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What You Need to Know Before Moving to São Paulo, Brazil

São Paulo is a melting pot, a city defined by the immigrants who transformed it into a thriving center of business, art, and culture. It’s a place both old and new, familiar and exotic, where communities blend and celebrate their many traditions. Alongside the native Guarani-M’bya, the city's been shaped by waves of African, Bolivian, Italian, German, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Lebanese settlers. Each one has contributed to the city's productive and vibrant spirit, which has made it one of the richest and most influential places in the Southern Hemisphere. New arrivals are still drawn by its endless opportunities. So whether you’re looking for a new career, new lifestyle, or new adventure, here’s what you need to know before moving to São Paulo, Brazil.

Financial Capital of South America

São Paulo is the linchpin of the Brazilian economy, responsible for one-third of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Years of investment have greased the wheels of entrepreneurship and private enterprise, while liberal reforms have reduced the cost of doing business and increased the city's quality of life.

São Paulo is the largest supplier of technology, consumer goods, and business services in the country. Most of Brazil’s multinationals are headquartered here, including major overseas companies such as IBM, Deloitte, Accenture, Shell, Google, HSBC, Nokia, and Unilever. The city is also home to the majority of Brazil’s banking institutions, including its stock exchange, which has a market capitalization of $5.2 trillion.

Despite the growth of the city’s service economy, large-scale manufacturing still accounts for around thirty percent of the city’s economic output. An additional ten percent comes from large mining companies outside town, who are busy harvesting rubber, metal ore, and other raw materials.

With such a complex and thriving economy, demand for workers is understandably high. Around a quarter of the city’s population was born outside of São Paulo, many of them overseas. Foreigners work mostly for international corporations, as well as the engineering, pharmaceuticals, IT, and technology sectors, where there is a growing need for skilled workers. However, competition for high paying jobs is intense, so experts recommend you line up a job before moving to São Paulo rather than after you arrive.

Diverse and Vibrant Neighborhoods

São Paulo’s neighborhoods are as varied as the people who live here. One of the most popular is the Jardins, the greenest borough in the city. Sometimes called the Garden City or the Garden District, it’s full of skyscrapers, shady trees, and luxurious, low-rise housing close to the business district and its adjacent shopping centers.

But if you enjoy Bohemian and Modernist architecture, you'll feel more at home in Pinheiros, Higienopolis, or Vila Madalena, which offer an eclectic mix of bars, cafes, studios, and art galleries. Downtown neighborhoods such as Itaim Bibi are another good option for Americans moving to São Paulo. Families can rent fully furnished apartments close to some of the city’s biggest parks and attractions, with great amenities such as gyms, pools, and playgrounds.

Spectacular Parks and Green Spaces

Even though São Paulo is a sprawling megacity, it contains one of the largest and most beautifully wooded parks in the world: Ibirapuera Park, with over 390 acres of lakes, lawns, trails, gardens, courts, playgrounds, bicycle paths, fountains, monuments, and museums.

During Christmas, the city erects an enormous tree in the center of the park, with everything around it lit red, white, gold, and blue. It’s also a popular spot for trade shows and exhibitions, including São Paulo Fashion Week. On the weekends, outdoor concerts are held at different pavilions and gathering spaces throughout the park. Then there’s the Ibirapuera Auditorium, which regularly hosts some of Brazil’s best musicians, not to mention movie screenings and film premieres.

But Paulistanos don’t spend all their time in the city. They love to get out and explore the nearby beaches, mountains, and rainforests. One of the most popular spots is Pico de Jaragua, the tallest mountain overlooking the city. Great for day hikes, it offers astounding views of São Paulo, as well as some incredible wildlife such as maned sloths, capuchin monkeys, and green-billed toucans.

The more adventurous drive to the Paulista Coast, a few hours outside the city, where they can explore Brazil's stunning beaches and its pristine Atlantic Forest. There are miles of white and yellow sand where visitors can swim, surf, and sunbathe. Or you can head inland and experience one of the world's most exquisite tropical jungles, with a colorful array of birds and animals you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Wild and Welcoming Culture

São Paulo is a city where people come to work hard and play hard. Here, bars, clubs, and nightspots run twenty-four hours a day. The largest entertainment districts ‒ Centro, Bela Vista, and Rua Augusta ‒ have artists playing samba, axé, forró and MPB (Brazilian pop music) all day long, though jazz, soul, funk, R&B, and blues are also popular. The place is crammed with banging clubs, low-key bars, and converted cinemas, catering to every taste imaginable.

But while the main drag draws the biggest names, there’s still plenty of action in the surrounding neighborhoods. The city is dotted with small bars called botecas and baladas. Botecas are local watering holes where people go to eat, drink, and socialize. They’re packed whenever the national soccer team is playing and it’s not unusual to find families dropping in for lunch or dinner. Baladas, on the other hand, are hybrid establishments where people can grab a beer and then hit the dance floor with their wife, husband, boyfriend, or girlfriend.

Expats are often startled at how easy it is to make friends in São Paulo. Like most Brazilians, Paulistanos are friendly and outgoing. Stop by for a chat with your neighbors and pretty soon you'll have the inside scoop on the best bars, nightclubs, and restaurants in town. You might even score a dinner invitation.

Brazilians are excellent hosts, famous for the way they feed and dote on their guests. People here are expressive and familiar as well. They gesticulate while they talk and greet their guests with a warm hug and sometimes a kiss on the cheek.

Sophisticated and Exuberant Art Scene

São Paulo is as passionate about art as it is about everything else. The city is home to 110 museums, with artifacts and artwork chronicling every facet of Brazilian culture and history. Newcomers won’t want to miss:

  • Museu de Arte de São Paulo. Features classic works from Europe and Latin America, as well as a unique collection of African sculptures.
  • Museu de Arte Moderna. Allows visitors to peruse a huge range of paintings and sketches produced by Brazilian artists in the 20th and 21st century.
  • Catavento Cultural. Full of interactive exhibits that provide fascinating insight into life, ingenuity, society, and the universe.
  • Museu Afro Brasil. Documents 500 years of cultural, political, and social interactions between Africa and South America.
  • Museu de Arte Contemporânea. Provides an in-depth look at the major artistic movements from the early 20th century to the present.

The city is also one of the emerging centers of global fashion. In January and July, clothing designers from all over South America exhibit their latest work at São Paulo Fashion Week, one of the shows making waves outside New York, London, Paris, and Milan.

But it’s Carnival where the force of the city’s art and culture truly comes together - a spectacular, festive display of fashion, dance, music, art, and sculpture. For five days, the streets are packed with floats, performers, and musicians, adorned with colorful costumes, whirling, singing, and chanting. It's an exhilarating spectacle, and while the biggest parades are downtown, celebrations take place all over the city. Hotels put on masquerades. Bands march through the streets. People party in the city square. And for one brief, dazzling moment, the spirit of São Paulo is alive in everyone.