Saturday, November 19, 2016
I should have remembered: doing routine errands in Brazil is much more complicated than back home!
We had a couple of pressing priorities today: 1. Replenishing our rapidly dwindling supply of reais, and 2. fixing our phones to be able to make calls within Brazil. Our host suggested we go to Santa Cruz mall, about a 10-minute walk from the apartment building, where we could take care of both of these things.
Santa Cruz mall was bustling with Christmas excitement, as young long-haired women dressed in mini-skirted Santa outfits handed our blue balloons to everyone who walked by.
There was a large glittering Christmas tree festooned with shiny balls and bows and a Santa’s Village where the old man himself was taking children – both young and grown up! – onto his knee. The man in the suit was just as I pictured Santa: a kindly man with white whiskers and round, wire-framed glasses.
We went to the electronics store, Saraiva, to take care of our phones where we were attended by a tall young employee who bent over backwards to help us, to the point of making me suspicious of him! He took our phones and began clicking here and there and looked things up and I didn’t know what all. I worried later that somehow he stole information from us that he would use in the future…but so far (five months later), nothing has happened!
Here’s what we found out:
Using your cell phone in Brazil:
If you have Sprint as your cell phone carrier, you are in luck! You do not have to buy a SIM card or as the Brazilians call it, “chip” (pronounced “sheepee”). Before you leave the U.S., have your phone “unlocked” and check to see what plan you have. If it’s an international all inclusive plan, you can dial from your phone directly while you are abroad. Start by pressing the zero key on your phone and hold it down until the plus sign (+) comes up. You must do this or it will not work! Then dial the country code (even to dial a Brazilian number, because remember your phone is from the U.S.), city code and number. (Needless to say, we didn’t know that Sprint offered this service until my husband called them later that day.)
These chips are easy to obtain in Brazil and only cost R$16 (as of Nov. 2016) which is R$1 for the actual chip and R$15 for credits that allow you to make fee-based calls. The problem most people run into is that the vendors will ask you for your CPF number (sort of like a Social Security number in Brazil). You may have to rely on the generosity of a Brazilian friend to let you use theirs. When you get the chip, (which generally they will install for you) it will come with its own phone number. That is the phone number assigned to you as long as the chip is installed in your phone. When giving out your phone number, that’s the one you should use. Having the chip installed in your phone, however, might cause you to lose your Internet service, as it did my husband.
Our next task was to withdraw money from an ATM or currency exchange. Our friendly Saraiva employee took us downstairs to show us where the currency exchange place was. We had no cash, and they would not exchange using a credit card, so we were obliged to return to the apartment to get some, as well as our debit cards…
Left: Church on Rua Domingos de Moraes en route to Santa Cruz mall and metro.
Right: The apartment building where we stayed in São Paulo
Withdrawing money from Brazilian ATMs:
You should use your debit card whenever possible. In Brazil, the ATMs ask for a PIN number for both debit and credit cards. Since as far as we know, we don’t even have PINs for our credit cards, we had to return to the apartment to get my debit card in order to withdraw cash, which wasted about half an hour. There are also currency exchanges, but the rate of exchange is not favorable, usually R$1-3 per dollar under what it should be.
Because we spent practically the whole day on these errands, there wasn’t time to go downtown as I had planned. We’d have to do that on Monday, and go to Av. Paulista on Sunday, when it was closed to traffic. The weather forecast for Sunday was sunshine and warm temperatures.
That night we went to a sensational pizza place for dinner. Quintal do Braz is famous because of the variety and creativity of its pizzas. The one we ordered and shared had an egg sunny side up and asparagus, among other ingredients! It was also just a short walk from the apartment building.
Quintal do Braz is always crowded. The first night we went, there was a line of people waiting for a table. It was about 8 pm! One way to find out if a restaurant is good is to see how crowded it is with locals. This popular pizzeria definitely passed the test!