Brasilia, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 08/02/15
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?
First expat experience
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?
United States - connect through Atlanta, then have an 8 hour flight on Delta overnight, crammed in economy with cats meowing all night.
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?
The Embassy has some really great houses and a few duds. Most houses have pools, and you can request to or not to have one. Many yards have fruit trees, such as mango, avocado, papaya, banana, limes, etc. Families with 3 or more children can expect a house. Apartments are for singles and smaller families. Apartments are all within walking distance to shopping, while houses may not be. Apartments are spread across the west side of the lake (Asa Sul, Asa Norte), and houses are mostly on the east side (Lago Sul, with a couple in Lago Norte).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Produce is cheaper than in the U.S. Milk products are more expensive. Fresh milk is available, but costs a ton and might be spoiled. Meat is about the same price. When we arrived, household supplies were expensive, but many are better prices now since the exchange rate went in our favor. Imports, especially electronics, are heavily taxed, though.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Peanut butter, bug spray, sunscreen and aluminum foil.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonalds', Burger King and Dunkin Donuts are here. Malls have food courts with many options. A fast food meal costs around US$7-$8. There are all kinds of restaurants. I love Coco Bamboo (seafood) and El Negro (steak Argentine style). You can find really cheap Brazilian food or more costly food at more American prices. Cheap Brazilian food is salty, burnt and is served with rice and beans, lettuce, and unripe tomatoes.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants, lizards, mosquitoes, cockroaches and beetles are around. Malaria isn't a problem here, but there are some cases of Dengue. Ants get in the house a little. There are the kind that come after food, and the kind that like living in electronics. There are also grass cutters that will eat houseplants. I spray with water infused with peppermint oil and it keeps most away, although I don't think it is possible to completely eradicate them. Cockroaches are sometimes seen in my outside laundry area, but whatever they spray seems to keep them out of the house.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch post. There is APO, but you aren't supposed to use it except for letters and if there is a special reason.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
It is available at about US$40/day.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a gym, and there are a lot of private gyms for reasonable prices.
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?
I use a credit card with a chip all the time. Watch out for skimmers at ATMs. The Embassy has an ATM, but it is frequently out of money or (more rarely) doesn't give you money and the bank at the Embassy tells you to work it out with your own bank.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
LDS has a family ward with sacrament meeting in Portuguese with English translation, and Primary and Youth have classes in English or translated, depending on needs. There are also types of Baptist or Protestant congregation with English services.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
They don't speak English here. Learn as much Portuguese as you can.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Apartments have elevators, and some sidewalks and stores are accessible, although not everything.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We are allowed to ride the metro train, but not buses. Taxis are safe, but knowing Portuguese is important unless you have an app, like Easy Taxi. The rates aren't bad, but not super cheap. About a 15 minute ride is US$10.
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?
It is certainly easier to park a smaller vehicle but big ones are great for trips outside the city, and we seem to find parking spots no matter where we go, even with our van, as long as we don't mind walking across a parking lot or down a block.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Internet and cable package starts at aboutUS $60/month (it was $90 when the exchange rate was worse). It can get slow on cold days when everyone is cooped up in their houses, but most days streaming video works great on multiple devices at the same time.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Vivo or Claro, not Tim. The embassy uses TIM for BBs but the service is awful. Vivo works great and has really cheap plans. I have heard Claro is just as good.
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?
Some with the schools, but not much else.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots - find out through CLO or a school.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At the Embassy, officers wear suits or dresses/skirts and blouses. Other employees are business casual. Family members wear jeans or athletic clothing. In public, you can be really casual or dress up really fancy for a night out.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really. Keep an eye out for pockpockets and stay in groups at night - safer than NOVA or DC, I'd say.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care and dental can be good. Get a referral from a friend. There are mosquito-carried illnesses, but no prophylaxis is needed. Just be cautious during the rainy season.
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?
Great air quality.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Bring your own allergy medicine. If you use pseudoephederine, bring it. You can't buy it online or here, so bring a year's supply. There are gluten-free foods available here.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There is a wet season (Sep. - Mar.) and a dry season (Apr. - Aug.). The wet season will have some rain every day except for December, but it is normally just in the afternoon. It may rain continually for a couple of days, but not for the whole season. The dry season gets increasingly dry until there isn't a drop of rain for a couple of months. September is the hottest month of the year, with highs in the upper 80sF. Overnight lows are in the upper 60s. The rest of the rainy season has highs in the upper 70s to low 80s. The dry season has highs in the upper 70s and lows ovenght can get down to about 58F, but we mostly see temps between 65-75F.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
EAB, the sponsored school, is as good as an American public school, and has the IB program and many extracurriculars for all ages. They have a good band program and theater program. They have their own particular dysfunctions, but we have been mostly happy there. BIS is a Christian international school, and is really small. I know people there who like it, but bussing can be really long from Lago Sul. Most families with high schoolers don't send their kids there due to fewer extracurriculars and course options. EDN is kind of an immersion school, but not totally...I have heard that older kids especially have a hard time there.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
BIS has the best reputation for helping kids with special needs.
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?
Yes, but I don't know the cost. EAB and EDN have preschool for sure, as well as some music school, I can't think of the name...no idea about costs.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Through school and through gyms, yes.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
This is a large embassy community with a few other American expats here with corporations. There are tons of expats from other countries, as well. Lots to do at/with other embassies. EFMs here have a hard time getting jobs, as nearly every job requred a 4/4 in Portuguese (although we get the impression that isn't an FSI 4/4, but more like a 2+/3). But that is still harder for a spouse if language classes aren't available at the FSI, which is the case a lot of the time, other than FAST. People either love it or hate it here. Stay-at-home moms who learn the language and are in a good house love it.
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?
Have other families over for dinner/pool parties. Be on the embassy softball team and compete against the high shool team. Play volleyball. Happy hour at the Embassy. Go see a movie (most are available in English). Go shopping.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families love it. Singles at the Embassy have lots of activities to make up for the lack of stuff to do here. There are regular sports, like volleyball, and dance classes and other stuff.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think so. They seem very open here from what I can see.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I haven't seen any. The locals come in all colors. The lighter the skin, the more likely a person is well-to-do, but I don't see outright racism.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Fruit trees in my yard are wonderful. Again, the temperature is always pretty perfect. I enjoy learning languages, so the part where noone speaks English has een good for me to learn faster. The people are very welcoming and kind.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The zoo is quaint. The Jaguar sanctuary is an amusing tour for a day. Crystal hunting in Crystalina is a fun time if you like dirt. There is plenty of mall-style shopping.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather is awesome year around. The dry season does get really dry, but it is managable with humidifiers in bedrooms. You might be able to save some money here, since there is very little to do, other than go to movies and restaurants.
10. Can you save money?
It is possible if you don't eat out too much or really like cheap Brazilian food.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Things aren't as expensive as people told me. There are super-sized supermarkets. You can find what you need if you ask around and are adventurous.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter outdoor clothing
4. But don't forget your:
Swimsuit and sunscreen