Entrepreneurs and investors looking to service Brazil will need to closely analyze where they source Portuguese language support. Not surprisingly, the most affordable options are found outside Latin America’s most populous country – in communities with a cheaper tax structure.
Although Brazil is the only South American nation where Portuguese is the official language, it has the largest population, area and economy. More than 204 million people speak Brazilian Portuguese. Consequently, the South American trade bloc Mercosul uses Portuguese alongside Spanish as its working language.
Jeff Pappas, the Executive VP of Site Selection and Brokerage at ESRP Real Estate Services, has been highlighting the importance of addressing local language needs for years.
“Providing services in different languages will improve upon the service quality, expertise and experience of the contact center,” he wrote in a 2009 Nearshore Americas article. “Successful BPOs provide services to their customers in the language which is well-understood by them.”
Mario Tucci, co-founder of MVD Consulting, highlighted Uruguay, Colombia, Argentina and Costa Rica as important sources of Portuguese language assets outside of Brazil. In an email and messaging exchange with Nearshore Americas, the consultant provided his insights into the respective advantages of these countries.
Number 1. Uruguay
Uruguay is the Latin American country with the highest rate of Portuguese speakers in the BPO and ITO workforce outside Brazil. There are around 1,800 native speakers (meaning they are Brazilian or their parents are Brazilians) and more than 10,000 residents speak Portuguese as a second language.
Portuguese was the only language spoken throughout northern Uruguay until the end of the 19th century. BPO services provider Alorica is the largest provider of Portuguese language support, using Portuguese mainly to serve Amazon in Uruguay. A number of financial support services, as well as several agri-trading firms offer Portuguese language support.
Number 2: Colombia
Colombia has growing demand and matching capacity for Portuguese language support. Demand is mainly for customer service functions. Around 2,500 native speakers and 10,000 non-native speakers are involved in offering that service but the sector still has room to expand in Colombia. The best cities to find Portuguese language support in Colombia are Bogota, with its metro population of more than 10 million, Medellin, which boasts nearly four million residents and Cali, with a population of 2 million.
The economic growth of recent years has attracted immigrants – including Brazilians and Portuguese-speaking Venezuelans. The country has absorbed these new arrivals with relative ease, thanks to a streamlined work visa process and pro-migrant rhetoric from politicians and media outlets.
Number 3: Argentina
Argentina boasts many in-house centers supporting Portuguese functions including agribusiness, trading and energy companies. The country has approximately 8,000 native speakers in the BPO and ITO workforce. Argentina also boasts one of the strongest education systems in the region. Compulsory schooling in the country lasts for 14 years – from age four to age 17. Driven by that effort, the country also has the lowest illiteracy rate on the continent, with less than 1 percent of people ages 15 and above unable to read, according to World Bank data.
Number 4: Costa Rica
Costa Rica has growing Portuguese BPO capabilities, but scalability is an issue. Western Union and Citi are the top users for services. Finance and accounting, logistics, tech support and customer services are the main areas using Portuguese language support in Costa Rica.
The country has around 1,400 native speakers in the BPO and ITO workforce, while around 2,000 are currently being trained, according to MVD Consulting. Ten percent of the workforce who speak English also speak Portuguese. The best city to find Portuguese language support in Costa Rica is San José, the capital.
Number 5: Paraguay
According to Pablo Brun, the CEO and founder at Telecom Networks, a multilingual language support company, the best destination for Portuguese language support is Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.
“As Brazil borders with all the countries in South America (except Chile), there are several border cities… with perfect or native Portuguese speakers,” Brun explains.
“The demand is coming from worldwide companies [connecting] Portuguese speakers in Brazil and other countries with Portuguese-speaking communities,” Brun said. “Companies with branches in Brazil… need to outsource to more affordable markets with [lower] taxes.”
Telecom Networks operates in the Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Paraguay. It also has commercial offices in Miami, offering outsourcing services with multilingual operators (mostly in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French) for the demanding markets of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Spain.
Assessing Your Options
According to British Council research, around five percent of Brazilians are operationally competent in English, but only one percent are fluent. To launch an online product or service, customer support in Brazilian Portuguese is essential.
“Latin America is probably the only region in the world that offers the combination of language skills at scale plus cost savings. This works in favor of US markets due to the huge Spanish population present in the US.”
Federico Jaramillo, the Commercial Vice President of Konecta, said Brazil was the obvious choice for finding Portuguese language support, given its vast population and advanced contact center and BPO market.
However, cost considerations will drive the reason to pursue other options.
“Other options with a good number of Portuguese speaking reps are Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Argentina is probably the best option but somewhat expensive,” the Konecto VP said. “Colombia has a pool of Portuguese agents but not in large numbers. However, there are operations in Colombia dedicated to the Brazilian market at competitive prices.”
Nevertheless, not everywhere is right for Portuguese language support. “Mexico, Peru and other countries in Central America and the Caribbean have a very limited amount of Portuguese representatives.”