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John Morris, Blumenau, Brazil

Who are you?

I’m John Morris, a retired Missouri native who lived in California for 30 years and had the good fortune to work for a pension plan for 26 years, and now receive a monthly pension benefit. 

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I have spoken for years with friends, colleagues, and co-workers about retiring abroad. My short list included: Ecuador (more specifically, Cuenca or Salinas – not so much now, with the political and social unrest), Costa Rica and Belize. I had returned to Missouri in 2021 and was working at a favourite theme park in southwest Missouri in 2022 when I met a lovely girl online – who lived in Brazil (Rio area). She invited me to visit Brazil, and after having her vetted by a close friend in California who is also Brazilian, I made my first trip in June 2022. Before the end of that trip, I was already planning a return visit, and returned for two weeks in August. During that second trip, my beloved and I discussed returning together to the US, but we knew it would take some time for her to receive a visa. I returned to Brazil in December 2022, and this will be my home until her visa has been approved. 

What challenges did you face during the move?

During the move itself  there were no obstacles really. The bigger concern was being able to legally remain in Brazil for an extended period of time while we await her visa. At the time of my travels, visas for US tourists were not required for entry, but rules regarding visas and extensions have been changing over the last year, following the change in Presidents in Brazil. 

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Did you need to obtain a visa, residency permit or work permit? What was the process like?

I did not need a visa to travel to Brazil, but have since worked with a wonderful local attorney to apply for and (after 9 months) receive a residence permit, which gives me indefinite leave to remain in the country. One of the biggest challenges in the permit process was collecting certain legal documents and having them apostilled. Because the documents had to be apostilled in the state in which they were issued, I had to apostille my birth certificate in Missouri (I also had my federal criminal report apostilled in Missouri), and my divorce judgment in California.

There are services that you can find online that can handle the apostille process, but they charge a LOT of money. I returned to the US in May 2023 to handle this matter, and I found out that the office of the Secretary of State for the state that issued the document may have multiple satellite offices in the state, which can handle this procedure. I walked into a satellite office of the Missouri Secretary of State located in Springfield, about an hour drive from my home in Missouri, and they completed the process over the counter. The cost – $30, which included notary services (documents have to be notarized before they can be apostilled).

For the California document, I called ahead and actually spoke with someone at the office of the California Secretary of State in downtown Los Angeles who told me to NOT bring a notarized copy of my divorce judgment, but to go to an LA county courthouse and request a CERTIFIED copy (which supersedes a notary). I went to the courthouse in DTLA, received a certified copy of my judgment, walked a few blocks to the office of the Secretary of State, and was told it would be ready for pickup the next day. And it was. The cost for the certified documents and apostille was less than $50. 

How does the cost of living compare with your previous country?

My living expenses in Missouri were very low because I wasn’t paying rent or a mortgage. However, I was earning $90-100 thousand in California, and was just getting by. My income from my pension and an annuity is half what I was making in California, and I am living very comfortably in Brazil. My beloved and I are also doing a lot of traveling in southern Brazil – Gramado, Urubici, Foz do Iguaçu, Florianopolis, and a cruise in a few weeks. 

 There are certainly things that are more expensive in Brazil – electronics, designer clothing and shoes, etc. – but these are not the things we buy day to day. Groceries and many restaurants are cheaper than in the US. I have found medical and dental care to be very good, and very inexpensive for someone with no insurance. 

Is it easy to open and use an account with a local bank?

 I don’t know, I haven’t tried to open an account since I received my residence permit. I tried a year ago but could not open an account without an RNM number. 

How did you find somewhere to live?

From the time I arrived in December 2022, I lived with my beloved in the Rio area until we moved to Blumenau, in the state of Santa Catarina in February 2023. Blumenau was not our first choice. My beloved started her search for apartments in Florianopolis, but the market moved very quickly, and we could not find a realtor who would work with us. My income from the US was irrelevant, and I don’t own property or have any investment or credit history in Brazil. 

My beloved turned her sights inland, where realtors would permit me to deposit a sizable amount of money into a capitalization account to secure the property. We found a lovely 100 square meter apartment in a modern (less than 10 years old) building very close to Blumenau’s Centro. 

For the first time in my life, I am living somewhere without a vehicle. Centro and a modern shopping mall are a 10-minute walk in one direction, and a large supermarket and a Sam’s Club are 10 minutes in the opposite direction. There are also a ton of restaurants, many which have become favorites, withing 10 minutes. Every once in a while, we need to hail an Uber, but that is once every 2 to 3 weeks. 

 After living in Blumenau for almost a year, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. 

Are there many other expats in your area?

This is something that has surprised me. When I was researching Cuenca, Ecuador, I learned that it is a city of about 300,000, with an expat (US) population of about 3,000 (1%). Blumenau is also about 300,000, but I have met only one other US expat, who is married to a Brazilian woman, and has lived in Brazil for about 15 years. 

What is your relationship like with the locals?

Great! But then I have an outgoing personality, and I strive to intentionally imbed myself into wherever I am living. I have met a lot of wonderful people here, who seem to be genuinely interested in knowing more about me. 

What do you like about life where you are?

Hmmm, let’s see… retired, no work, hanging out by the pool for an hour on many days, going to the gym a few times each week, lots of walking… there is not much to not like. I love all the wonderful bakeries, but my beloved is always looking out for my waistline. 

What do you dislike about your expat life?

Brazil is not very consumer friendly. The US has very liberal consumer practices. Store returns are not too difficult, and if you have your receipt, your money is refunded. In Brazil, you MIGHT get store credit. I went to a large retailer shortly after moving to Blumenau to see if they had a particular item in their retail store that I had seen online. The retail store did not have the item I was looking for and said I would have to order it online. I asked if an item ordered online could be returned to the retail store if it did not match the online description. Nope. 

I won’t buy anything from Amazon in Brazil. About a year ago, I ordered a pair of shoes for my beloved. The shoes we received were the wrong size and the wrong color. In the US, I would have initiated a return, then dropped the merchandise off at one of many processing locations – UPS Store, Kohl’s, etc – after which my refund would be issued. While we didn’t have to pay for return shipping for the shoes, we had to go to one shop to have the box wrapped for mailing, then another store for shipping. The whole process took about an hour. And I never received a refund, after weeks of emails back and forth between the merchant and Amazon. I suspect the seller just ships the same shoes to anyone who orders shoes from him, and pockets the money without actually selling any merchandise. 

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

It’s hard to say… perhaps because we are living in a larger city. We walk down the streets, or through Centro on Sundays, when the main street is closed to cars, and I could be in any similar city in the US: people out enjoying the day, couples walking hand-in-hand, children on bicycles with parents close behind, lots of people walking their dogs, restaurants with tables set up in the street. 

I have never lived anywhere with such a high proportion of motorcycles. Most of the motorcyclists are delivering food from restaurants. When a traffic signal turns green, there will typically be 4 or 5 motorcycles at the front of the pack. 

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

One of my core beliefs is that it is not the unknown that we fear as much as the assumed. When we are faced with a decision, we start making assumptions about the outcomes of our choices… instead of simply saying, “I don’t really know what’s going to happen… and I’m okay with that.”

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to a close friend in Missouri who told me in January 2022: “If there are things you want to do, do them. If there are places you want to go, go.” A week later, I had booked a cruise for the following month. And now… here I am in Brazil. My advice to others would be the same. There will certainly be a learning curve, but every day can be a new adventure. 

What are your plans for the future?

Once my beloved receives her visa (K1 fiancé visa), we will return to the US to be married, after which she will apply for her permanent residence visa. Depending on when we return, we may return to the park where I worked in 2022, or we may spend some time traveling. There are many places, both in and out of the US where we want to go. I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my bucket list.