Sao Paulo, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 12/13/12
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?
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?
It takes about 9-10 hours to reach Washington, DC. There are direct flights with United and TAM.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
(The contributor was affiliated with the U.S Consulate and lived in Sao Paulo for two years ending in April, 2012, a first expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We live in Jardins, which is about a 20-minute drive to the consulate in the morning and usually a 40-minute ride back in the evening (sometimes more when it rains). Despite the drive, we LOVE our housing. It is a 3-bedroom apartment in the heart of Jardins, within walking distance to reat restaurants, grocery stores, and shopping of all kinds. The rooms are good size, and the kitchen is very nice with good counter space. There is enough storage space for all of our things. Other people live in Moema, Morumbi, etc. Almost everyone lives in a condo/apartment, but there are a few townhouse-style places within a compound for the US Consulate.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are on par with or more expensive than US major-city prices. Imported items are of course much more expensive.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I am glad we brought our own peanut butter because the local brand is super sweet, and the American imports are expensive. Also, there aren't as many cereal varieties, and if you really like your cereal, I would bring it. I wish we brought more Mexican food ingredients like canned chilies, taco seasoning, canned refried beans, etc. Most of those things are VERY expensive here. However, you can find smaller flour tortillas for a decent price. I am also glad I brought my scent-free and color-free detergent, since I haven't seen them here. If you like iced tea, bring your own. They don't really sell the 36+ pack of iced-tea bags here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You can find American restaurants like McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Domino's, Outback, Applebee's, Chili's, etc. It costs more than in the US.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We never encountered any problems. The city government runs PSAs about dengue and prevention of mosquito breeding, but I have not known anyone who has had dengue. Malaria is not a problem in Sao Paulo.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I used the DPO and Diplomatic Pouch addresses. It was taking 2-6 weeks for things to get from the US to post.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is becoming less available and more costly every year. We paid about $320 a month for someone to clean our house and do laundry 2 times a week. That was about average at the time for US expats.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, pretty much on every corner. The US Consulate also has a nice workout center for employees and their families.
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?
I have used my debit card to take money out of Bradesco and Citi Bank ATMs. It varies for others. I have had no problem using my credit card at any place that accepts cards.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. I attended a small Catholic mass -- affiliated with Chapel School -- that was in English.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
You can watch many English-language shows if you purchase cable. English-language newspapers are available at stands.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You really need to know Portuguese to get around day to day in a pleasant manner. Yes, you can go shopping for groceries and just nod your head if needed, but that's about it. I took a short online course before arriving (I would recommend more if you have the time) and hired a private tutor when we got to Brazil. I would go out everyday and just force myself to use new words. You have to know at least a few simple phrases to communicate your needs. Only some professionals know English. I delivered our baby at Albert Einstein and was grateful for the Portuguese I did know to communicate with the nurses---and even some doctors.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Sidewalks and businesses are very often not wheelchair friendly. There are few sidewalk cut-outs, and ramps only at major grocery stores, etc. But there are sidewalks through most of the city.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are safe, widely available, but pricey in my opinion. You can pick up a 'taxi comum' at one of the taxi stands that are stationed around the neighborhoods. If you don't speak Portuguese, you can show them the address, and if they don't know it they can put it into their GPS or ask someone. Taxis use meters. I have used the subway, which is very clean and efficient. However, it only goes to a few parts of this large city, so it is not the most useful form of transportation. Buses are extremely crowded, so petty theft is a concern. As in any other major city, you should use common sense in crowded public places. I know many people who use the buses and think they are just fine. It would probably be best to know which bus takes you where before your trip, since the routes aren't intuitive. Of course, RSO discourages you from using the subway and --- especially --- the buses.
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 cars are best to maneuver through the city and park on the streets. Volkwagen is very big here, so you are likely to have access to parts. However, tires, car batteries, and oil are VERY expensive (an oil and filter change recently cost us $155 USD). I recommend installing new tires and battery or putting them in HHE. If you don't already have your windows tinted, get it done on arrival - they will do it darker, which is good for security reasons. If you have a car made in Brazil, expect it to take a very very long time to get through the bureaucratic process. Most people receive their car 3-4 months after they arrive. Our Brazilian-made (but US import) took about 6 months.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Yes, we have 10MB internet through NET. The service was reliable. However, I have heard that many people have had issues. The cost is approximately $80 USD for 10MB internet. We opted to have this level of internet in order to use Skype to call family and friends. Video conferencing is very clear with this level of internet. Many people also use Vonage.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I brought my quad-band unlocked phone from the US and used a local microchip. You can get a cell phone or SIM card through the consulate with a really cheap plan, but sometimes that can take a while (it took a month for me). So, you can always get a pay-as-you-go SIM if you prefer. You have to have a CPF number (like a social security number) in order to sign up for a prepaid or postpaid plan. I used my CPF to get a chip for my sister (under my name) when she visited. Smart phones are available, but much more expensive compared to US prices. Many Americans from the Consulate have a Blackberry or iPhone and use that here. I have heard you can get them unlocked here for $50 USD.
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?
No, but they do need rabies vaccination and vet forms completed with USDA approval before entry.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Very top notch. Our cat was neutered in SP and I couldn't have been happier. You can hire dog walkers, top-notch pet groomers (complete with bows for your pooch), and kennels when you have to be away. Dogs are especially pampered here.
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?
A good working knowledge of Portuguese is almost always essential to employment in the local economy. You have to have a work permit to work in the local economy, which can take at least a month to obtain. You can get a work permit without a job prospect if you are affiliated with the US Consulate. Most local-economy jobs are for teaching of some sort. But if you are willing to work pro-bono, there are opportunities out there. I have been volunteering on a public health research project in my field. I know others who teach/tutor English classes and get paid in cash and don't have a work permit.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Paulistas like to dress nicely. Men wear suits or at least a tie and women wear nice dresses, skirts, pant suits, (extremely) high heels, etc.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Petty theft is a concern. We live in a fairly safe and populous neighborhood, so I feel completely safe walking at night by myself to meet up with friends or to go to the store (although some other American women I know don't feel comfortable). When in a car, I put my purse in the trunk or on the floor out of sight. We also don't roll our windows down completely (or sometimes at all). Some locals put a dummy purse with a little money in the front seat just in case. This would be for the drive-by 'motoboy' smash and grabs. Most theft is opportunist, so just trying to make it a little harder for your things to get pilfered seems to be enough.
Of course, sometimes things happen, so it makes sense not to have really expensive/irreplaceable things on your person if that is a concern to you. There are also a lot of aggressive drivers in Sao Paulo, so as a pedestrian and driver, you need to be aware of your surroundings. Pedestrians do not have the right-away when crossing the street. As a walker, you need to be extra vigilant throughout the city. However, there was a law passed recently (and seeming to be enforced) that tickets cars which stop or creep into the striped pedestrian walk-way during a red light.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Healthcare here is top notch. I knew many expat women who were pregnant while we were in Sao Paulo, and not one went back to the US to deliver their baby, myself included. The go-to hospital for the US Consulate is Albert Einstein. However, there are many other quality hospitals you can choose from. The quality of medical procedures/technology is on par with US healthcare. The time you spend with your doctor is usually 15 minutes to an hour. Private doctors have the time to listen and get to know their patients, unlike in the US.
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?
The air quality is moderate to unhealthy. Traffic is very dense, but most cars run on ethanol, which helps reduce the pollution. People with asthma and other breathing conditions may have issues, especially during the summer months. However, I have asthma and have not experienced an episode worse than when I was living in Washington, DC or Chicago, IL. Also, the medical system here is top notch, and this is home to the best hospital in South America.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There are moderate changes in seasons. Seasons are opposite of the United States. It gets into the 90s F during the summer and 50s F during the winter---cold enough for sweaters and a medium-weight coat. We needed space heaters during the winter.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, primarily through the schools.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Fairly large and growing.
2. Morale among expats:
Good to great when I was there.
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?
There are numerous things to do after work and on the weekends. Meet up with friends for drinks after work (chopp is a favorite: small glasses of extremely cold beer with a surprisingly delicious creamy froth on top), late dinners at great restaurants, dancing, etc. Brazilians usually don't go out for dinner until after 9 pm, and bars/clubs don't start filling up until after midnight, with some staying packed until the next morning. During the weekend, people head to the beach that is about an hour away or visit local parks to see and be seen.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Sao Paulo is a great places for singles, couples, and those who are looking to start or expand their family.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There is a visible gay community in Sao Paulo, and there are many gay-friendly bars and clubs. The city hosts a very well-attended gay pride parade every year. However, there are incidences of hate crimes committed on occasion.
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?
The people were really the highlight. We made a lot of Brazilian friends while living in SP. Travel wise, Brazil is a huge country, bigger than the continental U.S. So, there is a lot to see, and your only limit is your budget and free time. There are many places you could visit outside the city for the weekend. Rio de Janeiro is fairly close and an easy long-weekend trip (we went there many times). I recommend taking a trip to Fortaleza (or Jeri Coa Coara) or to Foz do Iguacu. The Pantanal is a better place for seeing wildlife than the Amazon. Of course, there are many things to do within the city, from museums to theaters to neighborhood markets and festivals.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Living in a major city like Sao Paulo, you have only yourself to blame if you are bored! There are so many restaurants to choose from, cultural events to attend, museums, parks, etc. There are also many sites to enjoy immediately outside the city. And you are also at a major flight hub, which makes it easy to get to other locations throughout Brazil and South America.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, if you don't take tons of adventure vacations. If you want to tour all of Brazil and South America, you won't be able to save money. We took 2-3 nice trips a year and were OK.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Sim, com certeza!
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your: