The largest and wealthiest city in Brazil, São Paulo is a sprawling multicultural metropolis of nearly 11 million inhabitants. It is financial centre of the country, as well as a cultural hotbed that attracts residents from all over Brazil and internationals from around the world. Becoming a paulistano (a resident of São Paulo) means living in one of the world’s fastest growing economies, as well as experiencing some of the planet’s most epic traffic jams.

What is it known for?
São Paulo, or Sampa as it is called locally, is a multi-ethnic city with a diverse mix of immigrants. It experienced waves of migration over the past century from countries such as Italy, Portugal, Japan, Germany, Korea and the Middle East, all of whom brought their cuisine and culture with them. Nearly six million inhabitants have an Italian background, making it the largest ethnic group in the city, and more than half a million are Japanese. This multicultural legacy can be seen in the makeup of various neighbourhoods, such as Italian-influenced Bixiga and Japanese-influenced Liberdade. The recent booming economy also drew Brazilians from throughout the country, “so there is the chance to meet people and learn about different aspects of Brazilian culture,” said Catherine Balston, a British journalist and editor who has lived in the city for nearly four years.

São Paulo has world class museums, such as the São Paulo Art Museum, and is home to South America’s most high-profile Fashion Week in January and June, where A-list Brazilian designers such as Alexandre Herchcovitch show off their couture creations. In a nation as football mad as Brazil, São Paulo has three of the country’s top teams: the Corinthians, Palmeiras and São Paulo. The city will also host the opening kickoff of the 2014 World Cup -- provided the new Arena de São Paulo in Itaquerão is completed on time -- as well as one of the semi-final matches.

The city’s urban sprawl means that even with large parks such as Ibirapuera Park, there is not a lot of green space. “The proportions of the city are just mind blowing when you get the rare chance to see it from the top of a tall building,” Balston said. “There will always be more to explore.” The growing middle class also means an ever-increasing number of cars on the road, where 180km-long traffic jams are common, especially on Friday nights when everyone is heading out of town for the weekend. So instead, many of the city’s high-flying executives -- literally -- take helicopters to avoid the snarled highways. 

Where do you want to live?
In São Paulo, where you live is often influenced by where you work, as fighting traffic is a daily battle. Centro, the downtown district full of older buildings and large renovated apartments, is seeing a resurgence, according to Claudio Bernardes, the president of Secovi, São Paulo’s real estate union. The Jardins, the garden districts southwest of the centre, are some of the city’s most desirable and high-end neighbourhoods, with their leafy streets and low-rise housing stock. They are also close to the Avenida Paulista, an important business district, and the Rua Oscar Freire, São Paulo’s upmarket shopping street. Other popular areas include Higienopolis, known for its Modernist architecture; Vila Madalena, with its botecas (pubs) and cafes; and Pinheiros, a bohemian neighbourhood that is rapidly getting more expensive.

Moema and Itaim Bibi are middle-class neighbourhoods with high-rise apartments in the city’s south. “They are new money districts with lots of upmarket restaurants, but slightly bland,” said Balston. Morumbi is a wealthy suburban district near Graded, the American School of São Paulo.

Side trips
Many paulistanos head out of the city every weekend to the beach or the mountains. The beach at Guarujá is less than an hour away, and the beaches of Maresias, Juquehy and Camburi, located up the north coast of São Paulo state, are also popular. “They are about a two hour drive, but can be up to five hours if the traffic is bad,” said Balston. In the winter, residents head to towns in the Mantiqueira Mountains, such as Campos do Jordao and Monte Verde, about an hour from the city, for Alpine architecture, hiking and cycling .

São Paulo has a domestic airport, Congonhas, where it is easy to hop on regional flights around the country. It is less than an hour’s flight to Rio de Janeiro. Guarulhos, the international airport, is about 30 miles north of the city. Flights to New York take 10 hours, while London is about an 11 hour flight away.

Practical info
While house sales slowed in 2011, there is still great demand for certain types of real estate. “The price of available land is very high,” said Bernardes. “There are also many bureaucratic hurdles to get projects approved.” Some new high rises have three- and four-bedroom apartments to appeal to families, but many developers are also pushing two-bedroom apartments to appeal to singles and young couples. After a brief drop in 2011, the real estate market is white hot again, with an 18.8% jump in house prices between January and July 2012. Fuelled by foreign and domestic investment pouring in due to Brazil hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, some fear that housing is overvalued and Brazil is now entering a property market bubble.

Until recently, the residential rental demand outpaced supply, but that is changing, according to Bernardes. A one- or two-bedroom apartment goes for anywhere from 700 to 1,000 reais a month, while a three-bedroom apartment rents for 1,000 to 1,500 reais.

Further information
The Rio Times: English-language newspaper covering news in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and the rest of Brazil

Gringoes: Resource site for expats, includes forums and classified ads

Discovering São Paulo: a British expat blogs about the perks and quirks of life in the city