How to be Happy Living in Brazil

Living in Brazil
As crazy as this may sound, settling down here in paraíso tropical really can turn into an unsurmountable challenge. For some, the initial euphoria of the first few years here gradually gives way to bitterness and a feeling of deception.

How's that?

Let me tell you the story of the man that married the prettiest girl on the block expecting everlasting bliss. Não, ão it's not quite that simple! As of this writing I've logged 10 years living in brazil (Rio de Janeiro). I've seen them come, I've seen them go. And, a surprising number wind up slamming the door and swearing never to return. They come from all over the world, and they all have an insanely great time for the first 2-3 years. But then, something changes and they gradually drop into one of 3 categories:

> The Deceived
Those that wake up one day and conclude that Brazil is not living up to their original expectations.

> The Homesick.
Those that keep trying to recreate the same things that they had in their homeland. Maple Syrup in the cupboard, 2 cars in the garage, free wifi in every restaurant.

> The Underfunded.
Those with no realistic plan to earn money here.

Often, a mix of all three.

Want to live in Brazil? > Get Your Mind Right

Any reasons you might for moving here are valid ones (really!). But, that doesn't mean they're good. Some reasons are better than others. It surprises me how many people move to Brazil thinking they can just teach English classes. There was a day you could do that, but not any more. Most of the hoods that you want live in Brazil have HIGH costs of living. Now wait - if you're reading this and you are actually wanting to come down, trade your high-heels for flip flops, homestead land in the Amazon or live in a favela, you will be fine, even teaching English. Just be prepared to pay first-world prices (or more) for first-world amenities.

Cost of living vs. quality of life.

I used to live like a king. The dollar was trading at 3+ to 1 against the Brazilian currency. Marlboros were costing me about $0.40 per pack, and my rent was $300 USD for a decent 1BR apt.

Then everything changed. I almost left. I stopped smoking. I had to get a real job here and learn to live what we call a realidade. It took some time to get over the anger I felt. I had really counted on floating along in a world where my massively powerful dollar and low prices here made me look like Donald Trump minus the hair. The silver lining was this: I was motivated to return to things that originally attracted me:  A day at the beach, a bus ride around town, a night at a local street fair with Brazilians! It was the attitude adjustment that I needed.

Let Brazil be Brazil.

If you  want to see the deceived & homesick in action look no further than Facebook pages like Gringos. Every day there's a new raging discussion about one of Brazil's defects. They drone on around several topics: (1) Brazilians can't run Brazil; (2) The poor will soon take over; (3) The rich will soon steal everything. Every once in a while a Brazilian enters the fray and then it's a brawl.

You can, and should call out the wrong that happens here. But do so in measured doses. Even better: don't. Brazilians welcome foreigners here with great style. But they do not appreciate the foreigner that is overly critical. Brazil has been through a lot. It's been trampled and looted. Only a few decades ago it was was a dictatorship with hyperinflation. Amazingly, it's still beautiful and rich. Brazilians are aware of their problems.

Realize this: It's going to take time for things to change. The happy settler here accepts the slow pace of change and appreciates the way Brazil is right now.

Let others swim upstream for you.

I had major problems getting relocated in Rio with a new home, job, and a visa to deal with. Not knowing much Portuguese didn't help. It was my idea to take on the notorious Brazilian buearocracy with my no-fail american do-it-yourself approach. Brazilian bureaucracy won.

On its face, the "burocracia" doesn't seem like a big deal. Transactions such as visa applications or, importing a container from abroad is just a list of document requests. The problem is, that these documents are ALWAYS handled by different government agencies that all have their own office hours, lunch breaks and computer problems. Add to this the fact that the list required documents is constantly changing. None of this information is available say, on a website. If it is, it's guaranteed to out of date. To slay this dragon you need some serious language skills.

There is a solution? (1) Despachante and (2) Advogado.

If you make the move here, look up the meaning of these 2 words and find help. Relax. It's well worth the money and really - not that expensive.

Learn Portuguese.

I ran into a german expat here not too long ago. We bumped into each other at a juice stand - every corner in Rio has one of these. It's where you can get fresh squeezed juices, and açaí. I had met him some 7 years ago just after he'd arrived in Rio. I was shocked. 7 years and he was still unable to order a snack correctly.  I remember that he'd come with the intention of opening a leather glove factory and exporting to Europe. He was still trying to set that up. He was still living in an apartment in the tourist part of Copacabana. He was still unable to speak the language. Coincidence? Não.
He was not a young man, but though more of a challenge, all ages can become fluent in Portuguese. It just takes more work. I didn't start until into my forties, and I'm not a natural talent at languages. Pode acreditar.
The moral of the story is this: To know the culture, the place, your surroundings - to find your place here, you must learn the language.


So there you have it. Those are my main survival tips for those of you seriously considering the move. This is what I would tell you if we were have some caiprinhas together. You can really make Brazil into the greatest experience of your life. But it's not a free ride. You have to work at it, and part that work is keeping a positive attitude and perspective.

My personal adventure.

I had a rather shaky motives for moving here. I was literally  THRILLED every time I came here that I decided to give up my  hard-earned life in San Francisco: friends, money, home. The American dream. But every time I returned from a trip to Brazil I found myself DYING to get back. Literally. So what's shaky about that? Well... that's a long story and I'm going to save it for another dia - deixa para um outro dia.