Interview with an Ex-Businessman now an ESL Teacher in Brazil

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Today, Jim from – Qualidade de Vida (Quality of Life) shares with us his stories of living in Brazil where he teaches English after working in the U.S. for 20 years. Jim has been blogging about his adventures for almost 3 years and writes about topics in his life like food, work, and culture.

If you’ve ever dreamed of living somewhere totally different than your current situation and changing your life for the better, then this interview is for you.

Austin: What led you to Brazil?

Jim: Back in San Francisco I met a guy 11 years ago and we fell in love. He is a Brazilian who had been living in the USA for 12 years. Together we visited Brazil and his family several times over the years for vacation. I immediately loved the country, culture, people – everything. When Luiz suggested we move to Brazil I was all for it.

A: What do you do for work?

J: I am an English teacher by default. Finding professional, managerial-type work is pretty difficult (I was a non-profit executive director back in the states). But teaching allows me to have a really flexible schedule and private students pay well.

A: How long have you been in Brazil?

J: We moved here in January of 2008. We live in Niterói, which is the cleaner, quieter city across the bay from Rio de Janeiro.

A: What has the experience been like?

J: I love it here. Luiz has hooked up with his childhood friends as if he had never left. We have a really laid back lifestyle that includes a lot of beach time. We have practically zero stress in our lives. Gone are the days of 6 day work weeks and 10 hour work days.

There was a brief period of adjustment but we both had a good idea about how things were in Brazil and we planned our move over several years, so things were pretty laid out and we anticipated most of our transition needs.

First and foremost for adapting to a new country is to NOT COMPARE everything all the time with how things were back in your other country. Once you stop that and just start living locally in real time, everything becomes normal again.

A: What is the cost of living in Brazil?

J: (ed. note $1 U.S. dollar = ~R$1.77 Brazilian Reals) Brazil is an expensive place to live, especially because wages are so ridiculously low for most people. We own our apartment, so the back-breaking cost of rent is lifted. If we were to rent our two bedroom apartment it would be at least R$1,300/month ($733 U.S. dollars).

Food costs for the basics are very reasonable, but if you want anything more gourmet or unusual, the price can be shocking. What really surprises me is the high cost of everyday consumer items like a coffee machine, or an ironing board, or a pair of sneakers. Sometimes I laugh out loud at the price. I will NEVER pay R$500 ($282 U.S. dollars) for a pair of sneakers!

A: What’s something unexpected about Brazil that you wish you knew going in?

J: It came as a surprise to me just how restrictive the job market is in terms of required education or certification. For example, I have been a management professional for more than 20 years, yet here in Brazil I would have to go to college and get a degree in Business Administration to be considered for practically any management position. (I have a Masters in Clinical Psychology – worthless!)

Mind you, I did not move to Brazil to start up a new career and pull down a lot of money. Teaching English is feeling just fine. But if I were younger and still needed to lay out a career path, it would be very frustrating.

A: Are there a lot of foreigners in Brazil?

J: It does not seem like there are a lot of foreign born folks here, but then, I travel in Brazilian circles more than among ex-pats. There is certainly very little English spoken in general.

A: How’s your Portuguese?

J: Learning Portuguese has not been an easy task and I am far from the finish line. It frustrates me to be struggling so much. I clearly do not have a talent for picking up languages. But then, being an English teacher and living with another English speaker, I am surrounded by English, not Portuguese. So it is taking some time and a lot of work.

I must confess that I do not study Portuguese as much as I should. The television, which many people point to as a teaching tool, is mostly crappy TV shows, so other than the nightly news I am never sitting in front of it. I do try to read the morning news online in Portuguese, but it can be a lot of work!

My language skills are sufficient to get what I need at stores or to ask for or give directions on the street. And I can have basic conversations with my more patient friends. But it will be a whole new day when I become more conversant in Portuguese. Very few people, in general, speak English here.

A: Is it easy for a foreigner to find work? How do you suggest doing so?

J: To add to what I mentioned above I would say that in order to work legally you must get a permanent resident visa (not easy to do) and then obtain an official workbook. Working legally is WAY better than under-the-table jobs. Workers in Brazil are well protected by labor laws.

But if you want to just show up and get off-the-books teaching jobs you will have to work constantly to pay for even a very basic existence.

My best advice is to do things by the book – unless you have a really unique skill and a driving entrepreneurial spirit (and a lot of savings to get you started). It is not easy for illegal foreigners to make a good living in Brazil. I don’t want to be negative, just realistic.


Thanks again to Jim for letting us take a look at his life and make sure to check out Qualidade de Vida to follow along on his adventures.

If you have any questions for Jim about Brazil or anything else, feel free to leave them in the comments and Jim will get back to you!


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