipanema, favorite of expats and study abroad students who want to live near the beach. Also home to older people who can afford it. Many local bars and restaurants, also touristy but larger so more spread out. A ton here.
  • Botafogo: Another well-loved, friendly neighborhood, Botafogo is safe and clean, has a ton of bars and restaurants but fewer tourists than the beachside neighborhoods. One metro stop from the beach. More casual than the other more expensive neighborhoods, but still very nice. Many families and young people. Often loved by expats who are staying for a longer period of time.
  • Lapa: The more hardcore bohemian neighborhood, Lapa is all grunge. The cheapest of all of them, Lapa definitely has it’s fans for being affordable, the nightlife center of the city, and very close to downtown (if you’ll be working there, you can walk). You’ll find many artists and students here (and a lot of people who live on the street).

(The North Zone is where many of the public universities are located, but you’ll find that most who study at them still choose to live in Zona Sul).

Living in Favelas

If you consider living in a favela because you think it will be much cheaper, chances are it won’t be (since you’re not from the community). Rooms in favelas usually cost just a little less, but you will often spend that or more on transportation up the hill. However, some like it because you can rent your own place and have more freedom. You rarely will live with a family, or have any of the other “weird rules” listed above. And frankly, you will see the local culture on a personal level you don’t get in Ipanema. You will definitely get to practice your Portuguese.

While this is probably really surprising if you haven’t been to Rio de Janeiro yet, renting a place in a favela (slum) is a new “trend”, for lack of a better word. A cheap alternative (and sometimes considered more of an “authentic” experience by gringos who really want to feel like they’re in Brazil), living in a favela is something to tread with caution. While Rio’s slums in Zona Sul aren’t all as bad as they used to be…They are still slums. There is still a lot of drug-dealing (which comes with it’s associated violence), there are sometimes conflicts with police or rival gangs, and frankly, outsiders aren’t always welcome. Not to stereotype, but that’s what goes down and just because some people do it doesn’t mean you’re immune from the reality of living in a slum/

Brazilians will never recommend living in them, and generally think people who do it are crazy white foreigners. When you arrive, you’ll probably meet a good handful of backpackers or more bohemian-style expats who call a certain favela home.

What I’ll say, if you’re considering this, is to just be informed. Do your homework. Don’t be obnoxious and be really honest about what makes you feel comfortable. Make sure to meet the renter beforehand, whether you found them online or through a friend. Be able to ask how often things happen in the neighborhood and have them give you an honest answer. If you aren’t sure, look for something else. Make sure the person renting you the room is in good standing with the community. Do people say hi to them when you guys walk down the street?

While foreigners live everywhere, even in the slums that you should definitely never go into, there are a few that are safer/more popular options. Vidigal (above Leblon, home of the first favela hostel) is almost more foreigners than locals now. Cantagalo (above Copacabana & Ipanema) also is common with foreigners, but has had some more turbulence since the World Cup. Leme and Babilonia (above the Leme end of Copacabana) are generally quieter spots, but the streets are a lot more dead walking home at night (which makes some feel less safe).

Just don’t be stupid. Please! Trust your gut. If you decide to live in a favela in Rio, for whatever reason, take responsibility for your decision and know that the rivalries or situations with police can change at any time. Even if someone says, So many foreigners live in ____, it’s fine! Just know that can change from one day to the next (and does). Be smart. You will have an “authentic” experience no matter where you live in the city, so don’t push your comfort zone too far when you don’t need to.

Price Ranges

Trying to budget around the cost of rent? As you’ll see very quickly, renting an apartment in Rio de Janeiro may come at any price. The cheapest rooms for rent will start around $175USD per month, and as you get into chicer territory the price can go up infinitely (think, thousands and thousands). The standard price to rent a room in one of the best neighborhoods is usually around $500USD per month, and a studio or one-bedroom apartment usually rents around $700-900USD per month (these are for the nicest Zona Sul neighborhoods).

If you’re on a student/English teacher budget, aim for something around R1,000. Brazilian students and young people (without wads of cash) usually pay about R800-1000 for rooms in a shared apartment in Zona Sul (often with other young people).

If you’re renting in a place that just rents out to foreigners (like the ones advertised on the study abroad forums by landlords, not students), it will usually be around R 1,000- R 1,400. This is slightly overpaying for a room in a shared place that isn’t brand new and awesome, but converting to dollars or euros or whatever you use, it may not be too big of a difference and you might have to accept you’ll overpay as a foreigner if you can’t find anything else.

Often you’ll see R1,000 or a bit more for a tiny room with a twin bed in a spare room in a family’s apartment in Zona Sul, with a million rules about what you can’t do. This is overpriced and you’re being taken advantage of. These should be closer to R800. This is something you’ll see a lot of on EasyQuarto. Leading to my next point…

In general, any apartments or rooms for rent that you see on an Expat network or for international students is generally going to be priced little higher than it should be, but it can be hard to work around this as a foreigner. For most, although if depends on which country you’re coming from, hopefully the change won’t be very noticeable in your home currency.

If you’re not on a tight budget, you’ll find things for up to R 2,000 or more for very nice apartments or rooms in Zona Sul. They can go up to R 6,000. The low end may be a small one bedroom apartment, or big room in an apartment, and the high-end is usually a full apartment with more than one bedroom.

Maid’s Rooms

Because Brazil is so P.C., these tiny closets of rooms in Rio are called maid’s rooms. They are usually just big enough to fit a twin size bed, the door often hits the bed when it swings open, and there’s no closet or window. To be honest, young people on a budget go for this because they’re cheap. But many people will try to rent these little rooms out to foreigners as a real room, but it clearly is not a real room, so don’t fall for it. A room like this should cost anywhere from R500-650. Even then, you’re paying for a closet, but that’s what you pay for a closet a block from the beach in Copacabana.

For those of you looking for a really cheap place to rent, you can look for a maid’s room. If you’re looking online, search for apartments to rent by price and they’ll quickly and clearly show up in the low end, but they’re also great for asking around for. Many Brazilians consider them throwaway rooms and never use them. Have you made a few Brazilian friends? Ask if they have a maid’s room and want to rent it. Usually, they haven’t even thought of it and the idea of it taking down all of their rent prices? Usually a welcome idea. And they get to live with a fun foreigner!

If you go to friend’s places and see the empty maid room (this will happen a lot), definitely ask if you’re interested. My best living situations came from maid’s rooms that were in the apartments of young people who never thought to rent it out. The all rented it to me for very cheap- it was basically free money for them so any little bit was welcome!

Living in a Hostel

I was in between apartments for over a month, and went to a hostel as a temporary solution while I looked for a place. I ended up working there and staying the whole month. It was free, and I was teaching, so I was spending next to nothing and saving up for a lot of traveling. I made a ton of friends with employees, other travelers, and many local’s friends who would come in. I practiced Portuguese every day. The cleaning ladies told me stories of the newest gossip in their neighborhood. The young students who worked there took me out and showed me local spots. It was the first time, after 6 months in Brazil, that I actually made good local friends I saw frequently.

Honestly, I had the time of my life living in the hostel, and it was the icing on my year-abroad-teaching-English cake, so if you’re open to staying in a dorm room for a while in exchange for the experience of it, do it. That hostel is also where I met Henry (the other half of The Borderless Team).

My last, and favorite approach (although admittedly not for everyone and quite temporary). If, at any point, something doesn’t work out, you can live in a hostel (it’s not that uncommon here). You want something really cheap (or free), can’t find somewhere to live quickly enough, you get kicked out, your place is too expensive, you want to live in a new area, whatever- whatever your reason is that you don’t have somewhere to live, consider living in a hostel. It can be a short-term solution or you can do it the whole time you’re there, up to you. In Rio de Janeiro, hostels will hire foreigners to work in exchange for a bed. Maybe you bartend twice a week. Maybe you work at the front desk some mornings. The ultimate trick for living in Rio de Janeiro on a budget is working in a hostel and getting a free bed (and usually breakfast and drinks as well).

Have any other question about finding a place to live in Rio that I didn’t answer here? More on how to find an apartment? Questions on where to live? Ask me! Keep in mind that this article is as of 2015, so prices are likely to change a bit, but most of the information should hold true for a long time to come (as things tend to in Brazil). Finding an apartment in Rio will be a challenge at first, but use everything I or anyone else has told you and you’ve already won half the battle of uncovering how it all works. And the best part: Once you find an apartment, the fun can really begin!

Want more advice on living in Rio de Janeiro? You can find all of our tips here!

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