Saturday, July 9, 2011

It is NOT cheap to live in Brazil

Today's post is brought to you by the letter F.  F-RUSTRATED.  Consider yourselves warned for a rant.

WHY?  This is my first question.  WHY is it so impossible to make a comfortable life in Brazil?  Ok.  That's a complete exaggeration.  I'm not 'uncomfortable' per say.  But I'm being completely cock-blocked by the Brazilian class system!

Why is it it that I don't have the option to live 'wherever I want to' in Rio?  I guess that's more accurate.  Ok, I don't want to live in a mansion with aquarium walls and butlers.  I just want to live in a neighborhood with culture and convenience.  I want to be able to walk to the supermarket EASILY.  I want to be able to catch ONE bus to work, not two or three.  I want to live less than 30 mins from downtown, ideally RIGHT downtown (right now we live about 2 hours from).  I want to live close to a bookstore.  I want to have a variety of restaurant options (not just rice and beans), possibly some places with live music (not just MPB).  Shit, I want to have a martini and I don't even drink martinis.

I live in a neighborhood that is classified as a "C" Class neighborhood, although that title was probably given by "A" Class citizens.  What's after "C" class?  I guess favelas... ?  It's not even the money, or lackthereof, that gets to me.  It's the lack of convenience and culture specifically.  It's like the affordable neighborhoods have been pushed and pushed away to the outskirts of society.

I have obviously been conditioned after spending 5 years living on my own in Toronto, but in Toronto all you have to do is choose.  And even the lower-end apartments are pretty awesome and are downtown.  I pay the same amount of money (in relation to my salary) living in Jacarepagua that I did living in a fully equipped condo, right downtown Toronto.

What I don't understand, and what I can't accept, is why there is so much class-ism in Rio.  Classes are divided in a disturbing way.  My husband and I work HARD and, in my opinion, do fairly well financially.  I have always lived very comfortably in the middle class, but even though my salary is similar to home, here I live in almost low class.  We have to choose housing that is so far away in the 'suburbs'.  We can't even afford to live in Barra, which again in my opinion, IS INSANELY OVERPRICED.  BARRA IS CRAP AND YOU NEED A CAR TO LIVE THERE.  WHY OH WHY WOULD PEOPLE BE CHARGING R$3000 A MONTH FOR A ONE BEDROOM IN BARRA DA TIJUCA??????  THERE IS NOTHING IN BARRA!!!!!

Living in Barra is the equivalent of living in Scarborough, across from Scarborough Town Centre.  Oh, awesome, you live near a mall. 

I am shaking my head.  It's infuriating how much of a glass ceiling exists in Brazil.  Today's apartment search made me hate Rio and the person who is responsible for making independent living so unattainable.  Congratulations Rio.  You live in a Stone Age.  An unequal opportunity Stone Age.

Today's post is also brought to you by the letter G.  Gah!!!!!


  1. It's a simple matter of "oferta e procura" or "supply and demand".
    More people want to live in beautiful Rio than in the frozen tundra of Toronto.
    Rio doesn't sound at all different from London or New York city for example.
    If you wanna live in Manhattan, you have to pay more, a lot more, for a tiny crappy apartment, Rio is no different.
    If you don't have enough money in London, you will end up in less desirable neighborhoods south of the Thames river, where most poor, lower class immigrants live.
    People who have been working hard in Rio far longer than you have achieved a standard of life that allows them to live in the more desirable areas, and that is a fact of life, of planet earth, human beings.
    You just arrived in Brazil, you still have to work a lot longer to reach those who have been there a lot longer than you.

  2. Sorry to hear you are hitting a brick wall in your apartment/neighborhood search. Keep at it.

    I feel the same way about dining out. Eating at a nice restaurant (international or fusion food) seems like a class priviledge here. The prices are insane and do not appear to be connected to reality (plus I know the staff are earning sh*t wages and the boss is skimming from the tips).

  3. The rents have gone through the roof recently! And I totally agree with you about the middle class. We are constantly struggling to keep our heads up and out of the water. It's so expensive to live in Zona Sul! Those things you consider a given in middle class life at home are so not a given here!

    I remember when our microwave broke. We had to just let go of one more convenience. It was too damn expensive to buy a new one!

    I'm sorry you have to trek so far! I have a friend from Jaca and have been out there a couple of times. It's far to come in by bus!

  4. Ahh the ever reliable "anonymous" comment. I'm taking anonymous off my comment options. People just want to hide behind it to make their snide remarks.

    Toronto is the exact same climate as New York and it's a city that is growing just as fast as Rio, it's just that Toronto can handle the growth.
    I'm also not comparing my situation to people who have been living and working in Rio their whole lives. I am comparing myself to other expats living in Rio and also to foreigners who start out in Toronto.
    In Toronto, for example, you can bet that the Starbucks employee has an apartment downtown. You can bet that the Starbucks employee in Rio lives in the favela. Absolutely.

    My point is that even people who make a decent living in Rio are kept at arm's length because there is so much classism in Rio - a fair middle class doesn't exist yet here.

  5. hi Lindsey - I comment as an anonymous because is easier.

    I partially agree w you.

    I do believe a fair middle class doesn't exist yet in Rio (and cars , electronics toys, books, etc are very expensive) but if u work at starbucks u also wouldn't be able to afford to live in downtown NYC or London for example.

    I don't think Barra is CRAP. Yes, it is far from the center but its a nice area.

    I am surprised your local restaurants only serve rice and beans.

  6. For the love of all that is good and holy, let the poor girl COMPLAIN! She is just frustrated. Of course they don't just serve rice and beans. You can guarantee there are probably hamburgers and pizza to love "options"!

    Anyway, sorry my friend :( It really is frustrating, I know. Coming from the reality we know as middle class, it just feels impossible some days, doesn't it? But don't worry, you WILL find something. Just keep going!

    In other news, my hideous purse has not arrived yet...what was I thinking?? I'm hoping when it arrives, I will love it. We'll see. At least it wasn't expensive ;)

  7. Linds, I only just now read Anon's first comment. I think there is a ring of truth to it. We started out... well, it was difficult to say the least. I had a futon for a couch and bed until right before Luka was born lol. (that and a Tv, fridge, oven, 4 plates, and a couple of glasses!)

    Now it's been over 5 years and we're settled. Bought things bit by bit.

    I also totally agree with the not fair middle class!

    I also agree with you about Barra being crap. Dude anon, it's so lame down there! SO LAME! I would rather live in Miami and I hate Miami.

  8. Rach, you're right. Even living in Toronto in the beginning wasn't all daisies. I lived in basement, had hand-me-down furniture. Shit, I got the mattress that my little sister peed on as a child. Lucky me! (why my parents kept that mattress I'll never know)

    I also wasn't working in as successful a job. I consider myself pretty successful in teaching - I do well and I have a double income and that doesn't even afford me something reasonably close to a central area. Yes, yes oh yes... Barra is just a big highway with a lot of malls and condos. Ain't nothing special about that!

    Steph - you're RIGHT. I forgot to mention the pizza restaurants in addition to the rice and beans. Truth is, when you live in a non-touristy area, the Brazilians who live here like to eat their rice and beans and not much else. So come take a trip to Jaca if you don't believe me....

  9. Just starting out is always a slow uphill grind - but I have to repeat the charge that the so-called middle class here is super limited.

    When a whole strata of workers get paid one or two minimum salaries (plus valuable benefits, I know...) - like the store clerks, or receptionists, or anyone in retail, or waiters, c'mon... it's hard to get a leg up.

    Money is hard to come by in Brazil -- CERTAINLY harder than back in the States. And everything is more expensive. People (including you Lindsey)have a good reason to feel worn down and complain once in a while.

  10. I lived in jaca too, and Zona Sul it is NOT. To me what you describe is one of the most frustrating things about Rio. If you cannot live in the Zona Sul, and most of Rio cannot, you have a completely different quality of life. One of the things I like about Belo Horizonte is that you can have a high quality of life living in many parts of the city.

  11. I have been having the hardest time with this. I dont understand how our, what I thought was good solid middle class income, makes us feel so empty all the time. Its a big deal to go out to eat, and needing something for the house? Dont even think about it, Tok&Stok is 3 times the price of Ikea. I took for granted all the access to cheap goods. I don´t know which situation is worse, not having all the diversity around you or having it and not being able to participate in it! Something´s gotta change right? Ugh =(

  12. We live in the interior and we are staying with MIL because its expensive to get an apartment. Additionally, I heard the process of renting a place involves a lot of procedure, but what doesn't in Brazil?:) Living with in-laws is a tricky situation. I get along with MIL, but SIL is a freeloader and irresponsible. She does not live with us, but she has taken items from the house ie:food, clothing without asking, which in my book, is stealing. So, starting out any new place has its challenges, especially here. Good luck with your apartment search and hang in there!

  13. Thanks all!! Corinne, I didn't realize you lived here before!! Why oh why can't you be here now...

    Jana, you totally hit it on the head and you're right - i don't know which is worse. I often think about that too... like, what happens when i finally arrive in my dream neighbourhood and feel just as stuck because all my extra money is going to towards rent now?

    Jane, we lived with the in-laws for the first year here but that was too difficult for me. I'm used to my private space... part of the reason we got this place is bc it's owned by a friend of my husband's. Point is, you're right, it's incredibly complicated (more than it needs to be) to rent here - co-signers, 3 months rent on top of your rent, credit checks, blah blah blah.

  14. Lindsey,

    I technically lived in Anil (just past Rio das Pedras), but it is all Jacarepagua to me. We did have a really lovely Italian restaurant that was not expensive nearby, I wonder if it is still there? We can compare Jaca notes on Saturday :)

  15. I just found your blog and I love it! I'm sorry I did not find it sooner!

    As for the cost of living, that really sucks. When I get to Brasil I'm going to need to sell my kidney and left lung to the organ harvesters there. (chuckle, chuckle...shame on me.)

    I will definitely follow you from now on ;-)

  16. Dear Lindsey,

    You shouldn't feel so bad, this is not a permanent situation. There is a real distortion right now in Brazil because the REAL is SUPER VALUED artificially. Real state prices are all out of whack. You guys are right in the middle of the storm and you are all blinded ( JUST LIKE WE WERE WITH THE US REAL STATE BUBBLE ).
    This is a HUGE artificial REAL bubble and news flash, it's about to burst. There is internal and external pressures for Brazil to adjust it's currency because it is hurting Brazilian companies that desperately need to export.
    I honestly don't believe this situation is sustainable. Real state prices can't be that far from Brazilian salaries. You are not alone. I hear people complaining in Sao Paulo, it's all over the place, rent is ridiculously high.
    Just be patient, when the bubble burst, you will be able to go to Zona Sul and find your place in the middle of it all, trust me, this can't last forever.
    And Rachel has a point, when Gil and I first moved to the US we had an air mattress from Walmart that deflated in the middle of the night. Thank God for 24 hour Walmarts, so we could drive to the freaking place and exchange it for a new one. We did that little dance for 4 miserable months. We beginning is tough anywhere.
    But I feel your pain, rent in Brazil right now is awfully high, and it will come down.


  17. When I first moved to San Francisco my "mattress" consisted of all the clothes and bath towels I was not otherwise using...

    And I ate Stove Top stuffing for dinner - just the stuffing.

    Ah... happy those days are behind me.

  18. Ray, thanks for that insight. I know it's not possible to sustain this kind of gap and I also know I'm not the only one experiencing this frustration. It's nice to have affirmation that I'm not just blinded by a starting over in a new country.

    I too guys have gone through the trouble of 'starting new' ... several times, moved to several different cities and lived in about 5 different places... I remember when I first moved out on my own I lived on Kraft Dinner and bagged salads. Ha.

    10 years later I am happy to report I can make a little more than that... ;)

    Thanks for finding me Alex! "Fica a vontade" to keep reading and commenting :)

  19. Chin up, Lindsey! I can't tell you how much money slipped through my fingers while I lived in Rio for a month. An obscene amount that made me guilty, frustrated and scared. Damn my Protestant work ethic. It made me wonder how Cariocas and expats did it and that my fantasy of living in Rio would be an unscalable wall. This bubble bursting talk is making me feel hopeful. Here's to prosperity for you. It'll all work out...


  20. Ha, Kraft dinners and bagged salads, you did better than us, we went trailer trash style with Ramen noddles and the cheapest hot dogs money could buy...
    Well, in our defense we were young and had high tolerance for low nutrition ;)


  21. Oh dear, welcome to the 3rd world.

    I grew up downtown São Paulo and if you haven't been there yet, do it. I think you might enjoy it. Unlike Rio, downtown São Paulo is a lot cheaper, and you can find anything there - from transvestites to philosophy PhDs having an argument about atheism on the sidewalk. But yeah... a lot of transvestites. It's that sort of decadent charm that probably resembles NY in the 70s.

    Life in Brazil is hard though. To me, it was hard but satisfying because all of my really good friends are there. But to an outsider, and in Rio, I totally feel your pain.

    Be strong! Best!

  22. ROFL over your 'cock'blocked' comment. LOLOLOL. Great use of that term. Hehehe.

    I'm envious when I read about the fun meet-ups and hanging with other North Americans- of which I am going to travel all the way across the country for one of these times- but take solace in the R$400 house we rent.

    Of course, we've dumped all of our money into our farm, so we have a bed, a fridge, a stove, and 4 wooden chairs on the veranda. Gah for sure.

    BTW- Toronto is pretty special. Canada has the whole housing/public transport thing down.
    I'm happy to meet you here on the interwebs!

  23. Im Brazilian and Im just 15,but I know what Im talking about.I just wanna tell you to don't spend your whole life here, working hard and not being compensated.And if you can try to live in another state, I live in Rio Grande do Sul which i think is a great state,but I think you would like Santa Catarina. Do some search about it

  24. I was talking to my Brazilian fiance about this the other day. I have tried to study some economics of Brazil and history to understand. I am not an expert. However I see a problem first off the real is worth about R1.56 to the dollar. The average salary for low class is R750 which is only about what technically $520.00 dollars a month in American money? The problem is that the Brazilian economy in a lot of ways (most) ways is based in the dollar meaning they buy, sell, export in dollar. AND they have huge taxes. Why to protect their economy but that is another discussion. Therefore you are getting paid in the real but you are paying in the standard of the dollar literally. Which makes no sense but they have no choice I guess. The world does business in the dollar. The money you make does not coincide with the cost of living because your cost of living is in the dollar. Very confusing to me.

    Which is why you don't see average Brazilians with two flat screen tvs, and 3 computers, and ipod, and an iphone, like you do in America. This is just some observations that I have made and its not fair.

    So trying to find a decent standard of living in a country that pays in real with low salaries to begin with when they are buying, selling, and exporting, importing in the dollar is not helping the Brazilian people which is why they can't afford to buy anything like people in the US. In the US its easier to buy the products are cheaper here, and most people make more. The dollar goes farther. The import tax on goods is not as high as Brazil and the salaries are better?????? Also their is not a real demand for products like in America which drives prices down. Their is less consumerism because they can't afford a R2000 baby stroller. Trying to figure it out anyway.

  25. There will be no positive change in the middle class, only a bigger movement from middle to A class or the lower class (most of middle class will end up here). It's a logical thing in the current system of Brazil.

    No way the rents will get really down in the Zona Sul area. The city is growing, the country does to. Being one of the major trade, financial and business cities in Brazil & playing an important role in Latin America, there will always be a huge demand for living space in Ipanema, Leblon - and if no other options available, Copacabana, Leme, Botafogo & Flamengo.

    As in all upcoming economies, there is a growing population getting richer. These people are now moving to the nice areas and willing (and able) to pay for that move.

    The current economical status is great, and gives people who really have capabilities a chance to make money and become successful. If you don't have these capabilities or money from home, the struggle will continue & will only get worse. Not a positive, but realistic note.

    And to end the story: I do love living in Rio. But would never ever move from Leblon to live in an area outside Leblon/Ipanema as the quality of live lowers tremendously. I love the beach, the 'better' restaurants, bars, shops & people. I do visit friends in all parts of Rio (also the more 'shady' once, but will never live there, or have my children grow up there (I'm from Europe).

    I think that if you can't afford life in Rio, there are many other great(er) places on earth to be living. And if something is holding you from moving, make money or the struggle will just get harder.

  26. Scary as it is, that's the same for most big cities in Brazil... Suggestion? try choosing another place, I mean, some place between 500k-1kk inhabitants.
    By the way, congrats on your blog! it's always interesting seeing the way foreigner see us!

  27. Capabilities, Giovanni? You're an ASSHOLE. Sorry for using a rude word....but your comment is quite snobby and lacks in-depth insight into the socio economic conditions of one of the most unequal places on earth, and what has made it that way. So what? You like living in Leblon and whatever...but nobody asked your ass about your fabulous lifestyle. what would possess you to make such a snipey comment on a blog post from a good, hard-working, intelligent woman who is feeling the pinch of a fucked up system. TEACHERS ARE THE MOST CAPABLE PEOPLE ON EARTH! And just because they are not properly compensated, doesn't mean that they are beneath bitchass people like you. you can see, the Real has gone back down in recent months, so I hope that gives you some comfort.


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