Jenny ("Paulistinha") Miller developed a passion for travel backpacking around England in 1999. Subsequently she studied, worked, and travelled around Europe. However, it was a trip to Brazil in 2005 that changed her life path. Since then, she devoted her energy toward planning her escape from corporate life in Chicago. In March 2008, she moved to Porto Alegre, Brazil, and, more recently, to São Paulo, where she is learning Portuguese and seeking an experience yet to be defined. She writes about the journey on her blog My Life in Havaianas.
Read more about Brazil in the Expat Arrivals Brazil country guide or read more expat experiences in Brazil.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born in Evanston, Illinois, raised in Crystal Lake, but consider myself a Chicagoan through and through as I lived in the city during the “US part” of my adult life.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I live in São Paulo, Brazil.
Q: How long you have you lived in Sao Paulo?
A: I moved here in August 2010 after about two and a half years in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Q: Did you move with a spouse or children?
A: No, I’m a solo adventurer.
Q: Why did you move to Sao Paulo; what do you do?
A: Good questions with lots of answers. I moved out of curiosity, mainly. I am interested in and inspired by Brazil and by the Portuguese language. I have a persistent need to change my environment and to challenge myself. I work as a freelance writer, English teacher, translator, and culture/business consultant.
About your city
Q: What do you enjoy most about Sao Paulo, how’s the quality of life?
A: Though I’m still quite new to São Paulo I am completely enthralled. I enjoy the irony of that fact because it’s the only place in the world that, on my first visit, I profoundly disliked.
Q: Any negatives about Sao Paulo? What do you miss most about home?
A: The traffic is every bit as bad as it’s reported to be, but “Sampa” is a megalopolis after all. On the plus side, the drivers are courteous toward pedestrians, whereas I felt more at-risk walking around Porto Alegre. Another classic negative complaint that I have often read about Sampa is its overwhelming size and population, or the likening of its urban sprawl to a “concrete jungle,” but I am not bothered by these common dissuaders. At least for now, I find the diversity, size, and vibrancy of the city to be rather energizing. Further, I’m impressed by the amount of green in the city’s central region.
Q: Is Sao Paulo safe?
A: São Paulo is famous for being dangerous: guidebooks and locals alike will warn time and again. Again, though, it is a megalopolis and as such, I think safety simply requires a bit of street smarts and common sense. I know where I’m headed beforehand and walk with purpose, I watch my belongings and surroundings, and I don’t wear flashy clothes or accessories (I try not to leave the house with anything I can’t afford to lose!). I don’t own a car, which not only saves me from hassle but, I believe, makes me less of a target. An interesting observation, though: in Brazil I am more cognizant of avoiding robberies, whereas in Chicago I was more alert to the dangers of rape.
About living in Sao Paulo
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Sao Paulo as an expat?
A: It depends on what priorities one has. I prefer a convenient location for getting things done and exploring on foot, with lots of restaurants, coffee shops, and green space. I am living in Pinheiros now, which fits me perfectly.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Sao Paulo?
A: What is the budget?
Q: What’s the cost of living in Sao Paulo compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Sampa is more expensive, across the board, than Chicago. I spend about the same proportion of income on rent in São Paulo as I did in Chicago for a comparable neighbourhood and conveniences. However, I lived alone in Chicago and have two roommates in Sampa and the apartment, while large, doesn’t have the charm or amenities of my old place. Entertainment (restaurants, bars, movies) is about twice the price, based on percentage of income. Purchasing any type of electronic equipment is rather expensive in Brazil, but services (salon and spa, housekeeping, etc.) are quite affordable. In short, material things are costly and labour is cheap—the opposite of the U.S.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats in Sao Paulo?
A: My roommates are locals and my friends are mixed. One of the most rewarding parts of my time in Brazil has been getting to know—getting to understand—my Brazilian friends. Another has been bonding with other expats from all over the world about the parts of Brazilian culture I haven’t adapted to!
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Sao Paulo?
A: Yes. I’m an extrovert.
About working here
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: Well, here’s where my story likely differs from the typical expat. I moved to Brazil in anticipation of the amnesty, which I began researching and planning for in 2006. I moved in March 2008 and received the amnesty in July 2009 and, with it, the right to work.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Sao Pauloin, is there plenty of work?
A: I think São Paulo, as the true economic engine of the country, will reveal loads of opportunity over time. As in the rest of the country, though, quite a lot of connections rely on word of mouth so it’s going to take time to re-establish myself in my new city. Fortunately I have some freelance work I do remotely to carry my through the start-up.
Q: How does the work culture in Sao Paulo differ from home?
A: It doesn’t seem to differ much in São Paulo, though my insight is limited at this point. I felt like the corporate culture in Porto Alegre was much more casual than I was accustomed to back home, though it depends on industry too—just like in the States.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: No, this whole operation was self-performed!
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Sao Paulo?
A: Thankfully I haven’t had cause for experience with urgent medical care, though what I have learned from friends is that quality of care depends heavily on your financial resources (as it does in the U.S.). I have had fantastic experiences with affordable and thorough dental care here in Brazil.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Just be open.
~ interviewed November 2010