Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Finding gainful employment in Brazil

This post is for the newbies.  Perhaps some of the regulars can add your comments, including tips and strategies. I am certainly no top authority on this, but I can lay some groundwork.  Other bloggers have covered this territory before me.
I get a lot of emails from people who have found my blog and are thinking of also moving to Brazil (to be with their partner, to escape from back home, to turn the page in their life, to learn Portuguese, whatever).  Their main question goes something like this: “I am a professional accountant (or physical trainer, or engineer, or project manager, or radio broadcaster, or…) and I’d like to know how easy it would be for me to find a good job in Brazil.
Sitting next to my keyboard is a long shiny needle I keep on hand to burst these bubbles when they come to my inbox.  Sorry. Unless I have missed something, finding good employment in Brazil is never “easy” and the notion of being a professional in a field in the US (or Canada, or Australia, etc.) is different than here, where the key is a specific university degree in a specific field (and usually that degree must be from a public university to boot).  But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First things first.  You have to be legally able to work (via various visa routes) or your options shrink to casual labor, under the table consulting and of course: teaching English in one way or another. Job security, health benefits, paid time off, retirement income, career possibilities – these all come first in the form of a Carteira de Trabalho, a lovely bureaucratic relic of times gone by that records in one handy booklet information about all your jobs/employers/dates of employment/salary, etc.  This book is golden when it comes to earning a living wage with benefits (and generous unemployment compensation should you ever be let go by your employer).  No legal visa with working rights – no Carteira de Trabalho.
Some people don’t have to sweat this quite so much.  They have moved here because their partner has a position they obtained while still in their country of origin that pays nicely and may come with some pretty sweet benefits.  For them working is more about keeping busy and mindfully occupied. 
But if you just want to come and live here for a while – and work – be careful what you wish for.
Oh – and how is your Portuguese?

Another big factor in terms of getting a job in your field is where will you be living?  If you dive into a metropolis like São Paulo – you’ve got some options.  Brazilian companies may see your international experience and language skills as an asset and give you a chance.  Smaller cities and towns (which may be beautiful to live in) have no such incentive.
For many, a move to Brazil is NOT about kick-starting an exciting, new, lucrative career. Rather, it is about getting the heck OUT of the consumerist rat race than can be the hallmark of US American work careers and trying out an alternative approach to ones quality of life (Luiz and I resemble this remark.)  So living in the mega-city that is São Paulo (even with its wonderful cultural and culinary options) was not our first choice.  The smaller the city, the fewer your employment options.
Then there is the hurdle that is your résumé.  Employers expect to see included: your age, your gender, your marital status, your race (they will ask for a picture), do you have kids… all of which is illegal in the USA for reasons of employment discrimination.  If it is illegal here I have not seen too much compliance. Friends have commented again and again about age discrimination, marital status discrimination, being told that only candidates from public universities are considered (it’s a class thing) and the need to have a degree in exactly the field of the position you are applying for.
Take me, for example, I have a Masters in Clinical Psychology and twenty years of experience as a non-profit executive director.  I’ve managed medium large staffs and $15 million dollar budgets.  But my degree qualifies me to be a counselor, not a manager.  Unless I can get through the front door via a personal connection, my résumé does not suffice.
Again, maybe I have missed something.  I have not really beaten down the doors of businesses looking for a new career, but I have had dozens and dozens of conversations with others (Brazilians) who have.
Luiz came prepared to start his own floral design business. We hired a lawyer and a tax accountant to help with the paperwork.  It took about 6 months to get everything settled.  Back in San Francisco it took Luiz about 16 minutes to open a small business.  So keep your eyes wide open about entrepreneurial ambitions as well.  Brazilians are exceptionally clever and hardworking when it comes to building a business.  The competition is no cake walk.

And so I, like so many other expats, teach English and provide cross-cultural business consulting and written translation services.  It’s not glamorous, but it’s good work if you can find it.  I worked briefly in a couple language schools, but they are nearly all “puppy mills” that pay shit and offer no real, reasonable work days (but the benefits are nice, if they will sign your work book).  But I would hate to try and live on that salary.
Together Luiz and I have found a sweet spot in which we work as much as we want and enjoy our quieter quality of life.  At this point word of mouth referrals keep us both in enough clients to make it work. But we are over 50 and have a lifetime of savings and assets to keep the wolves at bay.  I’m glad we did not try this at 30.
Surely there are those who have found a path of less resistance than I have described here.  But as is so often repeated: “Brazil is not for beginners.” Think carefully (and save heftily) before you make the jump.  The rewards can be life changing and affirming.  They certainly have been for us.
Fellow expats – what did I get wrong? What did I forget? What would you add?  Let’s help out the newbies.


kelerise said...

My brother is in the Brazilian Air Force and my father was from Brazil. Even so, I know I would have a nightmare of a time trying to work there (48 yo, mediocre Portuguese, etc). If it were easy, there would be millions of Americans there.

Gil and Ray said...


I can tell you that relationships are a must, networking is key, not too different from the US in that department.
I think the "public university" thing is an exageration from your Brazilian friends. I didn't go to a public Brazilian University and neither have any of my sisters, my brother and any friends, I can't remember any of them having a hard time to find a job.
People like to play victim sometimes, poor little me, didn't go to a public elite University, it's not so bad if you didn't. Off course it helps to have great credentials, but it's definitely not essencial.
Being recommended by someone your employer knows is golden to get a good job.
For foreigners trying to move to Brazil with a good job I would suggest to place their resume in a reputable HEAD HUNTING FIRM, here is a link with many of them, go down the list and register your resume with as many of them as you can.
Here is the link with a list of Executive Head Hunting Firms in Brazil: https://www.bluesteps.com/Regions/Brasil.aspx


Jim said...

kelerise - thanks for commenting. I, too, know so many people who would be here if it were easier - and many of them are Brazilian!!

Ray - I knew you would weigh in with excellent advice. Thanks.

Meredith said...

Good advice.
I'm so grateful that my employer is doing so much for us to facilitate our move.

Zoe said...

I just quit last week (yay, quality of life!), but for 2.5 years I worked in a small Brazilian company here in Sao Paulo. We worked with international student recruitment, so a lot of our clients are from North America, Australia and Europe, but I was the only foreigner in the office. From day one, Portuguese was the language used on the job. My background is in intercultural communication and international education, but I don’t think I would have gotten the job if I didn’t speak Portuguese, nor would my Portuguese be where it is now if I didn’t have to use it professionally every day (I initially learned my Portuguese rather socially).

I also was lucky enough to get a work visa, but this was AFTER I had already been working for the company for almost 1.5 years (first illegally on a tourist visa, then semi-illegally on an internship visa). I doubt my employer would have gone through the trouble and expense (6 months and a couple thousand reais, and I had it relatively easy because of a master's degree) for someone he didn't know.

It’s always kind of bugged me how some people come to Brazil without speaking any Portuguese and fully expect to get a job—and a LOT actually do. The advertising agency where my husband used to work hired an American woman as a copywriter a couple years ago. She still can barely order in a restaurant, and the whole office speaks English with her. Whenever she’s involved in a campaign, all meetings are held in English, briefs are written in English. She’s just a regular entry-level copywriter, she’s not management or a major award winner. I just find it absurd that a whole office of Brazilians will operate in their second language for ONE person. Maybe I’m just a little jealous that no one went of their way like that for me. Hell, I didn’t even know some of my husband’s family spoke English until about 8 months ago :p

Based on my experience here in Sao Paulo, the public university thing isn't too big of a deal. Most people I know went to a private university and they're doing well.

Rosa said...

Thank you for taking the time to write about of this. We are in that boat and appreciate good information.

Also, thank you Ray. I have been looking for head hunters that will place people in Brazil.

Crossing my fingers and studying my Portuguese.

Gil and Ray said...


Thanks for sharing that experience sounds awesome.


You are welcome. I am actively looking for a job in Brazil myself.
I will write posts when I find more useful tips to share.


Great post as usual ;)


.polyana. said...

hey jim!

great post :-)

i can tell you a lot of people have asked me the same questions they ask you. mostly brazilians who've lived in the US forever and want to come back like i did.

but a few americans too, so i've tried to do the best i can, and the biggest problem i have is with people who insist they can find a job in their fields without even thinking about the legality of it all. i tend to tell them "the same way most brazilians can't up and work legally in the US, you can't work here legally either." haha

what i do tell a lot of people to do is to look for openings in brazil through their own companies, or simply to be patient.

patience is the biggest virtue an american needs in brazil. if not, you're not making it here or anywhere else outside the usOFa, buddy.

BUT - it's worth it. like you say, Qualidade de Vida... even living in SP i have a much better quality of life than i did in New England!!

thanks again, and i'll be sure to share this with my readers :-)


Miss Brodie said...

Thanks Jim.... following your blog...I went to Rio for Carnaval and fell in love with the vibe and am reading peoples stuff about day to day life there. Post hol reality check!!! I would have to teach English, which I do anyway here in France. Id heard the schools pay peanuts and you have to work up some/alot of private work.
So keep blogging---we are reading!!

Jim said...

Thanks all - and to affirm: patience is required to make it work (plus lots of $avings you have brought with you!)

It is doable - but not easy.

balaji @ IT Consulting Jobs said...

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