Brasilia, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 05/30/16
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?
No: Barcelona, Albertville, Moscow.
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 D.C. Between 14- 18 hours. Given Brazil's falling currency (Real), Delta is closing, TAM/Gol have fewer flights, etc. All that is left are American Airlines flights that are cheap and uncomfortable. They connect through Sao Paulo to get to the US. Without Delta, everything is changing and is more difficult.
3. How long have you lived here?
We have lived here three years with one more year to go.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
We are posted with the U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Families have houses with yard and pool in the suburbs (Lago Sul generally). They must have a car. Couples are in town in the "Asas" where they can generally walk to a commercial area. We are by the JK bridge and can get to the Embassy in less then 10 minutes and to the school in 8 minutes. When there is a traffic accident, you will be stuck for a while (especially if it is on the bridge) but generally there is little traffic beyond the usual rush hour.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The fruits and vegetables are higher quality and less expensive than the states. Except for the imports (canteloupe, blueberries, raspberries) which cost a fortune. There are plenty of Saturday markets where you can buy from the farmer and get good prices and even some farms like Fazenda Malunga that have organic products and will deliver to your home.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Liquids. Since the currency has dropped, this place has gotten a lot more affordable. Initially everyone said bring tires--but now the price is better here than in the US. I would also bring good quality beer.;)
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are lots of buffets with churrasco (grilled meats). These are generally good quality, healthy and well-priced.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are a lot of bugs--tiny ants, big biting ants, biting flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches--they, too, have a season. The biting flies were in April, the biting ants are in May, the rest are year round. A basic housekeeping plan keeps it manageable. Those little ants are everywhere despite our efforts. I am sure we have all eaten some.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic Post Office (DPO).
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Plentiful and cheap.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The are available and expensive. The U.S. Embassy has a small gym and pool, tennis courts and a soccer pitch--and it is free.
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?
We use them everywhere and "skimmers" are everywhere. Even the ATM at the U.S. embassy has had issues. Always make them bring the machine to the table, and always watch both hands to make sure there is no hanky-panky and know that you will be copied a few times. Make sure your bank is a good one. We have the app that texts us every purchase and our banks are on it.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Our family speaks Portuguese--the kids fluently--and that makes life here very good. In Brasilia a growing number of people speak English, but on the road you will need Portuguese.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. There are few side walks and fewer ramps, nothing for the visually impaired, narrow doorways into shops and often steps. The few sidewalks are narrow and adjacent to the street. This place would be VERY DIFFICULT for those with physical disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There is Uber and a metro that is really about bringing folks from the satellite cities into town. The buses are used by our domestic staff but I don't think Embassy staff can use them. A car makes life a lot easier.
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?
Smaller as parking in town is not for the big U.S. car; and if you like to travel get some clearance on your car. The roads can be rough outside the city and you will be grateful for that clearance. Also, get good tires, the rainy season will come.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes--it keeps getting cheaper with the falling Real. I think we pay $80/month for NET and we have an upper level plan.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
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?
Nope, and there are lots of veterinarians.
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?
No. I work for a US company (my husband at the Embassy) and this is really a problem. I host a teleworkers group and there are very very few of us that have managed work and that is because we came with work. Getting a job here is nearly impossible.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Yes, plentiful and enormously rewarding.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Brazilians are very dressed-up for work and sometimes will shock you in less formal settings--there is very little cloth in some shorts, shirts and bathing suits.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
We haven't had issues, but I have heard of bikes being stolen and housebreak ins, etc. Don't leave bikes/shoes/scooters, etc. visible from the street.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Zika and dengue are an ongoing concern. There are reasonably good hospitals, doctors and dentists available.
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?
Normally excellent. Brasilia is a quiet place. During the dry season there are fires that can send ash in the air. Other than that, no problems.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Bring your allergy meds and in the dry seasons, you may want humidifiers and eye drops.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There isn't a more perfect place for weather--it is never too hot or cold. Winter can mean long sleeves in the morning, summers from 2-4 PM can get hot, but it is never intolerable. Even the rain is great. Brasilia is situated on an elevated plateau which protects it from the high heats of Rio.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are three international schools here--EAB, EdN and BIS. Each has unique strengths and challenges.
Escuela Americano de Brasilia (EAB) is the American School and the one most attended by Embassy families. It is about 50% Brasilian, 20% American, 30% Other (generally European/South American) and has all the amenities you would expect. It is located in Asa Sul.
Escola das Nações EdN) is a bilingual school with an English-language curriculum following U.S. Standards and Common Core. It is 85-90% Brazilian, 3% American, 7-10% other, and also has excellent art, good after school, and poor music programs.
The Brasilia International School (BIS) is a Christian School with U.S./African/Brazilian communities. Not sure what the exact percentages are, but it is far more international than EdN.
My kids attend EdN. It has been an magnificent experience for our sons (grades K-5) who are fluent and integrated Portuguese speakers. It is a workable challenge for our daughter in middle school who has also integrated linguistically--but at a higher grade and therefore higher level of difficulty. I highly recommend EdN if your kids will be in 5th grade and below. It will be a challenge for families coming into the high school and middle school where the real challenge is in the Portuguese curriculum--which your child won't understand until they have a high fluency.
EAB has more in the way of special needs resources, etc.
It is important to note that with the falling currency, all the schools are finding it a challenge to recruit international staff with students paying in US dollars, but salary in Brazilian Reals. This will negatively affect EAB and BIS more as they have a higher concentration of international teachers.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
EAB is more developed in this area with a part-time school psychologist, a special education coordinator, etc. That said, they are losing star-quality staff.
EdN is just learning in this area. They are very willing to work with you, and you wield a lot of influence (as there are few international families and they need us), but it is developing. You have to be a strong advocate for your child and be willing to supplement a lot.
I don't know about BIS.
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--lots. I don't know the costs.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes: lots of soccer with every club having teams, tennis, horseback riding, swimming, etc. We started baseball (which has ended now). But you can find a willing baseball community at the Japanese Club. There is also the start of American football.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The US Embassy is big and morale is high.
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?
We go to the countryside to see and enjoy the land.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is a tranquil city. There are good restaurants, fairs, exhibitions and TONS of outdoor activities. If clubbing is your scene, then spend the weekend in Rio.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think so and certainly within our Embassy community. Brazilians are starting to improve in this area.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I know of.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We enjoy Brasilia and the country enormously. Travel options abound and are inexpensive. Very often there is a working fazenda (working farm) or a pousada (B&B) to stay that is nice, rustic, and safe on the road. We take a lot of road trips, enjoy the countryside and the night sky, the kids ride horses, cliff jump and play football. We know and like our neighbors--it is a perfect place for a family.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
This land is a true delight to the outdoorsy. You can't find a stone that has been untouched in the US--but you can here. There are still towns where people ride horses as a means of transport--it is like stepping back in time. Near Brasilia you have Chapada Veadeiros, Salto Corumba, Terra Ronca--waterfalls, caves, swimming, biking--all of the outdoor sports you can imagine.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Wood products are nice and you can have them custom-made. There are also ceramics.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather is remarkable all year round. Because Brasilia is on a plateau, it never gets too hot during the summer. 70's to 80's (Fahrenheit) year round with wet and dry seasons that are easy to tolerate.
10. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had known more about the quality of the roads outside of town--you really need vehicle clearance.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a heartbeat.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, shoes, ski equipment. Leave your tents (pousadas are cheaper, more comfy and have running water).
4. But don't forget your:
Outdoorsy stuff: back pack, camelback, hiking shoes, sunscreen, bug repellent, bathing suits, medical kit.
5. Do you have any other comments?
Overall, our only challenge has been schooling--especially for our eldest child.