A peninsula thick with trees and palms juts into the water of the bay while the cityscape is visible in the distance.

View towards Rio. Photo © Gilberto Santa Rosa, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

The notion of moving to Brazil has often been wrapped up in a certain degree of fantasy. The South American giant was somewhere you went if you wanted to get lost in the world’s largest rainforest, make a fortune mining precious gemstones, or escape extradition to live in tropical bliss after pulling off a major heist.

Few other countries offer year-round access to natural attractions of such sheer beauty and diversity, ranging from glimmering beaches and lush jungles to rugged mountains and endless dunes.Mythical projections aside, in an age when earthly paradises are increasingly rare commodities, Brazil pulls off the feat of being one of the most seductive places on the planet.

Few other countries offer year-round access to natural attractions of such sheer beauty and diversity, ranging from glimmering beaches and lush jungles to rugged mountains and endless dunes. Yes, it can get a little hot, but there are no hurricanes, blizzards, or earthquakes, and you never have to wear thermal underwear.

Beyond its physical allure, you find a uniquely rich culture that seeps into every aspect of day-to-day life. Brazilians also have a flair for the visual that eschews modifiers such as “bland” or “neutral,” and Brazilians’ love for music if off the charts. The often unsung regional cuisines are fantastic as well; the abundance of fresh produce, especially fruit, is jaw-dropping in its variety.

Equally compelling is a lifestyle in which enjoying yourself is more of a priority than working 80-hour weeks. Brazilians do work hard, but they don’t brag about it. Yes, Brazilians get stressed, but overall they have the fine art of relaxation down to a C (as in caipirinha). Of course settling in Brazil also means dealing with the flip side of the fantasy. Brazil’s recent economic boom has ushered in a period of expanding markets, countless entrepreneurial opportunities, and major demand for qualified and specialized workers that the Brazilian labor force can’t supply. While many Brazilians have benefited from the economic upturn, poverty—not to mention crime and urban violence— are still major issues.

Although financial opportunities are myriad, many expats who take up residence in Brazil do so for reasons that are more romantic than rational. They fall in love with a Brazilian—or with Brazil itself. Fed up with rat races, stress, cold weather (and cold people), many are inspired to construct simpler, but more satisfying lives in Edenic spots that keep friends and family members back home drooling with envy.

I count myself among the romantics. I came to Brazil out of love for a Brazilian and ended up staying out of love for the country and, even more so, for the people. This “romantic” characteristic is telling since I believe that to live happily in Brazil, one has to be open, adventurous, adaptable, and a bit of a dreamer. Brazil is not a rational place. “Order and progress” might be the motto stitched onto Brazil’s flag, but in reality, a certain degree of chaos reigns.

A combination of patience, wiles, and charm, not to mention a decent command of Portuguese, goes a long way. If you can surrender yourself to its sometimes maddening, but never less-than-fascinating paradoxes, Brazil is a place that seeps into your soul, and living in Brazil can last a lifetime.

What I Love About Brazil

  • Luminous blue skies.
  • All the crazy, wonderful stories that people tell (Brazilians are great raconteurs).
  • Tropical fruits such as cupuaçu, mangaba, and bacuri.
  • Keeping the windows open 365 days of the year.
  • Nursing a hangover with água from a freshly machete-cut coconut.
  • How frequently and easily I can go barefoot.
  • How frequently and easily I can go dancing in the streets.
  • Once in a while a hummingbird flies into my living room.
  • Brazilian music provides the soundtrack to my life.
  • I never have to rush.
  • The lyrical, colorful, and impossible-to-remember idiomatic expressions of the Portuguese language.
  • Dozing off in a hammock.
  • The heady perfume that rises from the earth after a sudden tropical downpour.
  • Easy getaways to unspoiled, natural paradises.
  • Breezes rustling in palm fronds.
  • The number of beijos (kisses) and abraços (hugs) I can rack up on any given day.
  • Brazilians’ disarming ability to take a dire, dark situation and make it seem lighter: all about life and living.
  • Knowing that when I’m burned out, stressed out, down and out, I can walk down the street and hurl myself into the embrace of a perpetually warm, blue ocean.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Brazil.