What It Was Like Returning To The US After Spending The Pandemic Abroad

Published April 25, 2021

It’s been a while since I’ve written a new blog post, and there’s a good reason for that: most of my energy lately has been focused on moving back to the US! After living for nearly a year and a half in Brazil, it was finally time to move back to my home country.

Me next to the Tom Jobim statue in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, on my final day in Brazil

In this post, I’ll talk about my final month or so in Brazil. Then, I’ll include a section about what I had to do to fly back to the US under current restrictions. The last section will talk about what I’ve been up to since I arrived, and what you can expect for the blog moving forward!

My Final Month in Brazil (Mar-Apr 2021)

If you check back on my end of 2020 and sneak peek of 2021 blog post, you’ll see that my original plan was to travel along the Brazilian coast from Rio de Janeiro to as far north as Recife. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it so far, but I did get to see some cool cities and towns that weren’t on my original plan. Click or tap the links below to learn about some of them!

As most readers probably know, Brazil unfortunately experienced its worst wave to date in March 2021. My plans to travel along the coast were based on the assumption that cases in Brazil would continue to go down, and they did not. That’s why when I got to the Brazilian city of Salvador in March, I ended up doing a full month of lockdown along with the rest of the city.

I still went out for walks and got to see some of the city’s most famous attractions, including the Pelourinho (historic district), the Lacerda Elevator, and the Barra Lighthouse. However, Salvador is known for its festive atmosphere and hospitality, so seeing all of these attractions without any people was quite eerie.

Pelourinho, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
Lacerda Elevator, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
Barra Lighthouse, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

Salvador is also known for its cuisine, but with so much of the city closed, I was limited to ordering takeout from a handful of restaurants near my rental apartment. What I was able to get was delicious, but I definitely didn’t get to try the full range of flavors and specialties that Salvador has to offer.

Returning to Rio & Departing Brazil

Because of the wave of cases in Brazil and the fact that the US was continuing to open vaccine availability, I decided to buy my ticket back to America in mid-April. After my month-long lease in Salvador was up, I took a 30-hour bus ride from Salvador back to Rio, where my international flight was departing from. Even with masks, the bus ride made me nervous as they didn’t require testing beforehand, and it was just so long.

A rest stop dining area where we stopped for lunch

I had just a few days scheduled in Rio, and really enjoyed walking along Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches one final time. During this time, I also took my very first COVID-19 test, which was required to board the flight to the US.

Getting a test in Rio as an American was easy. Most pharmacy chains appear to offer exams, and I scheduled mine at this branch of Droga Raia after inquiring at a different store and being directed here. The exam cost 120 BRL and results were ready within minutes. The pharmacist then signed and officiated a document for me to give to the airline at check-in.

My "rapid" COVID-19 test, which presented results within minutes.

Finally, I was ready to depart Brazil! After 462 days, it was time to say goodbye. I was honestly pretty nervous that somewhere along the process, an issue would come up. Obviously the biggest challenge would’ve been a positive COVID test, which would’ve prevented me from boarding the plane. I would imagine that if that had happened, I would’ve needed to contact United and move my flight back a couple of weeks. I’m not sure what kind of extra fees would’ve been associated.

A very empty international terminal at Rio's Galeão International Airport

Arriving in Chicago

Part of the reason this process was such an ordeal is that since the Biden administration took office, guidelines for Americans reentering the US have been a bit more strict than they were under the Trump administration. While these requirements are documented on the State Department website, specifics are not so clear.

For example, the CDC recommends quarantine, but as far as I can tell, this is not being enforced by US Customs and Border Protection or any other agency. Nonetheless, I was intent on not giving anyone a possibly virulent variant, which is why I booked a studio apartment for two weeks to quarantine in.

For a week, I did as strict a quarantine as possible. After that, I got another rapid test which came back negative. A few hours later, I got my first dose of one of the two-dose vaccines. At this point, I am still social distancing, but have loosened my regimen of restrictions just a bit. For example, I’ve gone to a few local restaurants and ordered food to go.

What About Seattle?

Another divergence between my original 2021 plan and what ended up happening is where I’m currently based in the US! I was originally planning on moving back to my home city of Seattle, but for a number of reasons that I won’t bore you with right here, I ended up in Chicago instead.

Chicago skyline

This is where I’ll be for the near future, and I’m so excited to start blogging about this city as it reopens for summer with vaccination rates on the rise. I’m especially excited to explore the very international food scene and to find delicacies from all corners of Asia, Latin America, and beyond!

What's Next

My next trip actually starts as soon as I finish up my two weeks of quarantine and social distancing. I’ll be headed to Arizona to see family who’ve all been fully vaccinated. It’s been over a year since seeing them, so I can’t wait for this reunion!

Since that’ll be a family trip, I can’t promise enough content to write an entire post about it, but will nonetheless be trying my best. I’ve never been to Arizona before, so a “first impressions” post might be the way to go.

After that, I don’t have too much set in stone for summer! I have to find a job in Chicago and am really interested in tutoring since that’s what I’ve been doing (remotely) while in Brazil, but will have to see. I’d love to use the summer to explore the metro area as much as possible and then branch out a little bit in fall, assuming that the pandemic situation continues to improve in the US.

Closing Remarks

If I’m being honest, Brazil was probably not the best country to be stuck in for the pandemic. It was tough knowing that case numbers were never low there, even between peaks. However, I’m still so grateful that I got to experience both the joys and challenges of Brazil, even in these unprecedented, crazy times. I absolutely intend to go back someday, because even though I got to know São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo, and Bahia, I only scratched the surface of this massive, super-diverse country.

If you’ve got any questions or suggestions for this next chapter in my travel blogging journey centered around Chicago, feel free to leave a comment! I’m really looking forward to finding my niche in this city and blogging about things that haven’t crossed other bloggers’ radars!

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This post was published on Apr 25, 2021

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. backpackandsnorkel

    Welcome back. Chicago is a great place to be and you could probably explore this wonderful city for the next month and not get bored. Branching out to other cities like Milwaukee, Green Bay, Minneapolis etc. could be a bit difficult if you don’t have a car. Summer is close and you will find tons of wonderful places around Lake Michigan.
    On my 1st trip to Chicago I bought a bottle of Vitameatavegamin that I still have from the Viacom store which closed more than 20 years ago.

  2. Ada

    So glad you made it home safe and are vaccinated. I look forward to hearing about your adventures in Chicago and Arizona!

  3. This is really interesting post. I can totally relate to it. I spent almost 6 months of quarantine in Colombia and returned back to my home country after one year. I am never going to forget those experiences.

  4. arv!

    Salvador has such a beautiful colonial architecture. Those colourful buildings just sold methe idea of traveling to Salavdor. I wasn’t aware that it is a capital of Bahia. To my understanding, it is the biggest state?

  5. Josy A

    Oooh I thought you were going to be close to me in Seattle- but it is still exciting that you’ll be in Chicago. I am really happy that you are home AND that you got your first vaccination!

    It is rubbish that you were not able to taste or see as much of the coast as you were hoping…but it sounds like it gave you enough of a taste that you’ll want to go back when things reopen.

    Lastly, please look after yourself. It is always hard to move home after a long time away. I found when I first got back from Japan i had reverse culture shock (which I didn’t really expect, as I was returning to a culture I knew well.) Maybe you’ll avoid that because you are in an exciting new city…but I hope you give yourself time to process it all.

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