23 December 2013

The Year in Pictures


January — Stand-Up paddling, starting the new year with the newest water sport

February — Rehearsing for Búzios' Carnaval

March — Sailing along during Búzios Sailing Week

April — End (finally!) of the cruise ship season

 May — The traditional salt carpet festivities during Corpus Christi, and relaxing from the effort

June — A bit too much winter’s chill for La Bardot

July — Rio International Cello Encounter performs in Búzios

           August — Men’s Volleyball, South American Cup, Brazil x Chile, Brazil wins . . . duh

September — We had VIP seats for the Marathon that ran right by our house

October — Spring flowers burst on the scene


November — High season is only just beginning, and already there's very little space to walk

December — Santa Claus kitesurfing his way to town

SEE YOU IN 2014!

16 December 2013

Reader's Query, Part 2

. . . continuing last week’s blogpost of questions from a reader:

How much are your medical costs? (Doctor appointments are cheap where we are now.)
          Brazil has a free public health system that looks excellent on paper, but which in practice ranges from quite good to nightmarish. My husband and I don’t use the public system. We have a Danish health plan that is offered to citizens of one country who live in another. We keep the annual premium low by choosing a high deductible. We pay for medical appointments, which range from $50 to $140 or so, as we need them. We’ve never yet even come close to exhausting the deductible, so in effect we’re self-insuring, until some unexpected calamity, at which point our insurance will kick in 100%.
          We love our doctors. They spend as much time with you as you want, and their examining rooms are generally right in their offices. You don't sit in a cubicle, waiting and shivering. When you make an appointment, you’re the only patient until you’re done. If we need a medication we buy the generic, and the prices are great.

Are there hospitals and clinics in Buzios?
          There is a hospital in Búzios, yes, and we would have no qualms about going there for emergency treatment in the middle of the night. But for any serious operation or treatment we would go to Rio or São Paulo. There are several clinics in Búzios run by excellent doctors, and these serve our general medical needs. There are extremely competent specialists in the nearby town of Cabo Frio. The laboratories are as modern and up-to-date as you can get. As I write this, I realize that speaking Portuguese is vital. Not all the doctors and very few support personnel speak English.

What can you tell us about residency requirements, and/or dual citizenship?
          This is a huge question. Foreigners who want to live here legally have to research the options and choose what works for them. Start with any Brazilian consulate website for the basic information.
          One American couple we know has a house here in Búzios, but they come only on tourist visas. They stay 90 days, go to the Federal police and request a 90-day extension. So, in effect, they live here for 6 months and in the States for the other 6 months. That works for them and they're happy. But we wanted more permanency than that. Initially, my husband and I came on foreign correspondent visas, which were valid for 4 years. We then got an extension for another 4 years. After that the only other visa available to us was an investor visa, which requires an investment of a certain amount of money (the amount varies depending on the prevailing law at the time you apply) in a company that you must open and operate for a certain number of years (the number of years also varies — for friends of ours the requirement was 5 years, when we applied it was 3 years). Later you can apply for a permanent residency visa. The company that assisted us in obtaining our permanent visas is Mundivisas: www.mundivisas.com.br.
          There’s a lot more to be said about this complicated subject, but one would need lots of time and a bottle or two of sparkling wine.

Is it easy to start one’s own business?
          Are you asking because you really want to start a business and work in Búzios? No, it’s not particularly easy, and they’re changing the rules all the time. Brazilian businesses are heavily taxed, and the labor laws are intricate and onerous. We unfortunately know plenty of people who have opened businesses in Búzios, closed them after a few years, and left with considerably less money than they started with. This oft-repeated Búzios joke says it all: "How do you leave Búzios with a million dollars? Come with two million."

What cannot be shipped to Brazil? (We were only allowed to ship clothes to the place we are now, and it was a royal pain.)
          There’s no such restriction that I know of for shipping to Brazil. We shipped everything we wanted to, including books, clothes, kitchen equipment, some furniture (though we had sold much of what wouldn’t have survived the tropics), artwork — everything. There was no problem getting our shipment through customs as long as it contained nothing but used, personal effects. They opened a few boxes, saw that it was used, and away we went.

My husband and I are both 53 and if all goes well we hope to dock at the Búzios Yacht Club. Is that a good area? Where would the best place for people our age be to settle? I like to be close to great boutiques/stores for shopping.
          The Yacht Club is in a lovely neighborhood called Ossos, which is within walking distance of the center of Búzios, where most of the shopping is. But there's no "best place" for particular ages or anything like that here. Búzios is not a retirement town, though this is the town to which my husband and I seem to have de facto "retired."
          Búzios is mostly a Brazilian resort, a getaway for monied people from Rio. It also attracts loads of Argentines, Uruguayans, Chileans, Peruvians, and plenty of Europeans, mostly French and Germans. It is uncomfortably congested during high season, it is noisy, it is full of young people in full throttle and renters who come here to party (think "Fort Lauderdale during spring break" and triple it). It does calm down during low season, but one thing to keep in mind, Búzios is absolutely not Boquete, Panama or Corozal, Belize, it is not a place where you’ll find an established community of American retirees. In fact, there are very few Americans here. And although many Brazilians speak excellent English, you won’t find many speakers of English among the salespeople, cashiers, secretaries, garage mechanics, lab technicians, pharmacists, banking personnel, insurance brokers, accountants — all the people you’ll need to talk to in order to conduct your daily life. I mention this particularly because you spoke of a "language barrier" where you are now. If you don’t speak Portuguese you’ll face a language barrier here, too.

What would you say are the pros and cons of living in Búzios?
          My husband and I have never been happier, never been healthier or more stress-free, never had better friends or a higher quality of life. I am privileged to have a spectacular view that fills my heart every day. So when I balance all that against the downside of life in Brazil — crime, bureaucracy, corruption, even the annoyance I might feel when I’m up against a seemingly illogical or less-efficient way of doing something — Brazil, and specifically Búzios, still win out hands down.

Since you’re already on the continent, my best advice would be for you to come and try Búzios on for size! Give us a call and we’ll open that bottle I mentioned above!

09 December 2013

Reader's Query, Part 1

I recently received an e-mail from someone who found her way to my blog while researching Búzios. She and her husband had moved elsewhere in South America from the U.S. They weren’t as happy as they had expected to be, and Búzios began popping up in conversations as possibly a better alternative. She asked if I could answer some questions, so I sat down, rolled up my sleeves, and here’s the result, which I will spread out over the next two blogs.

I’ve done a lot of reading, so I want to ask you about safety issues. Can you comment?
          A good first question, but a hard one to answer. Yes, my husband and I are concerned with safety, but not that much more than we were concerned with safety in New York or, for that matter, wherever we are. We try to pay attention to our surroundings. We try to stay under the radar. I don't use a pocketbook, or jewelry, so any bad guy looking to grab my purse isn't going to find it! In addition, we drive a fairly commonplace car. We pay our bills. We treat our employees with respect. Basically, we are not attractive targets. Statistically, crime in Brazil is committed by people known to the victim, with lots of vengeance crimes and family crimes, that sort of thing. Friends of ours have been assaulted here, but we have not. Are we worried about that one time we'll be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Yes. Will that make us move? I’ll get back to you on that one.

Is there any airport closer to Búzios than Rio?
          For the majority of international flights, Rio is the closest airport. There is an airport in the neighboring town of Cabo Frio (30-40 minutes away by car) that is supposed to have international capability, but they seem only to serve charters and cargo flights. Believe it or not, Búzios has an airport too, but it's used almost exclusively by celebrities and wealthy businessmen, who jet in on the weekends.

How is transportation around town? (It’s very good where we are now and there are lots of cabs.)
          Búzios is very spread out. There are cabs, there are buses, there are vans, and they run round the clock. But if you live here, it’s best to get a car.

Can you tell me about the grocery stores in Búzios? Are American products available?
          There are four large supermarkets in Búzios plus some smaller specialty stores that are more than sufficient for our needs. Products that you can't find here can usually be found in Rio. As for American products, well, I'm not sure what you mean. If you have to have Skippy peanut butter you can find it, but you'll pay for it. Brazil is not in awe of American brands, they have their own brands which are very good. Plus import duties are extremely high. But we don't go hungry here, and we're able to cook everything we want, Italian food, Indian food, even good old American barbecue!

What about shopping for clothes, tools, etc.?
          Yeah, this is a hip place, you can find what you want (except for a few things I mention in my blog, like poppy seeds, which are prohibited here). I'm not really sure what to answer. You won't find a WalMart or a Costco, but you can still shop ’til you drop if you want to. Whether or not you’ll like the South American women's clothing styles is another question. I have found the one or two clothing shops I like and stick to them.

And are clothes expensive?
          Yes and no. You can find good clothes at good prices, just don’t expect to find outlet stores.

Are restaurants expensive?
          Most people agree that Búzios restaurant prices have gone off the charts in these last years. As a result, most of our friends here, like us, eat mostly at home, and entertain at home as well. We do, however, have our favorite places, the ones that have kept the quality-to-price ratio at a sane level.

Does everything go up in cost during the high season, from December to March?
          YES, YES, AND YES. And it doesn’t necessarily go back down in low season.

My husband and I are thinking about buying a sailboat and sailing to Búzios. What can you tell me about marinas, and the facilities for yachts?
          Well, all I know about the Búzios Yacht Club is that we've been to some wedding receptions there! Otherwise I have no information, but here’s the club's web link, www.icab.esp.br. There is also a sailing club, www.buziosvelaclube.com.br.

Are there any tennis clubs?
          There used to be one, but it's now a condominium. I do see tennis courts around, some private, some possibly public. I’m sure you’ll find partners! There is also a golf course in Búzios that is said to be one of the best in Rio State, www.buziosgolf.com.br.

How about hair salons and spas?
          There are a zillion of them.

We’ll be bringing our dog with us. What can you tell us about veterinarians?
          Not only are there plenty of veterinarians in Búzios, but there are entire pet centers.

. . . to be continued next week.

02 December 2013


I sometimes wonder if the United States hasn’t gone stark raving mad. (And with that opening sentence I’ve probably just placed myself on the NSA watch list. Take it easy, guys. I’m not saying anything, I’m just talking here.) Now, I’m not referring to the most recent political brinkmanship that the whole world witnessed between Democrats and Republicans and that madder-than-a-Mad-Hatter Tea Party sect. I’m not talking about the absurdly-overpriced and defective medical system that the U.S. so stubbornly clings to, placing it waaay behind every other industrialized nation on earth. I’m talking about the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, the new, even more effective tax law that has crept up behind every law-abiding American citizen who lives abroad and slapped them upside the head.

A lot of Americans in the U.S. think that all Americans who live abroad get a free ride on taxes. They couldn’t be more wrong. The United States is the only country in the world that believes in citizenship-based taxation, and taxes its citizens on their worldwide income no matter where they reside. Oh, no . . . excuse me. There are two countries with citizenship-based taxation: the United States and Eritrea. Eritrea? Go figure. So American citizens all over the world must pay income tax to the country in which they are residing, as well as to the U.S., unless the countries share a tax treaty, but that’s not even totally true since the tax treaty regulations are complicated. Everyone has to figure out their own obligations, and the great majority of American citizens abroad do just that.

I get it . . . FATCA, fatcat . . . hmmm
But the U.S. Congress decided it was high time to go after wealthy Americans who hide their money in overseas accounts, thereby successfully dodging the tax bullet. Hey, I’m all for it. Offshore tax evasion is a bad thing. I pay my taxes, always have, always will (are you listening, NSA?) and I don’t like tax dodgers any more than the next guy. But in throwing this huge net over tax-dodging Americans who live in the U.S., but who have accounts overseas, the IRS has caught millions of honest, hard-working Americans who live overseas and maintain accounts in "foreign" banks for no more nefarious purpose than to pay their utility bills. That account may be foreign to the United States government, but in my mind, if it’s down the street, it’s domestic.

In an unprecedented instance of bullying, the U.S. is manipulating foreign financial institutions into become policemen for the IRS. Under threat of penalty, these institutions will now have to turn all data and information about their American clients over to the IRS. In doing so, the foreign institutions will end up breaking constitutional law in their own countries. But the U.S. sees no problem there, because it has utter contempt for other countries’ traditions, values, and Constitutions. In addition, there’s going to be a tit for that tat. If you’re a non-American resident of the U.S., listen up. In order to convince, let’s say, some German financial institution to hand over the information that the IRS wants about that institution’s American clients, the IRS will hand over to the German authorities whatever financial information it has on German citizens residing in the U.S. That is outright creepy.

Well, that’s the Truth of the new law, and here are the Consequences: FATCA is affecting the very foundations of the lives of Americans residing abroad. It is turning innocent people, some of whom are "American" only because one or both parents are, but who may never even have set foot in the U.S., into tax criminals. It is turning Americans living and working abroad into pariahs. Why? Because the cost to foreign financial institutions of complying with FATCA is staggeringly high. More and more companies are reluctant to hire Americans, to deal with Americans, to open bank accounts for Americans. On the one hand the American government wants its full share of global economic influence, but on the other hand it has shot itself in the proverbial foot with FATCA. Is nobody capable of thinking these things through anymore?