Today I have an interview with an American Expat, Juan aka 10kjuan. He is the creator of the expat blog 10kjuan.com, world traveler, and is currently living in São Paulo, SP, Brazil. He discusses his journey to becoming an expat and what life is like in São Paulo. Enjoy!
How old are you?
How do you know me?
Mikey, we met through the power of social networks and the internet. We stumbled across each other’s blogs and hit it off based on our shared love of Brazil and sports.
Where are you from?
Born in Queens, NY, but my parents are from Spain and Ecuador.
Where are you living now?
São Paulo, Brazil
When did you first visit?
I cleared customs on April 17th 2011 and have been abusing them ever since.
How long did you stay?
I technically haven’t “left”, though I have made several passport ninja runs since.
How long have you been living in São Paulo?
I’ve been here for 21 months now, shattering my previous record of “months spent living overseas” by 21 months.
How did you get tri-citizenship?
I was born into it. Spain and Ecuador both allow you to “recover” the citizenship which is rightfully yours through your parents, and the U.S. allows dual citizenship. Just don’t tell any of them I have a third. Thanks.
Do you speak portuguese or any other languages?
I’m a native speaker of English and Spanish and have been confused for Brazilian several times within the first 5 seconds of the conversation. I like to think I’m fluent in Portuguese, but drinking with a group of Mineiros always makes me question that.
How did you learn Portuguese? and Spanish?
I basically learned Portuguese by having it around me at all times. No books. Just listening, reading and repetition, with the occasional correction from a Brazilian princess. Of course, I was only able to do that because Spanish is my first language, so I wouldn’t recommend it.
What made you interested in Brazil?
Living in Miami from 1992-2009, I got a taste of Brazilian culture through friends, sports, food and festivals. As a result, I had an idea of what life would be like here, and it sounded like my kind of place. I also liked the challenge of learning Portuguese, given that I’d never really had to learn a language. Everything is happening here now too – the World Cup in 2014, the Olympics in 2016, UFC events, Lollapalooza, Rock in Rio… Even Miss Universe came here in 2011. It’s the place to be, which in my mind meant there’d be plenty of opportunity to teach and write, which were my two goals coming in. Lastly, as a traveler, I’ve always wanted to explore South America, and I knew São Paulo would be a good hub to do just that. Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Santiago, Lima, Bogota – I’ve visited them all since arriving here.
How did you prepare for your trip?
Poorly. But that was part of the adventure. I booked a one-way flight using frequent flyer miles – with a 2-month layover in Ecuador – packed my passports, a fabricated proof of yellow fever vaccination form, my iToys and a backpack. I figured I’d sort out the rest when I arrived.
What was the reaction you received when you told people that you were going to Brazil?
Yeah. I didn’t really tell that many people. I’m not a big fan of interventions, so thought I’d do my best to avoid one. Thinking back though, most people I did tell were fairly supportive given the fact that I didn’t really have a plan.
What was your first impression when you landed in Rio or Sao Paulo?
São Paulo was a lot faster than I imagined any city in Brazil being. The image you have of Brazil is easy-going, stress-free and chilled out. São Paulo operates at a breakneck pace, not quite as mad as New York, but right up there with every other metropolis I’ve experienced.
Did you notice any big cultural differences or anything that seemed funny to you?
The biggest one early on was definitely Brazilians’ tendency to be non-committal, avoiding yes or no answers at all costs. You can ask a hungry Brazilian if he wants something to eat, perhaps at your house after you’ve had lunch and with plenty of leftovers, but they won’t say yes unless you ask them 2 or 3 times. Sometimes you really have to insist. On the other hand, if you try and make plans with them and they can’t go, or don’t want to go, they won’t say no. They’ll say ‘pode ser’, which is sort of like ‘it’s possible’. They could have a big-time commitment that they already know about that conflicts with the plans, but they still won’t say no. They think it’s rude.
Where else have you gone in Brazil?
I’ve gotten away to Rio a few times, most notably for UFC Rio II and Carnaval 2011. I also went to Belo Horizonte, Serra do Cipo (close to BH), I did the Petropolis-Teresopolis mountain trek, went to Salvador, Morro de São Paulo, Foz do Iguaçu, Maresias and some other smaller towns on the coast and the countryside. Plenty left to see though. It’s basically its own continent.
What is your favorite thing about Brazil?
I’d have to say my favorite thing about Brazil is Brazilians. Every stereotype has its exception, but Brazilians really are cheerful and festive most of the time, and Paulistanos are pretty hospitable with foreigners.
Favorite places in Brazil?
Are we talking cities? If so, I have to include the disclaimer that I haven’t been to too many places just yet, but despite trips to Iguaçu, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Morro de São Paulo and several other beaches, I have to stick to the big two of São Paulo and Rio.
How would you compare to Brazil to other countries?
Well other than the hundreds (thousands?) of beautiful beaches, it’s a country that despite it’s young age, has a lot of culture. The people are friendly, festive and they work to live, not the opposite like many other countries.
What did you do in NY and what are doing in Colombia?
Well I left NY when I was 13, so not much other than play baseball and spin the bottle. I spent the next 15 years in South Florida where I worked in the investment management industry and, later, the mortgage industry. I was in Colombia for a long layover on my way to Miami to visit my family.
What were some of the reasons why you decided to leave the “Good ole” USA to live in a 3rd world country?
Ever since I started traveling heavily in 2004, I’ve been curious about what it would be like to actually live overseas as a form of extended/indefinite travel. My favorite trips were always the ones where I was able to immerse myself and get to live like a local. Wouldn’t living in a different country be the best of both worlds? So I chose Brazil based on many things. I knew there’d be opportunities to teach, I knew the economy was doing well (this was in early 2011), I liked the idea of learning Portuguese, and I liked that there was a lot happening here (as mentioned before, UFC, Lollapalooza, World Cup, etc.). So I bought my one-way flight and haven’t looked back since.
What inspired your blog?
My blog, which is still very much a work in progress, was based on a reality TV show experience I had in 2005, where I appeared on Caesars 24/7, a short-lived Vegas show in Caesars Palace. I gambled $10,000 of my own money on blackjack and the producer coined the nickname 10kJuan. That was shortly after I left the corporate world and right before I embarked on my world travel, so to me it was a turning point in my life where I started taking more chances and living on my own terms. I started the blog to try and motivate others to do the same.
What is your opinion on Brazil’s economic boom?
I think the boom is over now that Brazilians bought their cars and houses and went on their big trips. The Brazilian real is down against the dollar, and debt is getting a little high, thanks in part to everyone being able to pay for things in 6 to 12 installments (not interest free, by the way). Having said that, there’s still a shortage of qualified labor in the country, which is why it’s an interesting time for foreigners here.
Not long ago I tweeted a question to you asking about getting a bank account in Brazil and your reply was “Buy a shovel. Find some soft dirt in a no-flood zone. Or get a roommate/friend with funds in The States. Win-Win” lol What did you mean by that?
Well… unless you’re a permanent resident, you’re not opening a bank account here, so your savings account is your mattress, a shoebox or your backyard. If you find someone with funds in the US, you could, theoretically of course, give them reais and use their account to pay your bills, buy things, etc. Theoretically. And allegedly.
Are you working in Brazil? If so, what kind of job do you have?
Allegedly. If you believe everything you read on the internet, I teach English and Spanish at a private school and am a contributing editor at Time Out São Paulo. The passport ninja stuff I do pro bono.
Do you have any advice for interested travelers?
If you like nightlife and good food, don’t hurry out of São Paulo when you touch down here. There’s plenty to see and do here, and the bar and club scene is amazing. Other than that, keep in mind it’s a massive country, so try and have some kind of game plan based on how much you have. If you want to see the Northeast, Rio, SP and Foz on a 3-week trip, for example, plan of flying. They’re pretty far apart from each other, more than most people realize.
Any advice for those wishing to live in Brazil?
If you have an eye on SP or Rio, you need to know it’s not cheap. You’ll need to find decent work and a good living situation to make it, and being central or at the very least close to a public transportation hub will make life a lot easier.