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Employment in São Paulo

While Rio de Janeiro is primarily known for its laidback lifestyle, beaches, and celebrations, São Paulo’s reputation is that of a city of skyscrapers nestled in the company of workaholics and yuppies.São Paulo is also often referred to as the growth locomotive of Brazil, accounting for almost 34% of the country’s GDP alone. Its economic success is one of the main reasons why working in São Paulo is so attractive for expats.

Main Industries in São Paulo

Once a primarily industrial city, there has been an increasing shift towards the tertiary sector in recent years. Many of those working in São Paulo are now employed in the service and technology sectors. Currently, telecommunications, IT, commerce and finance, as well as the automotive, food-processing and pharmaceutical industries are the main employers in São Paulo.

The majority of multinational companies operating in Brazil – popular employers for expats working in São Paulo – have their headquarters there. German and Scandinavian businesses in particular have established a branch or a plant in São Paulo. Furthermore, the city has established itself as the center of trade fairs, hosting the majority of Brazil’s large trade fairs.

Business Locations  

Many expats are likely to have their offices in Brooklin, the city’s major business and financial center in downtown São Paulo. At the heart of the district, you’ll find the famous Avenida Paulista, a 2.8 km thoroughfare lined with business headquarters, banks, and cultural institutions.

Other areas where expats might be employed include Pinheiros and Santo Amaro, the city’s wealthiest districts and home to a number of multinational companies. Those working in São Paulo’s automotive or manufacturing industries are usually based in San Bernando.

São Paulo’s Expat Job Market

Although living and working in São Paulo is extremely popular among expats from around the globe, a number of them are disillusioned by the realities of the local job market and return home early. For foreigners, employment opportunities are not always easy to come by.

Teaching English is always an alternative, at least for native speakers who want to start working in São Paulo, but cannot find employment in their original occupation. However, expats may find it hard to keep up the living standards they are used to. Working as an English teacher, for example, is usually poorly paid.

Hard skills in much sought-after fields such as engineering, IT, and international finance will increase your chances of working in São Paulo. The number one requirement, however, remains a sound knowledge of Portuguese. Jobs which do not require you to speak at least some Portuguese are exceptionally rare. Improving your own language skills should be your top priority.

Expat Business Info for São Paulo

Getting a Job

The most important rule about the São Paulo job market is the following: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Even more than elsewhere, personal contacts and recommendations by acquaintances play a vital role. Expats are well-advised to establish contacts early on and to use all available networking opportunities. Nevertheless, “traditional” job-seeking strategies may also work in Brazil.

Catho is the most popular Brazilian internet agency for job-seekers. Jobsin Sao Paolo is another online job database that advertises local jobs for English speakers. If you are already in São Paulo, checking the newspapers on the day their job section is published never goes amiss, either. São Paulo’s largest daily newspapers are Folha de São Paulo and O Estadão de São Paulo. Both have job sections every Sunday. Moreover, chambers of commerce, embassies or other organizations might provide you with contact details of multinationals with subsidiaries in São Paulo.

Work Permits for São Paulo

For those who have been successful in finding a job in São Paulo, the next step is obtaining the necessary visa and work permit. Brazil has two types of visa which enable the holder to take up work.

The temporary visa (visto temporário, also: category V visa or VITEM) requires a signed contract with a Brazilian employer at the time of application. It is tied to the specific employment position and time period outlined in the contract. Many expats opt for a permanent visa (visto permanente or VIPER) instead.

A permanent visa has the advantage that it does not only allow the holder to stay indefinitely, but also to change jobs without losing the work permit. Naturally, a permanent visa is much harder to come by. Among other things, it requires applicants to convince Brazilian authorities that they possess highly specialized skills of benefit to the Brazilian economy.

For those transferring to São Paulo within their current company, temporary visas are readily issued by Brazilian authorities. Dependent family members are allowed to accompany a visa holder, but they do not receive a work permit of their own.


As residents of Brazil, foreigners working in São Paulo are obliged to pay income tax (Imposto de Renda, IR) on all earnings, including income from sources abroad. Individual income tax rates are progressive. In 2014, they covered a range from 0% for annual incomes of less than 21,453 BRL to 27.5% for incomes above 53,566 BRL. However, to address questions on topics like fiscal residency, double taxation relief, and tax minimization, we recommend you to consult an experienced tax accountant who caters to the needs of the international community in São Paulo.

Social Security

Social security payments are shared by the employer and the employee. Expats in São Paulo can expect to pay at least 8-11% of their pre-tax salary in social security contributions. The National Institute of Social Security (Instituto Nacional do Seguro Social, INSS) is responsible for pensions, sick pay, and disability benefits.

In addition to the INSS plan, every employer in Brazil is required to pay a certain percentage of an employee’s salary into a Fundo de Garantia do Tempo de Serviço (FGTS), a specific type of frozen account. In specific cases, e.g. if the employer terminates the work contract without cause, the employee receives the money from the account, plus an additional 40% of the total sum. Many employers in São Paulo also provide employees with additional social security benefits such as private healthcare plans.

Business Etiquette in São Paulo

When working in São Paulo, there are a couple of things expats should pay attention to as far as intercultural communications and business etiquette are concerned. Just as networking is important in finding a job, personal relationships are essential to business interaction. It is common to establish a basis of trust with the people involved before getting down to business.

While being late is an excusable offence in the eyes of most Brazilians, in São Paulo’s business world it is more important to arrive on time for a meeting. Meetings tend to be rather informal, and there are no strict rules of protocol. Everyone usually says whatever they feel necessary to add to the topic, so don’t be frustrated if you are interrupted during a presentation. However, the highest-ranking person is the one to make the final decision.

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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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