Learn more about the country of Brazil including facts about the Brazilian people & their history, geography & maps of Brazil, and the Brazilian economy & government. Basic Brazil demographics including population, religion, GDP, topography, languages and more.
Brazil Country Profile
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History of Brazil
Brazil’s earliest inhabitants were nomadic tribes of Indians. Thousands of years ago, more than one hundred native tribal groups inhabited the land. They were hunters and foraged for fruits and berries.
The Portuguese navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral claimed Brazil for Portugal in 1500. However, for the first few decades after Cabral’s historic voyage, the Portuguese paid little attention to their new colony, and only a few trading posts grew up along the coast. Portugal’s main interest still lay in the lucrative trade with the Far East. Eventually, other European powers became interested in Brazil and Portugal, who now desired a new source of wealth, renewed their interest and hold on the region.
The Portuguese king started the settlement of Brazil by giving favored nobles grants that stretched far inland from the coast. The early settlers had difficulties with the Indians. The settlers also had to face a new and strange tropical environment and unfamiliar soil conditions. The large landowners soon discovered that if they were to run successful settlements, they needed more farm laborers. Black slaves were brought from Africa to work on plantations in the Northeast.
In the East and South, groups of people called bandeirantes roamed the Brazilian interior in search of both gold as well as Indians to sell as slaves to the plantation owners. These excursions opened large regions for more exploration and settlement. By the early 1800’s, Brazil’s first gold mines had been nearly exhausted, but a large part of the country had been permanently settled and farming had become the new dominate occupation. Descendants of the Portuguese settlers now began to think of themselves as Brazilians rather than subjects of the king of Portugal. Before they had a chance at Brazilian independence however, the French emperor Napoleon invaded Portugal. In 1808 the Portuguese royal family and more than a thousand members of the royal court fled to Brazil. For the next 14 years Rio de Janeiro was the interim capital of the Portuguese empire. In 1821, the king finally returned to his native land but left his son, Dom Pedro, to rule Brazil. The next year Dom Pedro, following the advice of José Bonifácio de Andrada, his minister of the interior, declared Brazil independent of Portugal.
Brazil remained an empire from 1822 until 1889. Dom Pedro reigned for nine years before turning over the throne to his 5-year-old son, Dom Pedro II, who became emperor in 1840 at age 14. Dom Pedro II ruled Brazil for 49 years during which the nation became larger and wealthier. Wars with Argentina (1851-52) and Paraguay (1865-70) were settled peacefully and trade was nearly doubled due to the building of railroads and the demand for rubber from the Amazon jungle. In this period of prosperity, many thousands of immigrants swelled the Brazilian population. Much of the nation’s wealth depended on slavery however, and economic growth was stopped short when slavery was abolished in 1888. Many large landowners and slaveholders demanded an overthrow of the government. Still others whom favored a republican form of government also wanted change. The old emperor eventually left Brazil and by 1891 the Republic of Brazil had its first constitution.
In the early years of the new government, the army ruled the republic which led to further political upheaval and civil war. By 1895, order was restored and Brazil had a civilian government. Brazil was becoming increasingly important in world politics and fought on the side of the Allies during World War I (1914-18). But the fall of world coffee prices during the Great Depression of the 1930’s brought new difficulties. In 1930 the civilian government was overthrown and Getúlio Vargas became dictator of Brazil. He patterned his government after the fascist regimes of Italy and Portugal. Vargas encouraged a spirit of nationalism and worked to boost the economy. Under his rule, living conditions improved and trade grew. During World War II (1939-45), Brazil fought on the side of the Allies and sent troops to Italy.
In 1945, the army forced Vargas to resign, and General Eurico Gaspar Dutra was elected to succeed him. In 1950 however, Vargas was elected back into office. Following a serious political crisis afterward, Vargas took his own life. Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira then became president.
Kubitschek told the Brazilians that they would “enjoy in five years the progress of 50 years.” He worked hard to live up to his promise. His government built a new capital and helped develop hydroelectric plants and other industries, but rising inflation and falling world coffee prices brought new economic and social problems. In 1960, Jânio Quadros was elected president, but his attempts to improve conditions in Brazil were blocked. He resigned within a year and his vice president, João Goulart, took his place. By 1964, Goulart’s leftist policies had created an even more serious economic crisis. Discontent with his government led to a revolution supported by the United States that brought the military to power. Until 1985, all of Brazil’s presidents came from the armed forces. In 1985, Tancredo de Almeida Neves, a civilian, was elected president. Neves died before his inauguration and the vice president, José Sarney, became president.
The 1989 elections were the first since 1960 in which Brazilians voted directly for the president. Fernando Collor de Mello won the presidency after a runoff election but was impeached in 1992 on charges of corruption. He resigned and was succeeded by his vice president, Itamar Franco. In 1994, Fernando Henrique Cardoso became president. He was re-elected in 1998 becoming the first president in Brazil’s history to win a second term. As president he favored policies that made Brazil attractive for foreign investment while at the same time addressing some of Brazil’s most pressing social needs.
Cardoso’s primary challenge was to stabilize the country’s failing economy. In order to avert a disaster, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stepped in and gave $41.5 billion in emergency funds and in 1999 the government reduced the value of its currency. In 2001, Cardoso announced the launch of a $6 billion anti-poverty program that included health and education programs for the poor. But the economy worsened still and the IMF had to grant further loans.
In 2002, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Worker’s Party was elected president. Da Silva, also known as Lula, was a former factory worker and labor leader. He won the election by the largest margin in Brazil’s history.
People of Brazil
Official Language: Portuguese.
Population (2010): 190 million. Brazil has the largest population in Latin America and fifth largest in the world.
Annual population growth rate: 1.02%.
Age structure: 0-14 years: 25.8% (male 24,687,656/female 23,742,998); 15-64 years: 68.1% (male 63,548,331/female 64,617,539); 65 years and over: 6.1% (male 4,712,675/female 6,769,028); Median age – 28.2 years.
Infant mortality: 28.6 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 71.97 years; male: 68.02 years; female: 76.12 years
Total fertility rate:
1.91 children born/woman
Ethnic groups: white 53.7%, mulatto (mixed white and black) 38.5%, black 6.2%, other (includes Japanese, Arab, Amerindian) 0.9%, unspecified 0.7%
Religion: Roman Catholic (nominal) 73.6%, Protestant 15.4%, Spiritualist 1.3%, Bantu/voodoo 0.3%, other 1.8%, unspecified 0.2%, none 7.4%
Education: Literacy –90.3% of adult population.
Health: Infant mortality rate –21.17/1,000.Life expectancy –73.1 years in 2010.
Work force (2009 est.): 101.7 million.
Economy of Brazil
Economy (2010 est.)
GDP (nominal exchange rate): $ 2.1 trillion.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $2.194 trillion.
Annual real growth (2010): 7.5%.
Per capita GDP (nominal exchange rate): $11,185.
Per capita GDP (purchasing power parity): $10,900.
Labor force: 90.41 million
Labor force by occupation: agriculture: 20%, industry: 14%, services: 66%
Electricity sources: fossil fuel: 8.3%, hydro: 82.7%, other: 4.6%, nuclear: 4.4%
Natural resources: Iron ore, manganese, bauxite, nickel, uranium, gemstones, oil, wood, and aluminum. Brazil has 14% of the world’s renewable fresh water.
Exports partners: US 19.8%, China 7.5%, Argentina 7.3%, Germany 5.2%, Netherlands 4.3%
Import partners: US 19.6%, Germany 8.6%, Argentina 8.5%, China 6.2%, Nigeria 5.6%
Agriculture (6% of GDP): Products –soybeans, coffee, sugarcane, cocoa, rice, livestock, corn, oranges, cotton, wheat, and tobacco.
Industry (28% of GDP): Types –steel, commercial aircraft, chemicals, petrochemicals, footwear, machinery, motors, vehicles, auto parts, consumer durables, cement, and lumber.
Services (66% of GDP): Types –mail, telecommunications, banking, energy, commerce, and computing. Trade: Trade balance (2011)–$20 billion surplus. Exports –$202 billion. Major markets –China 15%, United States 10%, Argentina 9%. Imports –$182 billion. Major suppliers –United States 15%, China 14%, and Argentina 8%.
Exchange rate (March 3, 2011): U.S. $1 = 1.65 Brazilian reais.
Agriculture is a major sector of the Brazilian economy, and is key for economic growth and foreign exchange. Agriculture accounts for about 6% of GDP (25% when including agribusiness) and 36% of Brazilian exports. Brazil enjoyed a positive agricultural trade balance of $55 billion in 2009. Brazil is the world’s largest producer of sugarcane, coffee, tropical fruits, frozen concentrated orange juice (FCOJ), and has the world’s largest commercial cattle herd (50% larger than that of the U.S.) at 170 million head. Brazil is also an important producer of soybeans (second to the United States), corn, cotton, cocoa, tobacco, and forest products. The remainder of agricultural output is in the livestock sector, mainly the production of beef and poultry (second to the United States), pork, milk, and seafood.
Environment, Science, and Technology
About half of Brazil is covered in forests, and Brazil has the majority of the world’s largest rain forest, the Amazon. Little less than 40% of the Amazon, and to a lesser extent the Cerrado (tropical savannah), is managed by national, state, or municipal governments, either as conservation units, forest concessions, or officially designated indigenous lands. In the last 30 years, migration into the Amazon and the conversion of forest land, primarily for agricultural use, reduced forest cover in the Brazilian Amazon by 20%. Through initiatives such as the revitalization of degraded pastures and forest, agriculture, and livestock integration, the government made progress in reducing deforestation for agricultural use. However, deforestation due to illegal logging remains a serious problem. In 2006, the government created the Brazilian Forest Service with the aim to manage in a sustainable manner the Amazon forest resources. Although Brazil had a slow start in 2010 in taking steps to advance its climate change commitments made at the COP-15 in Copenhagen, by the end of 2010 it had pushed ahead with concrete action demonstrating results on climate change. Brazil’s national initiatives served to demonstrate the country’s intention to solidify its role as a leading player in international climate change negotiations. The lowest-ever Amazon deforestation rate, updated numbers for Brazil’s inventory on greenhouse gas emissions, a national action plan, and the implementation of the National Climate Change Fund were concrete domestic steps taken by the Government of Brazil to address climate change concerns and were a signal to the international community underscoring that Brazil is indeed trying to meet the ambitious goals presented at COP-15. Figures from 2010 demonstrated that Brazil has reduced the rate of Amazon deforestation by more than 70%, the lowest rate of deforestation in over 20 years, and government officials predict that, at the current pace, Brazil’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 36.1% to 38.9% could be reached by 2016 rather than 2020. Brazil also increased its programs in other biomes at risk for significant deforestation. At COP-16 in December 2010 in Cancun, the Brazilian Government delegation played an important role in brokering the central outcome of the conference–a characterization of country commitments under the Kyoto Protocol that could enable Protocol proponents to say it can continue into a second commitment period. Brazil is a leader in science and technology in South America and a global leader in some fields, such as biofuels, agricultural research, deep-sea oil production, and remote sensing. The Brazilian Government seeks to develop an environment that is more supportive of innovation, taking scientific advances from the laboratory to the marketplace in order to promote economic growth. Yet there are still some challenges. With the vast majority of the population living in urban areas, Brazil faces serious environmental obstacles in providing potable water to its citizens and removing and treating their waste water. U.S. Government, private sector, and academic researchers have extensive ties with Brazilian counterparts. Areas in which there is close cooperation include biofuels, medical research, remote sensing, and agriculture. The extent of bilateral scientific and technological cooperation is expanding and prospective areas in which to expand include advanced materials, telecommunications, energy transmission, and energy efficiency. Limitations to cooperation include substantial restrictions on foreign researchers collecting or studying biological materials, due to concerns over possible unauthorized taking and commercialization of genetic resources or traditional knowledge of indigenous communities (often referred to as “biopiracy”).
Brazil has one of the most advanced industrial sectors in Latin America. Accounting for roughly one-third of the GDP, Brazil’s diverse industries include automobiles and parts, machinery and equipment, textiles, shoes, cement, computers, aircraft, and consumer durables. Brazil continues to be a major world supplier of commodities and natural resources, with significant operations in lumber, iron ore, tin, other minerals, and petrochemicals. Brazil has a diverse and sophisticated services industry as well, including developed telecommunications, banking, energy, commerce, and computing sectors. The financial sector is secure and provides local firms with a wide range of financial products, yet interest rates remain among the highest in the world. The largest financial firms are Brazilian (and the two largest banks are government-owned), but U.S. and other foreign firms have an important share of the market. Government-initiated privatization after 1996 triggered a flood of investors in the telecom, energy, and transportation sectors. Privatization in the transportation sector has been particularly active over the last 20 years. Many antiquated and burdensome state management structures that operated in the sector were dismantled, though some still exist. The Brazilian railroad industry was privatized through concession contracts ranging from 30 to 60 years, and the ports sector is experiencing similar, albeit less expansive, privatization. In response to the dramatic deterioration in the national highway system, the federal government granted concessions for existing highways to private companies, which in turn promise to restore, maintain, and expand these highways in exchange for toll revenues generated. New opportunities are expected to arise with the opening of the Brazilian civil airports to private management and investment through a federal concession model, but the initiative faces obstacles due to questions surrounding sovereignty and opposition from airport unions. The United States and Brazil signed an Air Services Liberalization Agreement in 2008 that increased commercial air travel between the two countries. In 2010, they initialed an air transportation agreement and an air transportation memorandum of understanding that, when they are signed and enter into force, will continue and expand this process. The Government of Brazil undertook an ambitious program to reduce dependence on imported oil. In the mid-1980s, imports accounted for more than 70% of Brazil’s oil and derivatives needs; the net figure is now zero. Brazil announced in early 2008 the discovery of the Tupi and Carioca oil fields off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. The oil reserves in these fields are conservatively estimated at between 30 billion and 80 billion barrels, which would put Brazil in the top 10 countries in the world in reserves. Output from the existing Campos Basin and the discovery of the new fields could make Brazil a significant oil exporter by 2015. Brazil is one of the world’s leading producers of hydroelectric power. Of its total installed electricity-generation capacity of 112,000 megawatts, hydropower accounts for 77,000 megawatts (69%). Brazil is also the world’s largest biofuels exporter and sugar-based ethanol makes up over 50% of its vehicle fuel usage. Brazil and the United States, as the world’s largest biofuels producers, are working jointly through a 2007 memorandum of understanding to help make sustainable biofuels a global commodity. Like its supply of carbon-based fossil fuels, Brazil’s proven mineral resources are extensive. Large iron and manganese reserves are important sources of industrial raw materials and export earnings. Mining companies, most of them Brazilian, tend to prefer to explore the deposits of nickel, tin, chromite, bauxite, beryllium, copper, lead, tungsten, zinc, gold, and other minerals. High-quality, coking-grade coal required in the steel industry is in short supply.
The Brazilian economy’s solid performance during the financial crisis and its strong and early recovery, including 2010 growth of 7.5%, have contributed to the country’s transition from a regional to a global power. Expected to continue to grow in the 4% to 5% range, the economy is the world’s eighth-largest and is expected to rise to fifth within the next several years. During the administration of former President Lula, surging exports, economic growth and social programs helped lift tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty. For the first time, a majority of Brazilians are now middle-class, and domestic consumption has become an important driver of Brazilian growth. President Dilma Rousseff, who took office on January 1, 2011, has indicated her intention to continue the former president’s economic policies, including sound fiscal management, inflation control, and a floating exchange rate. Rising employment and strong domestic demand pushed inflation to nearly 6% in 2010, leading the central bank to boost interest rates and the Rousseff government to announce cuts in 2011 spending. The economic boom and high interest rates have attracted foreign currency inflows that have driven up the value of the currency (the real) by nearly 40% since the start of 2009. In an effort to limit the appreciation, the government has increased dollar reserves and capital controls. Brazil is generally open to and encourages foreign investment. It is the largest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Latin America, and the United States is traditionally the top foreign investor in Brazil. Since domestic savings are not sufficient to sustain long-term high growth rates, Brazil must continue to attract FDI, especially as the government plans to invest billions of dollars in off-shore oil, nuclear power, and other infrastructure sectors over the next few years. The major international athletic competitions that Brazil will host every year until the 2016 Rio Olympics are also leading the government to invest in roads, airports, sports facilities, and other areas.
Government of Brazil
Country name: Federative Republic of Brazil (Republica Federativa do Brasil)
Government type: federative republic
Administrative divisions: 26 states (estados, singular – estado) and 1 federal district* (distrito federal); Acre, Alagoas, Amapa, Amazonas, Bahia, Ceara, Distrito Federal*, Espirito Santo, Goias, Maranhao, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Para, Paraiba, Parana, Pernambuco, Piaui, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Rio Grande do Sul, Rondonia, Roraima, Santa Catarina, Sao Paulo, Sergipe, Tocantins
Independence: September 7, 1822 (from Portugal)
Constitution: adopted October 5, 1988
Legal system: legal system based on Roman codes; Brazil has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction.
Suffrage: voluntary between 16 and 18 years of age and over 70; compulsory over 18 and under 70 years of age; military conscripts do not vote.
Chief of State: The president is both the chief of state and head of government
Cabinet: The cabinet members are appointed by the president
Elections: president and vice president elected on the same ticket by popular vote for a single four-year term.
bicameral National Congress or Congresso Nacional consists of the Federal Senate or Senado Federal (81 seats; 3 members from each state and federal district elected according to the principle of majority to serve eight-year terms; one-third elected after a four-year period, two-thirds elected after the next four-year period) and the Chamber of Deputies or Camara dos Deputados (513 seats; members are elected by proportional representation to serve four-year terms)
Supreme Federal Tribunal (11 ministers are appointed for life by the president and confirmed by the Senate); Higher Tribunal of Justice; Regional Federal Tribunals (judges are appointed for life); Judges, though appointed for life, by federal law have a mandatory retirement age of 70.
Political parties: Workers Party (PT), Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), Liberal Front Party (PFL), Social Democratic Party (PSD), Democratic Workers Party (PDT), Brazilian Labor Party (PTB), Liberal Party (PL), Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B), Brazilian Progressive Party (PPB) [Note: In early 2003, this party changed its name to the Progressive Party (PP).], Popular Socialist Party (PPS), Green Party (PV), the Social Liberal Party (PSL), the National Mobilization Party (PMN), National Workers Party (PTN), Humanistic Solidarity Party (PHS), and the Party of the Reedification of the National Order (PRONA).
Brazil is a federal republic with 26 states and a federal district. The 1988 constitution grants broad powers to the federal government, made up of executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The president holds office for 4 years, with the right to re-election for an additional 4-year term, and appoints his own cabinet. There are 81 senators, three for each state and the Federal District, and 513 deputies. Senate terms are 8 years, staggered so that two-thirds of the upper house is up for election at one time and one-third 4 years later. Chamber terms are 4 years, with elections based on a complex system of proportional representation by states. Each state is eligible for a minimum of eight seats; the largest state delegation (Sao Paulo’s) is capped at 70 seats. This system is weighted in favor of geographically large but sparsely populated states. Nineteen political parties are represented in Congress. Since it is common for politicians to switch parties, the proportion of congressional seats held by particular parties changes regularly. The major political parties are: o Workers’ Party (PT-center-left) o Democrats (DEM-center-right) o Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB-center) o Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB-center-left) o Progressive Party (PP-right) o Brazilian Labor Party (PTB-center-right) o Party of the Republic (PR-center-right) o Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB-left) o Popular Socialist Party (PPS-left) o Democratic Labor Party (PDT-left) o Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB-left) o President Lula was re-elected October 29, 2006 in a second round victory with over sixty percent of the vote, over Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB. Lula’s PT party failed to win a majority in either the lower or upper houses in concurrent legislative elections and will be obliged to form a coalition with the centrist PMDB party — which won the most seats in the lower house and may end up with the largest number in the Senate — and a collection of minor parties. However, party loyalty is weak in Brazil, and it is common for politicians to switch parties, changing the balance of power in Congress. The PT won five of twenty-seven governorships, but the opposition PSDB remains in control of the critical states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. The PMDB, as in the legislative elections, won the most governorships of any one party, controlling seven states. Because of the mandatory revenue allocation to states and municipalities provided for in the 1988 constitution, Brazilian governors and mayors have exercised considerable power since 1989. Lula’s electoral victory came despite a series of corruption scandals that resulted in the resignation of senior PT officials and the electoral defeat of several congressmen from parties allied to the PT. A number of congressional investigations are ongoing, though Lula has never been linked personally to any of the scandals.
Geography of Brazil
Official Name: Federative Republic of Brazil
Area: 8,511,965 sq. km. (3,290,000 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than the U.S.
Cities: Capital–Brasilia (pop. 2.0 million). Other cities–Sao Paulo (10.4 million), Rio de Janeiro (5.8 million), Belo Horizonte (2.2 million), Salvador (2.4 million), Fortaleza (2.1 million), Recife (1.4 million), Porto Alegre (1.4 million), Curitiba (1.6 million).
Location: Eastern South America, bordering the Atlantic Ocean
Coordinates: 10 00 S, 55 00 W
Land boundaries: total: 14,691 km; Brazil is the largest country in South America and shares common boundaries with every South American country except Chile and Ecuador. Border countries are: Argentina 1,224 km, Bolivia 3,400 km, Colombia 1,643 km, French Guiana 673 km, Guyana 1,119 km, Paraguay 1,290 km, Peru 1,560 km, Suriname 597 km, Uruguay 985 km, Venezuela 2,200 km
Coastline: 7,491 km
Maritime claims: contiguous zone: 24 NM, territorial sea: 12 NM, continental shelf: 200 NM or to edge of the continental margin, exclusive economic zone: 200 NM.
Terrain: Dense forests in northern regions including the Amazon Basin; semiarid along the northeast coast; mountains, hills, and rolling plains in the southwest, and narrow coastal belt.
Climate: Mostly tropical or semitropical with temperate zone in the south.
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m, highest point: Pico da Neblina 3,014 m
Natural resources: bauxite, gold, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, platinum, tin, uranium, petroleum, hydropower, timber
Natural hazards: recurring droughts in northeast; floods and occasional frost in south
Environment:current environmental issues include:
deforestation in Amazon Basin destroys the habitat and endangers a multitude of plant and animal species indigenous to the area; there is a lucrative illegal wildlife trade; air and water pollution in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and several other large cities; land degradation and water pollution caused by improper mining activities; wetland degradation; severe oil spills.
International Agreements: Brazil is a party to the following international environmental agreements: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling, Climate Change.