Brazil is an amazingly beautiful country filled with kind and generous people. If you’ve decided to move to Brazil like we did, you are in for a varied adventure. We often compare São Paulo to Venice California. São Paulo has a stunning art scene, amazing variety in food, dog-friendly sidewalk cafés, great music, and a local population that makes this cosmopolitan city feel like a small, close knit town. Central São Paulo full of architecturally stunning buildings offers multiple, fast transportation options and is also very walkable. The walkability coupled with the massive Ibirapuera park gives São Paulo a New York feel. The Favelas resting on hillsides and around the cities are home to some of the most caring and hardest working people in the country. Favela vernacular architecture itself conveys the resourcefulness and determination of its inhabitants and has similarities to communities in Southeast Asian countries. São Paulo has so much to offer.
Brazil is the 5th largest country in the world, similar in size to the US. If you are visiting or moving to Brazil, you should be pleased to know that you can find just about everything you need here. In some cases the products even match or beat what you might find elsewhere, i.e.: furniture, textiles, stainless steel. We live in São Paulo and it’s rare that we can’t find what we need. However, our specific attention to health and lifestyle does mean we bring some items into Brazil. Determining what to pack boils down to knowing what we can and cannot live without.
When we moved to São Paulo, we lived in hotels and AirBnBs for three months until we secured a lease on an apartment. Since we knew we would be living out of hotels for a few months, we mostly packed what we would need for our first few months. Previous international moves taught us that taking an additional trip(s) to retrieve the rest of our stuff was cheaper than shipping through any service. We found this especially true for Brazil.
Getting help in Brazil: Despachantes & Moving Teams
Our move to Brazil was fairly annoyance-free, partly because of how we travel but mostly due to the team that helped us relocate. Relocation to Brazil is not super easy so having help with visas, flight arrangements, accommodations, ID’s, apartment rental, was amazing. We even had help opening bank accounts and getting credit cards. Friends of ours who have lived in Brazil for years still don’t have bank accounts or credit cards because it’s not exactly easy to get these things. We recognize that much of our positive outlook on Brazil can be attributed to the support we received moving here. If we had to move to Brazil entirely on our own, our first year in Brazil would not have been as pleasant.
How easy is a to Move to Brazil?
As I mentioned, because of help, our move to Brazil was relatively easy. Our move was also easy in part due to how we travel and how often. We tend to document what works or what didn’t work on our trips and then try to make improvements on the next trip. We move we only bring what we can carry in baggage that we can check or carry-on the plane. We don’t hire movers. If we can’t bring it on a plane, we don’t move it. Traveling as four people means we receive a healthy baggage allowance.
Mistakes will happen
We don’t often find ourselves surprised when we travel, but it has happened. While doing a solo move with 250 pounds of household items on AirAsia, I mixed up my pounds to kilogram conversion. I ended up paying an additional 3,000 MYR (750 USD) in baggage fees that flight. To put the fee into perspective, we had a lovely condo in the center of Kuala Lumpur for 3200 MYR a month, so my baggage fees were about 1/4 of our monthly rent. AirAsia is particularly punitive with sloppy travelers who fail to plan. My empathetic agent had never seen a failure in miscalculation as large as mine. He was clearly having a hard time processing how much he would need to bill me. As my AirAsia agent wiped his brows processing my baggage fees, I found myself consoling him. Had I not messed up my AirAsia lb to kg calculations, I could’ve moved our household stuff in two plane rides for less than 100-200 USD (400-800 MYR). Even with my 750 USD mistake, we spent less than we would’ve spent hiring a moving company.
What was the hardest part about relocating to Brazil?
Brazil is a Portuguese speaking country. Some Brazilians do learn English in school, and English is probably more common in São Paulo, still, most people we encounter only speak Portuguese. We started Portuguese lessons before we moved to Brazil and spend an increasing amount of time trying to become fluent. Still, our first 3-6 months were not always easy. I found it frustrating to not to be able to communicate with people.
Google translate doesn’t do a great job with Portuguese. Brazilian Portuguese doesn’t always translate word-for-word and the language relies heavily on context. For added fun, Brazilians initialize a lot of words. For instance, ‘fds’ means ‘final de semana’ which is ‘weekend’ in English, but Google translate doesn’t understand fds. We’re thrilled to have the chance to fully immerse and learn a new language. Portuguese is a beautiful language that we are all excited to be learning, but it’s not an easy language.
Scouting Trip to São Paulo: What did Brazil offer?
We took an initial trip to São Paulo for interviews and to do a survey / scouting trip. While my spouse was interviewing, I visited clothing stores, grocers and pharmacies to check food and product availability. I walked around the areas we would be spending a significant amount of our time. This may sound random, but when we moved around the US, we measured a city by the availability of raw milk. If raw milk was available, we would likely enjoy that city. It was a simple recipe: cities that outlawed raw milk would probably be all around too restrictive or us. We adopted a similar measurement when we started traveling internationally. Our broader recipe recognizes a maturing city that shows a willingness to evolve, change, and grow from a health, financial and environmental stance. We look for a diverse population; playful nightlife; foods available by the kilo; LBGTQ communities; green packaging; efforts to reduce styrofoam or plastic; chemical-free health & home products.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone that is relocating?
Sell the big stuff and don’t ship anything. Bring what you can on your flight. We have never shipped anything internationally only by the plane we were using to get to the next place. Even if you pay extra bag fees, it will be cheaper. Even if you have to take a couple of flights to move all of your stuff, it will be cheaper. If you ship items to Brazil, you will be taxed an unreasonable amount. There’s no good way to anticipate shipping costs to Brazil, you only need know it it will be far more expensive than you are initially told. Save that tax expense and buy yourself some gorgeous Brazilian furniture. The furniture here will rival your favorite top brand and the reproduction Eames furniture (if you’re into that) is abundant and good looking.
The First Move to São Paulo: What we Brought
We stayed in hotels or airBnB’s the first few months of living in São Paulo and tried to pack what we would need for those months. Small stuff that we used daily could’ve been left behind and purchased new in Brazil, but that seemed silly. So, we brought 300+ pounds worth of bags with three travelers carrying a total of six, 50 Lb (22.5kg) (Samsonite Tote-a-ton 32″ Duffle) bags plus carry-ons. Here’s what we brought on our first move trip.
Red = Haven’t yet found in São Paulo or elsewhere in Brazil
Green = Available in Brazil at a decent price
- Computer gear, microphones, mice, mobiles, headphones, Wacom tablet
- Summer clothes and shoes
- Art supplies. Certain pro art markers and pencils are hard to find in BR
- Jellycats and other stuffed animals
- 125 lbs (57kg) of slime products of our daughters
- Basic set of tools, headlamps, camping lantern
- USB cords, extension cords with universal plugs
- Multiple stainless steel water bottles
- Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker II
- OREI most of Europe 2-input travel plug adapters
- Health supplies like medicines, green drink powders, epsom salt, vitamins, several boxes of Spry fluoride-free toothpaste, calcium carbonate, magnesium sulfate cream, buf-pufs, bamboo toothbrushes, reusable menstrual pads and menstrual cups.
- Face and hair supplies, make-up, and styling tools
- Baking soda, Castile soap, and Borax
- Our preferred pillows and a few cozy blankets
- Some kitchen tools like metal straws, wine stoppers, bag clips, produce bags
- Sonicare toothbrush
- Waterpik flosser
- A rolling shopper (but if you like a certain sort, best to bring)
- Baggu grocery totes
- Spry Gum
- Beard trimmer and electric shavers (Airport is a good place to purchase)
- Harry’s razor and blades
- Portable chargers
- Stainless steel coffee press. Stainless steel presses are $$$ – usually only glass or plastic.
- Textbooks for online classes
- Musical Instruments and books. They are expensive here, so best to bring if you play.
- Washing soda and Oxiclean. After several months I finally found scent-free, chem-free laundry product.
- Bragg Liquid Aminos
- Peanut butter I pick this up whenever we travel because PB isn’t that popular and brands will suddenly disappear from shelves never to return. When I find one my family likes in BR, I usually buy all that find.
Can you find everything you need in São Paulo?
No and yes. Many items are made here and those things are great or at least good enough. But, items that can’t be produced in Brazil are imported and often twice the normal price. The Brazilian government wants to encourage people to buy locally so it imposes high import duties. It’s pretty unfair to impose extreme taxes on, for instance, Apple products when Brazil doesn’t even manufacture anything similar. Those who can afford to just pick up what they need somewhere else.
Here are some of the things we’re happy we brought with us.
- Washing Soap. After about 8 months of searching I found a fragrance-free, laundry product that seems okay.
- Musical Instruments. Strings, books, and parts are expensive and not necessarily what we want, so best to bring if you play.
- Games. I haven’t looked at games here, but they’d likely be in Portuguese.
- Apple devices. Apple computers are 2.5x more expensive in Brazil. Brazil is the most expensive country to buy Apple products in the world. If you are a diehard Apple supporter, it’s worth buying / refreshing your Apple products outside of Brazil.
- Scissors. I didn’t know good scissors mattered to me, but I’ve used some really terrible scissors in BR. On a trip to the US, I made sure to grab three pairs of Fiskers.
- A Can Opener. Brazilian can openers are similar to P-38 openers in the US military but not as good. Canned foods are not that popular in BR, so this is not a huge deal. However, if you can’t live without imported Campbells soup, bring a can opener with you. Can openers not made in Brazil are available but expensive.
- Good kitchen knives. If you are particular, bring your own. Finding a decent import is possible, at least in SP, just expensive.
- Clothes and Shoes. We have particular size requirements that make shopping in normal mall stores not efficient.
- Hair dryers and styling tools. (120v in São Paulo)
- Certain Medications. The medicine available in Brazilian pharmacies is fantastic and often without prescription. If you rely on a certain brand or quantity of product, bring it. This will give you a window of time to figure out what works for you in BR.
We visited many stores to find what we needed. I’m still finding products I’ve been searching for nine months after moving to Sao Paulo. I’m glad that I brought several months worth of supplies.
We take trips to California and New York about twice a year and pick up products for our personal use. Visiting other countries in Europe, Africa, and South and Central America is also a chance to stock up. Even if we don’t purchase from Amazon.com, we keep a running list of our needs there. Here’s a partial list of items that we can’t find in Brazil that we try to find on our travels.
Available in BR at a decent price = Green
- Dehydrated hummus, soups and refried beans
- Epic Meat Bars (We like these for air travel snacks)
- Needed supplements or medicine not available in Brazil
- Non-toxic nail polish or cool colors not avail in BR
- World’s Softest Comfy slippers
- Microscope (tried to buy one in BR, it was no better than a toy and a waste of $$)
- Cotton robes. Lots of polyester in BR
- Deodorant w/o aluminum or antiperspirant
- Tyr swim goggles. Tyr is not sold in BR.
- Wallet or rugged, brand specific cell phone cases
- Down or alternative down comforters & duvets. Lots of very expensive polyester in BR.
- Cotton jersey bed sheets
- Sport or boy briefs for women and girls. Boy shorts are hard to find.
- Glide and silk dental floss. Glide is not imported to BR that I’ve found.
- Columbia convertible pants
- Spry fluoride-free toothpaste
- Soft density pillows with down or alternative down
- Harry’s razor refills
- Kitchen scissors
- Clothes updates
- Collagen Hydrolysate Beef
- Minimal shoes
- Sports equipment that we rely on. If top tier isn’t required, there’s Decathlon
- 5-pounds of our favorite granola just because
- Kishu Binchotan Charcoal sticks for water
- Braggs liquid aminos
- Hemp Oil for our dogs
- Gluten Free pancake mix
- MCT Oil
- A good packing tape dispenser. We mail a lot of packages and I have yet to find a good one in SP.
- Candy: junior mints, Justins, sour patch kids, Swedish Fish. We like to pick up bags of candies wherever we go to share with others.
- Body lotion without parabens. Available in BR but for twice the price. If I have the space, I grab a few bottles wherever I am.
- Sports equipment that we rely on. If top tier isn’t required, there’s Decathlon.
- Pet carriers, leashes and special treats. Pets are a top industry for Brazil, so there’s no shortage of supplies. Special treats help occupy our excited dogs while we unpack. Even pets love a present.
Supply Run list: Future run
- A food dehydrator
- Cast iron skillet
- Blendtec Blender
- Brother sewing machine
- Our jewelry making supplies
- Molly Mutt Dog Bed Duvet
- Micro Scooter
- Strings for instrument
- Pick up a new business travel carry-on suitcase (Did this in South Aftrica!)
- New board game?
- Books or other learning tools
Getting Brazilian IDs (RNE): The Process
In December of 2018, our family went to the Federal police Building for ID’s (Registro Nacional de Estrangeiros (RNE). The process took six hours with the help of Despachantes, or dispatchers that help foreigners navigate Brazilian Bureaucracy. Our visit took an extra two hours because a ‘supervisor’ decided to change the sex of one of our children. This happens we hear. Considering how many people re-entered our data, I’m surprised there was only one error. Four months later in April, we received a call that our IDs were ready for pick-up at the Federal building. Once at the Federal Building we notice that ‘someone’ had AGAIN changed the sex of one of our children. This error meant restarting the ID process for our one family member from scratch. No apologies. No expedited process even though the mistake was heirs. We spent another three hours at the Federal building to reprocess the application.
Nearly 10 months after registering, we received a correct ID. By the way, ID’s are valid for 2 years and those 10 months that the Gov screwed up count toward those 2 years. So, essentially, our kid just got an ID that is valid for 14 months vs. 24 months. I am not looking forward to the renewal process. Hopefully it’s easier. KKKKK!!! (That’s how Brazilians LOL)
Advice to those considering relocating to São Paulo?
Adults sometimes have expectations wrapped around what things ‘should’ be. The imperfect and broken sidewalks in so many countries could be really irritating to a people used to perfect sidewalks. Kids aren’t thinking about how a government should operate, how tax monies should be spent, public safety, aesthetics, or ideas around how a big city ‘should’ function. Kids want to make friends, do their work, and have fun. Obviously someone needs to think about these governmental matters and taxes, but is the expat new to the country the best person for that role? Try to let go of tight expectations and embrace the differences.
Our kids understood the pros and cons of a move to Sao Paulo. They saw the potential for personal gain, but on the whole they had few expectations. Kids are excellent role models for us adults as they are often more buoyant and resilient in the face of change. Our children knew that if we moved to Brazil, they would get a dog (we now have two!) and learn a new language but they didn’t have any expectations beyond a dog and Portuguese. Reduce poorly preconceived notions and set your expectations appropriately.