Getting around in São Paulo isn't always straightforward, although there are several options including taxis, trains, buses and bicycles. Public commutes are often congested and delayed due to the city's expanding population and the growing demand for affordable and accessible transport.
As with so much else in the country, Brazil’s gaping wealth disparity affects the way people get around São Paulo. For safety reasons, expats shouldn’t openly display valuables and electronics when commuting.
Despite these issues, millions of commuters traverse the city every day as the government continues its attempts to improve public transport across São Paulo.
Public transport in São Paulo
The São Paulo Metro is generally efficient, but it isn't extensive enough to meet the demands of the city’s population and is often crowded. Nevertheless, it's one of the largest metro systems in South America and remains one of the best ways to travel around the centre of São Paulo. Metro services run seven days a week from 4.40am to midnight, with a few exceptions.
Trains in São Paulo are mostly used for long-distance travel and are operated by Companhia Paulista de Trens Metropolitanos (CPTM). CPTM operates seven lines that connect São Paulo with nearby cities in the Greater São Paulo area.
To compensate for the metro's shortcomings, there has been a lot of investment into expanding the city’s public bus network. While public buses in São Paulo travel further and are more accessible than the metro, they frequently get caught in traffic.
Navigating São Paulo’s bus network can be a complicated experience for novice commuters, especially if they don’t speak Portuguese. Researching routes ahead of time is crucial, as routes are rarely displayed at stops and expats are unlikely to encounter people who speak English.
Taxis in São Paulo
Most taxis in São Paulo are white with a sign on the roof. These are often comfortable and convenient, though they may be more expensive than what some expats are used to. Very few taxi drivers will speak English, so expats are advised to have the address of their intended destination written down in Portuguese.
Uber is also available in São Paulo. It is generally considered safer than using regular taxis and the fares may be cheaper. Taxis can be hailed via the Uber application for smartphones.
Driving in São Paulo
The rate of vehicle ownership in São Paulo has increased in recent decades, contributing to a growing congestion problem. As a result, the average work commute can be painfully long. Driving in São Paulo is not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced. The city is infamous for its long traffic jams and reckless, impatient drivers.
Driving in São Paulo also involves the risk of robbery or theft. Expats who choose to drive are advised to keep their windows rolled up when standing still in traffic or at a traffic light.
Those who do decide to drive will need an International Drivers Permit (IDP) if their home-country licence is not in Portuguese. Once foreigners are legally resident in Brazil, they will need to obtain a local licence. As with many other administrative processes in Brazil, an Individual Taxpayer’s Card (Cadastro de Pessoa Física or CPF) is required to begin this process.
Cycling in São Paulo
Despite its hills and unwieldy traffic, cycling in São Paulo is becoming more popular. There are several operators renting out bicycles to commuters for hourly fees. Among these is Bike Sampa, which has thousands of bicycles spread among more than 200 stations at strategic points around the city. Bicycles can also be taken on the metro at certain times of the day.
Cyclists should avoid cycling on the roads. Road users don’t give cyclists space and it can, therefore, be dangerous. Luckily, the city has a vast network of bicycle paths.
Walking in São Paulo
As with every large city, walking in some parts of São Paulo is less advisable than in others. Crime is a significant concern and residents should always exercise a degree of caution and vigilance. Expats who prefer getting around on foot should take extra care when crossing busy roads. Where possible, it is preferable to use foot-bridges or viaducts.