Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Expats Living In Brazil: Some More Equal Than Others

Yeah, but can they speak Portuguese?
There's a much larger international expatriate circle here in Rio than I ever expected, and it ever-increases along with the region's oil and gas industry, and upcoming events like The World Cup and Olympic Games.

Beyond the obvious (and many) different nationalities, foreign families in Rio fall into one of two sub-tribes depending on whether they have been sent here by their employer or chosen to live here off their own backs.  The former (corporate expats) spend a few years in the city, and their entire existence is bankrolled by the company.  The latter (local expats) are usually in a relationship with a native, live on the local economy, and may stick around for the rest of their lives.  (That's me.)

Both tribes co-exist peacefully, but not completely without envy.  The locals covet the fancy free perks of the corporate expats, who in turn wish they had the family network and Portuguese speaking abilities of friends married to Brazilians.  The truth is that between the corporate and local expat, the experience of life in Rio can be different in many ways, from where they live to how they educate their children to name just two.

The corporate expat will most likely send their child to an International school, let's say The British School, at huge expense to their company.  In return for this investment their children will unlearn their English grammar, acquire an American accent (oh horror) and make friends with the spawn of Rio's A-listers (double horror).  In contrast, locals will claim they would NEVER send their child to such a school, even if they could afford the R$17,000 per child enrollment fee.  Dismayed that bonafide Brits that can actually speak, like, proper, don't get a discount, they will make do with a local Brazilian school where their children will reportedly not pay sufficient attention in English class, duh.

The newly-arrived corporate expat will spend months and months in a service hotel while they search in vain for a flat.  They won't be able to find ANYTHING that meets their requirements on their enormous allowance.  When they do finally find the place, it will fall through a million times, and they will write facebook-status-update-essays bitching about Brazil's bureaucratic quirks.  They will eventually install themselves in Leblon, probably with a sea view, in a to-die-for pad.  In contrast, the local will live at the wrong end of town, in Flamengo or Laranjeiras (or, God Forbid, Niteroi) in diminutive flats with views of...other flats. 

The list could go on, but I think you get the point.  In the end though, there are probably more things that bind the international community than divide it.  For instance, it is unanimously agreed that Brazil is overpriced, the service in Rio slow and the bras badly fitting, and nothing brings foreigners together more than a conversation about how many passports their children have, how many languages they can speak, and how many wonderfully interesting countries they have resided prior to Brazil.


  1. I suggest three sub-tribes: Oil and gas COMPANIES who bankroll; oil and gas SERVICE companies who help; and people on their own. Service company employees aren't quite as spoiled, though there are expat perks, for sure!

  2. I feel like I'll be somewhere in the middle. I'm moving to Brazil on an expat salary with benefits, but I doubt it's to the extreme as the corporate expats since we won't be "bankrolled".
    With that being said, my Brazilian husband doesn't have a job yet and will have to look for one once we arrive.

    Interesting post. Thanks for the insight.

  3. Or also, god forbid, they live completely in Brazil-ville (ie Jacarepagua, that's me!) and have nothing to do with the international circle of expats at all aside from this blog!
    Que triste :(

  4. I have divided the foreigners into:

    - Locals that have come because of love (thus truly localized) living on the brink of (relative São Paulo) poverty but fully integrated

    - Teachers, being "bankrolled" (more rolled than banked) by some school board ofrgovernment and get by financially - they are looked at incredulously by the parents of the Brazilian kids they teach: What, you make less than 30k BRL a month?

    - Normal expats with fair packages, and no we do not get fully bankrolled (my savings rate isn't significantly up since I arrived) - strangely, this group has at least one family member fluent in Brazilian or Spanish and thus integrate fairly well

    - Premium Expats, sent by a bank, gas&oil or similar company, are constantly bitching about the 100sqm marble floor of their living room and fear every moment they spend outside their gated community

  5. Loved this post. I'm Brazilian myself living in The Netherlands.

    Now and then, I meet some ex-expats that lived bankrolled in Brazil and it's incredible how unrealistic their picture of the Brazilian's life can be.

    They just don't realize how fortunate they were.

    And sometimes want to lecture me about all the problems we have in Brazil. But the real problems we have are things they know nothing about.

    It can get me really upset, but actually it's quite sad.

  6. Quite dramatic in my opinion, and a bit offensive, unfortunately i was hoping to find a blog with a bit more of a brit humour... But at least the grammar and text is good.

  7. kkkkkk or rsrsrs... as brazilian says..
    I'm french, I've lived in 14 different "bairros" here in Rio (because of this "search a flat" crazyness, now i live in jacarepagua an i wouldn't change it for anything! I'm a latter and i'm proud of it! kkk

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  9. Hi! This is Rosa Flores from CNN. I'm looking at the scheduled police/firefighter protests in Rio and Sao Paolo and was wondering what the sentiment is like on the street. What are you seeing? What are you hearing at work? What are you hearing at school? Are you staying in certain areas of the city? Are you flying out for a while? Feel free to e-mail me at with more. Many thanks!

  10. Haha I love it! We're expats with the Olympics (of contract companies - definitely NOT bankrolled), and I agree totally with your observations.