BRAZILIAN REMITTERS IN MASSACHUSETTS
Alvaro Lima & Pete Plastrik
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Brazilians living abroad sent $7.4 billion back home in 2006 making Brazil the second largest
recipient of remittances in Latin America after Mexico. Half of the remittances received in Brazil
come from the Brazilians living in the United States. Although remittances account for just 0.4%
of Brazilian GDP, they are, increasingly, playing an important role in the economies of Brazilian
immigrant-sending states. Massachusetts, with its large concentration of Brazilian immigrants,
is an important link in this chain. However, little is known about their financial habits. This
report tries to feel this gap by tracing a brief demographic profile of Brazilian remitters and the
patterns of remittance usage among Brazilian immigrants in Massachusetts. It also investigates
the acceptance among them of the creation of a community development fund as an
opportunity to leverage remittance flows.
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The research for this report was done by Alvaro Lima, Director of Research for the City of
Boston and Board member of the Innovation network for Communities – INC and Pete Plastrik,
INC’s President. The Innovation Network for Communities is a national non-profit organization
focused on supporting civic entrepreneurs to develop and spread scalable innovations that
transform the performance of community systems.
The research was funded by a grant from the Kellogg Foundation and completed during the
period May-July of 2007.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the total population of Brazilian-born adults, twenty-five
years old or older, in Massachusetts is 24,056, representing 15.9 percent of the total Brazilian
immigrant population living in the U.S., second only to Florida – 21.1 percent. A random sample
of 250 subjects was drawn to assure confidence intervals of 6.17 percent at a confidence level
of 95 percent. Inferences drawn from the survey should be limited to Brazilian remitters in
Massachusetts. However, according to the American Development Bank – MIF, the percentage
of immigrants who send money from Massachusetts is 70 percent so that inferences based on
remitters cover a large part of all adult Brazilians.
The routes for the field work were designed around remittance agencies that send money to
Brazil in areas with large concentrations of Brazilians. The subjects were selected randomly and
intercepted at remittance agencies, to ensure that they were active senders. The survey was
administered by a staff of five Portuguese speaking interviewers provided by TransComm and
trained and supervised by Silvestre HMR&S who also tabulated the results. The survey included
questions from the 2003 and 2006 surveys directed by Manuel Orozco of the Inter-American
Dialogue in order to compare Brazilians with other immigrant groups from Latin America and
the Caribbean. These samples include Nicaraguans, Dominicans, Bolivians, Mexicans,
Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Jamaicans.
Demographics of Brazilian Remitters
Brazilian remitters are 35.6 years old with a high school level of education. When compared
with other Latin American and Caribbean immigrants they are slightly older and rank third in
College degrees after Nicaraguans and Jamaicans. The typical Brazilian household is composed
of 3 to 4 people mostly (82%) adults over 21. They are mostly males (66.4%) with one out of
four females (23.8%) holding a college degree a rate higher than any other Latin American and
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Caribbean group and almost three times higher than that of Brazilian males. Brazilian remitters
also have the highest proportion (32.4%) of people with incomes over $35,000 and the lowest
proportion (1.6%) of those making less than $10,000 among immigrants from Latin American
and the Caribbean. One out of every three Brazilians living in Massachusetts, regardless of their
educational level, has income of over 35,000 except for those with some college education
whose majority earns 20,000 to 5,000.
When compared to other Latin American and Caribbean immigrants, Brazilians have the lowest
proportion of U.S. citizenship (3.2%)1 with the majority of those who are U.S. citizens (37.5%)
having lived in the country for over fifteen years.
Jamaicans have the highest proportion of U.S citizenship (56%), followed by Dominicans (43%), Salvadorans
(17.3%), Bolivians (16%), Nicaraguans (14%), Mexicans (12.8%) and Guatemalans (12%).
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Most Brazilians (85%) are employed. The rest, are business owners (12.4%); students (0.4%);
freelance workers (0.4%); housewives (0.4%); and 0.8 percent unemployed. Although college
education are found only among business owners, students and housewives, these different
levels of education do not affect incomes which is over $35,000 for almost all Brazilians as
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However, incomes vary between those who are homeowners (10.8%) and those who are
renters (88%). The median income for homeowners is over $35,000 while renters earn between
$31,000 and $35,000.
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Finally, almost half (44.4%) of Brazilian remitters have been in the U.S. less than 3 years. The
other half (45.2%) have lived in the country between 4 to 8 years.
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Financial Behavior of Brazilian Remitters
Brazilian remitters display some similar behavior as other Latin American and Caribbean
remitters and vary in respect to others. On one hand, 50 percent of them send money home
once a month. 33.2 percent remit twice a month, and 9.2 percent does it once every three
months - a pattern consistent with that of remitters from many Latin American and Caribbean
nationalities. On the other, monthly remittance of Brazilians ($875) is much higher than the
average for other Latin American and Caribbean remitters.2 The average fee they pay ($9.28) is
similar to that paid by other remitters.3
Minas Gerais, Espirito Santo and Sao Paulo are Brazil’s top remittance-receiving states with
cities from Minas Gerais being the most important receiving cities.
The mean and mode for the most recent transactions is $747 and $500 respectively.
The median is around $10.
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Compared to other immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean, Brazilians display a very
different behavior with regard to their agency of choice. While Western Union is the first choice
agency for most other remitters in Orozco’s 2006 sample,4 it is the second choice for Brazilians
with BrazTransfers occupying the first place and Chang Express the third position - both
Brazilian owned companies. Their level of satisfaction is very high with 41.6 percent of them
very satisfied or satisfied (51.2%) with their remittance agencies.
Exceptions include Banco Agricola, the first choice for Salvadorans and La Nacional for Bolivians.
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While Brazilians choose an agency based on accessibility or convenience, other Latin American
and Caribbean immigrants look for quality of service and company reputation. Consistently, the
majority (63.6%) of the agencies preferred by Brazilians is located within walking distance from
home or less than a 30 minute drive (32%).
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Mothers and fathers are the main beneficiaries of remittances for Brazilians as well as every
Latin American and Caribbean immigrant group except for Guyanese immigrants.5 Spouses
constitute the second beneficiary group for Brazilians with children coming third. Consistent
with all other Latin American and Caribbean immigrant groups, Brazilian receivers use their
remittances to buy food
(24.6%) and clothing (17.3%). Medical expenses come third for Brazilians while housing
occupies this place for all other communities in the 2003 sample comparison. The percent of
18.2 percent of them choose other relatives are the main beneficiaries with children coming second and
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remittances sent for business investments among Brazilians is the second highest (5.3%) behind
only that of Guyanese immigrants (8.5%).
Years sending money to Brazil, has a perfect correlation with years living in the U.S., that is, the
longer Brazilians live in the U.S. the longer they send money home, a tendency shared by all
other groups in the 2003 sample.
Unlike every other Latin American and Caribbean immigrants, 92.4 percent of Brazilians prefer
sending money by making a deposit into the beneficiary’s bank account. Only 6 percent prefers
sending cash. Brazilians, along with Salvadorans and Nicaraguans, have an average number of
people (70.4%) with bank accounts in the United States. Mexicans and Guatemalans have
below average account holders while Jamaicans, Bolivians and Dominicans have above average
Our analysis shows that education and years in the U.S. are the most important factors in
determining bank account ownership for Brazilian immigrants residing in the United States. As
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for many Latin American and Caribbean account holders, Bank of America is the bank of choice
for Brazilians (44.8%). Their second and third choices, Citizens (17.6%) and Sovereign (4.4%)
banks are not shared by any other group in the sample.
As for almost all Latin American and Caribbean immigrants, the main reasons Brazilians do not
have bank accounts are the lack of proper identification (40.7%), no need for accounts (36%)
and the complication of the process (11.6%). While the second reason is subjective, the first
and third have to do with accessibility and convenience.
When arranged by nationality according to both credit and debit card ownership, Brazilians
stand in the middle with one third of them (35.6%) holding a debit card and another third
(30.8%) holding neither of them.
As with monthly remittances, Brazilians make above average monthly payments to credit cards
($744) a much higher usage than that of Bolivians ($413), Nicaraguans ($341), Mexicans ($317),
Salvadorans ($301), Guatemalans ($265), Jamaicans ($217) and Dominicans ($212). The
majority of Brazilians (86.6%), as most immigrants in the 2003 and 2006 samples, do not have
economic obligations in the United States. Only 6.3 percent of them have home loans, 1.6
percent hold a business loan, another 1.6 percent hold student loans and only 3.9 percent have
other loan payments.
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Diaspora Capital – Leveraging Immigrant Remittances for Development
As referred earlier, another goal of the survey was to investigate the acceptance among
Brazilian remitters of the creation of a community development fund as an opportunity to
leverage remittance flows. The model for such a fund was advanced first on our paper
“Leveraging Immigrant Remittances for Development” published by the Federal Reserve Bank
of Boston.6 The main idea behind the fund was to capture resources for development from 1)
remitters, 2) to be matched by transfer companies, and 3) public and private foundations.
Of the Brazilians interviewed, 66.8 percent showed interest in contributing a small portion of
their remittances to support a development fund targeted to invest in their own community.
Forty two percent of them would contribute 1% of the value of their remittance to the fund; 20
Leveraging Immigrant Remittances for Development, Alvaro Lima and Peter Plastrik, Community Developments,
Issue 3, 2006, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston (www.bos.frb.org/commdev/cdevpubs.htm).
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percent could contribute 2 to 5 percent; 2 percent would contribute 10 percent or more; while
0.8 percent would contribute between 6 to 9 percent. When taking into account these
contribution levels and the monthly remittances sent to Brazil, the potential monthly
investment would be $362,471. If we were to use the mode and not remittance averages, the
contribution would still be significant - $169,082 monthly.
Almost half (42.4%) of the Brazilians surveyed, chose English classes as their first choice for
services to be financed by the investment fund followed by small business financing (25.6%)
and scholarships (19.6%).