Sao Paulo, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 08/05/15
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?
Yes, first time living abroad.
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?
11 hours to New York and nine hours to Atlanta. Very cheap flights these days. My wife and kids flew round-trip from Sao Paulo to New York for about US$500 per ticket recently. Easy 8-hour overnight flights to Miami, too.
3. How long have you lived here?
8 months. Arrived in December 2014.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. government job
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
I live in Brooklin, which is a little lacking in terms of street and sidewalk vibrancy, but it's a 20-minute walk to the U.S. Consulate. Other neighborhoods, like Moema and Jardins, are more lovely and have more options for bars, shops and restaurants, but they are further from the consulate.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Excellent grocery stores near us in Brooklin. We go to Mambo for groceries and Carrefour for household supplies. But there are other grocery chains all over the city. Again, Sao Paulo is an enormous developed city with everything you could possibly need. It's not exactly the same as in the U.S., and the quality might be different, but you can find everything you need.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Very little. Nearly everything can be found here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
It's one of the great restaurant cities in the world. Don't limit yourself to fast food, although you have the usual options.
I think the city's great strengths are traditional Brazilian food, Italian, Japanese, and Syrian/Lebanese, because of the ethnic heritage of the city. (They do other national cuisines, but the Mexican and Chinese are not as strong.) You can go for high-end cuisine, neighborhood diners, or por kilo lunch spots. Plenty of options.
Pizza, obviously fantastic. Try Braz, Pizza na Mao, or Camelo. (One problem: It's nearly impossible to order pizza before 6:30pm. Paulistanos don't eat pizza for lunch, and they don't eat dinner until about 8pm).
With the strong exchange rate, eating out is a bargain. Even fancy restaurants are generally within our means now that the real is at 3.5 to 1.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes. My daughters get eaten up at dusk. It's good to wear insect repellant. There was a huge increase in dengue in 2015, double the rate compared to the year previous, but mostly in poor neighborhoods.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch. Which is dreadfully slow here.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We don't use a domestic employee, but many people hire someone for one day a week. With the exchange rate, it's about US$40 per day.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Our building has a full gym, two swimming pools.
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?
Nearly everywhere accepts credit cards. There is some problem with ATM cloning in Brazil, so we are advised to use the ATM in the consulate.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
At least three Protestant options that I know of, probably more:
A fairly traditional church in Bela Vista called Fellowship Community.
A more conservative evangelical church, Calvary International.
And an Anglican congregation that has ties to the British expat community.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Very few people in Sao Paulo speak English. You need basic Portuguese to get around.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The sidewalks are rough. It would be hard for someone who uses a wheelchair to get around.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are cheap and safe, and easy to find. There's a taxi ponto on my street, but I generally use an app called 99 Taxis to hail a cab. (It's a little like Uber, but the regular city taxis respond.) Plenty of people use the buses, too, but most of the train lines aren't anywhere near the Consulate or our neighborhoods.
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?
We have an old Honda Accord, and it's doing fine. It would probably be better to have a car with higher clearance since the roads can flood pretty easily, but we're doing fine.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. We have good high-speed Internet. Cheaper than in the United States. I think it's 75 reais per month, or about US$25 monthly. Our cell phone plans here are about U$S80 to 100 for two phones. Again, when the real is better than 3 to 1, the prices in Sao Paulo become very affordable.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Get an unlocked phone, and get a plan here. Most people choose Vivo or Net.
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?
I don't know about quarantines, but, good lord, paulistanos love their pets. There are an infinite number of pet stores, doggie-day cares, kennels, and dog-walkers. I read the average paulistano family has more dogs than children these days.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Plenty. Teaching English, working through churches and the consulate.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Generally, the level of formality in Sao Paulo is the same as in the United States, perhaps a little more casual in the summer when it gets hot.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crime is more common here than in most U.S. cities, so you should be more aware. People have been mugged, cell phones sometimes get lifted.
But your building will have a gate and guards. You will live in safe neighborhoods. You will know where not to go late at night. You will adapt your everyday routine around certain safety precautions and then you won't worry about it too much.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
If you can pay for it, Sao Paulo has some of the best health care in the world. Excellent doctors and dentists, top-notch hospitals. Many of the doctors speak English. No worries 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 moderately unhealthy, but nowhere near the severity of China and India. Most U.S. cities have a particulate matter (PM10) level under 20, according to the WHO. Sao Paulo averaged 35 in 2012. For comparison, Beijing was 121, and Delhi was 286.
So, Sao Paulo is noticeably worse than U.S. air quality, but not too bad.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Food is well-labeled here. If you are avoiding gluten, nearly everything is labeled. (Side note: they use gluten-free tapioca, or mandioca, flour in lots of things here, such as the famous pao de queijo. It's fantastic.)
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is excellent, generally sunny and warm. It gets pretty hot in the summer (December and January), with big thunderstorms most every day.
During winter (June-August), it can get down in the high 50s F. As you probably know, Sao Paulo is known as the City of Drizzle, because it can be rainy, gray and windy. But today (Aug. 4) it was 80F degrees and sunny.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The Graded American School is excellent, perhaps the nicest school my kids will ever attend. A huge, beautiful campus, excellent facilities and teachers. They have high standards and the work seems challenging. The student mix is 1/3 U.S. students, 1/3 Brazilian, and 1/3 the rest of the world.
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?
Plenty of daycare options, although they aren't cheap. Our 4 year old went to Green Book, a bilinqual nursery school, which was close to our apartment. I think it was about $US 700 per month, for mornings only, more expensive for a full day.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, lots of soccer and baskertball programs. Probably less for American football.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large expat community, as you would expect in a large city. Morale? I think it's pretty good. I like it here. Generally, I feel like this is an easy overseas post. There are challenges, sure, but they are not as steep as in less-developed countries.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, beaches, museums, parks, friends, schools. For serious, pessoal, it's Brazil. They know what's up. Oh, shopping malls. They loooove shopping malls in Sao Paulo. They are fancier and more popular here than in the United States.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a huge city, and a big expat community, so there's probably a niche for everyone. Plenty of nightlife for singles, plenty of activity surrounding the schools for families with children.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. Brazil and the United States have similar attitudes toward gays and lesbians: generally positive, moving in the right direction, but not perfect. The U.S. Consulate has a large gay community and supportive allies.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Of course. But no worse than in the United States. Maybe Brazilians want to believe discrimination is based on class, not race, but it's obvious that people here with darker skin have less money and fewer economic opportunities. Here's a nice piece on a complicated issue: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/brazils-colour-bind/article25779474/
We have Asian children, and we don't feel like people stare at us. In general, Brazil is very diverse with lots of Japanese-Brazilians who have been here for decades.
But, we have children who are a different race than we are, but we don't feel particularly discriminated against or stared at anymore here than anywhere else.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Best beaches in the world. Great travel opportunities. Easy weekend trips to Rio and to the beaches in Sao Paulo state. It's a huge, beautiful country, and the domestic flights are reasonable.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Everyone goes to the big Ibirapuera Park, but there are plenty of cute little pocket parks scattered around town. (Trianon, Burle Marx, Severo Gomes, Parque do Povo). Many of them feel like the Atlantic rainforest; some have monkeys. There's also a huge nature preserve north of the city, Parque Estadual da Cantareira, which has great hikes.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Learn to find your local feira, a weekend market where they sell fresh produce. The price is good, and the fruit is spectacular.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Sao Paulo is a great post, especially if you like big cities. It's a sprawling cosmopolitan city with art, culture, museums, city parks and good restaurants. Maybe it's not the most lovely city in the world, and the traffic can be rough, but my family is comfortable here. Nice government housing, excellent schools for the kids, large American community. You can also get nearly everything you need here; no need to import everything. It used to be thought of as an expensive post, but the dollar is very strong in 2015, making Sao Paulo a bargain for Americans.
10. Can you save money?
Yes. As long as the exchange rate stays at 3-to-1 or better.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That you don't need to bring everything with you. That almost everything can be purchased here. Including peanut butter, and wine, and maple syrup.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Of course. It's the most important country in South America, and a comfortable place to live, with gorgeous scenery and opportunities for travel. Sure, Sampa can be a little gray, but it's a vibrant and interesting place.
3. But don't forget your:
Vanilla extract and chocolate chips, for those of you who like to bake. Also, Southerners take note, you can't find grits here.
It's also hard to buy clothing here. It can be more expensive and of less quality, especially children's clothes. You will likely want to do most clothes shopping online.