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Carlos Barros of AlienMoolah: “Embrace the culture”

Embrace the culture: The United States is a very diverse country. Everywhere you go you will always find a large community of people from your home country. While it is great having a community of like-minded people, it is also very easy to get comfortable and get trapped in a bubble. Get out of your comfort […]

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Embrace the culture: The United States is a very diverse country. Everywhere you go you will always find a large community of people from your home country. While it is great having a community of like-minded people, it is also very easy to get comfortable and get trapped in a bubble.

Get out of your comfort zone and embrace the American culture. Make some American friends, learn about what they like, what they talk about, how they think. Understand how the country works, the sports, the economy, the political system. Don’t get too comfortable.


Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.

As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carlos Barros, a software engineer turned finance aficionado.

Carlos is the founder of AlienMoolah, a personal finance blog where he, through his own experiences, helps immigrants manage their financial lives in the United States. He’s also the CTO of one of the top online magazine subscription retailers in the United States, and founder & CEO of Loucos por Desconto, one of the oldest deal and coupon sites in Brazil.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Brazil, about 60 miles from São Paulo, in a city called São José dos Campos. That’s where I spent most of my life, along with my two older siblings, until 2012, when I immigrated to the United States. I was, allegedly, the troublemaker of the three, always driving my parents crazy with my adventures on my bike or roller skate.

My father came from a small town, mostly rural, in the interior of Minas Gerais, where a big part of my extended family still lives, and where I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time growing up. Eating fruits straight from the trees with my grandparents, riding horses, playing with my cousins. Those are times that I’ll cherish forever.

I had a pretty comfortable life in Brazil, thanks to the hard work of my parents. They both have always had an entrepreneurial mentality and worked together for as long as I can remember. Seeing them go through ups and downs in their lives and businesses, always together, always pushing through, no matter what, was inspiring and made me have a different view of the world. This has definitely helped me get to where I’m at today, and I’m very grateful for that.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?

It all kinda happened naturally, through a series of fortunate events. I have always admired the United States and the thought of moving here crossed my mind many times, although I had never taken any action to turn those thoughts into reality.

One day, back in 2007, I decided I wanted to buy a laptop and realized I didn’t have the money to do it. I then signed up for a freelancing website and started offering my software engineering skills. I was trying to earn some extra money so that I could afford the laptop. Little did I know that this purchase would forever change my life.

As a freelancer, I worked with people from all over the world and from all sorts of industries. One of my clients was a young American guy that had just recently launched an online business, out of his dorm room.

As his business grew, I started to dedicate more of my time to this project and, in 2008, I quit my day job to work full time on it. A few years later, the business had grown to become one of the top online magazine subscription retailers in the United States.

Through this business, I had the opportunity of moving to the United States. For years though, due to family ties, I had been unable to take it. But then, in 2010, I got divorced, and, out of a sudden, those ties weren’t there anymore. That was the trigger point that made me finally take the opportunity.

In early 2012, I landed in Chicago, on a work visa, to start my new life in the United States.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

My life in the United States started in Chicago. It was early February and the weather was colder than anything I had ever experienced at the time. I spent the first year in the suburbs of Chicago, living in the guestroom of my friend’s house. Being surrounded by Americans 24/7, I used this time to immerse myself in the culture and learn as much as I could.

At some point, I relocated to downtown Chicago, where I spent the next two years. Being at the heart of one of the largest cities in the United States was an amazing experience. It wasn’t all perfect though. I was living by myself then, and the euphoria of the first year had faded. That was when my mind started playing tricks on me.

Spending a great deal of time by yourself, in a new country, away from your family and people you love can be hard sometimes. Thankfully, with the support of my friends, family, and especially my then-girlfriend, it didn’t take me too long to shake it all away.

The next chapter of my journey started when we were presented with the opportunity of relocating to Arizona. Tired of the cold weather of Chicago, which can last for over half of the year, the decision was easy. In 2015, my now wife and I packed our things and moved to the opposite extreme: the heat of the desert. We fell in love with it and we have been living here since.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

I was very fortunate because, when I arrived in the United States, I already had a great job waiting for me as well as a support system in place. Still, the transition wasn’t easy and there were a few people that made the difference.

My support system was two of my friends, to whom I’m very grateful. I lived with them for a year and they took me in as part of their family. They gave me the necessary support throughout the first year, and continue to do so until these days. They are my American family.

Also, I’m immensely grateful for my wife, Lilia. She left everything behind in Brazil to join me on this crazy journey. She was always there when I needed it the most and I would probably not be here today if it wasn’t for her unconditional love and support.

So how are things going today?

Things are going great! I’ve been living in the United States for 9 years now and I am on the path of becoming a citizen in about a year, in 2022. Being away from my family is not easy, but, with time, you learn how to cope with it, and today I’m proud to call this country home.

My wife and I settled in the sunny Phoenix area, a place we fell in love with shortly after visiting it for the first time. We have a son and my wife is pregnant with our second child, a baby girl that will be coming to this world very soon. They are both first-generation Brazilian Americans.

Professionally, things are also going very well. The business I helped build is still going strong, 12 years later. I have also just recently launched a blog, AlienMoolah, where I write about taxes and personal finances, focused on helping immigrants learn how to deal with their finances in this country.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

When I first moved to this country, I thought things would be somewhat similar to what I was used to in my home country. It didn’t take me too long to realize that they are not, especially when it comes to finances. The credit system, the different retirement accounts, investment vehicles available, taxes, everything was, quite literally, foreign to me.

It took me a long time to understand how the system worked and I ended up leaving a lot of money on the table because of that. I also got myself in hot waters with the IRS due to the financial baggage I had left in Brazil. That was a very expensive and unpleasant, but valuable nonetheless, experience.

I believe immigrants are in a disadvantageous position when they first arrive in this country. For lack of knowledge about how things work, they end up sometimes making bad decisions. That’s why I created AlienMoolah. I want to help immigrants better manage their financial lives and, hopefully, not make the same mistakes that I made. This country has been very generous to me and I want to retribute it by helping those that make the United States such an amazing country.

You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?

I would first change the selection process for certain visas and make them more predictable and less about luck. Everyone applying for a work visa (H1B) today, for example, has to go through a lottery system. That is necessary because the demand far outpaces the capacity allocated to this type of visa.

Because of that, thousands of highly skilled people are being denied, year after year, the opportunity of coming to the United States, just because they aren’t lucky enough. In my opinion, there should be some sort of merit-based approach to this, where the most qualified ones would have a much better chance.

The very long waiting period is another problem that deserves attention. Applying, and being approved, for a permanent residency takes long enough on its own, but that is not the main problem. After being approved, citizens of certain countries face multi-year long waiting periods.

Immigrants from India, for example, face waiting times longer than 10 years from the time they are approved to the time they are issued their permanent resident cards. It is a very long period of uncertainty for these people and shows how broken this system is.

And then there’s the lack of transparency. When I applied for my permanent residency, for example, it took just over two years from start to finish. For several months at a time, I had to wait, and wait. A decision was being made about my future and I didn’t know when that would happen, or if they would reject it and force me to go back to my home country. It was nerve-wracking.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Never give up:

If you set yourself out to do something, don’t stop until you’re done. You never know if you’re giving up on an opportunity of a lifetime. I can remember one occasion where I almost gave up, and I’m very glad I didn’t.

It was when I started freelancing. I was working on a project and got stuck. For two days I struggled with the problem and I thought about giving up more than once, but didn’t. Instead, I pushed through, figured out the solution, and delivered the project. I didn’t know at the time, but that very project was the one that opened the door for me to move to the United States.

2. Work hard:

The United States truly is the land of opportunity. You can become anything you want, but it doesn’t come for free. This is a land of hard-working people. You can certainly achieve your big, ambitious goals, but you will have to quit dreaming and start working.

3. Learn from your mistakes:

Everybody makes mistakes, it’s inevitable. How you handle them is what makes the difference. Instead of lamenting, use your mistakes as an excuse to learn something new and become a better person.

My blog, AlienMoolah, is a product of the many mistakes I made. I used each one of them as an opportunity to learn as much as I could about the problem. Now I’m using all this knowledge to create a resource that can, hopefully, help others.

4. Embrace the culture:

The United States is a very diverse country. Everywhere you go you will always find a large community of people from your home country. While it is great having a community of like-minded people, it is also very easy to get comfortable and get trapped in a bubble.

Get out of your comfort zone and embrace the American culture. Make some American friends, learn about what they like, what they talk about, how they think. Understand how the country works, the sports, the economy, the political system. Don’t get too comfortable.

5. Never forget where you came from

And I mean both literally and figuratively. As an immigrant, chances are you left a lot of people behind when you made the move. Family, friends, people that gave you their unconditional support. Always remember to be grateful for each one of those that helped you get to where you are.

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

1. This country is made of good people

Contrary to what a lot of people from outside of the United States think, Americans are very friendly, welcoming, respectful, and well-intentioned people.

2. The talent pool

The talent and ingenuity in this country are unparalleled, and the United States continues to attract the best people from all over the world.

3. It is a country of law and order

The United States is a country where the laws are applied and, more often than not, respected. Is it perfect? No. But coming from a so-called third-world country where I grew up seeing the laws being completely ignored time and time again, it feels pretty close.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Paul Jarvis. I stumbled upon his blog a while ago and I immediately identified with his thoughts. I ended up purchasing his book, Company of One, and it ranks pretty well on my list of favorites. It’s inspiring finding successful people with a similar worldview as yours.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

You can subscribe to my blog at AlienMoolah.com, or follow me on Twitter @alienmoolah.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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