Brasilia, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 08/17/11
Personal Experiences from Brasilia, Brazil
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Tel Aviv, Sofia, Warsaw.
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?
Washington. 15 hours to several days depending on the airline. There are real issues with the Delta city-pair. Avoid it if you can.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, 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 great. No issues. I haven't seen a lot of the housing pool, but even the temporary apartment we were in for a week was great. The State Department hates swimming pools at houses, but here they seem to be fine with it. While there may be some bad housing here, I haven't seen it. I hear that there used to be games and inequities regarding the interaction with the housing board. I don't think the current management would tolerate that. Be honest and upfront on your questionnaire and I think you will be fine. Commutes are short and easy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Expensive. You can find anything (except for sour cream), but it will cost you...dearly.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Anything with any significant cost you will want to ship or order from the US once you arrive. I cannot stress that enough. If it is imported into Brazil, do not buy it here. Local goods and services are reasonable.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The best fast food here comes from the food-by-the-kilo places. It is excellent and somewhat moderately priced. Also, they have all the McDonald's, Pizza Huts, Giraffas, etc. But, well, things are very expensive here and when you are spending real money on a meal, why would you go to them?
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
No issues. Specialty foods are widely available and well-marked.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants, but not so many that even a can or two of insecticide can't handle. Ask me again in the rainy season, as it may be different.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Both DPO and pouch. No issues. There were dreadful problems in the past getting mail cleared, but they have been fixed.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Moderate. Affordable. Easy to find.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
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?
They will ding you on the foreign transfer charges, but that is worldwide. There is a Citibank at the embassy. Consider getting an account there.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Again, easy. Cable TV with news and entertainment in English (and local channels as well). I get my news on-line, but there are well-stocked newsstands around as well. Not an issue.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
This is an interesting one. You need it, but it is one of the easiest languages in the world to learn. Your gardener, pool guy, many of your local staff, and almost all of your service providers will not speak English. Do a FAST course or Rosetta Stone if you don't get language training. I cannot imagine how much you would miss here without it. I did 14 weeks of classes, and found what I learned to be sufficient for non-professional discourse. If you hate language training (like I do) Portuguese is the language to learn!
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Mixed. Non quite up to ADA standards, but ramps and such are most everywhere I visit.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
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?
Cars take a long time to get here. Any slight mistake on your paperwork gets multiplied exponentially by the Brazilian bureaucracy. Any car is a good car if you can actually get it back into your possession. Do note that gas is expensive here. There is a gas pump at the embassy, also expensive. Suspend reality and fill 'er up. A car is a must here. Rent one when you arrive.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Fast. Around the price in the US. The embassy helps you set it up. I bought the 5-meg package and benchmark 10-meg! It was set up in days, and they swung it from the temp apartment to the house in a day.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Easy. The embassy will help you, or just go to one of the many stores that sell SIM cards.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
Perhaps. Language would be a must.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
A bit sharper than elsewhere, but just a bit. We see both suits and flip-flops worn at the embassy. I suspect the locals look aghast at how our people dress (sweat pants!) while we do the same to them (the dude was jogging in a Speedo!). Pack suits in your luggage, though. You'll need them right away for official events.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
None that I have seen.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
We have a good MED unit, and we have good local hospitals.
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?
Fine. People complain of dryness in the dry season, and wetness in the wet season. There is no industrial or car pollution whatsoever.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
We have been here for a part of the Southern Hemisphere's winter. 80s everyday, no rain, brilliant blue skies. Paradise.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Several, so you'll have choices. I don't use them, but I have heard no real complaints.
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?
Montessori-type facilities or nannies, take your pick. There are enough options here that everyone should be delighted.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
It may take some looking to find a fit, but you'll find what you are looking for.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large. This is a government town.
2. Morale among expats:
At our embassy, it is good. There were serious issues here before, but they have been addressed. You may hear those who have been here a while echo the past complaints, but things are trending positively.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Great restaurants and housing built for entertaining. Your calendar will be full.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Brasilia is always talked about as a great family post, and I would agree. For singles, I would suggest that you reach out to others at post and see what they say. All of the singles I know are delighted here.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I am not sure. I know the mission is very supportive (for example, winning major battles recently in getting same-sex partners on LES insurance).
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I haven't seen them. That doesn't mean they are not there.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We have not been here too long. Rio is great. Haven't seen too much else as we have been enjoying Brasilia so much. Air travel is horridly expensive at the last minute, but cheap if you shop in advance.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
My house is a resort. Patio, pool, etc. I haven't been out too much, as being home is so fun.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It is pleasant here...easy. Suburban bliss, even in the "city". Brasilia is foreign enough to be interesting, but "normal" enough to keep things drama-free.
11. Can you save money?
Oddly, yes. Just don't buy expensive stuff on impulse (i.e., on the economy) and you'll be fine. Anything you want right away (TV, airline tickets, consumables), you will pay dearly for.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
perception that South America is inexpensive.
3. But don't forget your:
sunscreen and pool toys.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Brasilia is a great post. It has overcome the issues that you may have heard about in the past. That said, do be aware that it is expensive, and that the bureaucracy here takes a good deal of tolerance. So far, it seems worth it.