Relocation can occur for a myriad of reasons. If São Paulo is going to be your next destination, its size and complexities can be quite daunting. Though the city is generally very foreigner friendly, there is still enough Brazilianess in Sampa, as its lovingly called, to put one off balance if they are not prepared. Here I offer some tips for those of you who are going to be in the city for the long haul. If you are planning a short stay read this.
1. Explore Your New Neighborhood/Bairro
São Paulo is made up of large and very distinct neighborhoods called bairros. Some of these bairros are big enough to feel like their own city, and have a very distinct style to them. Due to this uniqueness, it’s essential that you get to know your area well. I recommend joining and expat group, such as this one, to study up on your new area before you arrive. Once you are here, take time to walk your new streets to find out how your bairro operates. Since Brazil is infamous for its crime, it’s also wise to ask people about danger areas near your new home or how safe it is at night. When I move to a new area I usually take a walk in the early evening to see for myself. Knowing who hangs around when and where is a good way to stay ahead of the game. Depending on where you end up you can spend a lot of time exploring your new turf. It can be both fun and informative.
2. Don’t be a prisoner in your own home out of fear or laziness.
Brazil, justifiably, gets a bad rap for its violence, but São Paulo actually has the lowest per per-capita murder rate of all Brazilian capital cities. The last thing you should do out of fear is build a life around the few blocks where you live. Also, given the city’s size and the lack of accessibility in many bairros, it’s very easy to get trapped into a routine of doing everything around the few blocks where you live. I know people who were born and raised in São Paulo but have never ventured from the North Side to the West Side of the city. Once you feel comfortable in your bairro, go out with friends and discover the eccentricities and uniqueness of the many different areas of the city. São Paulo has a lot to offer and endless places to explore. As always be smart, as you should be in any metropolis, but don’t let fear or an easy routine limit you.
3. Learn some Portuguese.
Brazilians love to negotiate and argue a point, and if they see an advantage (your lack of Portuguese skills) they will pounce on it. Moreover, São Paulo is a business center, if you don’t want to constantly come up short, it’s best you learn the local language and even some of its local slang. There are many language schools around the city that offer Portuguese lessons, and private instructors are also easy to find. Take advantage of them while allowing your day to day interactions teach you the rest.
4. Learn some bus routes.
Getting around São Paulo by car is not always the fastest way to go. With the implementation of bus lanes in various parts of the city, an hour by car can translate into 10 to 15 minutes by bus. Depending on the time of day and the route you take, buses are not the sardine-can-horror-show people make them out to be either. Metros are also very easy to use and are very well maintained – the only downside being that they are not as expansive as they should be for a city this size. Bus routes, on the other hand, take you nearly everywhere you need to go in the city.
5. Don’t live too far from work.
When I first got to São Paulo I used to ask a friend how long it took to get to certain places. She would always answer the same way, “it takes an hour no matter where you are going.” She was sort of right. This “hour rule” is especially true if you live further away from the central regions of the city, where people are expected to have cars. If you opt to use the buses, you may have to wait longer for one that does your route. If you opt to drive, you will have to deal with everyone else on the road who is driving. The short version of this is that São Paulo traffic is notoriously bad, and there is virtually no way to escape it. If you can somehow plan your living arrangements near your place of employment – do it. If this is not possible then prepare for an hour or more on your daily commute even if the kilometer readings tell you should be otherwise.
6. Find a place in the city to get away from the city.
São Paulo is like any major city you can think of, but the good and the bad are multiplied by a thousand. Time seems to fly by here faster than a New York minute, and problems can pile up quicker than you can pronounce some of the long indigenous street names. This ball of stress that the city can seamlessly wind is why many people have a negative view of the place or find it overwhelming at first. If you do not have somewhere to go to rest your head, read a book, or just stare at clouds, find one. Despite São Paulo’s massive concrete landscapes, you’d be surprised by how many clean and safe parks and squares there are around the city. If the outdoors aren’t your thing, there are innumerable small cafes, used book stores, and small restaurants where you can hole up for an hour or two. Find yourself a hide away spot and make use of it before your head explodes.
7. Prepare for crazy weather.
The weather in São Paulo is very volatile. Although recent droughts have kept most days sunny and dry, heavy rains can come at any minute. With the rains come flash flooding and a complete breakdown of traffic. Besides creating chaos in the city, the weather changes may cause some chaos in your head. I got completely drenched a few times after leaving the house on burning hot early afternoons which unsuspectingly turned into heavy torrential late afternoons. I learned quickly to always carry a coat and umbrella in my bag no manner how bright and hot the day looks. This erratic weather is the the root of a common observation about the city, “São Paulo has all four seasons in one day.” If you are not accustomed to all these drastic weather changes, you might even get a bit sick in your first months here (or it could just be the pollution), but eventually your body will adjust.
8. Mind the motoboys and the panhandlers.
The first thing that caught my eyes while on a São Paulo street is the amount of motorcycles weaving in and out traffic. These motorcycles are mostly piloted by motorcycle couriers which are called motoboys. Given the bumper to bumper traffic, motorcycling is the fastest way to get across town, unless you happen to own a helicopter – there are a lot of them too. The key here is to look before you switch lanes because motoboys usually ride in between cars in multi lane roads. If you happen to hit one of these guys, the fault is nearly always yours, and your day will get ugly fast. Motoboys are very territorial and will protect each other. Also mind the beggars who can come at you both in traffic or while you sit at outdoor bar and restaurant tables. Most of these beggars mean no harm, but most won’t leave your side either if you don’t at least acknowledge them. I have seen beggars curse out or want to start fights with people who have paid them no mind. The best way to handle the situation is to politely say, Desculpa, eu não tenho nada, which means Sorry, I don’t have anything. If they refuse to move on then by all means be a bit sterner.
9. Change your eating clock.
I can’t speak for every expat, but in America I was used to having a a big healthy breakfast followed by a quick lunch and a bigger dinner. In São Paulo, breakfast is generally small, lunch is big, and dinner is light. It took me a few months and a few extra kilos to realize I was eating three very big meals a day. São Paulo’s lunch time is long and the restaurants fill up fast. You can have a full course meal with dessert if it´s your pleasure. If you don’t want to get fat quick, I suggest having a small piece of toast and coffee in the morning and reserving those hunger pangs for the 12 pm lunch hour.
10. Have fun!
There is always somewhere to go in São Paulo to enjoy leisure time. There are bars and restaurants on nearly every street, which range from little holes in the wall (Sujinhos and Barzinhos) to more well maintained places called Lanchonetes and Padarias. If you don’t like the bar scene, there are plenty of traditional restaurants. Food trucks are also popping up all over the city. There are also plenty of clubs, galleries, parks, live shows, poetry readings, symposiums, film festivals, and arts and craft fairs to go to. It is really impossible not to find something to do from Monday to Monday in Sampa.
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Next read about tips for those coming to São Paulo for a short stay at this link.
When I stopped having an open mind, thing got better. Read about it here.