Brasilia, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 08/03/15

Personal Experiences from Brasilia, Brazil

Brasilia, Brazil 08/03/15

Background:

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

Yes

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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?

Washington, DC. 13-14 hours of travel, including a layover in either Miami or Atlanta before a red-eye directly into Brasilia.

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3. How long have you lived here?

13 months

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

Spouse was assigned to Brasilia for an Embassy-related position

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There are apartments in the Asa Sul / Asa Norte area and single family houses in the Lago Sul and Lago Norte area. There is little traffic, so commute is usually no more than 15-20 minutes.

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

A grocery-store run for a week for a family of four is usually between R$150, depending on what you buy. Fruits and vegetables, especially those in season are incredibly cheap. For example, a small package of strawberries on sale was R$2. Farmer's markets on the weekends are a great deal and have a lot more selection that the groceries. Meat is cheap, especially if you go to a butcher. Packaged and processed foods, especially if they are imported are expensive. I once paid R$27 (about US$10 at the time) for a jar of peanut butter.

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

Patio/yard furniture. Playground or trampoline for the kids.

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

There's McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Quiznos, and a Dunkin Donuts just recently opened. There are also Brazilian fast food available and Chinese/Japanese fast food - but they come with a Brazilian twist. There are plenty of Brazilian restaurants, Japanese restaurants, French, and Italian restaurants. Decent foods from other countries are lacking, but there is a good Indian (vegetarian restaurant), a couple of Mexican restaurants, one good Chinese restaurant, and an OK Korean restaurant (only open for lunch). Dinner at a nice Brazilian restaurant for two adults and two kids is usually around R$200-R$300. The drinks drive up the bill a lot since everyone here drinks bottled water or juices.

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

There are a few different kinds of mosquitoes (or bugs that bite) here I've been told. There's one in particular that leaves you swollen for days. We've tried to be vigilant in wearing bug spray, but we've not be perfect and have fallen victim to it. Unfortunately my family's gotten some really ugly scars from the bites.

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Daily Life:

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

We use diplomatic pouch and packages come in about 2-4 weeks after they reach the pouch facility in the States. Sending a letter or package from here to the U.S. takes a lot longer though - at least a month or two. Plan on bringing stamps.

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

Diaristas, which are part-time (two days a week) maids, cost around R$120 - R$150 (about US$50 or less). Gardeners are around R$120-R150 per day and they tend to your yard, clean your patio and churrasco area (and wash your car if you want them to). Pool guys run between R$140-R$170 a month.

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

There are gyms, called "Academias" available around. Many of them are located in the Asas, and options in Lago Sul or Lago Norte are a bit more limited. The costs vary - it depends on the type of membership or classes you take.

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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?

Try to get a credit card with a chip. If you use the credit card that just swipes, it's easier to clone and doesn't always work. We've had our credit cards compromised three different times in less than 6 months until we switched to a chip card. ATMs - only use the ones in an an actual bank branch (usually behind glass doors with plenty of cameras). In Brasilia, I've only used the ATM inside our Embassy's compound.

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

There is one Baptist church here in English. The Catholic churches are all on Portuguese.

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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?

A lot. It is rare to find people that speak English here. Some of them can't even recognize it. Someone asked me if I was speaking Japanese, another person (on another day) asked me if I was speaking Spanish. Learn as much Portuguese as you can. Luckily the locals are pretty good and patient with understanding broken Portuguese and between that and pointing and signing, you can get your message across.

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

I've noticed a lot of the curbs are high and the ramps are steep, so yes, there would be many circumstances where a physically disabled person might have difficulties.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are safe, buses I've heard are safe, but are not air-conditioned, are cramped, and occasionally has random drunk people riding it and day drinking. The metro is safe, but its route is very limited.

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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?

A lot of BMWs are targetd for car jackings and car theft. An SUV with a high-clearance is a good vehicle to have, especially if you plan on exploring outside the city. Hondas, Fords, and Fiats are common here, so it's easy to get parts. If you're on the fence between buying here and bringing one, I would recommend you bring one as cars manufactured here do have the same quality (in terms of build) as those from the states or elsewhere.

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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?

There are internet packages available, depending on the speed and the amount of data you want per month. Phone, internet (we have one of the fastest speeds available), and cable + HBO, is about R$350/month (US$110)

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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?

Do not get TIM if you want something reliable. Use Vivo or maybe Claro. Bring your own cell phone that will work overseas because all electronics here are expensive.

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Pets:

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 quarantine, generally a good place for pets. There are services that even come to your house and groom your pet. There's a few English speaking vets around as well.

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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?

Getting a job on the local economy is hard as you need to be practically fluent in Portuguese. You also need a work permit, which can take some time. There are jobs available at the Embassy for spouses, but they are few, far between, and require a high level of Portuguese (around 4 or 3).

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There is a group of expats that organized a charity effort for impoverished children. There are also volunteer opportunities at the schools and church.

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

Suits and ties at work in the embassy. In public, Brazilians tend to dress up more than Americans, especially the women, so expect to get weird looks if you go out in sweats.

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Health & Safety:

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

We've been told there is a risk for houses getting broken into, but we have not personally heard of this experience happening to anyone we know while here. There have been some robberies we've heard of around town. Although it's generally safe, precaution should be taken, as with any city.

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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?

No health concerns that we've come across. Medical care depends on who you find, I guess. We don't have any chronic illnesses in our family, so we've had minimal experience with the health care system.

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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?

Generally really good, unless there's a controlled burn going on in your area, or your neighbor decides to burn leaves, trash, whatnot in your backyard.

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

Winter is typically low 60s F in the early morning to upper 70s and low 80s in the afternoon. Winter is really dry and so you should drink plenty of water. Summer gets a lot of rain, usually, although there are bouts of dryness as well, and gets from 70-90s. It's humid, but not unbearably so. The only problem are the insects.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are about a handful of international schools - including an American school, a Swiss school, a Canadian school, and two international schools. While the schools are accommodating and our kids love their school, I've found the academics very behind. Some schools are better at "differentiating" than others, while other schools are better at getting your child to speaking Portuguese within a year. I haven't heard of a school that does both very well. We've had to supplement lessons at home because we've felt the English and Math curriculum were way below our child's level and not much was done until the very end of the year to accommodate for it.

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

I think it depends on the school. We have no experience with this but have heard other friends note that some schools are better than others at accommodating special needs kids.

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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?

Yes, there are great preschools around the area - the teachers are very patient with the children and we really feel like they care for the kids. Full-time daycare or preschool is not as common, but it also depends on how far you're willing to drive (5-15 mins vs. 20-25 mins). The cost depends on the preschool and the length of time they are in school. Half day preschool ranges from R$850 - R$1200, while full day (those up to 3pm or 5pm) ranges from R$1,000 - R$3500.

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

Yes, many. Soccer, Judo, Capoeira, Jiu-Jitsu, Ballet, etc. There is ONE taekwondo dojo in Asa Sul as well.

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Expat Life:

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

There's a large expat community as there's lots of embassies around. They are expat groups for book clubs, running, bible studies etc.

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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?

Go out to dinner, watch movies (in English), go hiking somewhere nearby, visit the monuments, biking, kayaking. Go do dinner parties, have people over for a pool day, etc.

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

The city is great for families - there are lots of family friend things to do, and lots of lessons and clubs available for kids (soccer, judo, jiu jitsu, art, music, horseback riding). I think it' so-so for couples, and OK for singles. It's a quiet city, so don't expect Rio or Sao Paulo-level excitement.

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

There is a subtle racial problem that I think is partly tied to the locals' views on socio-economic status. Generally, most of those in the service industry are darker skinned, while those with white/lighter skinned tend to be in the white collar industry. If you pay attention, you notice the difference in how the lighter skinned/whites are more respected than those with darker skinned. I've heard of people mention that they because they're darker skinned, they tend to dress up a bit more so as not to be treated like or mistaken for a maid. Basically if you're white, you're good to go, but if you're brown or of any other race, dress well for respect.

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

Traveling around Brazil and South America. Flights within Brazil are reasonable, although flights to outside of Brazil can be long (no direct flights from BSB) and not as cheap.

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

Cachaca, hammocks, havaianas, and super comfortable women's heels.

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

Weather is amazing; services are cheaper than they would be if you were in the U.S.; affordable household help; lots of outdoor activities to do; it's great for families.

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8. Can you save money?

You definitely can unless you plan on traveling a lot!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Wouldn't be thrilled about it, but sure why not.

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

Winter gear. Also your expectations that (1) things will be done in a timely manner and (2) your notion of "safety standards" on the road and everywhere else.

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3. But don't forget your:

Bug spray, sunscreen, and portuguese skills!

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