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Brazil’s economic and financial heart, São Paulo is a heaving and bustling megacity – the fourth biggest in the world, in fact. Many huge multinational corporations have set up branches here in a variety of industries, the city's countless skyscrapers a testament to the fact.
Life here can be pretty crazy, with the city's legendary traffic jams and sheer volume of people sometimes intimidating newcomers. While lacking the festival atmosphere of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo remains an attractive prospect because of lucrative job offers, especially in the fields of technology, services and international finance. Of course, it does have its downsides too.
Check out our list of pros and cons below.
Lifestyle in São Paulo
+ PRO: Amazing nightlife
There are lots of party districts in the city, with exciting bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Options are varied, from traditional samba to megaclubs with more modern playlists. But Paulistas aren’t ones to start the party in a hurry, with most revellers only venturing out late at the night. Some venues might have dress codes, so remember to look sharp.
+PRO: Parque Ibirapuera
An icon of the city, this massive urban park is comparable to New York’s famous Central Park. It’s a great place to spend some downtime, offering everything from jogging tracks, basketball courts and lakeside picnic spaces, to museums and skateparks. It also plays host to São Paulo Fashion Week.
+ PRO: Great museums
With a rich and interesting history, the city has plenty of attractions in the form of museums and art galleries for new arrivals to enjoy. The Pinacoteca and Modern Art Museum are good first stops, while the São Paulo Art Museum is a must, owning pieces by Renoir, Gauguin and Gainsborough. Ibirapuera Park is home to the Museum of Modern Art and the University of São Paulo’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
– CON: Not quite a Rio paradise
Expats shouldn't expect the shimmering beaches and carnival atmosphere of Rio in São Paulo, even though the coast is just a couple hours away. The city does retain the rich, lively and diverse Brazilian culture and lifestyle, but the idea of a tropical paradise is replaced by a busy hub of industry and corporate economy.
Working in São Paulo
+ PRO: Brazil’s business hub
São Paulo is the main business hub of the country, and has the largest GDP in the Southern Hemisphere. It's also where large multinational companies tend to set up their Brazilian headquarters, with giants across numerous industries such as Shell, Google, HSBC, Nokia and Unilever all present. This also means ample job opportunities, and expats often get transferred to São Paulo through these companies.
+ PRO: Variety of career opportunities
There’s a broad array of industries for expats to explore, ranging from engineering, telecommunications and finance, to pharmaceuticals, IT and the service industry. There’s even a chance for younger travellers to get some work as an English teacher – although the pay might not be great for these positions, it's certainly an exciting adventure to undertake.
– CON: Knowledge of the language is vital
The language barrier is a constant in working life, with at least a basic grasp of Portuguese considered essential. While large corporations may have large English contingents, learning at least basic Portuguese is likely to become a necessity.
– CON: Tough job market
The job market is extremely competitive. There aren’t many employment options for foreign workers going in blind, especially those who aren’t arriving in the highly skilled labour bracket. Most expats working in São Paulo have been transferred there through their respective companies.
Accommodation in São Paulo
+ PRO: The housing market is ideal for expats
The city’s real-estate agents and property developers have decided to cash in on the accommodation needs of the growing international community, with more modern buildings in São Paulo tending to come fully furnished with high standards of maintenance – perfect for expats.
+ PRO: City centre options
Unlike many big cities, there are realistic options in the city centre. Apartment blocks here called prédios are becoming a big hit, with fantastic facilities and security.
+ PRO: Family options
If moving with the kids and spouse, condominiums might be best suited. Found mostly in middle- and upper-class neighbourhoods, these usually boast gyms, pools and outdoor areas that are ideal for growing families. Houses and bigger spaces are predictably found further out in wealthier suburbs.
Getting around in São Paulo
+ PRO: Decent public transport
While infamous for traffic jams, the city’s subway is known as both an efficient and generally safe way to get around town. The overland rails are mostly used for long distance trips rather than getting around the city. There are also an extensive bus network that services the city.
+ PRO: Cycling is an option
Two-wheeled transport is becoming an increasingly convenient mode of traversing São Paulo, whether by bike or motorcycle. Bicycle paths wind their way through the city, with the much loved Cicloia Rio Pinheiros skirting the edge of the river. Bike rental stations charge hourly fees, with companies such as Bike Sampa boasting some 100 stations in strategic spots.
– CON: Constant traffic jams
Traffic in the megacity of São Paulo can feel like it never ends. Aside from all-too-frequent congestion, fellow drivers can be aggressive and impatient. Some expats hire drivers to avoid the pain of these jams. But taxis are plentiful and are at least safe.
Cost of living in São Paulo
– CON: High prices for utilities
The cost of living in São Paulo can be fairly high. While groceries are decently priced, utilities such as electricity, water, gas and rent can be pricey.
+ PRO: Cost of living beginning to drop
Though São Paulo is by no means cheap, especially if one is earning a local salary, prices have slowly begun to drop, making life in the city more affordable than it has been in the past.
Weather in São Paulo
– CON: The heat
Because of its location on the southern coast, temperatures are a lot more moderate than in the rest of the country. But summers can be uncomfortable, with the mercury continually hovering between 77°F (25°C) and 85°F (30°C). Rain is also common, so expats shouldn't forget to pack their raincoats and umbrellas.
►For an overview of life in Brazil check out Moving to Brazil.
Are you an expat living in Sao Paulo?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Sao Paulo. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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