My name is Jim. I was born in Detroit, Michigan, USA, but after college I moved to San Francisco, California where I lived for 24 years, prior to moving to Brazil. While in San Francisco I was the Executive Director of various non-profit organizations over the years and most recently the Director of the San Francisco office of the American Cancer Society. Long hours, lots of fundraising.
I have been with my partner Luiz for nearly 12 years. Luiz was born in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and lived in the US for 23 years, working as a fine dining waiter, before our return to Brazil in 2008. We met in San Francisco.Where, when and why did you move abroad?
There were a number of factors that went into our decision to relocate to Brazil. First and foremost is the fact that Luiz is an only child and his parents are aging. It is absolutely expected that a good son will take care of his aging parents (assuming there has not been a dramatic event which has broken up the family). Also, one of Luiz’s worst nightmares was to pick up the phone in the middle of the night and be told a parent had died (heaven forbid).
Luiz had been living in the USA for more than 20 years; it was time to think about going home.
Add to that my “been there, done that” attitude toward my work life, plus a painful impatience with the political and economic state of affairs in the US, and I was pretty open to the idea of moving.
Luiz and I had traveled to Brazil on 5 separate occasions, each for a minimum of three months, and traveled extensively throughout the country. Not only did I fall in love with Luiz, I fell in love with Brazil as well.
In 2003 we laid out a five year plan to make the move. I would keep working a job I disliked, but which paid well, so we could save as much money as possible. Luiz would work out a few details with his parents so that when we arrived we would live in separate residences, but still own our home/apartment.
We stuck to the plan and five years later we packed up and moved.
What challenges did you face during the move?
There were not many difficulties, just the desire to earn as much money as possible before cutting off our income. We connected with a good moving company and shipped about 1/3 of a container of stuff. We knew the realities of Brazilian products (quality and price) so we brought many items we felt it was worth shipping. In particular, ALL THINGS KITCHEN and a quality mattress and box springs. We are SO glad we did that!
We had to figure out how I was going to secure a permanent resident visa and then get that paperwork in order prior to our departure. Brazil will allow the Brazilian in a gay couple to sponsor their foreign partner for a permanent resident visa if you can document a “Stable Union.” So we needed to gather the various documents required by this federal law, have them certified by the local Brazilian Consulate in San Francisco, and then hook up with an immigration lawyer once we arrived. It all came together in the end (in fact a lawyer is not necessary, but we were pleased with our decision to hire one.)
How did you find somewhere to live?
We were fortunate to have a three bedroom house and a two bedroom apartment in the family. Originally Luiz’s parents occupied both residences, the apartment in a convenient neighborhood in Niterói and the house in a quiet gated neighborhood near the ocean. They sort of switched off between weekdays and weekends. Prior to our arrival Luiz worked it out so that we would soon have the apartment to ourselves and we were able to avoid the whole purchase/rental nightmare.
Lucky for us the apartment is in an ideal location with low monthly expenses. Once we arrived we did a significant remodel to make the place feel like ours and we have been very happy ever since.
Are there many other expats in your area?
To tell you the truth I have not gone in search of expats. Luiz has returned to his hometown and we instantly were absorbed into his extensive circle of friends: young, old, gay, straight, single, with kids – it’s a great group.
I have found the “American” social groups to be either too expensive to join/keep up with or just not my cup of tea friendship-wise. Some remind me too much of the old “Hi, what’s your name, what do you do?” routine of networking groups. Yuck.
There is a broad array of expat bloggers, including myself, and we keep in touch regularly (nearly every day). We have even organized a couple meet-ups at the beach for those who live in or near Rio.
Luiz and I moved here to begin a new period in our lives. Neither of us is on a temporary work assignment or working in a diplomatic sense and thus planning to return to the US. We live local, on local wages, paying local prices without financial perks from a US or international employer. Some expats get a pretty good boost in that regard, but not us. We are fading into the local scene…
What is your relationship like with the locals?
As I’ve mentioned, we have a broad network of family and friends, as we live in Luiz’s original home town. Things could not be better. There is always a birthday party, an anniversary BBQ, a weekend at someone’s family’s farm, or just hanging out watching the futebol game over beer.
The local merchants have come to recognize me as the resident gringo. Everyone has been very patient with me as I continue to tackle Portuguese.
What do you like about life where you are?
I appreciate the slower pace to everyday life. While some expats grow weary of the inefficiency and long lines that occupy so much time, I’ve come to simply relax and enjoy the calm. No stress. “You can’t push the river.”
Luiz and I work less than half the hours we used to work in the States. We planned a quieter life and we are realizing it. We never miss a chance to go to the beach or travel to the country to visit friends.
It was never in our plan to move to Brazil to make a lot of money, or to start up a big new business venture. Too much work! Been there, done that, over it! We are both in our 50’s, so starting over on a new, ambitious career path was never the idea. We have sought out work realities that support us, but do not run us into the ground. It’s been more like a semi-retirement.
I teach English and provide translation services to adult professionals and Luiz is a flower designer and interior design consultant.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
My glass is definitely half full, always. I have no complaints. Well, I guess I miss genuine Mexican food. It is impossible to find corn tortillas. LOL!
Eventually I imagine I will miss having the income we used to enjoy. It afforded us a lot of international travel opportunities. Things are definitely leaner here. It has been three years thus far and I still enjoy every day.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Plan carefully. Go into your move with your eyes wide open. Remember that visiting a country and living there are two entirely different matters. Go slowly and be thorough.
Read the various websites and blogs out there that can help answer your questions. A lot of people have done this before you. Take advantage of their experience.
Make sure you understand your path to a permanent resident visa. Know what documentation you will need to provide and get it in order before you leave. The Brazilian Consulate near your home will be able to certify as legal your documents without you having to translate them into Portuguese. This will save you A LOT of time and money.
Take more money than you think. (Repeat: take more money than you think.) It is illegal to work in Brazil without the proper paperwork. It can easily take a year to obtain this paperwork. Teaching English for cash is good for pocket change, but if you are renting an apartment – it will not get you there.
Also – getting gainful employment is exceptionally difficult as well. Unless you have a college degree in precisely what you are applying for – good luck. For example, I was an executive manager for nearly 20 years in the US, but I have a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology. Here in Brazil, I am qualified to be a therapist, not a program manager. There are exceptions, of course. But not many.
Do the math on what to bring and what to buy new when you arrive. Figure shipping, insurance, duty fees, delivery, lost warrantees, etc. Your mover can help clarify. If you are coming with a Brazilian the duty is waved, but otherwise it can be very expensive. But it may still make sense to bring certain items with you. Brazil is an expensive place to live and consumer goods can be ridiculously expensive.
As is often repeated: “Brazil is not for beginners.” But it is surely possible and we are tremendously happy here. These are prosperous times here in Brazil. Make it work!
What are your plans for the future?
Luiz and I are finding our niche. We are settling in. I’m getting better with Portuguese and we have developed a bit of a routine. It’s all good.
We’ve been saving for a trip to Machu Picchu and hope to spend our birthdays there next year. In the mean time we will continue our low stress lifestyle. We are quite happy.
Most mornings we wake up and ask each other: “Which Sunday is today?”
To discover more about our journey and our experiences great and small, people can visit my blog at qualidadedevida-jim.blogspot.com – it chronicles much of what I’ve mentioned in this piece and offers a lot more detail. Luiz’s flower design work can be seen at his website www.flordeluiz.com