Teaching English in Brazil is not only a great way to learn Portuguese and experience Brazilian culture, but it is also a great launching pad for starting a business in a developing market. An increasingly common trend in Brazil is for a foreigner to come here, teach English for a few months, learn Portuguese, make contacts in their industry then move on to something bigger.
Today we’re fortunate to have Polyana Ferriera de Oliveira here on the blog to talk about her experience. Polyana was born in Brazil, raised in the States and recently moved back to Brazil after 20 years of not having stepped foot here. She started out as an English teacher in São Paulo but now does freelance SEO work and runs the website My Destination São Paulo. You can read more about her reflections on returning home “americanizada” on her personal blog.
Why did you decide to teach English in São Paulo?
Quite honestly – it was my last resort. When I first moved back to Brazil, I would tell myself that if worse came to worst and I couldn’t find a job in the first month or two, I would “just teach.”
How long did you teach for?
I taught initially at a school for 3 months as well as a few private classes. Then when I started working at an ad agency, I kept teaching my colleagues in private lessons at the office.
How did you find work as an English teacher?
I found my first job through the job search site Catho. I pretty much was hired on my first interview at an English school. I was called by the manager after having sent my resume, and after showing up for an interview, he asked me to do a “test” class, and hired me on the spot! I don’t remember exactly when, but I started shortly after, like the next week
Did you have any experience or certifications before you started teaching?
No certifications, but I had taught as a volunteer in college at an immigration/refugee NGO.
You don’t teach English anymore. What are you doing and how did you transition from English teaching? Feel free to plug your current projects.
I found my way out of teaching through a student! One of the other teachers at the school I was teaching at passed on a private student to me, and she turned out to be a director at a digital ad agency. I’d previously done a little bit of work in Search Engine Optimization, and they were looking for a junior analyst who spoke English to work with their European clients. The job was made for me, but unfortunately was not well paid. So I kept teaching for another year or so until I could make a decent enough salary, and eventually transitioned out after I started at a new company.
Today, I still teach, but I teach SEO classes now! At schools and universities in SP. I’m currently working with the other end of the “English” spectrum in the city as well, and just recently launched an online São Paulo guide for foreigners, My Destination São Paulo.
What other entrepreneurial opportunities do you see for people who start out as English teachers in São Paulo?
There’s so much you can do. Brazil’s in a place right now, where the sky’s the limit! It’s where the US was in the 1990’s and Europe in the 2000’s (knock on wood), in that people are very optimistic and seeking entrepreneurial ventures in what they love to do. Whatever it is you love, do it! I also tell people who come to Brazil and are resistant to teaching, that it’s the best way to network and start teaching people who may become your colleagues in doing what it is you really want to be doing in Brazil.
What is your cost of living in São Paulo?
OY! Let’s see. I would say my monthly expenses + fun stuff round up to about R$3.000/month. But I have lived off less. I live in a wonderful neighborhood and share a great apartment with a friend. I also, for work, need to do a lot of dinners out, bar/restaurant meetings, etc. etc. I’m pretty frugal, so I think I’m able to do a lot more than most people with what I make.
If there were anything you could do differently, what would it be?
Moved to Brazil earlier! I also would have bought real estate when it was cheaper 4-5 years ago…
What is your favorite thing about living in São Paulo?
The fact that just walking down random streets, or even the ones I walk down everyday, I come across interesting and new things all the time. Whether it’s new street art, a restaurant, a cute guy… there’s always something to mix things up a bit! Just today, walking my dog to my friend’s new hostel, I saw a great little restaurant that seemed new, and decided to go back for lunch tomorrow and check it out!
What did you find most difficult about adjusting to life in Brazil?
The prices. Coming from the US, it’s hard to adjust to prices anywhere in the world. But even more so in Brazil. Fortunately, my parents still live in the US and I’m able to purchase many things there and have them shipped to their home. I spent an entire year without buying any clothes here. Ok, I bought one jacket because my winter clothes I’d had shipped hadn’t gotten here yet. But other than that, the clothes prices baffled me, and I still slap myself on the wrist when I say a R$100 dress is “cheap,” when I know I can get something better in the US for US$20, if not less.
What are your top three suggestions for someone thinking about moving to São Paulo to start a business?
Do a lot of research and make sure that your business model is viable in Brazil. Sometimes things that work abroad, aren’t as easy here. Also, have a Brazilian partner or big investment behind you. Opening a business as a foreigner is very expensive, and I don’t recommend it unless you have big time investors or a Brazilian you trust to open it ‘for you.’
Also. Patience, my friend. Patience. It’s a quality you’ll acquire here if you don’t have any already. Yoga helped me.
Can you provide some links to resources that would be useful for people who want to know more about living and teaching in São Paulo?
Also just get in touch with anyone else who teaches here via they’re blogs and friends of friends. Even the foreigners seem to get friendlier once they’re in Brazil, and there’s a big sense of community amongst expats here, which I think is really special!
Anything else you think the readers of this blog would be interested in reading?
Take advantage of this wonderful timing to come to Brazil. The longer you wait, the less opportunity you may come across here – so start moving, and you won’t regret your move!