Brasilia, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 03/15/17
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?
Yes, my first post, but my husband has been in FS for almost 20 years and stationed in Helsinki, Rabot, Nairobi, Pretoria, DC, and Fort Lauderdale.
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?
DC. About 15 hours. Usually SÃ£o Paulo and/or Miami.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Foreign Service post for my husband at the US Embassy
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Singles and couples are usually in apartments in either Asa Sul, Asa Norte or Sodoestre. The Asa's are closer to the embassy and typically have easy access to restaurants, grocery and shopping. We are in Asa Norte and I walk everywhere. Families are typically housed in Lago Sul and will need two cars as it is not easy to get around. Even in apartments, you will need at least one car to go to specialty shops.
Brasilia is not like the US where there are lots of one-stop shopping places. Here, grocery stores are mainly groceries. If you need a lightbulb, you will have to go to a hardware or a lighting store.
Traffic in Brasilia is pretty good, can be busy around normal rush hour times, but you can get to most places in 15-20 minutes most times of the day.
Houses are usually gated with nice yards, and pools. Apartments have a "pool" but they are only slightly bigger than a bathtub. Apartment styles vary quite a bit, even in the same building, but all that I have seen are nice.
Apartments have very little storage, so keep this in mind.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Goods are similarly priced to DC area, but you will pay a lot more for imported items. I would highly recommend if you are coming from the States to stock up on liquids (laundry soap, dishwasher soap. Dawn, etc) and bring in your HHE, especially if there is anything specific your family requires or needs.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Dawn dishwashing liquid, vegetable broth, 2-3 humidifiers, colorful blankets, quilts, pillow covers, lampshades, rugs, pictures, etc. EVERYTHING is beige here, do your mental outlook a favor and bring lots of color in your suitcases, UAB and HHE.
Bring your own vacuum cleaning and wrapping paper/ gift bags (raid a dollar store). Bring bug spray for your body. Bring patio furniture (smaller size if in an apartment, but we have 3 balconies, and no furniture). I would also have brought an outdoor storage unit to put on one of the balconies for extra storage space)
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Restaurants are primarily churrasco, or grilled meat. Very few options for variety. There are a couple of Indian places, but Brazilians do not prefer spicy food, so most dishes are fairly mild. There are a couple of apps for food delivery (ifood and PedidosYa).
Be prepared for limited hours of most restaurants. Some are only open for lunch, some open for lunch, close around 3pm, and open back up for dinner. In addition, Brasilians typically eat dinner later than Americans, so if you show up right at opening time, they are likely just setting up, and you will have the place to yourself - no reservation needed. Very few serve all 3 meals and stay open consistently during the day. Also, a number are closed on Mondays. I always check Google as it typically has the most up to date information.
Brazil is just starting to get into a healthier food mindset and they do have a few vegetarian/vegan restaurants. Even if you aren't vegetarian, these can be good choices as they typically offer a larger variety of food when you get tired of the meat (and yes, you will get tired of meat, beans, and rice).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Yes, but we haven't had any issues as of yet. Work with the embassy, but the houses have most of the issues. Keep food packages that are open in airtight containers.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. There is also diplomatic pouch, but it goes through Rio so it is not the preferred method. Be prepared for delays though. From the warehouse in Dulles, it goes to Portugal, then to SÃ£o Paulo, then to Brasilia. Then you have customs, and mailroom sort (which they do fairly quickly). It can take as little as a week, or as long as 6 weeks. Especially around Christmas. If packages aren't ordered and shipped by first week of November, you may not get it by Christmas as there is a significant delay.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cost of services is fairly inexpensive. Many have a diarista (maid) that comes 1 or 2x a week and families also have an empragada (nanny). Please speak with the embassy before hiring someone to ensure you fully understand the labor laws in Brazil. Depending on the number of days they come and the number of hours they work, you may be required to have an official contract.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are gyms, but are expensive. But there is a small gym at the US Embassy that is free. There are also tennis courts, basketball courts, a small pool, and a small soccer area. In addition, there are currently EFMs that offer hip hop dance classes, pilates, and yoga. Most classes run about $R20 (which is between $6 and $7 USD).
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?
Yes, make sure you tell your credit card company so it isn't rejected. If you use your debit card, do it as "credito," not "debito." Use the same precautions as you would anywhere. For ATMs, use only machines that are Citibank or at the embassy.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Not sure, but probably not many, as few people outside the embassies speak English.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need the language. The embassy has free classes 1x a week, but this will be slow progress. Sign up for the directed study classes online at the embassy and look for classes at NEPPE, they run about $R700 ($220 USD) for a 6 week course, but are worth it. There are also lots of tutors that you can find on the aforementioned FB pages.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
They do have wheelchair ramps and elevators, but they are not standard or required in all buildings.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Use Uber if possible. Only use buses, trams, trains if you speak to RSO - follow their recommendations.
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?
I would recommend a small SUV or crossover, lots of BIG potholes. Avoid too big, especially if in an apartment as you may not be able to fit into your parking spot. Street parking is hard too find
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Some areas of the city have difficulty with the service. The embassy coordinated the install when we moved in, and we had it same day. As soon as you are at post and have your move-in date, start working to get the install date coordinated
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We kept our provider and phones from the US. Sprint offers a Global plan at no additional cost. The only downside is we both each only get 1GB of free data a month. However, we haven't exceeded at all in 6 months. We didn't get out car until we had been at post for 3.5 months, so we were Ubering everywhere and didn't exceed our usage.
A lot of restaurants have free Wi-Fi and will give you the password if you ask. We have had a few minor hiccups (I broke my phone and had to have my sister get me another in the states so it could be activated and then sent to me) but other than that we have been really happy with it. Especially since we didn't have to change phone #'s, or have two phones like some here do as well. WhatsApp is extremely popular here for communication, highly encourage you download and get familiar with it. Very helpful versus calling.
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?
Yes, but we don't have any pets, so recommend you subscribe to the following FB pages so you can ask specific questions: Trailing Houses, Living in Brasilia.
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 work at the embassy, there are a number that work from home or offer speciality classes (i.e. pilates, yoga, sewing, cooking, etc) and a few work locally, mainly teaching English.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Typical dress is business casual. I am more laid back, so very obvious that I am not Brazilian. Women typically wear makeup, jewelry (decorative, not expensive), dresses, or jeans /slacks with a nice blouse. Workout clothes are for the gym (another tell tell sign, love my yoga pants), and shorts are for the beach. Shoes - you see a lot of ballet flat type shoes and heels. Sandals as well (flip-flops are usually for downtime).
Men - business casual outside of the embassy. Dressier shorts, polos, t-shirts.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I feel safe, and haven't had any issues, but follow RSO directions. Also, if traveling, ask RSO about the area before you go, if there is s consulate in the area, reach out to them as well. Also, ask questions on the above FB pages about road conditions, hotels, etc before you go.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Pretty good. The embassy helps with setting up appointments. Talk to the PA or Regional Dr before having any tests or procedures just to make sure that the one recommended is the right thing for you.
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. It gets really hot and dry between May and December, bring a couple of humidifiers.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Lots of soy options (milk, tofu), but almond milk is extremely expensive. Most restaurants will not have substitutions, so be prepared to cook. Really recommend you bring a 90 day supple of any special ingredients or dietary substitutions so you have time to find out what you can get here and what you need to order. If it is a liquid item that is NOT packaged in a can (liquids in cans can come DPO, with no liquid restriction), then buy in bulk and ship in HHE, as much as you can. These items are typically very expensive here. Almond milk, cashew milk will run you $10 USD per 32 oz.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Hmmmmm.....from what I have heard, it is a typical post. Lots of frustration with delays from contractors, fac, housing, etc. Again this is my first post, but I have really appreciated the openness from the EFM group. If you say you are feeling down, someone will invite you over, or for lunch. We have all gone through this.
I think the hardest part is the isolation if you don't speak Portuguese. VERY VERY VERY few people in Brasilia speak English. So it can feel frustrating when simple tasks take a long time. It can be emotionally tiresome. But, the Brazilians are friendly, and patient. They will try to help you find the correct words and get you what you need.
I would encourage people new to post to join groups quickly so you start to meet people. Don't let the embassy be your only source of interaction. There are sewing classes, painting classes, book clubs, running clubs, etc. Join and start building a network. There are also lots of local clubs along the lake, that some have found to be a great way to meet Brazilians.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot, sunny. During rainy season (September - March), it rains, but not usually all day.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It is fairly large. Attend events at other embassies so you meet people outside of the US embassy. There are also several FB pages for expats in Brazil. The expatriate community in Brasilia is fairly positive, but there are some who are not happy with the lack of metropolitan options in Brasilia.
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?
All kinds of groups, they are pretty well advertised FB, events at other embassies. CLO has a list of available groups/ clubs.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Better for families. Not much of a bar scene, and getting out of Brazil for travel is limited with the options or prices.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
We have a pretty strong LGBTQ group at the US Embassy, but Brazil, as a country, is fairly conservative with their idea of man / woman relationships. But I personally have not seen any discrimination in Brasilia and there are a couple of gay clubes.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Very traditional culture, fairly religious.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
So far, we have beem to Rio, Porto Allegre, and Recife. We have enjoyed all three. Plan on doing a lot more travel