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A Comprehensive Guide about Living in São Paulo

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  • Francois Bertrand

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Life in São Paulo

Nowadays, there are almost 20 million people living in São Paulo’s metropolitan area, many of whom are not Brazilian. Brazil’s largest city was founded as a small mission post in 1554. Unsurprisingly, modern life in São Paulo comes with all the amenities and grievances of a megacity. The urban lifestyle has a lot to offer: a vibrant local culture, entertainment and leisure, shopping facilities and – last but not least – exciting business opportunities.

On the downside, air pollution, near-constant traffic congestions, crime, and extreme poverty are a part of daily life in the city as well. All in all, however, most expats who have decided on living in São Paulo over the years have come to love their new home.

São Paulo: Safety Issues

One aspect which can make expats apprehensive about beginning a new life in São Paulo is their personal safety. While São Paulo is considered much safer than for example life in Rio, Brazil’s megacities do have considerable problems with violent crime, especially homicide, drug-related gang violence, and sexual assault.

Nevertheless, there are a couple of basic safety rules which foreigners living in São Paulo should adhere to:

  • Do not enter the city’s favelas, and avoid the “red light district” located on Rua Augusta and near the Estacao de Luz metro area.
  • Pay attention to your belongings in crowded spaces.
  • “Dress down” in public places and don’t display your most prized possessions.
  • Be especially alert after dark, in tourist areas, and nightlife districts.
  • Lock your car doors while driving.
  • Never try to resist a thief, robber, or mugger.
  • Always carry proof of your health insurance with you.

When you arrive, it is best to ask someone who has been staying in São Paulo for a while about particular do’s and don’ts regarding security issues. These also depend a lot on the area in São Paulo where you want to settle down.

Education in São Paulo

For expats with kids, an extremely important aspect of living in São Paulo is schooling for their children. Many expat children attend international facilities. However, if your kids speak Portuguese, you could also enroll them in regular state schools in São Paulo.

Public schools are free of charge for everyone, expats included. From the age of six, children first attend Ensino Fundamental (elementary and middle school) for nine years. Afterwards, students can choose to go on to Ensino Médio (high school) for another three years. An adequate knowledge of Portuguese and a successfully completed adaptação (entrance examination) are prerequisites for attending a public school in São Paulo.

Education and Healthcare in São Paulo

International Schools

Like other popular expat destinations, the city has a number of private international schools catering specifically to expats as well as to the affluent local population. There are several international schools in São Paulo which follow the American curriculum. Others include two German-Brazilian schools, namely Colégio Humboldt and Colégio Visconde de Porto Seguro, the French Liceu Pasteur, the Swiss School of São Paulo, and the British St Paul’s School.

In addition to their respective national curriculum, most of the international schools offer their students the opportunity to acquire the International Baccalaureate and/or the Brazilian high school diploma.

International education, however, comes at a price. Depending on the specific school and grade where you’d like to enroll your child, annual tuition fees may cost as much as 60,000 BRL, not including the one-time registration fees.

Selected International Schools

Healthcare in São Paulo

Regarding healthcare in Brazil, expats generally have two options: They can make use of the free universal medical care provided by the government to everyone legally residing in Brazil, or they can opt for the private medical sector.

Although standards in the public system are considerably high, many expats and more affluent locals prefer the private system: Waiting times are usually much lower, and facilities and medical equipment tend to be more up-to-date. Since healthcare costs in the private sector can be very high, expats should make sure they have adequate health insurance. Nowadays, many companies in São Paulo offer their employees private health insurance as part of their remuneration.

Medical Facilities

Generally, there is no need for expats moving to São Paulo to be too worried about healthcare. It is considered very good, especially in the private sector. The city has a high density of both general doctors and specialists, a number of whom speak English or other foreign languages. Also refer to your Embassy or Consulate General for a list of doctors who speak your mother tongue. Usually, diplomatic missions include a relatively up-to-date list of medical service providers with multi-lingual staff in the information available for foreign nationals in São Paulo.

Generally speaking, it is best to seek recommendations from other expats or contact the local consulate of your home country. The city of São Paulo is also home to what many consider the best hospitals in Brazil, both public and private. As such, it has become a destination for medical tourists.

Transportation and Leisure in São Paulo

Public Transportation

The São Paulo subway system, the Metrô, is the largest rapid transportation system in the country. Its lines cover most of the inner city. The suburban train service Companhia Paulista de Transporte Metropolitano(CPTM – website only in Portuguese) extends the transit system into the suburbs and peripheral regions of São Paulo.

Together, the Metrô and the CPTM transport almost five million passengers every day, which ranks them among the busiest metro systems worldwide. Despite this high number of passengers, the São Paulo transit system has retained its reputation as a reliable and fairly safe means of transport – especially when compared to its counterpart in Rio de Janeiro.

Another large chunk of São Paulo’s immense passenger traffic volume is handled by a fleet of more than 15,000 buses (2014 figures). The inner city’s bus lines are operated by SPTrans, while Empresa Metropolitana de Transportes Urbanos de São Paulo (EMTU) is responsible for buses within the Greater São Paulo Area. Both websites have schedules of all bus routes. However, quite a few expats currently living in São Paulo have reported that mastering the art of using the local bus system is not easy for foreigners. Maps of bus lines are rare, and bus stops are not always marked as such.

Taxis and Driving

Taxis are a relatively comfortable and safe way of getting around the city, too, and reasonably priced even for longer distances. A number of expats choose to rely entirely on taxis or hire their own driver to avoid having to drive themselves.

Although a number of expats drive their own car, this is only advisable for experienced drivers with strong nerves. São Paulo’s traffic jams are legendary, and the usually chaotic driving conditions are what some call “the last big adventure” for drivers from abroad.


As a lively metropolis, São Paulo has a lot to offer in terms of cultural events and entertainment opportunities. The city is home to many museums, including the renowned Paulista Museum and the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), as well as dozens of theaters.

The Feira Bienal Internacional de Arte, São Paulo’s most popular art festival, which focuses increasingly on local art, takes place every other year, attracting more than one million visitors. And, although it is the rival metropolis of Rio de Janeiro which is most famous for the carnival, São Paulo also holds magnificent parades and celebrations during carnival season.


As about everywhere else in Brazil, soccer is by far the most popular sport in São Paulo. In addition to numerous amateur clubs, the city is home to three first-league soccer teams – Corinthians, Palmeiras, and the Sao Paulo FC. Currently, people are gearing up for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, when São Paulo will be one of the host cities.

Churrasco, a Brazilian barbeque, to which the entire family as well as friends are invited, is another favorite past-time. Most houses in São Paulo are equipped with a churrasqueira, a barbeque area. Many São Paulo families spend their weekends at apartments on the beach or in the nearby mountains. Especially on long weekends, endless lines of cars crowding the streets leaving the city are a very common sight.

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  • Francois Bertrand

    What a thrilling city São Paulo is. With a great international expat community that keeps in touch on InterNations.

  • Elin Gustavson

    As I already met several expat women on InterNations online, it was great to meet offline and get to know each other in real life.

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