Monday, December 13, 2010

Fighting for your rights as a consumer in Brazil

DISCLAIMER: This post is solely based on my personal experiences as a consumer, not intended to be used as legal advice in any way shape or form. Please consult the link for the "Consumer's Code" for the most updated information regarding consumer law in Brazil.

I am from Sao Paulo and we are known to be a pretty demanding bunch when it comes to our rights as  consumers.

I am a PROUD Paulista! We are known for demanding quality and excellent service!

Your business will most likely fail in Sao Paulo if you are not costumer service focused, Paulistas know quality and demand it, from clothes to restaurants and everything in between.
Theather companies are fearful of Paulista audiences and usually leave Sao Paulo as a last stop on their tour, sort of testing the waters in other markets before they go to Sao Paulo. Concerts, musicals and plays are usually started in Rio or other places before they ever reach the demanding bunch  : )
Sao Paulo has GREAT restaurants with better service than any place I have ever been to or lived in hands down!
Someone please correct me if you disagree, I would love to find anything similar anywhere.
If you are an Expat living in Brazil beware of the "Codigo do Consumidor", which is a consumer rights "Constitution" sort of speak, it is enforced by PROCON which stands for the government agency that (PRO) protects (CON) the consumer, it is the consumer's bible and it is THE LAW.
PROCON actually does a great job as far as government entities go, even considering the large amount of complaints and enforcement they have to do.
You will need a little persistence and you better be objective, they don't have time to waste, they will work hard to have your claim resolved and every reputable business want no trouble with PROCON and will promptly work to resolve your matter.
You can certainly get a "Codigo do Consumidor" for free at any PROCON office in your town or neighborhood, download it for free HERE on the Internet or even purchase a fancier edition at a bookstore or at your local newsstand, buy one, study it and know your rights, be prepared to argue with information on your side.
My experience is limited to Sao Paulo in Brazil but I have a strong impression that Rio, Belo Horizonte or any other Brazilian city wouldn't be too different when it comes to your rights, the LAW is for everyone but the way consumers demand enforcement makes all the difference.

Classic Examples:

If you buy a car with a mechanical defect not disclosed by the car sales person when you bought it you will most likely get your money back, this is an easy one, I saw it happening time after time, the car shops won't even argue with you, they know it is a lost cause, so negotiate if you want the repair done or just your money back.
If you buy a car from a Chevrolet or Ford dealership type of place you will hardly ever have any problem not addressed immediately and to your full satisfaction.\

Always smart to pay a Mechanic to come with you when buying an used car! Best way to avoid Lemons :)

You will have your American fast food places honoring the same things they do honor in the US, if something tastes off, no problem, just ask for a new one. I tripped over the last step of a downtown
Mac Donald's in Sao Paulo in 1986 and spilled my entire tray, burger, fries and milkshake all over the floor and the manager promptly replaced everything on my tray and checked if I was ok, I never had to ask for anything, it wasn't their fault, there was nothing wrong with the stairs, they just wanted to help me feel better, that was great customer service on their part. I was a loyal patron of that store for many years.

If you ever have a problem with a transportation company, Bus, Airlines, COMPLAIN, they are usually great, I called bus companies many times in the early 80's, sometimes buses trying to make up for their late schedules would just not stop at my bus stop when I signaled for it, I always took note of the time, location and bus number, made complaints to the Bus companies by phone, they were always appreciative of my attitude and always took action upon my complaints.
I had a problem with VARIG in 1989, they lost ALL my luggage on a returning trip from the US.
I complained, fought for a while and I finally went to their headquarters in Sao Paulo and they ended up flying me to Rio's Airport were I found my luggage at their lost and found in Rio.
If there is one thing I have learned about Airlines over the years and this is good for Brazil the US or any other country, if you talk to one person and they say NO, try someone else, you might get a YES sooner than you expect, many rules are enforceable or NOT depending on the mood of the person you are talking to, I always ALWAYS ask for an UPGRADE even if they LAUGH on my face and MANY TIMES THEY DO, but hey, if I get an upgrade after many idiots laughing on my face I win, you will NEVER get an UPGRADE if you don't ask, trust me!

Clothes are tricky, if you buy them from known brand name stores or department stores it will be much easier for you to return or exchange independent of the reason for the return or even if the clothes are with the original tags or not, you shouldn't have any problems. But the "Codigo do Consumidor" will give you more details on what you can and can't do regarding the conditions for returning clothes for cash or exchange.
If you buy an expensive piece of clothe and it fades away easy even if you follow the washing instructions, take it back, you will be heard, any reputable business owner will be glad to hear from you and address the problem promptly.
Many small stores will do everything to make you happy in their quest to gain your consumer loyalty, but don't expect to be able to return underwear or socks, you will have a hard time unless you have a good reason such as a product defect.

Shoes are very similar to clothes, I never had trouble returning it for whatever reason.
I purchased a pair of shoes for Gil in Sao Paulo and when I arrived in the US, he didn't like it, it was too brown for him, go figure! So, I saved the pair of shoes in the original box, I lost the receipt but still brought the pair with me on my next trip to Brazil some 8 months later, the lady didn't remember me, I didn't have a receipt, I asked for the money back, she refused because I didn't have the receipt, I thought it was fair, 8 months later, come on! Ok, she agreed to let me exchange it for anything in the store, so I go a pair for me this time, win, win situation if you ask me, I needed a new pair anyway.

I would never return food or complain about food in the United States, it's something that I just don't do, many people do complain, but they probably never worked at a restaurant as I have :)
In Brazil, go ahead and complain, Sao Paulo restaurants are stupid expensive anyway, don't feel bad, complain away, they are humble, they are proud to please the consumer and you will NEVER even hear about someone spiting on your food or throwing your steak on the floor, it just doesn't happen.
There is a LAW by the way that Kitchens have to be open and ready to receive patrons anytime, YES, you HEARD me right, there is a LAW in Sao Paulo that patrons MAY at anytime ask to enter the restaurant's kitchen for inspection, no questions asked. Many restaurants in Sao Paulo have built glass walls to encourage patrons to watch and inspect the kitchens from a distance and avoid disturbing the chefs.
So, the whole attitude towards hygiene is different, they are always been watched and that makes the whole difference.
Nothing makes me more disgusted than finding "HAIR" on my food, and I have found "pubic hair", which is worse on a Blueberry Sunday at "America" in Sao Paulo in the 80's, not once, twice, and to make matters worse, a good friend of mine had the same unfortunate experience. We didn't eat at "America" for many years, but their food is so darn good I can't stay away. I am a regular customer again and never had another problem in any of their restaurants. They were always good to comp the entire ticket for me which didn't make me feel any less disgusted buy showed me they put an effort on doing the right thing and that is GOLD on my book.
Food poisoning is very rare and almost unheard of in Brazil.
I never even hear of any case that I could remember.
Brazilians are VERY peculiar with being clean, it's part of the culture and I am sure that helps with food safety and avoids food poisoning and I never heard of problems with drinking water from tap anywhere in Brazil, tap water in Sao Paulo is of very high quality, plus it has fluoride which should help with your cavities :)

Tap water always safe and of high quality in Sao Paulo and most of Brazil

I can't stress this enough, always, always hire an real state specialized attorney. PERIOD!
Attorney's services are very affordable in Brazil and the risks involved in not hiring one are not worth it.

Always hire an real state attorney when buying real state in Brazil

Fight! fight! fight! this one is tough, VERY similar to US companies, they are all bastards and will try to deny anything they can get away with, my sister recently convinced a high executive of our mother's Health Insurance company to ALLOW her to be at a Hospital close to my parents home.
The Health Insurance company was forcing my parents to transfer my mother to another Hospital 30 minutes away because it was much cheaper for THEM.
My sister insisted and the guy agreed, he gave the permission and now my mother is authorized to stay at the Hospital closer to her home.


Jim said...

THANKS for the link to the document. I've downloaded and printed it. Luiz is our resident service pitbull.

I'm currently in a tug of war with our health insurance: UNIMED. I'm trying to get a treatment done but they are claiming it is a pre-existing condition. I would have to have had UNIMED for two years in order to get the treatment. Well, I had a UNIMED - Rio policy for about a year starting in 2008, then when my employer provided coverage I was switched to a UNIMED - Fluminense policy. The fact that I have been writing checks to UNIMED for three years is not enough - they are insisting that I have the same policy for the two year period. AAARRGGHHH!!!!

Gil and Ray said...


You have to play tough, go in person, always, always keep your cool.
You need to come to their office with documents in hands ready to prove to someone who makes decisions that you are right and they should listen to you.
You could say that you have a blog and that you influence a large number of people, tell them you have access to people in News organizations and you are going to tell your story of injustice, that usually gets people's attentions, principally if they are decision makers.


Paper plains said...

Ahhhh this is such great information to know! Thank you thank you, I would never have thought!

I love your blog from the other perspective!!!