Expats Abroad: From Beach Bums to Bankers

The entrance of São Vicente bay in Brazil
Brazil is home to a diverse community of foreign residents. Photo © Daniel Guimarães, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

On the other side of the globe, Brazil has also seen a significant diversification of its expatriate community. Michael Sommers, a freelance writer and author of Moon Living Abroad in Brazil, as well as the travel guidebooks Moon Brazil and Moon Rio de Janeiro, has been living in Brazil for the past 15 years. Sommers says that the foreign community in Brazil has grown considerably, particularly after the economic downturn in the United States and Europe.

Ten years ago Brazil attracted only a small number of foreign residents. Back then, most expatriates were “adventurous types” who “fell in love with Brazil” and wanted to live an alternative lifestyle, setting up in rustic beach towns; others came to the country because they married a Brazilian or took jobs at a nonprofit. That changed in the past five years.

“Brazil came out of the big recession really well,” Sommers explains, “with many multinational companies setting up Latin American headquarters in Brazil.” The biggest economy in Latin America and home to 200 million people, Brazil’s strong financial sector, massive IT demands, and rapidly growing oil industry attracted Spanish, Portuguese, and American expatriates who “couldn’t get jobs in the States or in Europe.” These professionals, often young and recently out of college, saw working in Brazil as a stepping stone along their career path, with corporations offering skilled foreigners the opportunity to gain valuable experience while also being paid a good salary with ample benefits—which can even extend to drivers and living budgets.

“Even though the economy has slowed down, certain sectors of the economy are booming,” says Sommers. He notes that Brazil is now home to a diverse community of foreign residents, ranging from tech entrepreneurs and finance executives to university students and academics doing culture-related work. He also notes the rise of foreign entrepreneurs; with the country’s growing middle class, there is an exploding IT sector. As a result, he says, “There are a lot of startups, and American entrepreneurs are at the forefront of that.”

Shannon Aitken notices the same entrepreneurial energy in China, where many foreigners come to build businesses that cater to the country’s burgeoning consumer class. “There’s a real, palpable atmosphere of entrepreneurship,” Aitken says. “Everyone else is doing something—maybe opening a cafe, or starting a trading business, or launching some kind of tech company—so you get caught up in this feeling.”

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