Brasilia, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 06/18/14

Personal Experiences from Brasilia, Brazil

Brasilia, Brazil 06/18/14


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

I have lived in Beijing, Buenos Aires, Pretoria, and Paris.

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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?

We don't really have a home base in the USA but most often we fly to Florida or DC. Normal routes are via Miami or Atlanta. There are direct flights to those cities from Brasilia. They are overnight flights, around 8 to 9 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I have been here for roughly 2.5 years and have around 2 years remaining at post.

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

Government - in the middle of a 4 year tour.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

All housing tends to be large here - both apartments and houses. Note that I'm speaking here about the housing typically rented/owned by the various diplomatic organizations. Apartments can vary - some are in modern buildings but some are in older, run-down buildings. Some have balconies. The amenities offered in the buildings vary as well - some have gyms and entertainment rooms for building use, others have nothing.

The houses vary as well but most have nice outdoor entertaining areas, backyards and pools. Some of the houses are pretty spectacular, especially compared to the apartments. Mostly, the U.S. Embassy puts families in the houses - some smaller, junior level families are placed in the apartments. Couples are typically housed in apartments. Commute times are really pretty good from anywhere. Longest commute to the Embassy is maybe 25 minutes, shortest would be maybe 10 minutes. Traffic is normally pretty good. A few people bike to work.

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

Any imported products are very expensive - double or triple what it would cost in the USA. Availability is pretty good, except for a few food items that are just not eaten here as much - berries, mushrooms, greek yogurt without sugar added, cheddar cheese, sour cream, certain vegetables. If you are used to certain brands from your home country, you may not find them here. Cleaning products aren't so bad.

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

The welcome kit of dishes, sheets, towels, etc... provided by the Embassy is OK, but considering that we don't get our shipments for up to 4 or 5 months, I should have sent more of my favorite cooking things in advance by mail - i.e. baking stuff, nice knives, additional cutting boards.

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

Yes, plenty of good restaurants and sufficient fast food is available. Costs really vary. Better restaurants will cost nearly double what a similar meal in the USA would cost. What's really missing here is good ethnic food choices. Brazilians, in general, don't like spicy food. There are no Thai or Indian restaurants here. Yes, NONE. There is one place that does a good Indian buffet once a month and it is very popular with the dip community. There are a few Mexican places but they aren't great. Japanese food is common and is good.

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

Mosquitoes are common, as well as lots of other flying bugs, many that bite. We go through lots of bug spray. We are lucky to have few bugs in our apartment but I know of others who have major ant problems or difficulties with other crawling bugs.

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Daily Life:

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

We are able to use the U.S. Diplomatic Pouch. It is slow - 2-4 weeks to get anything, sometimes longer.

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

Part-time help (2 days a week or less) is pretty easy to find - cost is around R$100 per day. Full-time helpers are a bit harder to find and there are more regulations regarding salary and leave. Salary is somewhere around $R1000 to R$2000 per month. Most folks are able to find good help.

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

The gym at the U.S. Embassy is free but has limited equipment. Some neighborhood gyms are fairly reasonable (comparable or just above costs in the USA), but the larger gyms which offer more classes and cater to rich Brazilians are crazy expensive (i.e. US$400 month). There are many personal trainers/clubs who offer all sorts of fitness classes from Yoga to Muay Thai to Jui Jitsu.

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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?

Cloning of credit cards is pretty common. One must take care with your cards and check accounts often. Using cash is safer but you may not wish to carry too much cash. Some ATMs do not work well with American ATM cards. Using machines inside of banks or in more secure areas is always best.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are couple different English language churches - mainly Protestant or Interdenominational.

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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?

To enjoy your daily living, I'd say quite a bit. Brazilians are very forgiving of poorly spoken Portuguese and will try to help you, but very few speak anything except Portuguese even in a government city like Brasilia. If you speak Spanish, it will help you to understand them, but most will not understand you very well if you speak Spanish to them. Really try to learn at least some basics before arrival.

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

Yes, depending on the disability. One has to drive everywhere here - public transport is not safe, and/or it doesn't go to all of the places one is likely to go to. It was not designed as a walkable city - and in certain areas, sidewalks are very uneven/rough or non-existent.

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

Metro is safe during the day and is affordable, but doesn't go many places. Buses are not safe. Taxis are generally safe but not cheap. Probably about the same price as in the USA or a little more.

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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?

Pretty much all makes of cars can be found here. SUVs are nice if you plan to travel outside of Brasilia especially into some of the parks. But, you can get by with a sedan in most places. Parts can be a problem for more unusual cars. I think Hondas, Toyotas, Fords, Fiats, BMWs are probably the most common. People tend to bring extra tires, filters, wipers, etc... Windshield washing fluid is not available here for some reason.

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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. Cost and quality of service varies widely. We have a cable TV/Internet package with 10MB speed and it costs around US$110/month. For us, it is quite reliable, but I have heard of others who have had major problems with outages and crappy speed. Sometimes we have trouble watching Netflix or Amazon Prime videos, but usually it is OK. Much higher data packages are available too.

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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?

Electronics are crazy expensive here. Try to bring an unblocked phone although you can get a blocked phone unlocked here. There are a wide variety of packages available depending on your needs.

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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?

No pet quarantine and yes, there are many highly qualified vets. Kennels are not plentiful but they exist. It's also generally not hard to find someone to watch your pet for you when you are away.

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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?

Not so great, no. Fluent Portuguese is required for most jobs on the local economy and competition is tough.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are lots of groups doing some very good work here. Project Teach is a group that works with a specific school in an outlying community - they provide fresh veg and meat, tutor, provide supplies, etc... Some people work with various English teaching centers in town. The schools always need volunteers as well as the CLO at the Embassy.

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

Depends on your line of work. For work and in public, in general, Brazilians tend to dress smartly. Those involved in diplomatic meetings or business affairs would wear suits or business dresses. Women do not wear flip flops on a regular basis - they are really for beside the pool or on the beach. Men dress sort of similarly in most situations to American men, minus the ball caps and khakis. For going out, sexy dresses or jeans/tops and high heels are the norm for young folks. High heels are somewhat the norm for more mature ladies too. Even when exercising, Brazilian women tend to be rather more well-dressed than Americans would be. Brilliantly colored spandex leggings and white knee high socks are quite in fashion here.

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Health & Safety:

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

House break-ins or attempts are frequent (3-5 per year just within our community). Normally it happens when the occupants are not at home, so they are not typically violent. Apartment break-ins are very rare. Normal big city pickpocketing type crime is common at large events. There are areas we are not allowed to go to after dark, in the satellite cities.

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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?

Not really any specific concerns. For routine issues, quality medical care is available and there are health practitioners who are multi-lingual. Certain more serious issues would probably require a medevac to Sao Paolo or the USA (or another country).

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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?

Good air quality nearly always. In the dry season, there can be fires which cause some smoke but these are not too frequent.

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Schools & Children:

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

I do not have kids in school here but know families in each of the three major international schools. I'm also a former international school teacher so I have some basis by which to judge these three. I wouldn't say any of them are top rate. They are solidly "good" schools, and most of the kids love them. The School of Nations is truly a bilingual school and has the most Brazilians (95 % or so). The Christian school, Brasilia International School, is tiny (around 100 total) and is probably the most international as far as the mix of kids - they have very few Brazilian kids. The American School is around half Brazilians and the other half is a huge mix of international kids. In general, people seem to think that the American School offers the strongest academic program of the three, but this is very subjective and depends on each families' preferences and educational priorities.

None are particularly large schools and thus they aren't able to offer as wide a range of courses and activities as other international (and USA) schools I've worked. Many parents supplement what is offered at the schools with activities at local clubs or other activities. This is what Brazilian parents do as well - schools in Brazil don't tend to cater to the "whole" child - to some extent, parents are expected to organize sports, music and other activities outside of the school day. All three of the schools have issues with parental communication.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

This really varies. The School of Nations accepts very few special needs children and has little to no staff to work with them. Both EAB and BIS have learning resource teachers who can provide assistance for mild special needs. EAB and BIS will also allow parents to hire learning assistants who help the children in the classroom. There have been quite a few parents who have not been satisfied with either EAB or BIS in this area - in my opinion, the schools just aren't large enough to be able to have adequately trained staff in this area - at least to handle certain needs.

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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?

Lots of good options here. Costs can be high for both pre-schools and nannies.

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

Yes, some via the schools and lots via the social clubs.

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Expat Life:

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

Medium size expat community with pretty good morale. There is lots of interaction within the dip community.

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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?

Backyard BBQs, team sports, watching soccer games, kid's birthday parties, school events, parties at various embassies, Hashing, dinner parties and dinners out. Dancing/Nightclubbing, too (but I have no experience with this!!).

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

Yes, definitely for families. For some singles, it is great, others don't like it. Most couples like it but it really depends on what you make of it.

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

Major sporting events - World Cup is on right now and is great fun. We've had some good times visiting waterfalls and hiking areas in the Brasilia region - we love the outdoors. We visited Rio, which was lovely.

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

There are some really beautiful parks for hiking and visiting waterfalls nearby, or within a 1-4 hour drive.

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

The weather in Brasilia is fantastic. The rainy season is October-May but it is really not that extreme. Dry season can be very, very dry but the temperature is almost always pleasant. The lifestyle in Brasilia is also very chill and, in general, housing is nice. Outdoor living and outdoor activities are very common here and enjoyable.

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7. Can you save money?

It is not easy to save money here because prices are high, travel is expensive, and household help is not particularly cheap. The COLA was raised recently which is helpful. We are saving money but only because we have two incomes here.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Wristwatch. Just give in to the Brazilian understanding of time right away and you'll be much happier.

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2. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, bug repellent, flexible attitude.

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