Brazil: Go East, Young Man
By Stephen Thompson
August 6, 2007
I love to get email from Gringoes.com readers, and it always spurs me on to write again for this site. This week, an English teacher asked me about opportunities teaching English in Rio. I have never tried teaching English in Rio, but I hear the rates are lower than in São Paulo. On the other hand, it‘s cheaper to get to the beach in Rio, so at least you can breath deeply while you watch your savings slowly disappear.
Apart from a few lucky teachers, teaching English in Brazil is a survival option. In Portuguese, “um quebra galho”, something you do to get by for a while.
Last week I wrote about our “Brazilian” lifestyle here in south China, where the beaches, mountains, flora and fruit remind me a bit of Rio, but where the employment opportunities for gringos are much better. Today I‘ll write a bit more detail comparing the work opportunities for gringos here, or gweilos as they are called in Cantonese, with the situation in Brazil. I‘ll focus on English teaching because I know most about it, and I‘ll use São Paulo and Shanghai to make my comparison, as these two cities are the ones I know best. Shanghai is a good comparison for São Paulo because they are the largest and most economically developed cities in their respective countries. I‘ll try and tempt you gringos who are stuck teaching English in Brazil for slave wages to head East across the Pacific, to the new land of opportunity!
English teachers in São Paulo make around 2,000 Reais a month at Cultura Inglesa, an English teaching market leader and so a good reference guide. English teachers in Shanghai China make around 20,000 Yuan a month. Private English classes with native speakers vary a lot, but 50 Reais an hour is considered a good rate. São Paulo has the best rates in Brazil and rates in other Brazilian cities are lower. Rates for private classes for English teachers in Shanghai are around 250 Yuan per hour.
Unlike Brazilians, Chinese prefer to be taught by native speakers at all levels. There are lots of opportunities for teaching in Chinese kindergartens, as well as English schools and universities. In Brazil there are too many English speaking Brazilians and Brazilians normally take lessons with a Brazilian teacher until they get to an advanced level. Then they look for a native speaker for private conversation classes, to improve their vocabulary and fluency. The native speaker then has to correct the mistakes the student has learnt from the Brazilian teacher, of which the most common one is the incorrect pronunciation of “-ed” verb endings.
The Real is worth around 3.75 Yuan, so 20,000 Yuan converts to around 6,000 reais, but this is only half the story, because the cost of living in Shanghai is lower than São Paulo, so that in terms of purchasing power I would guess that 20,000 yuan is more like 9,000 reais. Shanghai is very flat and there are many bicycle lanes, so you can get around by bike. The Shanghai metro system is small but it is very growing fast, whereas the São Paulo one is like a Shitzu dog; tiny and carefully groomed, but too small to be really useful. Taxis are also a lot cheaper than in São Paulo. Flagfall, what you pay when you get in the cab, is about the same as in São Paulo, but you go for over 2km taxi ride before it starts going up, and then it is only 2 Yuan per kilometre.
There are lots of good and cheap places to eat in both cities, although you have to be more wary about food safety in Shanghai. I‘ve only been sick twice, but the media regularly prints stories about adulterated and unhealthy foods and drink, and many of them are eye-poppingly nauseating. Things I miss most in China are dairy products, pizza, pão de quejo, and surprisingly, fruit, because it isn‘t part of the local diet, and hence tends to be relatively expensive, although no more so in absolute terms than in Brazil. Since just about everything else on sale in the world these days is made in China, it stands to reason that you can get all this stuff cheaply there too.
As for accommodation, you can rent a centrally located 2 bed apartment for around 3,000 Yuan, and in China you don‘t pay any additional condominium, or service charge. 24 hour security is included in the rent.
There are also opportunities for English editors, proofreaders and copywriters here. Translation from Chinese usually pays poorly, because there are many Chinese translators who translate English, albeit badly. But there are opportunities for other languages. I have one client who regularly needs Portuguese/English translation.
Apart from language-related work, there are other work opportunities wherever foreigners have a competitive advantage, for example selling French wine, modeling and acting, cooking for chefs, construction for architects etc. The key is to avoid competing with the locals, who always do everything twice as fast for half the price.
You can get great churrasco in Shanghai as I have written in a previous posting.
There are lots of Brazilians in China, although you wouldn‘t know it at their parties, because most of them are ethnic Chinese who were brought up in Brazil. Some of them have cultural identity issues, and can‘t decide whether to get drunk on Maotai or caipirinha so they settle for beer. China is the world‘s largest producer of beer, and Chinese Maotai looks a bit like Brazilian pinga, although it‘s stronger and smells more like cleaning fluid than pinga.