Brasilia, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 12/29/09

Personal Experiences from Brasilia, Brazil

Brasilia, Brazil 12/29/09

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?

There are non-stop flights to DC from Sao Paulo and Rio, but not from Brasilia. It takes around 14 hours (with one stop) to get from Brasilia to DC.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years August 2007 to August 2009

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

spouse of State department officer

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The US Embassy provides houses for families in the Lago Sul area and apartments in both Asa Norte and Asa Sul. The houses are usually very big, with big back yards. Most have pools. They have at least 3 bedrooms and as many, or more, bathrooms. Apartments are usually very big (3/4 ample bedrooms) but some are quite dated. Asa Norte apartments are usually nicer, although they are farther from the embassy. We had one of the oldest houses of the embassy pool, but it was nicely updated. It was one of the smallest ones I've seen, and still it was 400 sq meters. The back yard was really nice (800 sq meters) with no pool, but plenty of space for the kids to have fun, and lots of trees (including banana, mango, and almond trees).

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

Supermarkets, such as Carrefour and Pao de Acucar, are well stocked and available in Lago Sul. For more items and some international items I'd go to Walmart in Asa Sul. Groceries, except for fruits, veggies, and meat, are much more expensive than in the US.

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

Baby/toddler/preschooler items (from diapers to toys -- particularly oversized toys that can't be shipped there) marinades, and Mexican food.

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

International fast food chains: McDonald's, Burger King, Dominos and Pizza Hut. Local fast food: Giraffas (burgers, grilled items, rice and beans), Habib's (arab food), Bob's (burgers). Prices are slightly higher than in the US. There are a lot of nice restaurants in town. I'd recommend Trattoria da Rosario (italian).

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

Ants, ants, ants. We didn't have them inside the house, but outside they were everywhere. They come in all sizes, and some of them can really bite!

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Daily Life:

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

The post has a DPO address (it had an APO until a few months ago). Things take longer to be delivered, but they do make it there. I lost only one package in 2 years.

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

Lots of domestic is help available, and most of them are very qualified and trustworthy. We had a maid/cook/baba (we loved her!) working at our house M-F from 8 to 6, for around US$450/month (including transportation and social security).

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

There are a lot of gyms. Women have branches of international gyms, such as Curves or Contours. The embassy has a pretty nice gym, too.

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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?

You can use credit cards and ATMs at most retailers.

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

Yes, there are some.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

We had several channels on Direct TV in English (you were able to choose English as a SAP). The only true English-speaking channels were Fox News, CNN International, and BBC World.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

A LOT! Unless you're going to spend your life inside the embassy and around goverment people, you need to know your Portuguese. Regular people at the grocery store and domestic help don't speak English. Even some people that claim to speak English don't.

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

A LOT! If trying to navigate a few blocks with a stroller is any indication, you'd be in very big trouble. Most sidewalks don't have ramps; many sidewalks have steps; and sometimes there's no sidewalk.

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Transportation:

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

Public transportation is affordable. However, other than taxis, the embassy recommends staying away from them.

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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?

You'll be ok with any US car. However, parking spaces are smaller in Brazil. We had our minivan there and had no problems.

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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?

Yes, we had dsl. It was okay, although we went through several routers since they tend to burn due to the electric shocks on the telephone lines. The cost is higher than in the US.

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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?

Get a cheap pre-paid phone for local calls.

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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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

No.

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

It's a bit more relaxed than your typical K Street attire.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

The city is small and there's no pollution. However the air quality is pretty bad during the worst part of the dry season (July/August).

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

Not many. The houses come equiped with a high fence, bars on the windows and alarm. We also had a security patrol monitoring houses. However, the neighborhood was safe (I felt comfortable driving around and walking around with my kids) and there were few repots of break-ins.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care is great. We had a great pediatrician, and the embassy has a great staff at the Health Unit.

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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?

By far one of the best things of this post is the weather. During the dry season lows are in the 60s while, highs are in the 70s. In the rainy season, lows are in the upper 60s and highs in the mid 80s.

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Schools & Children:

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

Most people from the embassy take their kids to the American School of Brasilia. I heard mixed comments about it, but have no first hand experience, since my kids were too young to attend.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for 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?

There are several preschool options. Full-day daycare is usually at home with a 'baba'. Our kids attended a preschool, Centro Recreativo Infantil do Lago, CRIL. I can't say enough great things about this place. The teachers are just so caring, and the entire staff knows you and your kids as if you were part of the family. We paid around US$200 per kid (attending M-F 8 to noon). There are other great preschools, such as Maple Bear and Affinity Arts, and a Montessori preschool.

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

Yes, but I don't know much about them.

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Expat Life:

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

The embassy is pretty big, but other than that you don't find many expats.

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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?

Almost none.

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3. Morale among expats:

Good. The embassy organizes a lot of activities.

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

It's really good for families with very young children. There are not many things to do around town, so if your life is already confined to your house and a nearby playground, and if your life revolves around nap times, you'll be fine here. I wouldn't recomend this city for young couples, much less for single people.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Brazilians are very open and accepting, but other than that I can't really say much on the subject.

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

There are no racial tensions. However, the vast majority of rich people are white, while the majority of the poor are mixed.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Not a lot. After visiting the monuments and government buildings, there's not much else to do. You can take a weekend trip to Pirenopolis, a nice quiet town a few miles away. And I'm pretty sure it's great for hiking -- I'm just not the hiking type. Although air travel is expensive, I'd recommend visiting some beach towns, such as Rio, Recife (and nearby Porto de Galinhas) or Salvador (and nearby Praia do Forte).

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

Lots of local art and great tropical fruits.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

In a heartbeat.

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

winter gear (unless you want to visit Argentina or Chile), coffee, and fruit preserves.

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3. But don't forget your:

kids items and toys (they are super-expensive). Mexican condiments.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Before going, browse CVS.com, drugstore.com, and netgrocer.com. If there's something you can't live without and you don't find it there, pack it in your HHE, because it'll be hard to find anywhere else.

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