Sao Paulo, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 01/25/12
Personal Experiences from Sao Paulo, Brazil
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
This is our second expat experience. We lived in Toronto/Canada previously.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
About a 10-hour flight to Washington, DC. There are daily direct flights to Sao Paulo from the major US hubs such as Washington DC, NYC, Miami (multiple a day!), Dallas, Chicago etc.
3. How long have you lived here?
2 years (2010-2012)
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Affiliated with the US Consulate
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The consulate housing pool consists mostly of apartments and a few houses – all within gated compounds across the city. The best compounds are the ones that have multiple residential buildings as they have more amenities like pools, tennis courts, playgrounds etc. Commute times vary depending on traffic (ha!) and weather (rain=double commute time) from about 20 minutes to 1 hour.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available but at a steep price. Fruit and vegetables are best bought at the weekly feiras/markets – unless you insist on imported brand names and goods, you can make do but expect to spend more money on groceries here than at home.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Children’s clothes, diapers, toys, American brands/food you can’t live without, electronics and appliances; ship whatever you think you will need.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonalds, Burger King, Subway – more expensive than in the US. There are a number of fine dining options and you will pay heavily for those - unfortunately many lack the matching service quality. One of the most frustrating things about living here has been the absence of "good" and adequately priced restaurants.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
There are a few organic stores selling fruits, vegetables, and milk but very expensive.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Many apartments seem to have problems with ants and termites; mosquitos are not a problem in the city but can be quite a nuisance at the beach especially the Northern beaches (Litoral Norte). Also, look out for black flies (“Borrachuda”) around the area of Sao Sebastiao and Ilhabella – their bites are about 10 times as bad as mosquitos.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and pouch – mail takes a very loooong time….about 4-6 weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Widely available but expensive; we pay about US$50 per day for our maid.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes in most Shopping Malls but they are extremely expensive. Most apartment buildings have a gym and the Consulate recently upgraded its gym (overall, the Consulate has a fantastic recreation area consisting of a gym, basketball court, soccer field, tennis court, pool, and playground).
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Credit and debit cards are generally accepted everywhere. Use the ATM at the consulate bank to withdraw money for safety reasons and to avoid having your card cloned.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need to speak at least a basic level of Portuguese to get around. Not too many people speak English.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many. Streets and walkways are generally not wheelchair accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis called by phone are safe but very expensive. RSO advises against taking certain train lines and buses. After seeing how crowded subways, buses, and trains are during rush hour, you will probably decide to avoid taking them anyway.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Small SUV like CRV or RAV4 to help navigate pot holes. Parking spaces are very tight so don’t bring a huge SUV – don’t bring a car that is not typically sold in Brazil in case you have repairs or problems.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, NET provides internet, cable, phone but is very expensive. High speed internet (alone without cable, phone) costs about US$100 per month (and often goes out).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There are many providers.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Yes, if you speak Portuguese.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dressy and stylish for work; in everyday life –pretty much anything goes
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crime is an issue – you can never let your guard down especially when in the car or walking on the street. Robberies and carjackings remain common occurrences. There have been increasing incidences of carjackings at schools and preschools when mothers pick up or drop off their children. That said, if you take common sense precautions and get over the initial shock (and keep personal safety in mind), you can live comfortably here.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is fabulous. Albert Einstein Hospital has been ranked as the best in this part of the world. Most physicians speak English as they have studied abroad and freely hand out private cell phone numbers to call in case of emergencies (and they actually answer the phone too). Expat women typically have their babies here.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air quality is unhealthy especially in the dry/winter season when you cannot escape the pollution. The rain in the rainy/summer season “cleans”the air so pollution is less obvious then.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winter – June through August – is generally dry and comfortable – around 60F/70F but can get cooler. Note that apartments are typically poorly insulated so they tend to stay pretty cold in the winter. Summer – November through February – is generally hot and humid (80F/90F). It usually rains every afternoon, although it has been known to rain all day for several days in a row at cooler temperatures.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Can’t comment – don’t have school age children.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Many, many options in English and Portuguese (although English programs will usually be bi-lingual). Pre-schools are usually half days (mornings or afternoons) and cost about US$500 and up per month (not including meals).
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
The American Society organizes sports for kids.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Mixed. Singles/couples tend to like it; families face greater challenges as entertainment options are limited for children of all ages.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Picnics/BBQs, parties, (very expensive) restaurants, movies
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Sao Paulo is a great city for singles and couples as there are tons of nightlife options. It’s not an easy city for families as there are limited options for reasonably priced entertainment and traffic and weather often make going to the park and other outdoor options difficult. Many parents feel they have very limited options of things to do with their kids.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Sao Paulo has one of the biggest Gay Pride Parades in the world, so yes.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Traveling around Brazil – trading chaotic and concrete city life for nature and beach
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Going to the beach (about 2 hours; just make sure to return early on Sundays otherwise it can easily take you 5 hours); visiting the “wine” region of Sao Roque (go for the nature and grape juice/champagne; not necessarily for the wine!); going to the weekend markets at Embu das Artes.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Travels around Brazil, local handicrafts
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Taking in Brazilian life, food, and culture (futebol!). It is certainly not the place to go to save money as cost of living expenses are high, partly due to incredibly high import taxes (expect to pay 3-5 times more for imported goods like toys, wines/alcohol, clothes than you would in the US).
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Hm, I don’t like to say that we would never consider moving back. It just would not be a top choice.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Snowsuit, ice skates, and skis
3. But don't forget your:
Umbrellas and rain coats; Portuguese phrase book as English won’t help you very much; patience as Brazilian life is VERY bureaucratic and you will spend lots of time waiting