Sao Paulo, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 04/11/17
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?
No, my fourth after other assignments in Europe, South America and Asia.
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?
New York, about 11 hours direct, with a few different airline options. A big benefit of Sao Paulo is that there are lots of international air routes.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
US government assignment.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is city apartment living, all generally in nice high-rise buildings with security and most with nice amenities. The big issue is location. It used to be that apartments were located in lively neighborhoods like Jardins. In the last couple of years, folks have been moved closer to the Consulate in sterile neighborhoods like Brooklin, where there is very little activity. If you're stuck there, you'll have few places to walk to, whether that be restaurants, shops, or nightlife. If you're looking for that, you'll need to get in a car and travel to a more lively part of the city. The one upside is the new places have a shorter commute to work with less time spent in traffic. I have to say that as a single person who wanted to take advantage of being in a big city, I would have felt cheated if I were stuck in one of the neighborhoods they're putting people in now.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find pretty much anything here. There are great supermarkets and stores here that sell anything you may be looking for, but it will certainly cost more than in the U.S. Take advantage of Amazon Prime.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
There was really nothing I needed that I couldn't find locally.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Pretty good options, though good Asian and Mexican is hard to come by. Most places deliver after 8 pm. Be careful of pizza places, as most inexplicably don't use tomato sauce on pizza.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Thankfully, I've never seen a single bug in my apartment.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Everything comes via pouch, so expect delays of a couple of weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
It's usually easy to find good help through word of mouth at the US consulate and rates are reasonable.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Most buildings have gyms and if you are looking for something beyond what they offer, there are big chains as well as tons of CrossFit places throughout the city.
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?
People generally don't use cash in Sao Paulo and most businesses give you a hard time if you try to pay in cash and need change back. Businesses will run the credit card in front of you to prove they're not scamming you (restaurants will bring the credit card machine to your table). That said, I've had my card cloned three times since I've been here. You just have to use good judgment where you use it. For example, gas stations are usually a bad bet.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Needed. Vast majority of Paulistas do not speak English.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Probably. It just would't be that easy to get around.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Generally, yes. The metro is great in the neighborhoods where it goes, but that's not everywhere, and it goes nowhere near the consulate or where most consulate employees live. Buses are OK but can get crowded. I've never felt unsafe on public transport. Uber works great here. Taxis are fine too, though the drivers sometimes have the TV playing in front of them on the dashboard as they drive you around, which is a culture shock.
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?
A small SUV would work great for clearance and parking.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, but it is a nightmare to get it set up. You need to have a government-issued identification number, which takes months unless you know someone already here who is willing to set it up in their name. But even if they do that, then you should also be aware that it is super difficult to transfer the account to your name when you finally get your identification number.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
For the consulate it depends on your section, as some are more business casual than others. Outside of work, Brazilians generally dress a little better than Americans.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. I was never personally a victim, but have seen and heard of incidents taking place. Sao Paulo's reputation as a dangerous city is somewhat overblown so the danger is being lulled into a sense of false security after you settle in. But it's reputation is also still somewhat deserved. If you use common sense, you should be OK, but I would always be aware when walking around even in the nicest parts of the city. Unfortunately, some incidents just happen when you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. Talk with RSO and take their advice.
2. 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?
Generally OK for a big city.
3. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Generally the same as DC most of the year, but with a milder winter. You won't see snow in Sao Paulo.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is a large and active expat community. If that's what you're looking for, you'll find it through InterNations and the American Society.
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?
There are many private clubs around the city you can join that have great sports and other facilities.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I would imagine best for singles and couples. The best part of Sao Paulo is taking advantage of the culture, restaurants and nightlife.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yep, there's a fantastic gay scene.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Flying within Brazil is relatively inexpensive. Rio is a quick trip and a cheap flight, generally. Other highlights were Buzios, Paraty and exploring the Northeast. There's no shortage of great places to visit.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. For all its hassles, I've never been bored in Sao Paulo. There is always something fun to do.
3. But don't forget your:
Patience. Everything takes longer here and you'll spend a good amount of your time stuck in traffic going somewhere.