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.