This month is my 5 year “anniversary” with Rio de Janeiro, a relationship filled with ups and downs; crying and laughter; fights and make-ups, just like any other. After many months of waiting for a working visa it never seemed to be approved, the Brazilian authorities considered me acceptable and stamped my passport for the first time at Rio`s international airport on 1st March 2010; an immigration stand which would be crossed many times in the following years to come. Today, 5 years later, I can say I had no idea what awaited me and all the flying images and ideas I had blurring my brain could not be any more different to what reality turned out to be. Being an expat was no news to me as I had been one since my teenage years, but I knew this move was different. It was my first working abroad experience. I had faced different cultures, languages and adaptations to countries several times before but always as a student; never as a working professional. This was my new challenge: working in a new culture, in Portuguese and now having little holidays to go back home as supposed to the long student vacations.
My beginning was sweeter than my mid-expat years with no bureaucratic obstacles, housing issues or difficulties meeting new acquaintances. Although a great deal of patience was needed to face the several federal police, consulate and countless flat-hunting appointments, the welcoming caipirinhas and champagne flutes came by fast at what would be “my home” for all these years. My start could not have been any smoother! I know many of my expat friends´experiences differ from mine where despair and series of chaotic events swayed their first steps in Rio, so if you are a soon-to-be-expat in this wonderful city, read on for some beginners tips!
1) TUDO TRANQUILO! relax, smile, stay calm…this is the key to enjoying Rio de Janeiro! Like in any other beach city, life happens at a slower pace; the rhythm here is different to that of European cosmos. Everything turns out working out your way with a dose of patience, charm and always a smile! So learn this portuguese word TRANQUILO and you will be just fine!
2) An after-office beer is not as good as two, three or many more until the “saidera” (or last beer of the evening) with a bunch of funny jokes and a few “petiscos” to nibble on your table. Please keep in mind that a cold beer to Europeans is a warm beer here, so order it “bem gelada” if you don’t want disappointment among the Brazilians in your group.
3)There is always time for a snappy chat, two kisses on the cheek, a quick greet “tudo bem” or a prolonged after lunch coffee with co-workers or friends. Nothing is more important in Rio than staying friendly with those surrounding you. Whether the intention is really to improve your relationship or do a better sell doesn’t matter. Allow time for socializing no matter where you are or what task you are doing…it is all about making bonds stronger or sometimes even pretending but thats the way to go here.
4) Exchange your shoes for open-toes or Havianas; your knee-long swimming trunks for a short tight zunga (I honestly find this so unattractive and horrible!) and the smaller the bikini the better! No need to become another fashion clone but get some summery flowing clothes to keep cool! Your winter clothes will get moldy in the closet with so much humidity and little occasions to wear them; it is probably better to leave them behind. Just bring one or two warm things for possible adventures around the mountains or more southern areas of this hemisphere.
5) Housing is expensive in Rio, of course it depends what you are comparing it to. There are both options of furnished and unfurnished houses, although the latter tends to be more common. The advantage is having your own furniture to cater your taste because frankly majority of dressed flats could be my great grandmothers. However, furniture shopping is rather limited in the city unless you have a very supportive budget. There are plenty of furniture and home decoration shops in the neighborhood of Barra de Tijuca, including a few DIY shops. Although home delivery is available, be aware of their working schedule as most shops they do not inform an approximate delivery time but they say “horario commercial” (basically commercial timetable from 9am to 6pm) so you see yourself either taking days off work, trusting the porter to put your bed where you want it to be or paying for house assistance.
6) Learn Portuguese and do it fast! Although English is widely spoken in Rio, don’t expect locals to adapt to your language and change their slang, animated conversations in portuguese to English so you can participate longer than 5 to 10 minutes. Most likely you can get by at office but for the everyday stuff, speaking Portuguese is a must! and if you manage to do it with the Carioca accent, even better!
7) Safety is a big discussion issue and really opinion-variant. I cannot say Rio de Janeiro is or isn’t safe because it really depends on location, time and perhaps luck. You could be in one of the safest neighborhoods but if you are on the wrong street at the wrong time, then you have trouble. Do listen to all the safety advice people give to you but filter them also so as not to go nuts. At the end of the day, you need to adapt to your “new home” and manage to live a normal life without feeling threatened everyday. I have never had a safety issue in my 5 years in Rio and I have never been at risk. I have walked around, done sightseeing in places I probably should have been more careful, I have partied at night and gone back home alone etc but always being vigilant and aware of my surroundings.
8) Transportation means are varied: Taxis, underground and bus. Taxis are safe; perhaps at the beginning it is better to take the ones working for a taxi company instead of the ones doing business on their own (the taxi name with the phone number should be written at the side end of the car). All yellow taxis work with meter; only the airport taxis from official airport taxis stands work with a fixed rate. Underground works efficiently although limited lines: get a metro card topped up with some cash and have it on your wallet. This is the best way to go to the football matches! Bus is the most used of all and its connecting networks is extensive.
I could go on offering advice, inner tips and sharing my views on Rio de Janeiro but nothing better than experiencing for oneself and learning from mistakes! If you, however, want further help, please left me a comment or e-mail me! I wish you a happy expat experience in this Cidade Maravilhosa!