Sao Paulo, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 06/13/24

Personal Experiences from Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sao Paulo, Brazil 06/13/24


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, many others, mostly in Europe.

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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 country is United States. Many direct flights from Sao Paulo to the US, though almost all options are redeyes in both directions. Fewer or no direct options for most US destinations on the west coast or mountain west, but many options to east coast, southeast, Texas, Chicago, and of course Miami and Florida; typically ~10+ hour flight depending on destination. Most difficult part honestly is enduring the traffic to/from GRU airport. It can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours depending on time of day.

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3. What years did you live here?


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4. How long have you lived here?

About a year.

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5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

US Consulate housing pool is very spread out and diverse. The Consulate leases housing at many different apartment complexes across a handful of different neighborhoods, so it's challenging to predict in advance what you might get, as even units within the same building can be substantially different. You may be the only Consulate family in a building or one of many.

Typically, most housing is in small, medium or large apartment buildings, with at least three to five bedrooms, and an ungodly number of bathrooms for some reason. Proximity to amenities like groceries and restaurants varies wildly within the housing pool, and street noise can be an issue at some locations (lots of motorcycle noise and street racing). Some apartments are better than others for those with dogs. Commute times to the Consulate vary widely depending on location, but typically are anywhere from 10-30 minutes.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Prices for produce are perhaps a bit cheaper than the US; specialty items and imported goods are definitely more expensive. Availability of certain items can be inconsistent and challenging. Difficult to list all of the issues, but I would highlight the following: Brazilians make many unlicensed imitations of well known trademarked cheeses that aren't that good, and getting the real deal from Europe or North America can be very expensive locally. Yogurt in Brazil is also very bizarre and even plain yogurt is often ridiculously sweet. Any sort of "ethnic" ingredients, especially any Asian ingredients are challenging to find at regular Brazilian supermarkets. Some Japanese and Korean markets do exist in Sao Paulo but they may not be convenient to go to on a regular basis.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

A lot can be ordered via mail, and I travel often enough outside of Brazil to bring back whatever I need. I find myself bringing back things like chocolate chips, olive oil (because it's much cheaper at Costco), maple syrup, cheese (especially real parmesan), anything from Trader Joe's, peanut butter, vanilla extract (again, way cheaper and better at Costco), and Asian condiments.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

I don't believe in such services because they exploit their labor and are often a bad deal for hard working restaurants. That being said, many people probably use iFood.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

No significant issues. Mosquitoes can be bad.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Post is switching from pouch to DPO in 2024. I also use the Brazilian mail which honestly is about as slow/fast as sending via the Consulate. Everything generally seems to arrive within three to four weeks.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

I am physically capable of doing my own cleaning and laundry etc., though certainly some expats hire part time or full time help. I have not heard anyone complain about this being a financial burden. I have not heard of people hiring drivers here.

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3. Do you feel that it is safe to walk, run or hike outside? Are there areas where bike riding is possible? What is the availability and safety of outdoor space for exercising? Are these easily accessible?

Traffic in Sao Paulo is chaotic and normal traffic rules are frequently do any outdoor activities at your own risk if they involve crossing roads or using public roads. That being said, there are a number of nice larger parks, but they may not be in easy walking distance from any of the Consulate housing. Hiking is available, but you'll probably have to drive at least a few hours to get out of Sao Paulo and to trailheads.

Crimes of opportunity are definitely common, especially cell phone theft. It's not uncommon for Consulate staff to become victims of crime while in Sao Paulo. As with anything, location, time of day, and using common sense can help minimize these risks.

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4. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Some apartment buildings have their own gyms, and other sports facilities (tennis courts, swimming pools, etc.) and the Consulate has ample sports facilities as well. I don't see the point of paying when free options are available, but certainly paid options exist and some people must use them.

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5. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Yes, common credit cards (Visa) are accepted almost everywhere. The Consulate has ATMs; ATM skimming can definitely be an issue if you choose to use a dodgier ATM someplace else.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

English is not spoken by the vast majority of Brazilians, so learning some Portuguese can be super helpful. The Consulate offers free lessons and of course apps like duolingo are also options to pick up the basics. That being said, depending on what your day-to-day life looks like, your interactions outside of work may be relatively limited anyways. Ordering at restaurants is about the extent of my needing Portuguese most weeks.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

You can definitely tell that Brazil makes some effort to accommodate those with physical disabilities, but implementation varies widely from location to location, so overall I think it would certainly be more challenging living here than living in the US, but it's also certainly not a country that has zero accommodations for the handicapped.

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1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

The Consulate discourages staff from riding buses and subways, but they are available and relatively inexpensive. Uber is very inexpensive and widely used; typically $3-15 to go anywhere within Sao Paulo. Even to get to GRU airport via Uber is like only $30-40.

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2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?

Driving and parking in Sao Paulo is not fun. Definitely bring a smaller car if that's what you have. We honestly hardly ever use our car because it's just more convenient to Uber anywhere. The main thing we use our car for is occasionally going to the supermarket if we know we'll have a lot of stuff to bring back or if we don't feel like going to the supermarket in walking distance from apartment. Bringing electrical vehicles overseas is generally not worth the hassle given shipping restrictions and also not knowing if charging stations will be readily available in or near provided housing.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes. The Consulate typically recommends using Vivo. We had internet set up within a few days of arriving. It's reasonably fast and reliable and affordable. Power outages are usually the main reason for losing internet.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

I use Google Fi as it's convenient for whenever I travel to other countries too, but it's not that cheap. That being said, in one year we've already had to replace 3 google Fi SIM cards that have just randomly stopped working, so that's been kind of disappointing, and one always then has to wait a few weeks to receive the replacement SIM in the mail. Perhaps I should just stockpile some SIM cards.

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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?

Many Brazilians have pets. Groomers, vets, and boarding services are widely available. Grooming and pet boarding are very affordable. Pet meds may be more expensive, depending on what your pet needs.

Dog food is oddly expensive here, and most stores stock primarily food for smaller dogs as those are the more popular breeds in Sao Paulo. We tried a few local dog food brands, but ended up reverting to ordering dog food from Costco as our dog did not take to any of the local options we tried. Walking your dog can be annoying in Brazil. Apartment buildings may allow dogs, but they are not that accommodating of dogs and will make you use the servants elevator and generally won't have designated dog parks or other spots to let your dog relieve itself on the premises.

Depending on the neighborhood, there can be a lot of trash on sidewalks and traffic to navigate, which makes walking your dog a less than pleasant experience. That being said, paid dog walking services are also an available option.

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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?

It's a mix. Everything from teleworking, to employment at Consulate, to local jobs (mostly teaching), and also just not accompanying spouse to Sao Paulo. In general, local salaries will likely be lower in Brazil compared to the US.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

No idea, but I imagine in a city this size opportunities likely exist. Probably would require being able to speak some Portuguese though.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Similar to most places, business casual most days and formal dress only at special events.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

On a global scale, Sao Paulo would probably rank someplace in the middle. It's definitely not a super safe city, but it's also not like you can only travel via armored convoy. Use common sense, don't wear jewelry in public, don't take out your phone in public, and only bring what you really need (i.e. don't carry a full wallet). Crime is definitely an issue here, but if you use common sense, you can still go out and do things and not fear for your life.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Air quality, as in most giant cities, isn't the best. It's also a very noisy city, which can cause issues with sleeping. But medical care is widely available and reasonably affordable, and the Consulate Health Unit is great as well. Pharmacies seem to exist on every other block.

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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?

It's all relative to what you are used to, but, in general, it's not great here but it's also certainly not New Delhi or Bishkek. It's hard to find someplace quiet and non-polluted unless you want to drive several hours to escape the city or fly somewhere more rural. Whenever I leave Sao Paulo, the first thing I notice is how much cleaner the air smells elsewhere.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

I don't have many insights on this. Some restaurants make an effort to list allergens, others don't. Knowing Portuguese will help navigate such issues as most restaurant staff won't speak English and most restaurants won't have English copies of menus.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Just the usual depression associated with the monotony of serving at a visa mill. Also, challenges of living in a giant chaotic city, if that's something you are not used to or like. It's pleasant not having anything resembling a real winter here, so likely no seasonal affective disorder issues.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

It's sort of subtropical. Never all that cold in the winter, and quite hot in the summer. Some parts of the year are rainier than others.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

They exist; we have no children, but there are others at post that do.

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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?

They exist, but we have no experience with them.

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, there seem to be plenty of reasonably affordable options. Will of course help a lot if your kids pick up Portuguese quickly.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The US Consulate is quite large, and a number of other countries have consulates in Sao Paulo. Morale is mixed. Sao Paulo is or has been a historically challenging to fill post. It is definitely not for everyone, though some people seem to like it. If you're a first or second tour Consular officer, be aware that this is one of the busiest NIV posts in the world, so work is grueling and monotonous.

Non-Consular sections seem to be happier. Being a large city, Sao Paulo has much to offer in the way of events, museums, and restaurants. Getting around the city can be disheartening during times of bad traffic. And getting out of the city to do things on the weekend is challenging unless you are a very patient driver; it's almost easier to just fly somewhere if one wants to get away from Sao Paulo for a bit, especially if you can take a flight from Congonhas.

I would say the main benefit of Sao Paulo is that it's a good base for exploring the rest of South America as you can fly many places regionally from GRU. Many do vacations to Argentina, Chile, Peru,..., and of course Brazil is a very large country with interesting natural places to visit as well (Amazon, Pantanal, Iguazu,...), but week-to-week one can feel quite trapped in Sao Paulo and you really have to be a "city-person" to want to live here.

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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?

People socialize both within and outside of the Consulate community. Whatever your preferences are, you'll probably find some options. When socializing outside of the Consulate, knowing Portuguese will go a long way. There are various clubs active within the Consulate community. The EFM CLO position has not been filled for like a year, so perhaps that has had some impacts on the amount of events organized by the Consulate.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

It's hard to generalize too much, but, yes, it's a giant city with many young people, so probably not too bad for single people. There are also plenty of couples and families here. It's probably not a horrible place to serve, but also unlikely to be many peoples' dream post.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

I have not made any overt effort to make friends with locals. Quite a few of the African-American Consulate officers will tell you about various instances of day-to-day racial discrimination in Sao Paulo, so racism is definitely alive and well in Brazil. Asian Americans of East Asian decent will probably be confused for being Japanese-Brazilian.

Microaggressions and other odd and somewhat racist behavior towards Asian American officers are certainly not unheard of, but seemingly not as crass and soul crushing as some of the experiences African American officers have suffered through here. For Hispanic Americans, your experiences will probably vary depending on your roots, but given the situation in Venezuela, prejudices against Venezuelans can definitely be quite strong in some parts of Brazil.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Sao Paulo has a very large LGBT community, and a seemingly large portion of the Consulate community are LGBT. Can't really speak on this matter myself, but given the statistics, I would wager a guess that Sao Paulo certainly is better than many other posts with more negative views and laws towards the LGBT community.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Same answers as above question regarding racial minorities. Racism in Brazil, as in many other countries, is still a prevalent issue and can be very difficult for those experiencing it. Not sure about religious prejudices, but it's not something I have heard a lot of concerns about in Sao Paulo. Christianity is definitely the pre-dominant religion in Brazil, but places of worship for other religions exist, and, unlike in some other countries, you don't hear much about mob or government violence against minority religious groups.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Anything not in Sao Paulo. Lots of cool places to visit throughout South America, and of course flights to Portugal are plentiful and affordable. Everyone posted to Sao Paulo will probably go to the Iguacu waterfalls at least a few times, and many other cool nature places to visit in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, etc.; but if your budget doesn't allow for it and you're mostly stuck in Sao Paulo, you'll really need to be a gritty city person or have some hobbies that will help you get through the tour.

It's a real grind living here. It's not a particularly pretty or walkable or safe city. Also, the food is not for everyone. Staple Brazilian food is quite boring and consists of lots of beans, rice, and meat, and most food tends to be very salty and desserts very sweet (Brazil was built on slavery and sugar cane plantations...), and it can be challenging, even in Sao Paulo, to find decent and authentic non-Brazilian cuisines, and those challenges are only exacerbated in less cosmopolitan parts of Brazil.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Not really, most of my recommendations would involve getting on a plane and flying someplace else in the region.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Not to the extent that certain other posts are notorious shopping posts. There are certainly various local handicrafts one can obtain if one wants to. Lots of options for sculptures or carvings of the various cool animals and birds of Brazil.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The GRU airport is one of the best connected airports in South America, so at least it's easy to travel to North America, Europe or elsewhere in South America. Otherwise, not much really, in my opinion.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

The extent to which the Sao Paulo Consulate is a huge visa mill, and I wish I had known more about Brazilian cuisine in advance.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely not.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes

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4. But don't forget your:

Any hobbies you can easily do from home so you don't need to venture out into the city all of the time.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

All of the books I read about Brazil in advance of moving here were depressing, and probably did not put me in a good mindset to begin with, so perhaps best to not read too much to keep a more open mind?

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6. Do you have any other comments?


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