Brasilia, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 05/18/17
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?
No. I have lived in Russia and the United Kingdom.
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?
Seattle. 8 hours to Miami, then another 5 hours from there.
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 housing is very nice. We are a couple with no kids and live in a very nice apartment in Asa Norte. I bike to work everyday and it usually takes me about 30-40 minutes. Driving it takes about 15 minutes. I often joke that no matter where you are or where you're going in the city it takes 20 minutes to get there.
Our apartment is large, airy and comfortable. We have 4 bedrooms. The master suite is well sized, but the other rooms are very small. They are good for short-term guests and small children. The building has a "cobertura" or roof top, with a small pool and gym and there is underground secure parking.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are more expensive than in the U.S. and produce is usually not of the quality we expect there. Its common to find bugs in your broccoli or lettuce, or get the occasional rotten egg. The nice thing is all the exotic fruit here. I'd encourage anyone coming here to try as much as they can. You can get all your regular supplies here if you aren't too fussy on brands. The dish and laundry soaps leave something to be desired, but its fine.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We can use Amazon, so most stuff from the States is easy to get, but I wish we'd shipped more laundry detergent. But that's mostly because I like a specific brand.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everyone loves picanha (Brazilian steaks) and that's very popular. We bring guests to Brazilian steakhouses for the experience (unending waves of meat), but its way too much food for a normal dinner. There are a lot of different restaurants here, but in my opinion, they aren't very good, just... meh. Also, the service and quality can vary visit to visit. You might try one restaurant and love it, only to go back and have it be horrible the next time.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are lots of bugs. Some are really interesting. Its a tropical climate so you will get ants, roaches, mosquitoes and the occasional lizard in your house. But Brasilia is on a plateau, so its not as bad as other tropical climates.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
USG diplomatic pouch mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We have someone come once a week to do a thorough cleaning. She's very good and we pay her somewhere around US $175 per month. We don't have kids, but I know a lot of families have full time or part time nannies and are very satisfied with the quality of care.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Brazilians love to exercise. There are gyms all over, including Pilates studios. There is a gym at the US embassy and our building has a small gym (two treadmills and weights) on the roof. Additionally, there are bike path all over the city for biking and running. On Sundays and holidays, the main road through the city closes to all car traffic so people can bike, rollerblade, skateboard, walk, run, walk dogs, etc. It's pretty nice.
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?
Credit cards can be used in most places. Never let the card out of your sight though. If you're at a restaurant, they will bring the card reader to you at the table. Be careful at ATMs. If it looks shady, it probably is. I use the one at the U.S. embassy, or in a bank or airport.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need Portuguese to survive here. t's especially important for spouses, as they can feel isolated without it. If you work for the USG, I would press your agency for language training for your spouse as well, even a short course. Most people don't speak English in Brasilia. Tutors and classes are available here, though its better to learn some before you get here.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
A wheelchair would be difficult (not impossible), as the handicap access is usually an afterthought. At restaurants, bathrooms are usually located either on the second floor or in the basement. Overall, though, I think once you figured out what works for you, it would be easier than other cities. Also, Brazilians are extremely helpful, so if you need help, just ask.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The Regional Security Officer doesn't permit the use of public transport, but the city is really easy to get around. We use Uber, as its safe, affordable, and reliable.
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?
We have a large American car and its been fine, though we sometimes wish we had a higher clearance. If you plan on leaving the city for hiking (there is some great hiking around), I'd suggest a higher clearance SUV. For getting around the city, any car will do. Parking garages and lots can be very tight, so if you have a big American car like us, you get used to parking far away where there is enough space, then walking.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. It takes a few days, but it works okay. Sometimes it will go down, but it usually runs pretty well. You have to pay for the larger package though.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I have a work phone and my husband uses a pay as you go card, which works really well. Everyone here uses WhatsApp. Its the main form of communication.
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, our vet even makes house calls. We got our dog here, so I don't know about quarantine requirements. This is a great place for pets. We have a big dog and live in an apartment, but there is lots of green space for her to play fetch and run around. She even has a trainer that she works with twice a week. There are places to take her for fun as well - she loves to swim in the lake and go to friends houses.
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?
I know spouses that work at the US embassy, telework, teach, and don't work. My husband taught English to business professionals and coached softball at the American school here. There are opportunities, but I think you have to find them yourself
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The dress code at the US embassy is between business and business casual. Men usually wear ties, but no jacket. Women were blouses or dresses. Brazilians are a little more casual in the workplace. Meeting with the government are definitely suit occasions. There are a lot of receptions here and, as a woman, I needed far more formal wear than I ever thought. On trips back to the States I would go to consignment shops to get "new" gowns for various functions. My husband bought a tuxedo from a tux rental place, so he's set. We probably attend 3-4 black tie events per year, with about a half a dozen receptions.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
It may seem safe, but always be vigilant.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The Zika emergency has ended, but there's still a small risk of other tropical diseases. Wear bug spray when you're out a night. I have had a range of medical care here, from dangerous bad to extremely good. If you're with the USG, always check with the US embassy medical unit before you go to a local doctor.
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?
The air, and the weather in general here is very good. There is a very high quality of life here. During the dry season (June-Sept) the air can be brutally dry and you need to use a humidifier, but mostly its very pleasant.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Some people have had allergies here, but I don't know much about it.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
No, it's sunny and 75 degrees all year round.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Perfect with a rainy season and a dry season. The sunrises and sunsets are incredibly beautiful all year round. The sky is the best thing about Brasilia. It's truly spectacular.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We don't have kids, but I know there is an American School (where my husband coached) and an International School called the School of Nations.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is a very large diplomatic community and the morale is very good. A lot of our friends are with other embassies here. Because the quality of life is so good (nice weather, friendly people, lots of exercise opportunities, easy commutes, etc), people really don't really seem to get too down. But, I would say the you have to accept Brasilia for Brasilia. It's not Rio, and its not Sao Paulo and if you compare them, you could get a little blue.
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?
I recommend the Hash House Harriers. We met a lot of friends of all nationalities that way when we first arrived. People typically socialize at each others houses or restaurants. There isn't a great deal of nightlife, but I suppose you could find something if you wanted to. I don't know of many night clubs, or places that have live music, but they are occasional concerts at the stadium or on the Esplanada.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think its a good city for everyone. Families will love the houses, schools and clean air - and Brazilians love kids. Couples (like my husband and I) love the green spaces, opportunities for exercise and our friends. Singles (I would think) would find anything they're interested in. One of my good friends met her husband here and lots of American men and women date Brazilians (and each other). I guess the only downside would be the lack of a popular night-life scene.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. Brazilians are very open and tolerant.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Brazil has a "machismo" culture and women can be relegated to certain roles. Some Brazilian men have very strong opinions about women holding leadership roles. For example, only 22% of Brazil's diplomats are women. There are racism issues here, and I'd recommend learning about Brazil's history to understand the nuances. "Brazil on the Rise" is a good book, but a little dated.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
I travel a lot throughout Brazil for my job, so I've gotten to see more than most Americans. It's a huge and diverse country, so its hard to pick favorites, as everything is interesting in its own right. Brazil 101 -Rio, Sao Paulo, Foz de Igauco. Around Brasilia, you must got to Chapadas and Pirenopolis. My favorite city in Brazil is Curitiba due to its unique urban planning and European feel. I really enjoyed a vacation to the Amazon. Each region has its own special culture and vibe. You won't be able to see it all, but try to make it to each region at least once.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Enjoy the Savannah biome in Brasilia. The birds, plants, flowers, and little monkeys are great.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
The TV Tower has all your handicraft needs.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Direct flights to most other cities in Brazil. The sky is gorgeous. The people are friendly.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Read more about the history.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen and bug spray
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Brazil on the Rise
City of God
Brazilian music (Cateno Veloso, Chico Buraque, Gilberto Gil, Marissa Monte, etc.)