Brasilia, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 11/04/09
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 also lived in Germany.
2. How long have you lived here?
From August 2007 to August 2008.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
From Canada - Toronto to Sao Paolo to Brasilia is the fastest but there's a really long layover in Sao Paulo (think 10 hours) and the flights are not connected as they are not partner airlines.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Commute times for Canadian dips are great. The longest is about 20 minutes by car (public transport not an option). Most are in houses that are larger than Canadian homes, with yards and pools. The apartments are less nice, though. Hot water is not standard in Brazil!
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
I really missed sour cream, as it was available only once in our year there. Luckily I bought extra and froze it for later.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Diapers, wipes, formula, baby food, toys, sun screen, electronics, bras (no cup sizes here, and you can't try on white ones before buying), bathing suits (skimpy here).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Yes, but there is no ethnic variety.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants, ants, and more ants. My toddler would drop crumbs on our patio and within minutes the entire patio would have lines of ants criss-crossing it all trying to get the crumbs. Incredible really.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We used the dip bag which was slow but reliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Readily available and affordable. They don't speak English, though.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Everyone runs around in very skimpy attire (speedo anyone?). The city park is full of runners, joggers, walkers, roller bladers, and so on.
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 was always scared and on alert when I used an ATM, but nothing ever happened to me. Several colleagues at the embassy had credit and/or debit cards cloned while we were there, though.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
We had more English-language stations on TV here than in Germany -- if you can believe it.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I knew very little and survived; but surviving is not living. The more you know, the better -- as it reduces anxiety, allows you to make better friends, etc.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
I used a taxi a few times without problem. I wouldn't use local buses or trains. Our housekeeper came and went via bus and had many stories of the entire bus being robbed and/or those waiting for the bus.
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?
Car taxes are outrageous (100% of car value!) but dips can import a car duty free. If they sell it during the first 3 years, the tax man comes collecting though (100% tax if sold in first year, 75% in second and under 50% in third). Note this is the car's year, not your year, so if you arrive in August but your car comes in January (like what happened to us) the year isn't up until the following January. That said, if you stay past this 3-year time, you can make money IF your car is foreign (i.e. not Brasilian) but common here (i.e., parts are available).
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. We had a plan for phone, cable TV and internet that was reliable and, if I remember right, cost just over 100$CAD a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I'd get one, as you feel safer if you can call in a time of need, especially if you don't speak Portuguese (as you may need a translator). However, it also makes you a target for mugging. Keep it out of sight.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
2. What immunizations are required each year?
None on a yearly basis.
3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Not bad. I was pregnant here and found an English-speaking OBGYN for prenatal care. She was good but used very old technology. Listened to heart rate on a monitor that didn't count the beats so she used her experience to know if it sounded right. I did have 3 ultrasounds, though, and that clinic had more advanced technology -- but not 3D. I would be scared to give birth here, though, as they do over 80% c-sections and so few doctors know how to deliver vaginally. And pain medication (i.e. epidural) is almost not heard of -- never mind available.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The dry season is very dry and some have headaches from not drinking enough, but my family was ok. The rainy season sounds worse than it is - it pours for an hour or two a day and that's it.
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?
2. Morale among expats:
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
It is what you make of it. I've heard many horror stories about bars/night clubs, though, so I would stay away from them (muggings when you leave, etc). It is also VERY expensive to travel around Brazil, as the vast distances require you to fly and flights are very expensive. Brasilia is isolated geographically.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
That depends on your personality more than anything. You need to make friends or you will be very lonely and isolated. The social scene centres around restaurants (all are very child friendly and many will watch your kids while you eat in peace!) and home around the pool and BBQ.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is one english-speaking non-denominational church that we attended. I believe it calls itself baptist but so many expats from all donominations attend that it didn't feel baptist. It was a bit crowded as the building was too small for the people. It has a good sunday school program and weekly bible studies. As for prejudices, they exist. Certainly there are classes, and generally whites are in the higher class than blacks.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not much. We bought a few good hammocks for cheap.
9. Can you save money?
We did. But we save everywhere, as we are frugal homebodies
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
watch. Nothing happens fast or on time here.
3. But don't forget your:
appettite for meat. Brazilians love meat of all kinds and know how to BBQ it. Go to a churrascaria ("le porcao" is the preferred meat) where you sit down and waiters keep bringing skewers/platters of every type of delicacy (beef of all sorts, sausages of all sorts, fish, chicken, pork... )and all of it is succulent.