Enrico: "I kind of knew that Paraiba was the place for me"

Expat interviews
  • Enrico in Paraiba
Published on 2013-07-18 at 02:00
British expat, Enrico moved to Paraiba just over five years ago. He lives in a small village by the beach in the north of the state with his Spanish partner and two daughters, leading a pretty off-grid lifestyle in a very quiet place.

Why did you decide to move to Paraiba? Was it your first experience in Brazil?

Paraiba was my first destination in Brazil, and it was love at first site. I arrived on a six week holiday with my girlfriend, and never got round to leaving. We'd made a few vague plans about looking at property, because we'd heard it was an excellent investment, but we had no intention of staying permanently. That was just over five years ago and property was still incredibly cheap in the north east. We picked up a small fisherman's cottage, 15m back from the beach, for about £7,000 (English) and made a snap decision not to go home.
Actually, it wasn't that hard. I was working as a financial editor at the time, and had spent the previous 3 years writing about the imminent financial collapse of western civilisation, which influenced our thinking in a big way.
So within a month of setting foot on Brazilian soil I kind of knew that Paraiba was the place for me.

How was the moving process?

Because things happened so fast the moving process wasn't an issue. The hardest part was telling work and my family that we weren't returning to London. Paraiba enjoys a sub-tropical climate and it hardly ever rains, so clothes weren't an issue, and we arranged for a few essentials from back home to be shipped over.

Is it easy to settle in Brazil? What are the formalities you had to go through?

I'd have to say it's not that easy and there are a lot of hoops that need jumping through. It's heavy on the administration, and there are a lot of forms to fill out. Everything takes time and officials often seem to contradict one another. My permanent visa took more than 3 years to arrive.
If you plan to move to Brazil I'd definitely recommend sorting your visa application out ahead of arrival.

Did you face some difficulties to adapt to your host country (language, culture, dos and don'ts)? Did you learn Portuguese?

You know what, apart from the language (which I'm still working on), I had no major problems adapting to life here. Things are very laid back and that suits me fine. This is the kind of place I'd always wanted to live in and settling in has been an absolute joy.

What surprised you the most in Paraiba?

Without a doubt the most surprising thing I've found here is the friendliness of the people and their willingness to help others. There's a real commitment to tradition and local community here that I never experienced in England.

Could you please share with us something you like about Paraiba and something you don't like?

Well the big draw for me is the fantastic weather and possibility to lead a (fairly) off-grid life-style. We grow a lot of fruit and veg, pump our own water and use solar panels to warm it. That's the kind of thing I used to dream of, when I worked in an office.
Living where we do means you need a hands-on approach to DIY and I love the fact that I've learned new skills like bricklaying, plumbing and electrics. We plan to build our own house next year, which I can't wait to make a start on.
If you'd asked me two years ago what I dislike most about life in a small village in northeast Brazil, I'd have said the lousy Internet. But things have really improved since then and we're pretty much up-to-speed when it comes to the web nowadays.
So the only downside of life in Paraiba is the 10 week winter, when it rains like hell for a couple of days every week.

What do you miss the most from England, your home country?

Football for sure. I get to watch the games online, but it's not the same as back home either at the match, or in the pub with friends. Culturally there isn't much to do here. Even going out for a meal, or visiting the cinema, is a 100km round trip, which can be a downer. But in general the pros far outweigh the cons and like they said in the old days, we make our own entertainment.

You choose to work from home: it is a choice you have made when you moved to Brazil? Is it more convenient to your expat life?

Like I said before, staying here wasn't the original plan, so I really had to find something to do as quickly as possible, once we'd bought the house. As I barely spoke Portuguese when I arrived, a job was out of the question. The only work I could do was freelance writing and editing, which I picked up online. After a few months we set up a couple of web-based companies, in property management and retailing Brazilian products. Luckily they took off and have we've spent the last 4 years developing them into well-established online businesses.

Tell us more about your day-to-day life in Paraiba:

Well I work online, running a suite of websites selling Brazilian goods around the world. My partner Moira manages, sells and rents properties for other 'Gringos'. So we're very home based, our office is in our house.
We generally work an hour or two in the morning and a couple more in the evenings, which leaves the rest of the day to spend with the kids, walk the dog etc.

Which advice would you give to people wishing to settle in Paraiba?

Don't expect to change Brazil, prepare to change yourself!

After five years I've seen a lot of 'gringos' arrive with big plans, usually to set up a business or cash in on the property boom here. Most of them are back home now, because they just couldn't adapt to the way things are.
So I'd advise anyone considering a move to Paraiba to be flexible in the extreme. It may be frustrating at first, but long-term it's the only way to be.

Do you plan to stay in Brazil or to move to another country? Why?

If it were just the two of us we'd probably stay here forever, but as my partner Moira has two young daughters, so we're considering somewhere with a better education system.
The girls love it here, and lead an almost Tom Sawyer existence, which we think is fantastic, and they go to a great school. But standards are way below those in Europe, and it's hard to imagine putting them through senior school in Brazil at this point. It's a real shame, and I could ramble on for hours about the state of education in Brazil, but I'll save that for another day...

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