Sao Paulo, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 11/01/17
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?
Yes, it was my first.
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?
Home is Florida, USA. There are many direct flights from Sao Paulo to Miami, but they are long (9+ hours), pricey and usually overnight. Also, if you have pets, note that air travel can be an issue since Brazil is one of the countries that frequently does not permit pets in cabin -- most are required to be in baggage or cargo.
3. How long have you lived here?
We lived in Sao Paulo for two years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
As with most housing in Sao Paulo, we were in a high-rise apartment. We were in a sleepy neighborhood that was a short 15-minute drive to the consulate, but a bit of a haul to go anywhere else (45 minute average). We had a nice large apartment that was relatively new in comparison to others, but lived next door to a remaining favela (slum) that made walking the neighborhood not a good idea after dark (and even sometimes during the day depending on specific events).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Sao Paulo is expensive when it comes to buying groceries or retail products, especially if they are imported from the US or elsewhere. And their availability is random even at the stores frequented by expats. Subscription to Amazon Prime or frequent orders from Target, etc. are a must for most. However, the fresh fruit is AMAZING and affordable at street markets (versus the stores).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Anything liquid which is not permitted to be ordered online and delivered via the pouch (sauces, condiments, preferred shampoos/soaps, cleaning supplies, etc.) Also spices (PEPPER!), healthy snack foods, gluten free items if required, etc. If you are into healthy eating, you will struggle with the canned/boxed/bagged foods in Brazil since they contain a lot of sugar and additives in comparison to other countries.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The restaurant scene in Sao Paulo is well known around the world. You will be able to find any type of food if you look hard enough. If you are a sushi fan, you will be in heaven due to the quality and affordability. Most other restaurants, however, can be pricey. Note that dinner is late and most restaurants will not open until 7 p.m. Food delivery availability is random and often takes a while and shows up cold and a mess (due to the motorcycle transport on bumpy roads).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants can be an issue and mosquitoes will always find a way in, even if you live in a high-rise apartment.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We used the pouch at the U.S. consulate. The one time I had to look for a post office for inter-country mail I was unsuccessful.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is very inexpensive. We paid the equivalent of $30 USD for a full day of cleaning and errands. Many friends also employed cooks and nannies which are readily available.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are gyms everywhere in Sao Paulo, but membership is required at most and the prices exceed those found in the U.S. Most of the larger living complexes have adequate gyms available to residents free of charge.
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 card skimming and fraud are a major problem in Sao Paulo. We opened one card for specific use there and kept the others locked away. We were hit 3 times in 2 years. When dining out insist that a credit card machine is brought to the table where you can witness the transaction. DO NOT use ATMs in public. Go inside your work location if one is provided or physically go inside a bank.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Not a lot to be honest. Portuguese is a MUST here. Very few people speak English.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Portuguese is a MUST. Even non-working spouses will need to have at least beginner-level knowledge. English is rarely spoken by apartment managers, taxis or store and restaurant staff.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Especially if you need assistance getting around. Due to the bad infrastructure, the sidewalks are very broken and uneven which makes any kind of assistance equipment impossible to use. Handicap parking is also hard to find.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We avoided buses and the metro in Sao Paulo due to some security concerns, but mostly due to the overcrowding and lack of AC. We opted for Uber and 99Taxi apps which were very reliable and cheap. Parking can be an issue in Sao Paulo, so our car in the garage more than it was driven.
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?
Something with high clearance and that can handle rough, pothole-ridden roads. Also, due to car robberies, we would recommend an older vehicle that doesn't draw attention and that you don't care if it gets dinged by other drivers. Some friends opted for armored cars, but we did not.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed internet is available and good when it is connected (sometimes lacking if you are trying to watch TV or have more than one family member trying to use it). However, the frequent power outages that torment Sao Paulo will leave you without quite frequently.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Use an old phone when you are out and about due to frequent robberies. You will need to contract with a local carrier in Brazil (no home country plans seem to work there). Unless you open a Brazil bank account you will need to pay your mobile bills in person at the store or partner bank locations.
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 quarantine is required but you will need a lot of health paperwork approved by your vet and the USDA prior to entry. Sao Paulo is a VERY dog friendly city when it comes to acceptance and attitudes towards differing breeds. However, there is not a lot of green space and dogs often go to the bathroom on the sidewalk (watch where you step since most people do not clean up after their pets). There are several recommended veterinarians that speak English. Note that if you take your dog out a lot you should look into the Brazil vaccinations (which are in addition to the ones required in the U.S.).
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?
There were not a lot of locally based jobs available to expatriate spouses when we were there. The American Society of Sao Paulo had some part-time openings that occasionally opened up, but most were volunteer only. The consulate had some jobs but required at least a level 1 knowledge in Portuguese. Salaries are extremely low in comparison to the US (especially if you are paid locally with the bad conversion rates).
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
If you enjoy volunteering you will enjoy Sao Paulo. Schools, orphanages, pet rescues, government groups - there are several opportunities. You're first step should be to reach out to The American Society of Sao Paulo that leads or knows someone who is connected to the several charities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The work dress code is similar to the U.S. The social dress code can be the same or extremely different depending on where you are going. Formal events here are extremely formal, with both men and women spending the entire day at the spa for hair, makeup, and nails. We never felt "fancy" enough when we attended the high-level events.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I know some people hold back on this section and give the generic "just be smart and aware" comment. However, if I am honest, crime in Sao Paulo is bad. It doesn't exist in pockets or only at night, and they don't randomly target just the flashy. Crime happens everywhere in all neighborhoods at all times.
We lived in Sao Paulo for two years and knew three people that were robbed at gun point - two on a busy street and one in her car while she was stopped in traffic (where they busted out the windows to get to her and her valuables). Our apartment was targeted and robbed. We lost all of our valuables, including the stuff in our hidden "theft proof" safe.
In all instances we and our friends followed the protocol -- be aware, blend in, don't wear jewelry, don't carry large popular branded purses, etc. It doesn't matter. There is really nothing you can do but know that it MAY happen and how to handle the situation if it does.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
When we left Sao Paulo, Zika was the big health concern, but I feel it was overblown by the American media. We found medical care to be excellent. Most places have at least one doctor that speaks a little bit of English, which helps those that are not fluent in Portuguese. Be prepared to have to go to the lab to get scans for everything! The thoroughness of Brazilian doctors is a running joke with the expats, but appreciated at the same time. Medical care is much more affordable than the U.S.
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?
In comparison to other large cities it is pretty good, but our 8-year-old daughter did have issues with the pollution and had to go on medication during our entire two years in Sao Paulo. Once we left she was able to discontinue the medication, which confirmed that pollution was the issue.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
If you have allergies or sensitivity to varying air qualities, you will most likely have to medicate. Also, foods and restaurant menus in Brazil are not required to list all ingredients or possible allergens like nuts, gluten, etc. so you will need to be on guard if food allergies are an issue.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather in Sao Paulo is very pleasant. The seasons are opposite of the US, but don't vary in temperature too much. I would say they resemble the southeast US as a comparison.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most expatriate kids attend one of the two best known schools: Graded (American school) and British College of Brazil (British school).
Graded is usually everyone's top choice since it is the American school. It is extremely large and has lots of events and activities for attending families and the community, but it can also have a long waiting list (Americans do not receive priority placement) and is a lengthy drive from most of the expat communities (long bus rides result in very early pick up and very late drop off).
BCB is a smaller, more intimate school that is close to the U.S. consulate and most of the expat communities. It is still growing and is lacking an upper school, but the programs available to middle school and under are great. Both schools are academically advanced with top-notch teachers and accolades. So really it depends on the type of experience you want (and who has an opening when you need it).
Our daughter attended 1st - 3rd grade at BCB and she absolutely loved it. And, when we returned to the US for a brief stay in the DC area, she was a year ahead of her American classmates in regards to curriculum learned.
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?
There are a lot of traditional sports available to boys (soccer, tennis, martial arts, swimming). Girls will find some as well, but they are much more limited than boys given the culture. Dance, music, and equestrian are all big for both boys and girls in Sao Paulo. The American Society offers weekly American sports for kids (football, baseball, girl's soccer) but they are not competitive.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Sao Paulo has a very large expatriate community. Morale shifts based on work (those with the government are higher than private, since a lot of private companies are pulling out of Sao Paulo and Brazil given the financial and political issues). If you can travel outside of the city at least once a month it will help with your morale (this is what most locals do).
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?
Sao Paulo always has fun events to attend and all the expatriate societies are involved with their bases as well. It is impossible to be bored in Sao Paulo. We recommend The American Society of Sao Paulo (even if you are not American - their events are open to all and they also partner with other countries to promote their events as well).
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I would absolutely recommend Sao Paulo to singles and young couples. It is an "OK" post for families. Most of the events happen late at night or consist of partying, which singles and young couples are more likely to enjoy. (Don't get me wrong - we enjoyed them too, when we were able to find a babysitter and didn't feel guilty for constantly leaving our child at home). Dining out can be more upscale and caters to a bigger wallet.
Also, we felt that Sao Paulo didn't have a lot for families to do in general - one major park was over-visited by us, as well as several museums focusing on limited history. Sao Paulo also has a small unkept zoo and a small aquarium. Sadly, kids in Sao Paulo spend most of their time indoors. We spent most of our time traveling outside of Sao Paulo in search of fun family-friendly activities.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Sao Paulo is excellent for the LGBT community and has one of the largest Pride parades in the world.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
It depends on how much you integrate into the community, but if you do you will witness "machismo" attitudes. Most local women we knew stayed home and there were not as many sports activities available to our daughter. We did not witness any ethnic or religious issues. Brazilians love Americans and the country has really opened up to other groups as well.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The highlights for us were school events and community events sponsored by The American Society of Sao Paulo. Our trips outside of Sao Paulo were the most memorable. Inter-country flights are actually inexpensive and readily available. Our favorites were Rio for New Years and Carnaval, Paraty, Iguacu Falls, Bonito, Campo Grande, Campos do Jordao, and The Amazon. All were family friendly (but enjoyed by our single and young couple friends as well).
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The events associated with Carnaval, Festa Junina, and Oktoberfest are fun and should be on everyone's list (including families). Also, for an adult night out there are interesting karaoke bars that are fun to attend with groups.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes, but mostly outside of Sao Paulo. Embu is a fun day trip for all your art and cultural handicraft wants.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's the major travel hub for Brazil, so inter-country travel is very easy and affordable if you live in Sao Paulo. And again, the restaurants.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
We wish had known about the infrastructure struggles that resulted in frequent power outages which can be an absolute drain on you. Also, we wish people would have been more open about the safety issues.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Overall we are glad we got to experience life in Sao Paulo, however we would not move back to the city. Brazil yes, but Sao Paulo no.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Do you have any other comments?
If you are looking at a list of foreign locales to live in, Sao Paulo will definitely outrank many. You just need to make sure you are educated on the realities and be prepared for anything.