Saunders 1865 | Moving to São Paulo

Moving to São Paulo

Are you moving to São Paulo? As the capital of the state of São Paulo, the city of the same name is rich in cultural, historical and political value. This is Brazil’s industrial and commercial centre and attracts immigrants from all over the world, making it an extremely ethnically diverse city. It has the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan.

Our free, in-depth Moving to São Paulo report includes info on:

• The best areas to live
• The good schools
• The average monthly rental prices
• The excellent public transport system in the city

Putting São Paulo on the Map

Situated in south-east Brazil on a plateau in the Brazilian Highlands, the city is 220 miles south-west of Rio and 30 miles inland from the port of Santos, on the Atlantic Ocean.  São Paulo was named after St. Paul and was founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1554.  One of its nicknames is Cidade da Garoa or the city of drizzle, so expect frequent rainy spells.

In 1997 the city imposed a system making drivers exempt from driving into the city between 7-10am and 5-8pm on one weekday per week.  This is strictly controlled and fines are imposed on anyone breaking the rules.  Residents here take more than 43 million trips daily, 30 million of them mainly in private cars.  The average commute is an hour and a half, with productivity lost to congestion equalling 7.8% of the area’s GDP.

Commutes on public transport are often delayed by congestion.

  • There are four train stations linking to the suburbs and further afield to the interior and coastal regions. The rail network in São Paulo is 160 miles long.
  • The São Paulo Metro is efficient but not big enough to service the demand. However, it is one of the biggest in South America.
  • Much work has been done on the public bus network and they are more available and there are more of them than the metro. But they tend to run late due to heavy traffic even though there are exclusive bus lanes.  The routes are not displayed at bus stops, so research needs to be done in advance.
  • Taxis are plentiful, comfortable and convenient, but quite costly. Many foreigners use the taxi service as their only means of transport.  Few of the drivers speak English, so it is handy to have your destination written down in Portuguese.
  • The majority of commuters prefer driving into the city. Long traffic jams cause huge congestion and impatient and reckless drivers take little notice of the rules of the road.
  • Cycling is really popular in spite of the terrible traffic and hills, with Bike Sampa renting out bicycles at over one hundred stations. There are in excess of 30 miles of cycle paths.  During certain hours bikes can be taken on the metro.
  • Walking can be precarious, and one must take care of which areas to walk in. Crime is a concern, along with drivers with no consideration for other cars or pedestrians.  Viaducts and foot-bridges are a safer option than crossing the busy streets on foot.
The Areas

The greatest challenge here is finding accommodation in the right area in this massive, expanding city.  Budget, size and requirements, and ease of transport to schools and work are of utmost importance.

Image result for map of neighborhoods sao paulo


At a distance from the city, with less pollution and more access to green areas, along with not one, but two, international schools make this extremely popular for expats with children.  The Albert Einstein Hospital is here, along with convenient amenities such as shops and restaurants.  On the downside, Morumbi is frequently cited as being an example of social inequality.  The affluent high-security housing complexes only emphasize the poverty in the nearby favelas.


12½ miles from the city centre, Alphaville is a gated community with over 20,000 residents, making it a city on its own.  It has 11 educational institutions, a hospital, and a large shopping mall.  There is a distinctly American feel to the area and is an area of choice for many expats.  With housing varying from single-family houses to luxury condos, many properties have large gardens with swimming pools. However, public transport is limited and traffic is heavy along the Castelo Branco motorway.  But it is both safe and pleasant.


One of the city’s largest suburbs, Santo Amaro is home to Chacara Flora, an exclusive and affluent area.  Great for families, the homes are secure and there is ample green space, plus there a few international schools.  Shops, supermarkets, and restaurants are plentiful, and the Condohas Airport is in neighboring Campo Belo so very convenient for those requiring domestic flights for business purposes.  Expats working at either one of the international bank headquarters or the multinational offices close-by will find Chacara Flora more than suitable.


Most popular with younger professionals who crave an authentic local experience, this middle-class area is to the south of the city, with a large German expat community.  It is mainly residential with smaller local shops, not the normal chain stores.  Parks and green areas are good meeting places for interacting with the locals.  The area is quite safe, but again care should be taken when close to Buraco Quente favela.


Clearly an area for musicians and artists, this is the most bohemian São Paulo suburb, popular mainly with international students and younger expats.  A vibey area, and noisy in the evenings and at weekends, the streets are lined with great choices in clubs, bars and restaurants.  Not a good family area.  The public transport is good and well connected to other city areas, although traffic congestion is often a problem.


A more budget-friendly area, Santa Cecilia has less expensive accommodation, but plenty of historic charm including older buildings and churches.  Close to the city centre, it is popular with younger expats who do volunteer work or teach English.  On the downside, the homeless sleep out on the streets, it is noisy and quite polluted.  But the bohemian atmosphere and cost-saving housing make it quite appealing.

The vibrant nightlife and ease of access to the city are tempting, but luxuries such as complexes with gym and swimming pools will not be found here.  On the contrary, properties are older and functional, but would certainly suit an expat on a short stay.

Who Lives and Works in São Paulo

São Paulo’s population is almost 12 million, but when added to the greater metropolitan area, it equals around 20 million.  It is home to almost all major industries represented in Brazil, including textiles, furniture, foodstuffs, chemicals and pharmaceuticals and mechanical and electrical appliances.  The most significant contributor to the GDP is the service industry, followed by industry and agriculture.  The region’s main exports include aeroplanes, helicopters, sugar and vehicles.  Tourism plays a big part in this city close to the sea with its highly-acclaimed beaches, as does preservation of heritage resources.  São Paulo contributes over a third of Brazil’s GDP.

While São Paulo is the 10th richest world city, it is forecast to reach the 6th spot by 2025.  One of the world’s biggest financial centres, the economy is undergoing a transformation from the traditional industrial character, instead focusing on business and services for Brazil.  One unique aspect is the number of foreign corporations based in this important global city when compared with other major local cities.

The São Paulo Stock Exchange is the largest in Latin America and is third largest worldwide, and the city features in the top 20 for international events.  An estimated total number of 4,628,481,480 square feet is available for any type of event.

There is a local Brazilian adage that says “Earn in São Paulo so you can spend in Rio.”

The Best Bits

Expats can enjoy a complete South American experience, with the city focussing on Brazilian culture.  And the locals love to have fun.  There are in excess of 12,000 restaurants here, along with clubs, discos and pubs, with many other activities for all age groups.  Paying homage to the heritage of São Paulo are the statues, museums, parks and galleries allowing peace and an escape from the hustle and bustle.

  • Almost a million people flock to the São Paulo Art Bienal to view the impressive art on display.
  • The São Paulo Fashion Week is the highlight of all the fashion events in Latin America.
  • The São Paulo March for Jesus happens annually in Zona Norte on Corpus Christi Thursday.
  • The International Transport Industry Show exhibits all things related to transport.
  • The São Paulo International Film Festival is a non-profit event held annually. It is known internationally as Mostra.
  • In 1959 in the city council elections against corruption, the top vote, with around 100,000 votes, went to Cacareco, a five-year-old rhinoceros. A commentator supposedly said that it better to elect a rhino than an ass.
  • Shopping is a real treat in this exciting city. Options include local, traditional items to international designer labels.  Rue Oscar Freire, similar to Rodeo Drive, is the most upmarket shopping area, and for those looking for luxury products, the Patio Higienopolis is a sophisticated shopping mall.
  • Ayrton Senna, the F1 racing driver was born here.
  • Carnival is an annual traditional event, pitting local samba schools against each other.
  • The Electronic Language International Festival and The Festival of Electronic Art
    are a favourite with the IT industry.
  • The Town Hall of São Paulo was previously an Indian burial ground. A mysterious man has been seen in the lift of the building by several local people, according to them he was a ghost.
  • Liberdade (the Asian district of the city) is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan.
  • The fire of Joelma in 1974 killed 13 people. The victims were buried in the local cemetery.  Employees heard moans and cries emanating from their graves and poured water over them.  This stopped the groans and crying.  The local people say that it would be dangerous to light a candle near the graves.
  • Joelma is a popular Brazilian female singer.
  • There are 90 museums, including the Sacred Art Museum, and numerous art galleries and exhibitions, from street graffiti to the Museu de Arte de São Paulo.
  • Historical sites such as Pátio do Colégio, which is the founding site of the city, Estação da Luz, a railway station dating back to 1895 and the Catedral da Sé.
Bringing the Kids

The vast choice of suburbs, with fabulous green spaces and a number of international schools, make São Paulo a good place to raise a family.

  • Public schools are free of fees but are only taught in Portuguese and follow the Brazilian national curriculum. Maybe a good choice for younger children.
  • Private schools generally follow the same curriculum as public schools. Some offer bilingual instruction while other have a Christian foundation.  The level of education is higher than public schools, and the fees are lower than international schools.  Most teaching is conducted in Portuguese so the kids would need some proficiency in the language.
  • There are a number of international schools following a variety of curricula, including French, German, Italian, Japanese, American and British. These are generally sponsored by their home governments.  Many offer the International Baccalaureate while some locally run schools also offer the Brazilian curriculum.  As always, fees are quite hefty and places are limited, so early application is advised.
  • Most private schools offer a school bus system, which is an additional cost for the parents. Traffic congestion affects kids being transported in cars, so it would be wise to live near the school of your choice.
  • The best schools are in the more affluent areas, with the most expensive accommodation.
  • Home-schooling is allowed with permission from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Education, but the application process is slow and lengthy.
  • There are around 50 universities in this massive city. The largest university in the country is the University of São Paulo which offers 247 undergraduate programmes and 239 graduate programmes in all areas of study.  It also has 24 galleries and museums, two theatres, a TV channel, a cinema and an orchestra.
Relocating to São Paulo

With a number of international schools guaranteeing your children’s education, a thriving economy, some great accommodation options and a good quality of living, São Paulo also offers good weather and a quick trip to the beach.  Its strengths in finance, industry, banking and tourism make the city a good place for expats to live.  The language problem may be a bit concerning, so learning Portuguese would be a good move.  Moving your family to a strange country, which speaks a different language may be concerning.  Using the services of a relocation company will help smooth the way.  Finding accommodation, negotiating the lease and enrolling the kids in school will all be handled efficiently, giving you and your family more time to settle in.


Family friendly
Good Schools
Green space
Museums & Galleries
Average Monthly Rents - São Paulo
1 bedroom, City Centre R$1876 (£447)
1 bedroom, Outside of centre R$1365 (£325)
3 bedroom, City Centre R$3745 (£893)
3 bedroom, Outside of centre R$2557 (£610)
Contact us for a free initial consultation about your specific situation.
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