Recife, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 06/22/14
Personal Experiences from Recife, Brazil
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, previously lived in Mexico City.
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?
From here to Washington D.C., there is a direct flight to Miami, then connecting on to D.C., takes about 12 hours. To other points in the U.S. (such as for R&R) it can take considerably longer due to the fact that the only direct flight to the U.S. goes through Miami.
3. How long have you lived here?
Two years, 2012-2014.
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?
Consulate housing is all apartments, along Boa Viagem beach. Apartments are generally spacious, but bedrooms are small, and kitchens generally have little counter space, so just not always the best use of space. Most of us, but not all, have beach views. From the north end of the beach, the commute is 15-30 minutes most days. Many people live on the south end, and their commute is a bit longer. Traffic can be a problem, and if you leave the office at the wrong time, be prepared to sit for a while trying to get home. Consulate hours are different than the rest of the mission to let employees out ahead of the worst traffic.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are about the same price if not a bit more expensive than in D.C. You can find most things, but don't expect to find lots of American brands (and the ones you do are expensive). Produce selection is inconsistent - lots of great fruits to try, but less vegetable variety. I personally don't like the taste of most cheeses here. You might bring some of your own spices - we brought dried chilies, salsas, curry pastes, etc.
3. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes, and dengue is a problem.
1. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Plenty of gyms to choose from, but they are expensive, at around US$90-120/month.
2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Any international credit card should work, we haven't had any problems. Cloning can be an issue, but no more so than anywhere else I have been.
3. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Learn Portuguese if you can - there are not many English speakers, and you will also make more friends if you speak the language.
4. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Mobility would be a problem for someone with a physical disability - sidewalks are inadequate, etc.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are safe and affordable, we are discouraged from using public transport.
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 brought a CR-V and were very happy with it. Low clearance vehicles can be a problem on the few days it floods during the year. Parking garages are small, so I wouldn't advise a large SUV.
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?
Not really. It is hard to find employment on the local economy for a variety of reasons. Getting a work permit is not that hard, but finding a job as a foreigner is more difficult.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual attire at work most of the time (too hot for suits!) and casual around town.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Street crime and crimes of opportunity are common. Crime in Recife has improved over the past several years, and it's not anything that will keep you from enjoying your favorite activities - just use common sense and don't walk around carrying valuables you aren't willing to lose.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Health care is actually pretty good. Recife is a hub for the medical industry in Brazil, so it has decent facilities.
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 - there is always a nice breeze off the sea. The sewer system is inadequate though, so sometimes you can really smell the sewage just walking around the city. People with mold allergies might have problems.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot, humid, but not uncomfortably hot most of the time - rarely gets above 90 or below 75/80 degrees (F). During rainy season it can rain a lot, from about May-July. But even then it doesn't rain every day, or all day most of the time.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small - the U.S. consulate is the largest in town. Others include the British, Argentine, Italian, Japanese, a Chinese consulate is just now opening, and a few others, but it is a very small expat community. Morale at the consulate is mixed, but pretty good. My husband and I are very happy here.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for families (Brazilians love kids and they can go just about anywhere!) and couples (my case). I came here with my husband, and we both love it. It seems more difficult for singles. It is a lot of fun living here once you have a group of friends, but it can be slow to establish that group, and Brazilians can be very clique-ish, so in the mean time it can be a hard adjustment for singles. The northeast is still a very traditional culture, and dating can be surprisingly difficult for an outsider.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, while some harassment exists, in general, the culture is very tolerant and open.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Subtle racism exists, and there are many who still have traditional views on gender roles. That said, Brazil is a very diverse country and does better than many other cultures at accepting different races/religions. Women generally work, similar to in the U.S.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We were fortunate to be here during the World Cup, so that was a special experience. Other highlights have been checking out the different carnival celebrations, which vary by city, and just exploring the coastline.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Take your car out and go exploring! There are lots of fun places, just drive up or down the coast. Porto de Galinhas is the famous beach town nearby, but we find it overcrowded and not worth the hype. We prefer other quieter spots like Carneiros and Muro Alto for something nearby. Olinda is close and worth checking out, as is Gravata. Farther out, we've had great times in Natal/Pipa, Fortaleza and the area around it, Fernando de Noronha (and island, so you have to fly), etc.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Just the vastness of the country. It would take much longer than two years to truly explore Brazil. There are many, many fabulous beaches, but also interesting trips to places in the interior. The people are also warm and friendly - great hosts. The weather is generally good - rainy season can be a drag, and it floods in the city, but most of the time the weather is pleasant, and not too hot.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, definitely. I would also go back to Brazil, but next time to a different post to explore a different region...it's such a huge country you can't see it all, and we just really focused on the northeast.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations that this is Rio or Sao Paulo - Recife has a small town feel and attitude.
3. But don't forget your:
Bathing suit, sunscreen, and sunglasses.