For the Soon to be Expat – Shopping List

Next month, we are traveling back to the U.S. for a visit. I was reviewing my list of future U.S. purchases with my Brazilian sister-in-law today. It dawned on me that product availability and price points are important categories of information for anyone about to embark upon a longer-term Brazilian adventure. So I thought I’d share the items that will be in my suitcase on the trip back to Brazil.

Things you just can’t get here (as far as I know):

Baking soda and baking powder: there is a Brazilian version that combines these two items, but it’s just not the same, and if you bake (or have a child that loves to make pretzels thanks to her German grandfather) you know that sometimes you just need one or the other.

Maple syrup: Again, there is a Brazilian version of this, but it’s definitely not maple syrup, and I believe involves corn syrup. We aren’t huge pancake eaters, but we do own a waffle iron, and neither is fun to make or eat without a little of the good stuff. If you do come across an imported bottle of real maple syrup (which I have yet to do), guaranteed you will pay no less than the equivalent of U.S. $25.

Chocolate chips: My daughter loves to make cookies, but we also used to give her a small cup of chocolate chips as an after meal snack. The premium grocery store in our neighborhood does sell something that slightly resembles chocolate chips, but again, it is insanely expensive compared to the good ole Nestle kind.

Mac & Cheese: I can’t even find this in the speciality expat grocery store. Not that it makes a wonderfully nutritious meal, but a bowl of mac & cheese every once in awhile makes everyone in our family happy.

Clorox Disinfecting Wipes: Sure, household labor here is inexpensive. But every once in awhile you want to give something a good disinfecting wipe down. American product innovations in the wipes category hasn’t seemed to hit this country. 

Things they sell here, but are crap quality:

Scotch -Brite cleaning pads: They do sell them here. But they also manufacture them here and therefore, they last about two days. You might as well be using a paper towel to clean.

Party supplies: Sure, you can pick up some Mickey Mouse paper plates for your child’s birthday party, but they have the durability of copy paper. And are more expensive.

Arts & crafts: You will find Brazilian products in the crayon and paint category, but it’s just not the same as classic Crayola. And forget about buying Crayola products here even if you can find them. Right now, Toys-R-Us is having a Crayola sale and you can buy a pack of 18-ct twistable colored pencils for $4. Here the same pack will cost you R$61.00 – as of Friday’s exchange that is the equivalent of about U.S. $39.00. There are also many, many things you’ll just never find here.

Wine: I remember going to the local wine seller in Tribeca and being able to pick up an excellent bottle of white for about U.S. $12. Here, that will only get you a wine that will burn the lining of your stomach.

Things you can get here, but are ridiculously expensive:

Children’s toys: Expect to pay at least three times more for kids toys in Brazil. I stocked up before we came, but my supply has run out and now I cringe every time we receive a birthday party invitation. Especially Barbies. People (must) love to get and give Barbies, so if you don’t plan ahead, you can plan on spending at least U.S. $75 a pop. My daughter got a pile of Barbies with various accessories for her birthday, and I wound up giving most away to maids and nannies I knew. From their reaction, you would have thought I’d given them an extra week’s pay (oh wait, I did).

Clothing: The great thing about the American shopping system is that if you are willing to wait, you can get excellent deals on clothes and shoes, especially children’s items. You’ll will pay about U.S. $40 here for a child’s shirt that you can pick up for less than $10 in the U.S.

Character based essentials for kids: Items like a Tinkerbell toothbrush or a pack of Hello Kitty band-aids are premium purchases here. On the right day, you can get a box of fun kid band-aids at Walmart for about $2 or less. Here, the equivalent of $10.

Sunscreen: I paid about U.S. $40 for a bottle of Coppertone kids spray sunscreen. Walmart has it for under $8. Regular sunscreen has the same price disparity.

Wine: Falls into this category as well.

Thank You cards: Sending thank-you cards is not a common practice here in Brazil, but I do it anyway (I can’t help myself). Nice ones are hard to find, and if you do, you might as well send someone over to the house of the person you are thanking to juggle and do cartwheels. It will cost the same.

Now of course, there are going to be a number of things I miss from Brazil while I’m sitting around my parents house eating mac & cheese. Like a good plate of black beans and real pão de queijo. And kilo restaurants – this is a concept I think would do extremely well in the U.S. – pay by the kilo for food – freedom of food choice without the pressure to eat as much as you can for one price.

I’m sure every expat’s suitcase has a unique selection of items on the return trip. Would love to hear what that is (in case I’m missing anything from my own list…)

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36 Responses to For the Soon to be Expat – Shopping List

  1. Jenna says:

    I’ve never had a problem with the baking soda (bicarbonato de sódio) and baking powder (pó royal) here…but most of the food things I second. Also, peanut butter, spice mixes (like seasoned salt and taco/chile things), and breakfast cereal (I miss Cap’n Crunch!).
    We do buy wine here (though, FYI you’re allowed 12 bottles into Brazil per customs regulations); only Chilean or Argentinian, though, and a decent bottle runs between R$15 on sale to about R$35. Cheap chocolate chips can be found at Casas Pedro, but they do not compare to Nestle.

    • Where do you find bicarbonato de sódio?? Can’t find it anywhere. Even my German father-in-law whose been here 40 years rations what he bought in Europe. Pó royal always seems to make everything so heavy – but maybe I’m not figuring the quantities correctly.
      Yes – I miss natural, organic peanut butter! They only sell full-of-sugar, overpriced Jiff here. I just buy peanuts from the feira and make my own in my word processor.
      Please, please, please give me your wine list! And I believe the U.S. tops the world in cereal selection – would you agree?
      Thanks for your additions!!!

  2. Ana says:

    Most things sold in brazil are made in Brazil and most things sold in the U.S.A. are made in China. I live in Europe now and here there are many things made in China and many made in Europe. Most of my european friends prefer to buy something more expensive (E.U products) to help improve the local economy.

    I’ve lived in BR and US before and I miss many food products , stores and brands that I can’t locate it here but I guess after months and / or years one get used to it and many local products become your new best friend LOL.

    Today I was craving a “catupiry pastel” and I just can’t find it here 😦

  3. Ray says:


    I just bought some great quality 50 factor kids spray sunblock CVS Pharmacy brand for U$2,00 a pop. Walmart is no longer the cheaper option always… 😉
    It’s funny you mention the Kilo restaurants because it was copied from the US, they are all over the place in New York …lol 🙂
    Your list looks good, my mother and sister only ask me for very specific stuff that they can find in Sao Paulo but it’s cheaper in the US, such as some specific color of MAC eye lyner or a Victoria Secret self tanning lotion adjustable, because their website is sold out at the moment, so I run to the store in the Mall, grab a few a overnight it to my sister…they are all getting ready for the Brazilian summer. 🙂
    I think Ana is right, over the years you will end up stream lining your list because you will start to find alternative for all the food stuff and then you will end up just bringing very specific stuff that you can find in Sao Paulo but it’s just cheaper in the US.
    There is a saying that if you can’t find something in Sao Paulo it’s because it doesn’t exist….now the price is another story… 🙂


    • Oh yeah, that reminds me, I need to buy lipstick too.
      Really? The kilos started in NY? That is funny, I never saw one and I love the concept. My relatives also had me bringing back Victoria Secret stuff, can you even get it here? I guess now everyone delivers internationally.

      • Ana says:

        It easy to find VS products in brazil…many stores have them , u can by at the airport , online etc…but it costs like 3 , 5 times more.

        U can find kilo in Deli corners in NYC (usually run by chinese). They have a vast quantity and it is much cheaper than eating out in regular restaurants.

        Bicarbonato de sódio is basically everywhere even in small towns and small shops.

        I’ve seen Nestle choc chips before in Brazil. You can find in Sp but again ,its expensive:(

        I would buy an european chocolate bar and chip….I think european chocolate (specially swiss , italian french and belgian) is better than US or Br chocolate.

        25 de marco has lots of toys… made in brazil and china. It is cheaper than buying at the mall or kids stores.

  4. Ray says:

    Just a tip, you can find much cheaper toys and other stuff at the 25th of March street ( Rua 25 de Marco ) downtown Sao Paulo, there is all kind of stores, on the street, old school style, with much better prices then everywhere else, that is where the other stores buy their goods to sell all over Brazil.
    It’s quite an adventure to go down there but totally worth it.
    You should try it sometime if you haven’t already done so, you will never be the same, it’s a life changing experience ( Shopping wise ) 😉


    • I’ve been there a couple times. It is DEFINITELY an adventure. I’m planning on heading over there this month to stock up on specialty Brazilian things for the Brazilian birthday party I’m planning for my daughter in Chicago! 🙂
      I’ve never bought toys there, I’ll have to check it out.
      And you are right about Walmart, but it is my baseline. What’s great about the U.S., which I never took advantage of when I actually lived there, are the COUPONS! Sunday paper provides much pleasure as you will find me sorting through coupons, couple that with Walmart rollback prices and I’m getting stuff for under a dollar. (FYI – I never thought I would be this person…)

  5. Shelley says:

    Here’s a picture of bicarbonato de sódio (Pirata is the brand). The sacalão by my house sells it by the garlic. I think you can also buy it at markets (like the mercado central in Belo Horizonte). My husband is a crazy cookie maker, and he’s had no problems with either the fermento em po or the bicarbonato….

  6. Shelley says:

    Oh, and if you want to conserve space with your “booty” from the US, consider buying Maple flavored extract, and make your own syrup. We have pancakes/waffles pretty often, and I make syrup all the time. Of course it’s not as healthy as the real stuff, but this is the same thing as Aunt Jemima or one of those kind of brands:

  7. Excellent idea! I had no idea they sold it like that.

  8. Corinne says:

    Shelley is right about the baking soda/baking powder. Baking powder is pó de fermento, and you can get Royal brand or Dr. Oeter. Baking soda is bicarbonato de sódio and you can find it in the spice aisle, in the space where they sell the spices in packets rather than jars. I make quite a few baked goods and have never had a problem with either. I bring back speciality chips (peanut butter, butterscotch), but just chop up a bar of Garoto dark chocolate (the 170g bars). I find it works just as well and actually baking guru Dori Greenspan uses and endorses chopping up bar chocolate instead of using chips.

    I always bring back dried fruits (cherries, cranberries and blueberries) for baking and chili powder and spice mixes (like Old Bay). In the past couple of years, I have actually found that my list of food stuffs has reduced, given that I have stopped weighing my suitcase down with impulse buys. This is mostly because when I get back to Brazil, since I only have 6 of whatever that special thing I bought, I am reluctant to use it. So I have to have a debate akin to Elaine’s “is he sponge worthy” when I want to eat it. It has taken the fun out of the indulgence. So I just gorge while stateside and let that tide me over.

  9. Meredith says:

    I found maple syrup in Brasilia, but it’s ridiculously expensive (big surprise, I know). I’d add Clean and Clear face wash to my list since I like to clean my face with it and it costs R$ 30 here.

  10. Ray says:


    My sisters buy all kinds of cosmetics, shampos and lotions at American websites, if your total purchase is less than U$30,00, you will be exempt of paying taxes in Brazil. You just pay for the shipping costs and you get your stuff directly at your house, the Customs folks check all the websites you purchase your stuff to verify the prices. Victoria Secret, MAC and Bath and Body works are my sisters’s favorite websites.


  11. Ray says:

    Keep in mind you can get a large jug of REAL Mapple Syrup at your local Costco, BJ’s or Sam’s, if you are not a member of any of them, BJ’s will give you a FREE daily pass to try out their store 😉


  12. Ray says:


    My father used to rave about the Kilo restaurants in New York city in the 70’s and 80’s, it sort of went away for a while and aparently is making a huge come back. There are this great Deli’s now that have gigantic salad bars “per pound” but also have pasta, meats and a million other options, even sushi… all on a “per pound” basis, you fill it up and weight at the end when you pay.


  13. Ray says:

    “these” great Deli’s ( Gee, Sunday dinner wine getting to my head 😉

  14. Sarah says:

    I only have a few more days in Canada, and I had forgotten to buy sunscreen. And dried cranberries! Thanks!

    Craft supplies, check. Maple syrup, check. Already in the suitcase, ready to go, along with a smoke alarm (!) and a garlic mincer, believe it or not!

    Other things I would add to your list: Random kitchen gadgets. Electronics, of course. Outdoor gear in general. Car seats, baby carriers, and other baby/toddler equipment. Used kids’ stuff – I always stock up on second-hand children’s books. I have a friend who imported rain boots (yes, the not-so-fashionable knee-high rubber boots), after she experienced her first São Paulo rainy season. Tea, especially chai.

  15. Excellent additions! Yes, I purchased a bright pink pair of nearly knee-high rain boots as well. Comes in very handy as we live at the bottom of a hill, so when it rains a lot, it’s like being at the receiving end of a waterfall.
    Smoke alarm!! Added to my personal list!
    Thanks for this.

  16. workmomad says:

    We used to stock up on Martha White baking flour and biscuit mix and send it to my Dad and step-mom in South Florida until Publix down there finally started carrying it, so food items from elsewhere are not just limited to expats!

  17. This is true! I’ve order Chicago’s Giordano’s pizza to NYC.

  18. Jenna says:

    I find the bicarbonato in the herbs section; it’s usually sold in little packets that look suspiciously like a week’s supply of coke. I always use a tad more of both bicarb. and pó royal when baking, just in case they’re old and less potent!

    As for wine, I don’t claim to be an expert. I just know what I like…that said, we’ve rarely had a bad Concho y Toro (provided you skip 2007): their Reserva/Reservado? Carmenere runs about R$15 and is a solid red for the price. Going up the price scale, I’ll always grab a Carmenere over others because it’s my faaaavorite and they do it quite well. Nieto Sentenier, from Argentina, had a good chardonnay, but the Xplorador (another Concho y Toro brand) is cheaper and both hubby and I gave it 4 stars in our nerdy wine book. Zona Sul sells the Dona Dominga brand, which is ihh, but their old vines versions are actually decent. We’ve decided that wines which must cross an ocean are off our list here, because we’ve been disappointed EVERY time unless it came in someone’s suitcase.

    My friend PH says her list basically is comprised of everything that goes ON and IN the body. Beauty products, contact solution, vitamins, etc. My list has slimmed over the years; now I just pull up the doc file, fill out the quantities I need and I’m ready to go shopping!

    • Excellent wine advice. Yes, we’ve had the Concho y Toro and it’s not been bad. I do know not to ever buy Brazilian wines… And I’ll stick to your advice about crossing the ocean.
      I bought my first bicarbonato last night, and you are right, it looks like a small bag of coke. I also bought a bottle of Santa Julia Sauvignon Blanc – steer clear, não bom. (my husband and I had a wine book in NYC… I guess we are nerdy too…)

  19. Jenna says:

    I will say, there’s one Brazilian we keep on hand, on suggestion from a friend. Miolo Terranova Moscatel. It’s low in alcohol, sparkling, sweet…a great champagne-y sipper to pull out for cheese, eat with Thai, or pour into mimosas. Which, by the way, are SOSO nice with the boxed “nectar” juices. Okay. I will stop now. 🙂

  20. Oh! Sounds yummy! Maybe I need to bring some to the US!

  21. Danielle says:

    Totally, the biggest things I miss in the States are the junk stuff: candy corn, brownie mix, oreos, twizzlers, not to mention taco seasoning, honey-nut cheerios and marshmallows!

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