Recife, Brazil Report of what it's like to live there - 08/10/20
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?
Prior to this, I have lived overseas in the Azores; Seoul, South Korea; Abuja, Nigeria; and Vienna, Austria.
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?
Home is DC. The typical flight route is DC direct to Sao Paulo, with a 4-hour layover where you need all of that time to check in to your domestic flight (it's a pain), then direct to Recife. Under normal circumstances, there are tons of flights connecting through SP or Rio to many destinations. There are a couple of Brazilian carriers who flight direct to Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando (the Disney pilgrimage is very real).
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?
Beach front apartments are the norm. There are some other nice areas to live, but for those who have kids in the American School or CIEC (more on both of these later), the commute balance makes the most sense from Boa Viagem.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Overall readily available and very cheap. The range and quality of fresh fruits is pretty darn spectacular.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Protein bars, diapers, and carpet shampoo.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You can use iFood or Rappi to order a wide variety of food types and even groceries. There are lots of very good restaurants, only a couple of great ones. No surprise, the vast majority of restaurants are Brazilian. Recife is known for its excellent seafood, although some Brazilians will tell me that churrasco is better in the south. Good Italian, good sushi, decent Peruvian, passable Mexican (sometimes), and passable Chinese are readily available. There have been a growing number of vegan options (I'm not an expert on the quality), including ice cream (which is pretty good).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Sometimes you can get these little annoying insects in your pantry in anything boxed or sometimes in bags. You have to be vigilant to make sure they don't get into everything else (just check once a week to see if you have any). Dengue fever is in Brazil, but I personally haven't noticed too many mosquitoes.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch & DPO - the former is faster than the latter, typically taking about two weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very cheap in general, though if you employ someone full time, you have to be compliant with local labor law on certain benefits.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Plenty available and of decent quality - they are typically very popular with Brazilians.
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 are very commonly used; even delivery guys come with their card reader. You generally want to use an ATM associated with a known bank, and ATMs inside gas stations are generally OK if they're tied to a known bank. If you don't recognize the bank, don't use it.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I'm not aware of any.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It is essential. Additionally, the Pernambucan dialect can be nearly incomprehensible. I once went to a mechanic and I could not even tell what language he was speaking. I went to another one: I understood every word he said. Some of our Consular officers develop a real knack for Pernambucano.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Probably as not much seems ADA compliant.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
I have only taken taxis and Ubers, and they are generally very safe. Uber is shockingly cheap.
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?
Something with a high clearance but not too big would be ideal. During rainy season, flooding can happen maybe 2-3 times where it's about 1-2 feet deep. CR-V/RAV4 size tends to be ideal, though there are plenty of SUVs that are more of the Honda Pilot/Toyota Forerunner size. Parts are generally available for the usual suspects. There is a Jeep plant in the area.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. If you have your CPF (Brazilian national ID) before you come to Brazil, you can have someone set up your home internet and local cell phone service via the Web and be at your place to have it set up before you arrive. Both are pretty cheap: I think I pay maybe about $65 total per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The least bad service is Claro/Net, but their customer service can be awful if you have to deal with a human being. The best customer service is Vivo (which I have), but I think the cell phone coverage and WiFi is a little lesser than what you get with Claro. Don't even think of the other providers (Oi, Tim).
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?
Veterinary care here is excellent. That said, transport of any animal that can't go in cabin with you is incredibly expensive. If you have a snub-nose dog, do not be surprised if you have to fly your dog from the US to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam to Rio or SP, then to Recife. That said, plenty of people (including myself) have done it and made it work.
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?
If you're going to work in Brazil, you have to have the right kind of visa that allows you to work. With the Consulate, there are a handful of jobs for family members, but there usually doesn't seem to be much demand (though I have seen that this can flex at times). Several spouses telework to the US without any problems.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots of opportunities, if you speak Portuguese.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Generally business casual in all settings except for official government interactions.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I think that these have been grossly overstated by some in the past, and I've seen the crime stats to support it. When I first arrived, I was under the impression that I couldn't even walk outside much in my neighborhood, but I have not felt threatened at all since I've been here. That said, you should still follow the general advice in Brazil to never go outside with visible jewelry and lots of valuables. I usually go out with a 20 real bill in my pocket just in case.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is quite good here and very inexpensive. Although not all doctors speak English, there are quite a few who do.
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?
Generally very good, though allergies (pollen) have been a seasonal issue for me here.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The average high tends to range 82-87, with the average low about 72-77. There's a rainy season, but even then, we still get lots of sunshine. One thing that is weird is how early the sun comes up. For some crazy reason, this huge country is on one time zone: since we are the eastern most point of the country, we tend to see sunrise regularly before 5am.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is an American School here (Escola Americana do Recife) that historically, from what I can tell, hasn't been great. That said, the most recent superintendent seems to have made lots of improvements, and it appears to be continuing under the new superintendent.
2. 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?
Yes. EAR offers preschool, but CIEC offers what appears to be a better program for half the price. Most of the Consulate parents send their toddlers to CIEC for preschool.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty small; morale generally seems to be pretty good. Within the Consulate, it is clear there were issues with morale in the past. We now have a very good crew, and morale has improved dramatically. Having quality people here is imperative.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
My impression is that it's a good place for everyone. If you have kids, you will instantly become friends with all of the parents in your kids' classes. For singles, this also appears to be pretty good, whether you're male or female, straight or gay. Several people have come here single and left here married.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think it is in general, though homophobia is still an issue in many parts of Brazil. My impression is that it's better in the big cities overall.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Brazilians are very friendly, but you definitely need the Portuguese to communicate.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
I've enjoyed visiting different part of Brazil and seeing several of the excellent beaches in the area.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lots of beaches. In normal times, one can fly to Fernando de Noronha very easily from here; it's often considered to have the best beach in the world. Then there's this thing called Carnaval - not sure if you've heard of it... ;) Recife is reputed to have one of the best Carnaval experience in Brazil, along with Rio and Salvador.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are some neat items available.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
If you have low Vitamin D, this place will take care of it for you. Brazilians are lovely, the weather is spectacular, and the beaches are great.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How small it would feel to me. I've gotten used to living in big, cosmopolitan cities. This city is pretty big, but it feels like a small town.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I'm glad I've lived here, but the world is a big place and I'm itching to see more. Most people do love it here.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, toxic workplace attitude.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, towel, and patience with driving.