I don’t always regret our decision about moving to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from Asia.
But I do wish I’d been a bit more informed before moving to Rio de Janeiro. All the expat blogs I checked out painted a rosy picture of sunshine, beaches, and caipirinhas (no gas cuts, electricity outages, bureaucratic nightmares, severe sexual harassment, or muggings).
Maybe part of the problem is that most of the expat blogs I’d read were written by men, or by women who lived a very #expatwivesclub lifestyle with bodyguards or in a gated community. I don’t know.
I’d only had a month to get ready for the move from Thailand, but when I landed I knew basically zilch about the realities of day to day life in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Aside from researching caipirinha recipes, pinning picturesque Brazilian beaches to my “Brazil” board, and organizing a few going-away and giving-away everything parties – I didn’t do much to prepare. But really, what else can you do on such short notice?
If you are debating moving to Brazil (especially Rio de Janeiro, Brazil like me), these are the pieces of brutally honest reality checks about life about moving to Brazil I wish I’d received.
**The following points are exactly what I wish I had been told and prepared for, as a young foreign woman, before moving to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Female expat friends in other South American cities have echoed similar (or exactly the same) concerns. Everything might not apply, but if something helps someone be more prepared in their move abroad: I’m happy about it. If I could go back and talk to pre-Brazil me, this is EXACTLY what I’d tell me.**
1. You’ll likely never feel totally safe.
That joyous, liberating feeling of absolute freedom you had in Asia? Shut it down and lock it up.
After moving to Rio de Janeiro, you’ll hear daily stories of robberies, stabbings, shootings, muggings, and rapes – not just on the news but from friends who themselves are robbed at knife point, and beaten up for no reason. And you’ll witness things yourself – scary, sad, and soul-crushing things.
You’ll feel scared sometimes, even in the middle of the day, maybe because a man has been trailing you, getting too close, and staring strangely. Or maybe because a guy actually grabs you, hard, and breaks the unspoken barrier with touch, when no one else is around and sets your heart pounding and your feet running as fast as you can.
When a sudden noise wakes you up in the middle of the night, you don’t go immediately back to sleep, you worry a very really fear about what might be happening.
Advice: Don’t wear flashy jewelry or have your cell phone out in public. Carry a backpack instead of a purse.
Leave your wedding ring at home, and wear a cheap band instead. You don’t want to hesitate handing it over in a crucial moment that could cost you your life.
2. If you do feel safe, you’ll may never feel truly comfortable.
The catcalls, the staring, the lewd gestures are anywhere, everywhere, and it doesn’t make much difference what you’re wearing. You’ll find that wearing long hair up helps, as if flowing loose hair is some kind of flag waving in the wind and requesting unwelcome advances. Covering yourself even in the heat, not wearing makeup, and trying to be as un-attractive as possible also helps a little.
But it never totally goes away.
The intrusiveness of the constant harassment will, at some point, wear you down.
You can try to feel flattered or at least ignore it, but sometimes it will creep under you skin and make you feel gross and wish to be invisible.
Advice: Learn self-defense. Work on Krav Maga skills, take Jiu-Jitsu.
You can’t control how people treat you or whether they touch you against your will, but you can control your ability to react. Martial arts are also an excellent way to release some of the anger and tension you feel from being regularly harassed.
3. You need to speak the local language.
Not as many people speak English as what everyone insists. And the people that you actually need to deal with on a day to day basis – grocers, vendors, the doormen of your building – definitely don’t speak English.
If ever there is trouble (a stolen bag or a misunderstanding), you’ll need to be able to explain yourself in the local language.
A trip to any government office? Not speaking the language means a lot of headache, and you’re better off hiring an interpreter to come along.
Advice: It’s pretty simple. Save yourself the trouble and the tears, and get serious about your language studies as soon as possible after moving to Brazil. Take lessons in your new city (like I did in Rio de Janeiro), download Duolingo, find nice friends who are willing to be patient with your beginner language skills.
4. You will miss (healthy) food.
Big green salads? Not as popular and much more expensive in Rio. Maybe at an internationally-inspired chain restaurant, but then they’ll be expensive OR likely with wilty iceberg lettuce and heavy dressing.
Fried, meaty, heavy (and in Brazil – cheesy) are the keywords of a lot of the local cuisine.
Your newbie obsession with “Oh! The amazing fruits!” will be shortlived when you realize how frequently the produce available at zonasul is often bruised, old, bad quality, or bug-laden. Whole Foods will become a distant daydream.
Advice: Bring pantry staples from home (I always stock up on high-quality spices, nutritional yeast, and supplements), and try to eat seasonally as that produce will be higher quality. Try to arrive to the store when produce first arrives off the truck (ask the store clerk).
It’s not that hard to grow your own lettuce if you have a windowsill!
5. It’s hard to make friends sometimes.
As an expat, lots of people will assume you’re transient. Maybe that’s true, but that means you’re perceived as less worthy of the time it takes to become friends.
To make friends with locals, you’ll need to speak the language (see above). Expat friends are great, but they’re likely to be as transient as you are, and friendship with them is like a revolving door. The expats also tend to be a more hard partying or conversely workaholic bunch (especially the short-term ones), which may or may not be your thing.
Advice: Join some activities as soon as possible after moving to Brazil. Whether it’s beach volleyball, volunteering teaching English, or conquering two challenges at one time with language classes (you’ll learn the local language AND make friends at the same time), you need to get out there and meet people.
6. Quality is expensive.
Quality items are a LOT cheaper in the US. Americans get spoiled with stores like Target and IKEA, where you can buy high quality items for a fairly low cost. That isn’t the case in Rio.
Electronics and appliances are expensive, and for actual quality items that work properly – they are REALLY expensive.
Everything breaks quickly (microwaves especially) or doesn’t work quite right (blenders especially). You either need to spend a lot of time and frustration tinkering with them, or a LOT of money to get it right out of the box. Don’t try to bring appliances from the US – they’ll fry up in a heartbeat.
Advice: Learn to live more simply, and resign yourself to spending a bit more on the things that matter. Not much else you can do.
7. No one is ever on time.
EVERYONE is late. For dinner, meetings, classes – it doesn’t matter.
Some weeks you’ll average wasting an hour a day or more just waiting on people to show up.
Advice: You either have to accept the fact (bring a book with you whenever you have a scheduled meeting, and always schedule buffer time for your next appointment) or adopt the behavior yourself and chill out.
8. Efficiency is a foreign word.
Literally and figuratively.
Something that would/should take 30 minutes of solid work instead takes 6 hours, with snack breaks, naps, and playing on the phone.
Brazil sometimes feels like a gigantic Rube Goldberg machine, in the private and in the public sector. There are a hundred steps to accomplish anything, a hundred forms to fill out, a hundred documents to provide copies for.
There’s almost zero planning ahead, no advance warning, and you’ve got to just roll with it.
Advice: You’re a visitor in this culture, and your ethnocentric whining isn’t going to help ANYTHING. Recognize and appreciate the opportunity you have to experience somewhere new, develop a renewed gratitude for the place you come from, and maybe whine to expat friends.
Read and re-read instructions and follow them to a T (especially when it comes to governmental forms), and work on your patience.
9. Very rarely does anything work consistently.
If you are the kind of person who likes comforts or planning ahead – you’re either going to have to give that up or spend a LOT of money on a super crazy luxury apartment or live in a hotel (and even then you’ll likely have issues) after moving to Rio de Janeiro.
The gas will go off for 4 days without notice or apology, even in a nice apartment. No cooking for you! Oh, you just bought a bunch of groceries that need to be cooked or they’re going to go bad? Your problem.
The electricity will cut out for a night, a day, or days, with no end in sight. When it comes back on, it will feel like the discovery of fire.
The water will stop for a week, and you’ll need to lug huge jugs up flights of stairs, just to shower, brush your teeth, or cook. You’ll never appreciate water in your life like when it comes back on and you finally feel clean again.
Hot water comes and goes like a rainbow. You’ll smile when you have it, but eventually stop wondering where it went when its gone.
Advice: Use these inconveniences as reminders to have gratitude in your daily life. I’ll never ever take water for granted after going for two weeks without it.
With all those negative points, I feel like I have to balance it out with a bit of positive. After moving to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I studied Jiu jitsu, made a lifelong bestie, and learned some harsh lessons about feminism (or lack thereof) abroad. While living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil specifically was NOT for me, that’s not to say it won’t be for you!
Moving from Brazil to Mexico was the best choice that my little family could have made. While we suffer a few similar annoyances (consistency, efficiency, and timeliness still aren’t common), I feel SO much safer as a woman in Mexico. The street harassment has decreased to pretty much zero, and I don’t have anxiety over my safety either at home or in public. I’ve found that everything is SO much cheaper here in Mexico, it’s easier to make friends (foreign and local), people are incredibly nice to language learners like me, and I’m just enjoying life in general so much more. Which is shocking, considering I’m no where near an incredible beach.
Pin it: Moving to Brazil – 9 Brutally Honest Reality Checks to Consider!
* This post was originally written in 2015, and has been updated September 2017.
What do you wish you’d known before moving to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil?
Thanks for your insights on moving to Brazil. I agree on some of your points. Brazil can be dangerous and sometimes disappointing. But, personally I believe that not every country in South America is like that. I have spent quite a bit of time in Latin countries including Brazil. I really like Latin countries mainly for history, culture, language and people. From my experience, I have learned that no country can be rosy. Every country has it’s goods and bads. It depends on what exactly I am looking for. I just have to have realistic expectations. Growing up in India, everything about the US seemed to be rosy to me. But after living 8 years in the US, I am now considering moving to Chile or Mexico. And I am not expecting that it would be a smooth ride even in Chile/Mexico. Anyways, good luck and stay safe!
Hi Thirumal! Thanks so much for your comment and I agree, every country has good and bad. Unfortunately, I read more blogs that have highlighted the good and ignored the bad.
This article is the information I wish someone would have told me before moving to South America, so it is of course my opinion and personal experience that may not be the case for everyone.
This is all so true (unfortunately) I’ve been here for 4 months and I’m sitting here nodding in agreement, although I will say that Chile does much better on all these fronts, especially the fresh fruit and veg thing which is bad in Argentina and Brazil for sure! Love the honesty- It;s not all sunsets and pretty drinks! The gross leering men are worse in Rio than anywhere else. Yuck!
Thanks so much Hannah! Glad it resonated with you, but sorry you’re experiencing similar negative aspects…
I hope you’re getting a lot of good as well (especially in the sunsets and pretty drinks area!!)
As a person who lived in Colombia and plan to move there permanently, I agree and disagreed with some of your points. I lived both in Medellin and Buga and felt very safe. I lived in 3 different neighbourhoods in Medellin – Los Colores, Estadio and Poblado. I definitely felt comfortable in Buga but I favour Los Colores in Medellin because it wasn’t full of expat. Perhaps it is perspective too – I was stumbling home drunk in Buga but I will never walk down my road after 9pm in London! As for the catcalling, I brush it off or make it a joke – and I’ve done this in all my Latin American destinations…except Brazil. Brazil was different. I was out right propositioned as a prostitute in broad day light! My experiences in Brazil were definitely different compared to my other destinations in Latin America. But I definitely felt safe in Colombia, that’s why I’m moving there permanently 🙂
Hi Shari! Thanks for sharing. Yes, my experiences were mainly in Brazil and they were not so pleasant especially with the harassment!
I’m so glad to hear that Colombia is awesome for you, I’ve heard nonstop great things about the country and look forward to hopefully visit soon!
Have you moved to Colombia? All my family is telling me NOT to move there! If course.. I’d be leaving a 80k job here without reaching age of retirement. I hear it’s hard to find work there. I’m 75% fluent in spanish.. but…. I’m dying for a change but I also want to make a smart decision. Also hearing that people don’t make enough to travel out of Colombia…
Big surprise–someone else’s country doesn’t feel like the one you grew up in. So you lay into it because it’s its own thing and not your own. What you’re really attacking is your own decision not to do any research before moving thousands of miles. But you refuse to take responsibility for your own decision, so instead you’re blaming an entire continent? How embarrassed you’re going to be about putting this on the internet, someday.
Hi Michael! Thanks so much for sharing your opinion, just like I did mine. Don’t you just love the freedom of expression that the internet brings?
Regarding South America – I’m certainly not “laying into it”, simply sharing the honest thoughts I had about my experience living in Brazil, and the information I wish had been available before undertaking the move. Had I known it, I still would have moved to Brazil (I think), but I would have been more prepared. I didn’t find any of this information online in any of my research… hence why I endeavored to write it myself.
South America definitely has “its own thing”, different from where I arew up (USA) and also where I lived prior (Asia). Living in a country involves respecting the way things are, which I state very clearly “you’ve got to just roll with it” and that “You either have to accept the fact… or adopt the behavior yourself and chill out”.
Wow!!! You are quite the smug know it all miserable I hate my life therefore I try to make anyone I cans life like mine aren’t you? The lady was simply and quite nicely if you ask me relating her actual living experience in a place she had higher expectations for and was trying to educate people who are planning on visiting. And there you go with your smug reply instead of thanking her. It must be nice being so intelligent and worldy as you are. Thank you for offering your cheery input that after having read I don’t think I could have done without.
While I generally agree with your post and that for many North Americans Latin America can be challenging, I would like to “chalk up” most of your concern to a general condition all humans have. Everyone can imagine that life in a different country and culture will be challenging and most people expect some difficulties and annoyances. But the difference is that we as humans, especially those who haven’t traveled far or long, tend to compare other environments with our home environments; thereby, making the home environment into status quo, picture perfect place to live, in our minds. In other words, we compare everything with our home country, culture, and environment and project these lofty expectations (only in our minds) to the new location, which we don’t really understand.
I am from Germany and I have seen so many German Expats in Latin America complaining and complaining about things that just weren’t like in Germany, without really thinking about their merits. Latinos are never on time! Well, Germans send apologetic text msgs to their friends, when they realize they will be 10 minutes late to a coffee date.
On the other hand, when I moved to Massachusetts with 18, I was in the beginning all starry-eyed, full of high expectations, just to be dragged back down to an ugly reality that made me want to return to Germany in a couple of months. First, I couldn’t believe the lack of freedom Americans had. US society (and New England even more) has so many obstructions and constrains that society puts on itself that I wasn’t used to. I couldn’t drink, but seemingly every kid drove drunk; consensual sex was frowned upon by society, but you were an outsider, if you hadn’t had sex by graduation. Crime? Boy, I got so scared when I walked into the first club in my life through a metal detector (they only existed in Germany at airports). 13,000 Americans kill each other with guns each year – 130 in Germany.
What I am trying to say not that your concerns and warnings aren’t true, but that travelers have understand that they will compare a location or country/culture, with some other place. If their experience isn’t great, it most probably will be what they consider their home country. But that is in the eye of the beholder of course: not everything in Massachusetts, Michigan, or Germany is perfect. We have to adjust our reactions and concerns to the new culture and judge them accordingly. Latinos are never on time? Sure, but they also don’t get upset, if plans fall through, like some one cancels on them in the last minute, like we more Western citizens are likely to do. We travelers and expats have to learn to objectively evaluate another location/culture as soon as possible.
Your move to Massachusetts and your perspective on it is super interesting!
I agree with your perspective, however this post focused on the aspects of Latin America that I wish I would have been mentally prepared for. It’s definitely important to be objective, but at the same time, paying a steep price for a nice apartment that goes weeks without water isn’t something I’d enjoy or appreciate ANYWHERE in the world, nor is feeling unsafe. I wasn’t comparing Brazil with my home country mentally (I have no desire to live in the US, ever) but with everywhere else I had been and with my own preferences for a place I would want to live. Everyone has different preferences, different things that make them happy, and I think being aware of those preferences rather than denying them can be a true aid in helping you find whether or not to stay in a country.
For example, I know that feeling physically safe is important to me. As a small, blonde, foreign-looking woman, I received extra and very pervasive sexual street harassment. Other people may enjoy a sense of danger or even the attention — I don’t. I know that I really appreciate regular water supply and being able to shower, wash dishes, etc, for other people this may be less of an issue. I know that as a health-conscious vegetarian, having easy access to high quality fruits and vegetables is important to me — for other people like my brother who enjoy eating deep-fried foods, Brazil could be a heaven.
I don’t think there’s such a thing as true objectivity, but I think I can recognize my own subjectivity, and I continue to try. Just because I didn’t enjoy living in Brazil (and more specifically: Rio de Janeiro) doesn’t mean that someone else might not love it. In fact, one of my very best friends continues to live there and love it, she never wants to leave!
Obviously you are a man and have never experienced the harrassment she and other women have…..
I agree with you on most of the points, but Brazil is a big country and Rio de Janeiro is that way – but there are other states and they are so different! Vegetables and making friends can be very different in other cities. Some years ago I was transferred from a Dutch bank to work in the Rio de Janeiro branch and I confess that at first I was amazed by the sea and over-all laid back attitude. But later very very very concerned about my safety. Like you said, I was grateful for a new experience, but would think three times before accepting the transfer today. I could never ever feel safe in the country, unfortunately.
Hi Denise! Thanks so much for commenting.
Definitely, Brazil is a huge country and there are many different states.
I acknowledge that explicitly (“…these are the pieces of brutally honest reality checks about life about moving to Brazil I wish I’d received.
**The following points are exactly what I wish I had been told and prepared for, as a young foreign woman, before moving to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Female expat friends in other South American cities have echoed similar (or exactly the same) concerns. Everything might not apply, but if something helps someone be more prepared in their move abroad: I’m happy about it. If I could go back and talk to pre-Brazil me, this is EXACTLY what I’d tell me.**”)
Unfortunately, it seems that the safety situation in Rio de Janeiro specifically is continuing to get worse. I still have friends that live there that I worry about, and as you said, I would think three times before moving back… and honestly for me: probably not do it in almost any circumstance. While it’s a paradise for a lot of people, for me it wasn’t the right choice.
Hi Steph. I do not know how I ended up on this page, searching about life in Australia. Anyway, I feel for your experience in Brazil. As a Brazilian, what I have to say is that Rio de Janeiro is one of the worse cities in the country. It was the capital until 1960 and when the capital was transferred to Brasilia, the city became abandoned. If you are rich to afford living in a good condo and drive a armored car, so you will be ok, otherwise, it is horrible.
You can say that things are cheap in US, but try to study there or try to see a doctor and you will spend thousands of dollars for stupid things. They don’t have vacations there and recent mothers usually take only a week of maternity leave to stay with their newborns.
We are always late, because it is our way of living. In this case, just get used to it. I hate it as well, but even when you try to be on time, it is hard, because you need to leave home 2 or 3 hours before and sometimes you don’t have enough time to be on time at all our appointments. So, I see this as a problem considering the business environment. However, with regards to parties, except weddings in which we have to be in the church on time, we don’t care about the hour people arrive. We just establish a start time and people start to arrive 1 to 3 hours later and it is perfectly Ok, because we want to have fun. If it is a party in the house of old friends, you can even sleep there and people are Ok with that. For me it is very weird going to parties in other countries. People arrive, drink a lot doing stupid drinking games and two hours later everyone is leaving very drunk. We enjoy the day with friends. Sometimes the barbecue is supposed to start 12 pm and around 2 am there is still people in your house.
I don’t know where you live in Rio, but I don’t remember the last time my house had the energy cut. It is not difficult making friends, but you need to be open for it. Differently than other countries in which you cannot date or having friends in the workplace, here it is common and very acceptable. All my former girlfriends are from my former workplaces. We were just not subordinated to each other. So, your workplace is a good start for making friends and it is ok to invite people from your workplace for a pizza or a barbecue at your house.
I live in São Paulo and have family in Rio, Recife, Rio Grande do Sul , Goiás etc. If you like big cities, in São Paulo you will feel safer living in the Central neighborhoods. My neighborhood has practically no crimes and stayed for 5 years without any murder (what happened last year when criminals crossed the neighborhood running from the police and killed a woman to take her car). I grew up in a very dangerous neighborhood, but the violence is very different from Rio de Janeiro. We don’t see people being killed by stray bullets neither criminals carrying rifles or machine guns like I see in the poor parts in Rio without difficulty. I am 36 and neither my family nor I have never been victim of any crime. But my relatives in Rio, almost every year they are robbed, kidnapped etc. I am not saying that São Paulo is a safe place, but it is not difficult to keep yourself relatively safe depending on where you live and work.
Here we have street fairs seven days a week, always in some street around your house, where you can buy fresh vegetables at affordable prices. These fairs are mostly organized by Japanese descendants. If you have money, you can find all kinds of foods in fancy grocery stores.
The customer service is way better here. People walk dressed here (you don´t see men without t-shirts or wearing speedos on the streets). The traffic jams might seem worse, but it flows better, because there are many parallel streets that you can use on your way home, and the city is not surrounded by mountains such as Rio. Our subway and buses are way better too. If you like small cities, in the countryside of São Paulo there are amazing cities with high quality of life.
In the interior of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina you find amazing cities too. However, from my own experience, people is in general very ignorant and racist in the South and have huge prejudices against people from the north and northeast States. They speak among themselves in a old style German and they are always talking about separate the region from the rest of the country.
Unfortunately, as people said above, there are pros and cons when moving abroad. I have lived in Canada for one year. When I moved, I was tired of the Brazilian corruption and violence. When I get there I was amazed by the good houses, good cars etc. Six months later I started to hate being there. The weather is horrible. It rains all the time and the grey sky makes everyone depressed. Canadians are polite, but not friendly. They have fake smiles. They smile and when you turn around that smile disappear at the same second.
I needed to use the “amazing Canadian free health system”. I was with an eye problem due to pollen and cat allergy. It took me 6 (six) hours to be seen by a doctor who barely looked at me and said it was conjunctivitis. It was not. He refused to send me to an ophthalmologist. So I used the eye drops prescribed, which cost me more than 40 dollars and my eyes got worse, so worse that I couldn’t walk without help. I returned there, waited more 6 hours and after a discussion, when I said I would sue him for xenophobia, he sent me to an specialist. Long story short, it took me 1 month and more than 500 dollars to solve an allergy problem that I solve here in Brazil in 1 hour for free or for less than 100 dollars. The bureaucracy there is as bad as here in my experience, but in different ways.
People is cold there. A girl stumbled next to a friend of mine and I, so we helped her to stand up. She called a police officer and said we touched her. We only touched her arms to help her to stand up, but for them it is kinda rape. Sick people… If I held the door for a man, they used thank me. When I held for some women, they looked at me with a nauseous look and used to say: “I can open the door myself!”. In another occasion, I was walking with some Saudi friends, and a Canadian white a guy threw a bottle at my friends and I and said: “Go back to your country fucking terrorists”. I called two cops who was passing by and they said we misunderstood what the white Canadian said. When we left, they all smoked a cigarette together while laughed at us. I didn´t have prejudice problem myself, because I look white (despite being mixed Brazilian) and people always confused if I was Canadian, Italian, Lebanese…
A guy was murdered 2 houses down there (a good neighborhood in the suburbs of Halifax). In other occasion, I was on the bus and this Canadian who was in the front came to the back part and started to say bad things to some girls who were chatting in French: “Go back to Quebec! What are you fucking doing here! English here!” Most of them live alone and, when in couples, they prefer having pets than children.
They are very ignorant even about their own country. If your bill is 12 dollars and you give them 22 dollars because you want a 10 dollar change, not coins, they don’t know how to count. They will return your 2 dollars and give a change of 8 dollars. I tested it in many places and only Lebaneses, Chineses, Indians and other Asians used to understand it easilly without any explanation. Whenever I said I was Brazilian, they used to take their phones and check it on Google to figure out where it is located, even though Brazil is one of the largest countries, one of the most important economies, was hosting the Olympic games and had hosted the World Soccer Cup. So I came back, because almost all my friends there were from Latin countries, South Korea or Saudi Arabia. If I wanted to live these cultures, I would have gone to their countries.
However, the violence here is forcing me to take another move toward some smaller city in the interior of São Paulo or another country such as Australia, Chile, Uruguay… If you like Brazil, move from Rio for your own safety. Sorry for my English and typing mistakes.
Have a nice week!
Thank you so much for sharing your perspective so thoughtfully and in depth.
Since writing this post, we moved to Mexico (about 2 years ago now), and it is a much better fit for my preferences. Of course, every city (and country) has its pros and cons, but I am much happier not living in Rio. That being said, I have SO many friends who live in and love the city — so it all comes down to what’s best for each individual.
I couldn’t agree more with your comment. As Brazilian living in the UK for 8 years I can confirm that here is basically the same: bad doctors, strong xenophobia (worse now after brexit), racism, terrible maths, ignorant people, terrible weather… not to mention tiny expensive houses and long commutes. In many aspects my life in Brazil was better and much more fun. Yes, I feel slightly safer here and gadgets are cheaper but that’s all. To earn a decent amount of money as a lawyer I have to work in London. Can anyone be safe in London? Nope!
Basically everywhere you gain and you loose, the question is what is more important to you? Are you willing to compromise in something?
Brazil is so much bigger than Rio! Some nice places: florianopolis, BH, Curitiba, São José dos Campos, Natal, Gramado, Joinville, João Pessoa…
I would rather have pool, sunshine and warm people in my life than a bit more of sterling pounds in my bank account and a miserable life in front of a TV.
Last but not least, Brazil has coxinha and guaraná. Have you ever seen anyone sad eating coxinha? I haven’t. Coxinha is Brazilian food happiness lol
Nice article Steph! I wish you a lovely time in Mexico!
Guarana is tasty but unfortunately, I never found a vegetarian coxinha to try! I have heard it is great 🙂
I agree with you completely on this point: “I would rather have pool, sunshine and warm people in my life than a bit more of sterling pounds in my bank account and a miserable life in front of a TV.” It just happened that for me, Mexico was where I found those things (along with a few others) that best fit what I was searching for 🙂
Don’t exactly know how I got here. A very interesting blog! I’m a native New Yorker and have been coming to Salvador Brazil for 22 years and Loving it and especially the People! I’ve travelled throughout Central, and South America, and other then loving the city of Buenos Aires, I return to my love of who I consider to be the warmest people on this planet! I’ve been to Rio once for Carnaval and Loved it, but hear very frequently of the amount of crime and violence there. Having said that a close Brazilian friend in New York who grew up in Rio and recently bought a condo there, says he was never mugged there, but was mugged on his 3rd visit to Miami! I love it so much I plan to retire here (Salvador) and now own an apartment. I’ve never had a water issue, have had one electric outage that lasted maybe 2 minutes. It was in the middle of a tropical storm. To me the fresh food is on a par with Whole Foods back home, but the US doesn’t have the plethora of amazing fruits we have in Brazil. My fave is maracuja or passion fruit! A great name for a place with passionate people. As for Mexico I don’t find the people particularly warm, and Mexico now has one of the highest crime rates as well. The narco terrorism business has moved out of Columbia into Mexico. One friend who goes to Mexico City for business regularly says he always has a bodyguard. While I am a gay man, and not a straight woman, I cannot speak to harassment. It doesn’t appear to me here at least in Salvador, nor other cities such as São Paulo. One huge difference that seems to me here is Brazilian’s women’s openness about talking about sex and their lovers! Maybe they open up more to me, but my straight girlfriends in NYC do not seem to have the same enjoyment level or openness about sex with men? Just my take. Yes bureaucracy here, yes always hear about safety concerns, although coming for 22 years I’ve not yet seen any problem anywhere. Having grown up in NYC, I see homelessness, and sketchy people and always have my guard up too. Especially in Salvador, there’s so so much acceptance of different races, + sexualities + add that to the incredible music, beaches and for me, the warmest people on the planet, I’m staying! Loved the earlier Brazilian talk about touching a girl in Canada, this is a Very touchy feely culture! Having grown up with an Italian mom, I find it warm and loving, and just feels right for me. Many times I’ll see a Brazilian just touch another’s child even on the street that they don’t even know, but all is out of love and warmth. At least here in Salvador I do not see men leering after women, but I will ask, perhaps as a man I’m missing it. Anyway, enjoy Mexico, and try at least a visit to another city in Brazil sometime in your future.
Hi! Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Yes, I think it is very different to live somewhere than to visit. Living means dealing with a whole different set of realities, 24/7, than knowing you get to return home in a week (which makes it much easier to brush off things like electricity/water outages).
Unfortunately, I think it is all too common for men not to “see” sexual harassment. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. And loving, acceptable touch is a lot different than a leering stranger spouting obscenities while reaching for your breast.
I’m glad you enjoy Salvador so thoroughly!
As a Brazilian this post made me get mad at the bad stuff we usually see here, but not only that, this post actually shocked me, I’m surprised about many facts. First, I don’t live in Rio, I’ve never been there tbh. I’ve always wanted to go there because of the events such as Rock in Rio but my parents never (ever) let me go there bc of the crime issue.
I live in Brasilia, the capital, in one of the medium class suburbs, not rich at all! Crime happens here because it’s still Brazil and the country struggles to fright crime, but I don’t usually hear much of it. I get home everyday at 11pm and many times I come home walking because I get a ride with a friend of mine who studies at the same college as me but live some blocks away. I have never felt threatened or anything, I feel free to do that alone (as a man). I see women too walking around at 11pm but they’re always with company, usually another man and the main activity at that time is walking dogs (there’s a big green area between the blocks)
As a woman, my mom never felt threatened either and she goes everywhere she wants to, harassment is something that happens here (just like anywhere else in the world) but not in the same intensity as in Rio, because she goes to the gym everyday and never complained about anything. It is a fact that women still suffer gender inequality here and Brazil is behind developed countries when it comes to that, but the level of harassment you described is something I have never heard of, possibly because I don’t know any woman from Rio.
It’s really easy to find healthy food here and they are extremely cheap, it’s just that my dad knows the rights places and we buy most things there. Gas and electricity cut? This is something we never faced too. Some things are really expensive here, that’s for sure, specially electronics and cars, but apart from that I don’t see things being overpriced (I mean, gadgets are WAY TOO OVERPRICED)
I am so, so sorry you had a horrible experience living in Brazil and I am happy that you found a place to call home in Mexico. In conclusion, I think you chose the wrong city to live in. Rio is full of problems and not even Brazilians (from good parts such as Brasilia) would move to live there. I have never seen a favela in real person yet and that’s something I wouldn’t be able to say if I lived in an overpriced and problematic city as Rio. I have some advantages here that I consider a lot, like studying in one of top universities in Latin America (and it’s free!), having a pass to use any kind of public transport for free (all students have that right) and my dad alone with his job (it’s a common job, he didn’t even have a graduation back then when he got it) pays off the bills of 4 people in the house and we travel to the beach every year, besides casual trips to close towns.
There is a long list of good cities to live in Brazil, I will even say some (in my opinion): Brasília, Florianópolis, Curitiba, Ribeirão Preto, São Caetano do Sul, Caldas Novas, Londrina… It depends on what you’re looking for. I would NEVER recommend any expat to live in Rio, like NEVER. My parents won’t let me travel there, who says living (and I am a native Brazilian). Brazil is a developing country with developing country problems and it is poor compared to places like the USA. As a medium class person (I don’t even have 20% of the luxury rich people have) I love my country and I’m not planning to move out now, even though I consider myself a world citizen and I want to live abroad for some time in different continents (my dream places now are Australia, Norway and Zimbabwe)
All in all Brazil is a great place, but if you’re poor or if you live in dangerous cities (hello Rio) you may not get the best experiences because inequality is a bad, bad thing we have to face everyday. To be honest that post of yours is another Brazil to me, one that I don’t know and that my family and friends don’t know too because I have never heard any complain like those in THIS intensity (people are always complaining here but not this way hahaha). Thank you for sharing your experience and feel free to visit the place again any time you feel comfortable, but don’t forget to pick up the right places!
Thanks so much for sharing such a well thought out and thorough viewpoint. I think it will really help others reading this!
I understand what you’re saying about other cities: I visited other cities in Brazil, and actually really loved Sao Paolo and felt much safer there (and think it would have been a better fit for me).
Unfortunately, one doesn’t always have a choice for the place they live (for example, we were working for the Olympics, so HAD to live in Rio), and the general opinion of vacationers doesn’t always reflect reality. I knew many people who had visited and loved vacationing in Rio, while I found out that the living situation (especially for blonde, foreign-looking women who spend a lot of time by themselves) was much different.
Also wanted to say that I updated the title and intro to this piece to be more specifically about Rio de Janeiro. You are so right, I shouldn’t make generalizations about Brazil. Sorry about that!
That’s okay, a lot of things you said really happen throughout the country. As I said before Brazil is a developing country with developing country problems, but the intensity of problems varies from region to region and that title of yours shows the reality in Rio and makes others see that maybe it can happen in other parts of the country too – it’s always good to read about the specific city you’re moving to and balance the pros and cons. There is an American currently living here and she’s showing her perspective, she’s a blond girl too having a hard time to blend in as she’s not living in a city full of blond people (that’s something that can be found in the south of the country haha). Her name is Georgia Bell and she’s really funny! I’ll leave her youtube channel here in case you’re interested in checking out her perspective: https://www.youtube.com/user/geomaebykitten/videos.
BTW your posts are awesome and keep feeding us with such good information. I’m planning to start traveling to far away countries once I get a job and it’s so good to get tips from people who have lots of experience – like you!
Thanks so much, Junior! I will definitely check out Georgia 🙂
Thank you for the compliment – I am so happy that you like my posts and I hope you find them helpful! Always feel free to ask if you have any questions about anything. Good luck on the job search and future travel!! 🙂
By the way the country is facing one of the worst recessions is its history and things are not that neat now, but changes and improvements are being made and I am so proud of the things we achieved. Making rich people and strong politicians go to jail is something new here and that will impact the country from now on. Maybe one day we will see corruption get as low as it is in northern countries
I am so sad about the recession (I still have many friends in Brazil that I love dearly), but glad to hear about the changes and improvements in terms of corruption. That is so great to hear! I know especially with the Olympics, a lot of wealthy people prospered (and pocketed funds), while everyone else was left with the problems (collapsing sidewalks, etc).
I am Brazilian, living in Europe and Asia for 20 years because I would never raise my children there. I dislike the food, the dirt, and most part of the culture and societal norms. Thanks, but no thanks.
That is really interesting to hear. I’m an American, but I don’t like a lot of the cultural and societal norms there, either (especially lately with this President, ugh!)! I am really grateful for my passport that allows me to live where I choose, though.
Where did you live in Asia? I also really liked it there (I lived in Bangkok), but I haven’t lived in Europe yet (Sweden seems like a dream, and I could see myself living in Riga or Vilnius, too).
Thanks for sharing!
I might agree with some of your comments, that is true that we have many problems (as every country do! and maybe we have some more compared to your place), but really for me the problem is not the place itself!
As every story has 2 sides, let me place a little perspective over your words:
Safety: That is no News the “traffic war” existing in Rio, but regular people getting too close, and staring strangely, catcalls and lewd gestures. Come on! where have you been?! I’ve being in Rio so so many times and that is not the reality.
You need to speak the local language: If I go to US anyone will make the minimun effort to understand my portuguese? Or any spanish? I’m Brazilian and do speak fluently 4 different languages besides my own… I know countless people from several different countries and only 3 or 4 besides Latin Americans speak any language other than their own. So why do you think Brazilian people should be different? Americans or French can think “you are visiting my country, then speak my language”, but is it absurd that Brazilian does not speak the language of his visitors?
You will miss healthy food: every day I cook to my family, I almost don’t cook meet or carb and don’t use fat of any type. Yes we don’t have berrys or lots of things like that, but really we are very far from unhealthy. And we also have many “market” (street stalls) spread through the cities where anyone can buy fresh fruit and veggies every day; No… there is no need of supplements or anything like that. You just need a little disposition and you will find everything you need.
It is hard to make friends: I’ve never had difficult to find friends, not in BR nor anywhere else… I made friends for life, in Rio, São Paulo, BR Northeast, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, US, Poland, England, China, Italy, Africa… And I’ve never even lived abroad. I’ve just done short work or tourism trips.
Yes, quality is expensive! It is not only in Rio, but BR in general.
No one is ever on time: I’m brazilian, and I’m always on time! “No one” is a lot of people. But I must agree, punctuality, is not Brazilian people highest quality, but I should tell you, not even English is THAT punctual anymore; But yes don’t get stressed with waiting, especially in Rio (maybe due to the informality of the sunny and beachy city).
Efficiency is a foreign word: Well let me tell you.. The other day I need to renewal my drive license, that took me 1 hour, the whole process, including the medical evaluation; my passport renewal took me 40 minutes (me, my husband and my child); Yes, we know we pay lots of duties and taxes and we cant count on public services which are always insufficient and many time inefficient. But then say that anything works around here.. That is too much!!!!
Very Rarely does anything work consistently: Let me see …. I’ve never run out of gas, In 10 years, since I’ve left my parents house I remember like 3 or 4 electricity cut out … And that was never an entire period…water??? Yes.. I run out of water when they wash my condo water tank, and like last year we had almost no rain over an entire year, so our water reservatories were at a too low level and we had to rationalize water.
Thanks so much for sharing your experience, I appreciate it!
However, I think you may have misunderstood the purpose of the article. I’m not intending to bash Brazil, Brazilians, or Rio in any way: just simply sharing what I wish I would have been prepared for before arriving (for example, I say that expats should immediately learn Portuguese, and “get serious about your language studies as soon as possible after moving to Brazil”, to the contrary of you suggesting I think Brazilians should speak the language of visitors – I don’t). Moving from Thailand to Brazil was a huge culture shock for me, and I found that much of the advice I received was inaccurate. As stated in the article: “If I could go back and talk to pre-Brazil me, this is EXACTLY what I’d tell me.”
I am SO glad that you’ve never experienced a gas shortage at your apartment building, like I did, or went days without water or electricity, like I did, or suffered through hours of waiting at every single governmental appointment.
As a woman, I’m even more happy for you that you haven’t experienced people grabbing you, catcalling, and lewd gestures, as I’m still suffering from anxiety regarding those daily experiences, and I wish NO other woman to go through it, though I know it’s a reality for many.
wow I lived in Rio for 8 years and I have never seen the Gas getting turned off, I made lots of friends, it is true the security is an issue but you have to be smart about it and you will be fine. Efficiency it is a word and people have those expectations, maybe not everyone but it is incorrect, shortsighted to criticize the entire city.
You will miss healthy food?? this part made me laugh. The food in Brazil is not only healthy is AMAZING!! as many products are still organic by default, so the author must like GMOs soaked in pesticides and hormones and antibiotic infested meats and veggies.
I think this traveler is right on some points but so far off on some others.
Thanks for sharing your opinion! I know everyone has their own definitions, but for me healthy means a variety of fresh, healthy produce. I don’t eat meat, and I don’t buy GMOs (which Brazil is FULLLL of, I guess you were unaware?). Aside from Arabic restaurants (and maybe making my own salad at kilo restaurants, though the only option of dressing being something cream-based), I had no where to eat at restaurants, and I found the produce at the grocery stores very lacking: handled very badly and overpriced. Coming from Thailand (and going to Mexico after) put Brazil’s food in stark contrast.
Very good, I liked the content of the subject parabens.
So you go to an unknown country without any preparation, you don’t speak their language and you think it is a terrible place, just because you don’t know the right places to go or how to buy things (which is natural when we are in new places).
I used to visit Rio once a year, the city is beautiful, people are happy and food is wonderful: great restaurants, fresh fish, incredible tropical fruits, and vegetables, that you can buy in supermarkets and farmers markets in the streets. Regarding the quality of vegetables, if you pay more for “organic” you’ll have the best – just like in any country in the world.
You say it was difficult to make friends, but you didn’t speak Portuguese. Do you really think people have obligation to speak English? If you think like that, you should stay in your country.
The only thing that, by my experience, I agree with you, is that violence happens and we really should avoid using jewels or expensive objects when walking on the streets.
Hi Lou, thanks for sharing your opinion! I’m sorry you find it so easy to be so judgmental and harsh towards someone you don’t know. But that’s okay.
I didn’t have the opportunity to learn Portuguese, and I did try to prepare myself (other than reading blogs and articles online, there wasn’t much I could do: I had never met a Brazilian before and had never been to the country). I was in a country experiencing a military coup, and was told I needed to leave. Not the best of circumstances.
I think you skipped over a very important disclaimer at the top: The following points are exactly what I wish I had been told and prepared for, as a young foreign woman, before moving to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Female expat friends in other South American cities have echoed similar (or exactly the same) concerns. Everything might not apply, but if something helps someone be more prepared in their move abroad: I’m happy about it. If I could go back and talk to pre-Brazil me, this is EXACTLY what I’d tell me.
Clearly, what you would tell yourself before moving to Brazil (or, think you would tell yourself, as visiting once a year and being on vacation is incredibly different from actually living someplace) is different. And that’s okay! Everyone is different.
I don’t think everyone (or, anyone) has the obligation to speak English. But my other experiences living abroad had more English-speakers (including expats) which made the transition into speaking the new language easier. I’m not criticizing Rio de Janeiro for this, simply stating my experience.
Again, this is all information that I would have told myself. And I wrote this piece after living in Brazil for 2 years. I love Brazilians; I didn’t love living in Rio de Janeiro. I also didn’t love living in the US. This isn’t a judgment, it’s a statement of personal preference: just like this isn’t a news outlet or a reference site written by an expert, this is a blog written by a woman who’s trying to do her best.
I understand what you mean, and I think that it is very important to be aware about the dangers or negatives of some place. However, in my vision, what you described is extremely negative and exaggerated. That was my perception when I read your text.
Anyway, thank you for taking your time to reply. I hope your next adventures are better.
Thanks again for sharing your opinion. I also wrote extensively about the positives of Rio, and gained a few incredible friends that I still stay in touch with (now, 3 years after moving). Actually, the situation has only become worse from what I have heard from friends who still live there, especially in terms of safety. Very sad because it is a beautiful city.
Again, the realities of people living there are very different from someone visiting for a short period of time. Someone living there needs to take public transportation or drive, they can’t afford taxis constantly; someone actually living there and not just visiting needs to deal with issues with food/water/utilities, they don’t have a hotel who fixes problems for them (or has backup gas/water/electric generator) and can’t write off problems as an experience when it goes on for weeks and threatens their health and interferes with work. Of course, a tourist’s perception will ALWAYS be different from a resident.
I do enjoy living in Mexico much more, though we also have issues with utilities getting cut, it’s never for as long or as uncertain as it was in Brazil (knock on wood). I’ll continue to write about both the positive and negative aspects of a place, because it’s the truth.
very good, this blog, congratulations
This is a matter of race as white women – especially blonde women – are put on a pedestal the world over. I’m mixed race and as such I look Brazilian so i’m not considered a prize and haven’t experienced any leering or harassment. Just wanted to mention that in case there are any darker skinned people reading this. They won’t experience the same thing.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Etta.
Hi Steph, I have just read your experience living in Rio de Janeiro. Im Portuguese, dark skinned and obviously speak the language. I am married and have been living in Spain for the past 12 years. I have a brother working/living in Rio and we have been trying to visit him for some time. I was very glad to hear your point of view regarding safety, or lack of it as you say…as this worries me. We are both thinking of going there for a holiday, but doing “homework” before going as we both want a change in our lives. I speak fluent English and Spanish, my husband is Spanish but does not speak Portuguese, only understands a little. What employment agencies would you recommend to look for work, and what groups do you recommend me joining online before we go there. We have 6 months before we decide to go to live there.We are both very sporty, love the outdoors and knowing the “locals”.
Cristina, still planning on coming to Brazil? I have 6 months here until I move and I can provide voluntary reception for you (or anyone else) when arriving here. About employment agencies, I would not rely on that, I never heard of foreigners actually landing “jobs” here, they either have to work remote or find under the table jobs, which are not common these days even for natives like me (mostly due to brazilian’s own stubborn ways, freelance jobs are better in almost every aspect) Anyway if you’re thinking about coming here, get in touch. I’m not doing this for money, but would not refuse tips of course. I’m more interested in meeting like-minded people and above all positive people.
Thanks, Steph, for your insightful article!! Most people that get butthurt by this article or who argument against it never lived in Rio, some never even visited Rio, but somehow they feel entitled to speak about Rio, weird isn’t it?? Gives more credibility to what you’re saying.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking of doing this same exact move you mentioned: from Brazil to Mexico. Would you mind sharing in what region are you living there? I’m thinking about coastal places like Puerto Vallarta. In my case, I want to be around expats to hopefully meet like-minded people, productive people, positive people (if that’s not asking too much nowadays) And also planning on renting rooms on AirBnb there, that’s why I need a place with influx of expats or tourists. Would you recommend Mexico in general? Do you feel safe walking at night there? I don’t feel safe in my native country walking at night, with the exception of ONE city I lived in, and that was a small one 100k population.