Sao Paulo, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 05/06/21
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. I have also served in Berlin, Port-au-Prince, and Tokyo.
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?
KY. To Sao Paulo is about 15 hours via Atlanta. From Sao Paulo is about 18-20 hours via Atlanta, Chicago, New York, or Houston.
3. What years did you live here?
Tour is 2019-2022.
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
Housing is a mixed bag. Some apartments are large other are small-depending on the area you're assigned. Our apartment is large but old and outdated. We were assigned a 4BR/5.5BA apartment in a larger size condominium community. Inside our gated/walled/secure community there are 2500 residents in roughly 500 apartments. We have all of the amenities-though they have been closed for a long time due to Covid. Amenities inside the gates include: 2 pools (1 heated), large community workout room, tennis courts, soccer field, basketball courts, a larger community playground, a restaurant, a hair/nail salon, and a wooded area with trails for walking. Our housing in the the Santo Amaro area near the British school and Chapel School. Commute to work in normal times range from 20-45 minutes depending on the time you leave.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Mostly anything can be found-except real sour cream, buttermilk, US style powdered sugar and real vanilla extract. Cost is relatively equivalent with the exception of berries-those are expensive. Amazon Brasil is a good source if you know Portuguese enough to search. Sams Club is also an option for a membership 1/2 the price of that in the US and sometimes they have US products in stock. There are local butchers and bakeries and even fruit/vegetable markets. Most areas/neighborhoods in the city hold a "feira" (street market) once a week-offering fresh fruits/veggies, smoked meats and cheeses, fresh breads and other things. The feira is typically less expensive than a market but the fresh fruits/veggies don't last as long-in my opinion.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Paper towels/toilet paper/laundry soap. Paper products are inferior and very expensive. Nearly all of the shampoos/soaps/deodorants/and detergents contain some type of perfume. If you're allergic or have a sensitivity ship some pods in your HHE, carry on a small quantity and then order as needed. I carry on several blocks of cheddar cheese every time I come back from the US as it can be hard to come by and it just isn't the same. Also, bring yourself some powdered buttermilk if you want biscuits, pancakes, or any type of salad that requires it.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Nearly everything is available. We haven't found amazing Middle Eastern foods here but there are some okay-ish alternatives. McDonalds, Wendy's, Burger King, Popeyes, KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominoes, and a recent addition-Nathan's hotdogs. There are several delivery apps to choose from UberEats, iFood, Rappi to name a few.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Tiny ants. No matter how clean I keep the kitchen they are a nuisance.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch. If ordering from local websites local mail/delivery is cheap and reliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Hiring full-time help requires a lot of hoop jumping. Anything over 3 days a week is considered FT. Most dips hire day workers at/around $40-$50/day.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Almost all buildings have a small workout room. The Consulate has a facility on compound. And I cannot speak to availability/cost of local gyms-I have seen them but I have no knowledge of what they offer.
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?
We have used our US credit card at MOST places while in SP. We did open a "Rendimento" account with a local bank that is coordinated with the consulate so that we would be able to more easily pay school bills and local cell/inet bills.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
In my opinion, it is absolutely necessary. Most of your apartment building staff do not speak any English which makes it difficult to communicate when there are questions/concerns. Also, in our building ALL posted communications are in Portuguese-that has been very difficult to manage during Covid lockdowns/restrictions.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I think yes. Many places are equipped with ramps for wheelchairs but it is definitely not on par with ADA guidelines in the US. Also, I have not noticed a large deaf community within SP. And I can't imagine navigating the city streets as a blind person.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We are not supposed to use the local buses for safety concerns. There is a metro system for the metro area but I have never used it as it is easier to drive in my case. There are many taxi apps that much of the dip community uses-Uber/99Taxi among others.
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?
An SUV. A Rav4 is a good choice. If you plan to travel outside of SP into the country something with 4 wheel drive would be preferable. Nothing to flashy or expensive.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Reliable. Usually installation can occur within a week.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I use a local provider (VIVO). Cost is MUCH cheaper than US.-about $5US/week for calling/texting and 3g of data using a prepaid plan.
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?
Veterinarians are good. Some will even make house calls. Kennels are different than in the US in that they allow all of the dogs to remain in a communal area. You decide if it's better or worse for your pet(s). There is no quarantine if you have all the documents and the USDA letter/stamp. Delta is the only airline we found that were willing to allow our small pet to fly in-cabin into Brazil. Check your carriers before booking your flights.
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?
Teaching at one of the international schools, at the consulate (most are consular positions), or self-employed.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are some but you have to search hard to find them.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business and business casual. Brazilians are a well-dressed culture.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I am hyper vigilant while out and about. I don't wear flashy jewelry or accessories. I try not to use my cell phone in public. Basically, it is like any other metropolitan city. Be aware of your surroundings and don't draw unnecessary attention to yourself.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The dip community uses two different private hospitals for anything the HU can't assist with. They are good quality and it is relatively easy to find someone that speaks English to assist with difficult info. I can't speak to evac protocols as I am unaware.
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?
Mostly adequate. We have heavy pollution days but it is relatively infrequent.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Epi-Pens/epinephrine shots are NOT AVAILABLE to the public in Brazil. If you need to have this for anaphylaxis be sure to bring a supply with you and stay on top of it as mail typically takes 3-6 weeks to arrive. Epinephrine injections are available only at hospitals. So even if an ambulance arrives to you in time they don't have it in their supplies.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Only in the sense that lockdown has been dragging on forever. Many people are fatigued by this.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Warm in summer. Cool/cold in winter. The most extreme temperature I have seen in my time here are 98F and 34F but both are quite rare.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are many international schools. Most kids attend Graded, a non-profit school. Others attend: Chapel, British school, and Avenues. Our experience at Graded grades 4-6 and 2-4 have been mostly good. Nearly all of the teachers are top-notch educators. Their teachers have international teaching backgrounds/experience. We have been a bit disappointed with the teachers this year but we aren't sure if it is due to the distance learning or the teachers. Overall, I am glad we chose this school and (when they are actually in classes) my children are happy and seem to be thriving.
2. 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?
Yes. If you send your kids to the preschool at an international school it is quite expensive. Local preschools are taught in Portuguese and I believe they are all day programs.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. Widely, when not in lockdown.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Unsure. I would guess with the size of the city it is large. However, there really isn't a "community". Sao Paulo offers many experiences so people tend to go it alone (with their families). Some of the singles have built a herd among themselves and I imagine they feel differently than I.
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?
International Newcomers Club holds meetings/gatherings and monthly artisanal fairs. Annual memberships is around $50 for a family less for a single.
The American Club of Sao Paulo offers gatherings, sailing meetups at the yacht club, they partner with international schools to offer a weekend youth soccer/sports program, they also partner with the consulate to offer seasonal events like Easter and Halloween. Membership dues are unknown.
Of course, all of these events were cancelled due to covid.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes to all of the above. Plenty of things to do and see. Lots of parks, museums, shopping, and night life.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Lasting friendships, no. Passing friendships/acquaintances sure. Even the local students at the schools are not very open to spending time with expat students-but that seems to be a common theme in this adventure.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
In my opinion yes. Although, I can't begin to know what challenges might be faced. From what I have seen there seems to be a wide acceptance of all people in the LGBTQ community.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is. Racism towards people of color has been and continues to be a problem.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Birdwatching. Beach trips. Ilhabela was my favorite. Just be sure t=you buy the local mosquito repellent when you get there...
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
I don't know of many hidden gems but my favorite place to go just outside the city is Embu das Artes. I like to walk the city streets and admire the arts and culture. The MASP in Ibirapuera and the fair under it have also been highlights. In Blumenau there is an Oktoberfest in September-pre/post covid, of course. It is singles and family friendly. Book your hotel early.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not of particular notoriety, but we did buy a few pieces of art for our home.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Access to low cost regional travel...
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Sao Paulo is loud. There are SO MANY people EVERYWHERE. Traffic and roadways are awful. Motorcyclists do not care if they hit your car. They only care that you don't impede their movement. Apartment construction work is nearly constant.
There are some really amazing bakeries and restaurants. The people are the most friendly and welcoming people you will ever meet.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Probably not. Sao Paulo has taught me I do not prefer living in large, heavily-populated cities or high-rise buildings.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Desire for peace and quiet
4. But don't forget your: