Expat Relocation to Brazil: A Look at Sao Paulo’s Bright Lights, Big City

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Its size and population alone make Sao Paulo an intimidating place for some . . . others will embrace the vibrant lifestyle of one of the world’s most dynamic cities.

The center of industry and commerce and Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo is where most foreign executives are stationed. Home to 17 million people, it is a true metropolis — sprawling, noisy and polluted.

But it is here, in the tall skyscrapers and office buildings lining the Avenida Paulista, that most of the country’s economic decisions — and consequently money — are made. Sao Paulo accounts for nearly 50% of Brazil’s industrial output and absorbs nearly three-fourths of its foreign investment. As a result, Paulistas, as residents of the city are known, are very different from their more mellow compatriots in Rio de Janeiro; work is a full daytime activity and the pace is hectic.

The area around Avenida Paulista and Praca do Patricia is the undisputed financial capital of Brazil, and most major banks and corporate headquarters are represented there. Recently, however, due to the ever-increasing pollution and legendary traffic jams, some multinational companies have been moving to the southern sections of the city.

Ethnic enclaves throughout Sao Paulo testify to the city’s vast immigration waves of the past. Libardade, also known as Barrio Oriental, is home to the largest group of Japanese residents outside of Japan. The neighboring Italian district of Bixiga is a maze of outdoor cafes, clubs and trendy bars. The city is also home to a sizable Middle Eastern population. This blend of cultures coupled with the city’s strong industrial development have created one of Brazil’s most cultured and educated middle-class populations.

Residential areas

As a general rule, expats prefer to live in theĀ zona sul, or southern zone of the city. One of the most popular areas is Jardims, which features fashionable shops, galleries and restaurants. Apartments in this area offer both the convenience and excitement of easy access to city life. Higienopolis and Morumbi offer a mix of luxury apartments and single-family housing. Alpahville and Tambore, located approximately 20kms west of the city, feature American-style communities with well developed shopping areas. The commute to Sao Paulo from these locations, however, can be brutal.

A choice of housing

Houses and apartments are available in a wide range of ages and with varying amenities. Overall, rooms tend to be smaller than in the US, and there is a great deal of emphasis on using space efficiently. It is not uncommon to find new homes without light fixtures or appliances. Air conditioning is usually provided through window units and may not be included in older apartments. Since Sao Paulo’s climate is quite agreeable, however, local residents seldom use air conditioning.

Leases and fees

Expats can expect to provide one month’s rent in advance, with an equal amount required as a security deposit. Rents are paid monthly, also in advance. Lessees usually pay property taxes, utilities, and, in condominiums or apartments, share a common expense fee that covers the maintenance of the lobby, elevators and garbage disposal. Because these fees are often quite high, they are an important component when determining final monthly rental costs.

Leases generally run from two to three years and normally provide for an annual automatic rental increase. Leases are signed by a guarantor (fiador) in addition to the property owner and future tenant. The guarantor must be a registered company or property owner.

Excellent schools available

Sao Paulo has excellent schools that offer instruction in English, French, German and Japanese. All schools offer the international Baccalaureate and some offer Advanced Placement courses, as well. Most English-speaking expatriates enroll their children in the Graded or Chapel Schools.

Visas and permits

To enter Brazil, Americans and Canadians must have a visa and a passport that’s valid for at least six months. Visitors must also possess a round-trip ticket.

Business travelers to Brazil require a specific business visa, and cannot enter the country under a tourist visa. Brazil keeps a careful eye on such information, and business travelers caught in the country or at the airport without the required visa risk losing any business equipment they bring, being denied admittance to the country and/or nullification of any deals they made while in the country.

On the streets of Sao Paulo

Driving is on the right in Brazil. By law, seatbelts are mandatory and this is generally honored in practice. Expats should drive defensively — and keep in mind that after midnight, most Brazilians don’t stop for red lights. The decades-long ban on new car imports was lifted in 1990. Although import duties on new cars were reduced by 60%, the price of a new car can still run 2-4 times the price in its country of origin.

To curb its growing pollution problem, Sao Paulo lawmakers voted recently to restrict the number of private cars allowed on weekdays in and around the city during most of the month of August. Beginning next year, the restriction will be in place from May through August — winter in the Southern Hemisphere — when smog in Sao Paulo is at its worst.

 

Crime and personal security

Many people visit Brazil each year, and while most never experience a problem, visitors and residents alike should take precautions. To minimize the danger of armed assault and theft, expats should bring and wear only essential valuables. They should also refrain from carrying large amounts of cash or expensive cameras. If possible, they’ll want to avoid city buses as well.

Most crimes against foreigners take place in the street, so expats should try to blend in with the crowd. Here are some tips that will help them avoid problems:

  • Wear plastic wristwatches.
  • Avoid speaking loudly in English.
  • Do not carry a passport, credit cards or plane tickets; carry photocopies.
  • Carry a small amount of cash to offer in case of a robbery.
  • If a camera is necessary, carry it in a cheap plastic bag.

 

One final note: Marijuana and cocaine are widely available in Brazil and tolerated by much of the general population. Police and the military, however, don’t share this tolerance; penalties for drug use and/or possession are severe.