Bougie on a Budget: $20 a Day in Rio de Janeiro


South America

While studying abroad in Brazil, I’m lucky enough to have a stipend from my financial aid that covers rent and food (depending on where I choose to live and what I eat). $20 a day in Rio is pretty reasonable, but will definitely vary based on whether or not you’re grocery shopping, if you’re taking Ubers or the metro, etc. I think people also tend to spend more when they’re on vacation versus if they’re living in another country. After living here for five months I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying cheap options and finding ways to have fun for free. But of course, I do like the occasional splurge. Here’s a peek at what my budget looks like for an average day. For reference, $20 USD is about 78 Brazilian reais.


My host family provides me with a few breakfast fixings, like bread, fruit, and sometimes eggs. I also buy myself yogurt and veggies for omelets. But honestly I never leave myself enough time in the morning, so on weekdays I usually just grab a banana to go. Sometimes I’ll buy pão de queijo, cheese bread, for 4 reais on my way.


To get to and from school I spend 9.20 reais on the metro. On campus, we have a bunch of little food stands for lunch. My favorite place lets you fill up a container with rice, beans, farofa, potatoes, kale, etc. I get the vegetarian option which is 12 reais and trust me it’s a LOT of food. (If I decide to treat myself to a fresh juice or an açaí, that’s an additional 8 reais.)


Going to university in the United States has definitely spoiled me in terms of access to libraries. On my campus, I literally have a library in my dorm. You couldn’t escape them if you tried. Here it’s a bit harder to find a comfortable study space. I’ve found a few cute cafes to study in, but the downside is that you have to buy something. There are a few that have a very American style: everything from the bougie décor to the overpriced pastries. I usually just order the cheapest thing on the menu and then stay there for hours. Today I was a bit hungry so I got an empanada for 7.80 reias.


For dinner, I sometimes go to the campus cafeteria to get (surprise surprise) another heaping serving of rice and beans and some sides, but this time for only 10 reais. Otherwise, my friends and I love Spoleto. It’s a restaurant that makes amazing plates of pasta right in front of you for about 18 reais. Think Chipotle, but make it Italian. If you just take away the tray, these dishes could definitely be served at a fancy restaurant. (Why isn’t fast food pasta popular in the US?!) If I don’t eat out, I usually make pasta or rice and vegetables at home.


When I go out at night, the Uber rides definitely add up. But if I split them with other people, it usually comes to about 15 reais in one night. Then I’ll buy a mixed drink in the street, usually a copão (big cup) for about 10 reais. You can ask them to make it strong so that you only need one. My favorite is a caipirinha with passion fruit and lime.

Bonus: The beach is free, and the Museum of Tomorrow is free on Tuesdays! Go crazy.

So, if I buy food for all three meals (which I usually don’t), the grand total comes to 76 reais, or $19.72. As you can see all I really spend money on is food. I may need to reevaluate my habits, but $20 a day in Rio is just enough!

Can you live off of $20 a day in your city?

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