The Black Expat: 'I've Never Felt Attacked Based On My Skin Color In Salvador, Brazil'
Photo Credit: Stephen Sullivan

Photo Credit: Stephen Sullivan

The Black Expat: 'I've Never Felt Attacked Based On My Skin Color In Salvador, Brazil'

black expat , philadelphia , salvador , brazil
Brunno Braga
Brunno Braga Jul 12, 2021

In 2012, Philadelphia native Stephen Sullivan was not happy with the United States’ social environment. He didn’t like the work he was doing in his hometown, and the cold weather in the winter months made him depressed. All of a sudden, he realized he could not continue to live life this way. He had an epiphany— to become to pack up and move to Salvador, Brazil.

“ I’ve always had a passion for language learning and studying other cultures. My interests in Latin America grew as I started to connect with people within the Hispanic/Latino community in Philadelphia. I chose Salvador, Brazil due to it being my wife’s hometown. I met my wife online by chance on a language learning site, studying English. Salvador was totally random, but I’m glad fate brought me here because I believe it’s a special city, and it’s totally underrated,” Sullivan told Travel Noire.

Since then, Sullivan has been experiencing a life he always wanted to live. 

“Life as a Black expat in Salvador is pretty good. I’m treated quite well here. I have no complaints. It takes some years of adjusting to certain cultural norms, but the transition isn’t too hard. I’ve had my ups and downs here in Salvador as anyone would anywhere due to normal events that can occur in our everyday lives. Even during my difficult times, I’d still say I’d prefer being here in Salvador, Bahia,” he says.

Courtesy of: Stephen Sullivan

In the blackest major city in Brazil, Sullivan works as an English teacher. Through this job, he can earn enough money to live a simple and comfortable life in a middle-class neighborhood in Salvador.

“I teach English for a living. I try to mix it up and do other things such as translations or helping people fill out forms such as visa applications for example. I do a mixture of things, usually related to English.”

When asked what he likes most in Salvador, Sullivan answered promptly, “I like how easy it is to meet people here. It’s a very social place, the people are laid back and are always open to meeting people.”

Over the past few years, Sullivan found another passion in Salvador, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

“BJJ in Bahia is great. There are a lot of good places to train here.”

He said that for many Americans, choosing to leave the US to live in Brazil is something incomprehensible. However, for Sullivan, despite all the problems Brazil might have, living there has been a good experience.

“I think most Americans are under the misconception that life outside the USA, particularly in a country like Brazil, is horrible and miserable. But, one can live quite well here if you know what you’re doing. There are pros and cons to every country.”

He added, “I’ve never felt attacked in Salvador on the basis of my skin color. I’ve been treated well by people across color lines in Brazil. Brazil is more of a classist society. The focus tends to be more on one’s social, economic position. Racism exists in Brazil, as it does everywhere in the world. I just don’t believe it’s as prevalent here as it is in the USA.”

Although Brazil has been extremely affected by the pandemic, Sullivan is optimistic about the future as an expat in Salvador, Bahia.

 “I love Bahia, and I’m excited about the future. I have a lovely woman in my life, and I’m about to move into a new apartment here.”

“If you’re looking to move here, it’s best to know someone here who can take you under their wing and guide you. Come with as much money as possible, have all of your documents authorized at the Brazilian consulate in the USA, and have an exit plan in case things don’t go as planned.”