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Sao Paulo


Sao Paulo is the largest city in Brazil and one of the largest in the world, with a population of about 20 million in its metropolitan region. It is the capital of the Southeastern state of Sao Paulo, and also a center of activity that offers a jovial nightlife and an intense cultural experience.

Sao Paulo is the richest city in Brazil. It is also an important commercial and financial hub in South America. It is the major industrial and economic powerhouse of the Brazilian economy.

Being home to millions of immigrants, it’s one of the most diverse cities in the world and the most cosmopolitan city existent in any developing country in the world. The city lays claim to have long surpassed Rio as Brazil’s cultural center, and is home to a lively music and arts world. The city’s food, too, is often excellent, thanks to immigrants from so many parts of the world. You’ll surely enjoy one of many festivals while you are here.

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    About Sao Paulo

    Now the largest metropolis in South America — and, with 20 million people spread over 3,000 square miles, the third-largest city in the world — São Paulo nevertheless sprang from humble beginnings. In 1554, Jesuit priests founded a mission on a small hill, strategically close to the River Tietê. The mission developed into a small trading post and then, in the 17th and early 18th century, into a jumping-off point for Bandeirante expeditions traveling into the interior. In 1711 the little market town was incorporated as the city of São Paulo. The seeds of its future prosperity showed up just 12 years later with the arrival of the first coffee plants in Brazil.

    The climate and soil surrounding São Paulo turned out to be perfect for coffee. With the arrival of the railway in 1867, large-scale cultivation exploded. São Paulo became one of the largest coffee exporters in the world.

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    At the beginning of the 16th century, Brazil had only just been discovered by the Portuguese, and the area atop the Serra do Mar mountain range in the southeast of the country, now occupied by São Paulo, was inhabited exclusively by the indigenous Guaianás. The first Caucasian man to settle there was the Portuguese sailor João Ramalho, stranded by a shipwreck on the São Paulo coastline in 1510. Ramalho married Portira (or Bartira), the daughter of the local chieftain Tibiriçá, and the couple soon started a family. In 1532, João Ramalho helped Lord Martin Afonso de Souza, commander of the first Portuguese colonial expedition to Brazil, to establish the Piratininga village in the upland region; in 1553 the village was renamed Santo Andre da Borda do Campo.

    The main goal of the Jesuit priests who accompanied the first Portuguese colonists in the 16th century was to convert the local indigenous inhabitants to Christianity.

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    Fast Facts

    Population: 11,016,703 (city) 20,237,000 (metro)

    Area: 1523 km² (city); 8,051 km² (metro)

    Elevation:  760m

    Internet Country Code:  .br

    Currency (code): Real (BRL)

    Official language: Portuguese

    Time zone: GMT/UTC-3

    Calling code: 55 (country) + 11 (city)


    There are five climatic regions in Brazil: equatorial, tropical, semi-arid, highland tropical and subtropical. Cities such as Sao Paulo and Brasilia, on the plateau, have a mild climate with temperatures averaging 66°F (19°C). Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Natal and Salvador on the coast have warmer climates. Rio, for example, has an average temperature of around 80°F (26°C).

    Month Avg. High Avg. Low Avg. Precip.
    Jan 81°F 65°F 9.40 in.
    Feb 82°F 65°F 8.60 in.
    Mar 81°F 64°F 6.30 in.
    Apr 77°F 61°F 3.00 in.
    May 73°F 56°F 2.90 in.
    Jun 71°F 54°F 2.20 in.
    Jul 71°F 53°F 1.70 in.
    Aug 73°F 55°F 1.50 in.
    Sep 75°F 57°F 3.20 in.
    Oct 76°F 59°F 4.90 in.
    Nov 78°F 61°F 5.70 in.
    Dec 79°F 63°F 7.90 in.

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    Brasília and Recife, 220 volts AC; Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, 127 volts AC or 220 volts in larger hotels. Plugs are of the two-pin type. Most hotels provide 110-volt and 220-volt outlets, transformers and adaptors.

    Time Zone
    The definition for time zones can be written in short form as UTC±n (or GMT±n), where n is the offset in hours. Here is an example given the local time in Rio de Janeiro and New York City at 12:00 UTC when daylight savings time is not in effect:

    Sao Paulo Standard Time Zone: GMT/UTC – 3 hours = 9:00am
    NYC Standard Time Zone: GMT/UTC – 5 hours = 7:00am

    Sao Paulo is on Brazil Standard Time and does observe Daylight Savings time.

    Brazil spans several time zones:
    Brazil Standard Time: GMT-3 (GMT-2 from third Sunday in October to third Saturday in March)
    Atlantic Standard Time: GMT-4 (GMT-3 from third Sunday in October to third Saturday in March)
    Eastern Standard Time (Acre State): GMT-5
    Fernando de Noronha Standard Time (Brazil): GMT-2


    São Paulo’s economy is very diverse. The metropolitan region forms the largest industrial and commercial center in Brazil and in Latin America. While precise statistical estimates vary, it is likely that about one-half of the nation’s industrial output comes directly from the São Paulo metropolitan area. In some sectors this concentration is even greater: The state accounts for over three-quarters of the country’s output of machinery, electrical goods, and rubber. Well over half of the nation’s 50 largest industrial firms are located in São Paulo state, and most of these are located in the city itself. Its manufactures include a diverse range of products and goods. Heavy industry includes motor vehicles, machinery, electrical equipment, computers, and chemicals, while consumer goods include textiles, processed food, pottery and china, furniture, and household utensils. This industrial concentration was even more intense in past decades, but the decentralization of industrial activities to other urban centers in São Paulo state, like Campinas, Sorocaba, Jundiaí, Cubatão, and Ribeirão Prêto, has reduced the metropolitan region’s dominance. Commercial activities, including banking, finance, and corporate headquarters functions, are clustered in the São Paulo urban area. The city is often the site of major commercial and industrial trade shows.

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    If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien living or traveling outside the United States, you generally are required to file income tax returns, estate tax returns, and gift tax returns and pay estimated tax in the same way as those residing in the United States. Your income, filing status, and age generally determine whether you must file a return. Generally, you must file a return if your gross income from worldwide sources is at least the amount shown for your filing status in the Filing Requirements table in Chapter 1 of Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad (available at The IRS web site has a wealth of information available for the overseas taxpayer. Follow the ‘Individuals’ and ‘International Taxpayers’ links, or search for IRS Publication 54.

    U.S. Tax Information

    Internal Revenue Service

    P.O. Box 920

    Bensalem, PA 19020

    (215) 516-2000 (not toll-free)

    Phone service available from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm (EST) M-F

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    Owners of family pets, such as dogs, cats, parrots and parakeets, may enter Brazil with their animals, upon presentation of the following documents to this Consulate for legalization:

    Dogs and cats:

    According to the Brazilian legislation that regulates the entrance of animals in Brazil, the International Health Certificate (IHC) must be legalized by the Brazilian Consulate 7(seven) days from its issuance and the Pets must enter Brazil within 30(thirty) days from the date the IHC has been issued. This certificate of health examination must also receive a stamp from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The veterinarian certificate must state:

    • 1) the good health of the animal
    • 2) the record of vaccines
    • 3) that on the 40 days prior to the day of the trip, there were no contagious diseases occurring in the area.

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    By Car

    Driving in São Paulo is for the daring, the foolish, or the infinitely patient; traffic is always chaotic and frequently snarled and slow, particularly during rainstorms when water floods the streets. When you want to stop, parking is expensive and difficult to find. São Paulo’s appalling traffic has given rise to the world’s largest fleet of civilian helicopters that ferry commuting executives in from their suburban homes. In an attempt to declog the streets the city has brought in a traffic rotation system. Cars with a license plate that ends in 1 or 2 are not allowed to drive in the city on Monday; plates ending in 3 or 4 are banned on Tuesday, no plates ending in 5 or 6 on Thursday, and on Friday 9s and 0s are off the streets. These restrictions are in effect between 7 and 10am and 5 and 8pm. Service vehicles are excluded from this regulation. Fines are steep, and photo radar and police keep track of cars as they enter the city.

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    Public Transportation

    São Paulo has a convenient public transportation system, and many of its tourist-oriented neighborhoods are compact enough for a stroll. However, at night it’s safest to take a taxi to and from your destination.

    Bilhete Unico

    The Bilhete Unico is a smartcard that can be used on the city’s public transportation.  You can load up the cards with money and just debit it as you travel.  Transfers are sometimes free, depending on mode of transportation, but fares are generally reasonable.

    By Subway


    The Metrô is the easiest way to get around São Paulo. There are three lines: the North-South line, East-West line, and the line that travels underneath the Avenida Paulista. The two main lines converge at Sé station, the busiest station of all.

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    Air Transportation

    Brazilian Airports

    Guarulhos International Airport (GRU)

    Guarulhos International is about 25 miles from downtown and is where nearly all international flights arrive and depart.

    Transportation to São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport


    Taxis are available, but visitors are advised to ignore the RDE taxi desk and go to the Rio de Janeiro State Tourism Authority desk instead and buy prepaid taxi vouchers. Passengers should make sure that the taxi’s meter is activated after being cleared of the last fare.


    Public buses run every 30 minutes to the city center. There is an airport shuttle bus every hour that stops at all the major hotels and beaches. Empresa Real have air-conditioned frescao buses that drive into the city as well as along the seafront.

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    Local Phone Numbers

    Dialing from New York to Sao Paulo:
    Dial: 011 55 21  XXXX-XXXX
    How the number is composed:
    011 is the international prefix used to dial somewhere outside of U.S.A.
    55 is the international code used to dial Brazil.
    11 is the local area or city code used to dial Sao Paulo.
    XXXX-XXXX is the local number. Exchange X with your number.

    Dialing  from Sao Paulo to New York:
    Dial: 00 1 212 XXX-XXXX
    How the number is composed:
    00 is the international prefix used to dial somewhere outside of Brazil.
    1 is the international code used to dial to U.S.A.
    212 is one of multiple city/area codes in use for New York.
    XXX-XXXX is the local number. Exchange X with your number.

    Public telephones are called orelhões, “big ears”, after their distinctive conch-shaped covers. They come in two varieties: red for local calls and blue for inter-urban. These days, phones are operated mostly by phone cards (carta telefônico) which have replaced tokens (fichas) and are on sale everywhere – from newspaper stands, street sellers’ trays and most cafés. For local calls a 5 reis card will last for several conversations; for long-distance or international calls, higher-value phone cards come in 10, 20, 50 or 100 reis denominations.

    Calls to the USA or Europe cost about $2.50 per minute. Lift the phone from the hook, insert the phone card and listen for a dial tone before dialing direct. Note that long-distance calls are cheaper after 8pm.

    The dial tone is a single continuous note, a busy signal is rapid pips, and the ringing tone is regular peals, as in the USA. The phone system in Brazil is continually overloaded. If you get a busy signal tone, keep trying – nine times out of ten, the phone is not actually engaged and you get through after seven or eight attempts. The smaller the place, the more often you need to try: be patient.

    Long-distance and international calls can also be made from a posto telefônico, which all operate in the same way: you ask at the counter for a chave and are given a numbered key. You go to the booth, insert the key and turn it to the right, and can then make up to three completed calls. You are billed when you return the key – around $2.50 a minute to the USA or Europe. To make an inter-urban call you need to dial the trunk code, the código DDD (pronounced “daydayday”), listed at the front of phone directories. For international calls, ask for chamada internacional; a reverse-charge call is a chamada a cobrar. Reversing the charges costs about twice as much as paying locally, and it is much cheaper to use a telephone charge card from home. Except in the most remote parts of Amazonia and the Northeast, everything from a small town upwards has a posto, though note that outside large cities they shut at 10pm.


    Don’t miss the most typical Brazilian TV program – the novela, a never-ending version of the soap opera, with daily installments. A popular novela lasts at least a good six months or more. The whole country follows the plot, and people talk about the characters almost as if they were real. Catchphrases and gestures are sometimes incorporated into the culture, and later spread around the world. Yes, novelas are export material – dubbed and subtitled they are sold to dozens of countries from China to the US. The best novelas play on Rede Globo between 6 and 9 p.m.

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    There are close to 2000 radio stations in Brazil which play international and Brazilian pop hits, as well as a variety of Brazil’s rich musical offerings, American music, classical music, and jazz. All broadcasts are in Portuguese.


    There is no local English-language press in Sao Paulo, though some local news agencies offer English translations online. The Miami Herald, the Latin American edition of the International Herald Tribune and the Wall Street Journal are available on many newsstands, as are news magazines such as Newsweek and Time. (Internet)


    Brazil’s population consists of an interesting mix of Portuguese, African, Italian, German, Syrian, Lebanese and Asian origins, creating a rich cultural heritage. This ethnic mix is responsible for the great diversity to be found in the cooking styles of Brazil.

    In Brazil, food varies from area to area:

    The North
    This area covers the rain forests and tributaries of the Amazon River. Culturally, the Amazon basin is heavily populated by native Indians or people of mixed Indian and Portuguese ancestry, living on a diet of fish, root vegetables such as manioc, yams, and peanuts, plus palm or tropical fruits. The cuisine of this region is therefore heavily Indian influenced. One popular dish is Caruru do Para, a one-pot meal of dried shrimps, okra, onion, tomato and coriander.

    The Northeast
    Inland, the northeast region is semi-arid and used for cattle rearing. Here foods typically include ingredients like dried meat, rice, beans, goat, manioc and corn meal. On the fertile coastal plain, Brazil’s important sugar cane and cacao growing area is located.

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    Museu Afro Brazil

    Brazil has the largest black population outside of Africa, so it’s curious that only in the past decade or so has black or Afro consciousness really begun to take root. This new museum — one of the most popular cultural institutions to open in São Paulo in recent years — is dedicated to showing the cultural achievements of Africans and their descendants enslaved in Brazil. If you think you might be letting yourself in for a hectoring guilt-inducing lecture, think again. The museum is not a cri de coeur over the injustice and hardship of slavery but rather a celebration of the art and accomplishments of the African diaspora. Displays show short biographies of writers or painters or politicians who were black, including lots of their artwork and artifacts. Displays are gorgeous — particularly the art and photography — and the museum has wonderful natural light.

    Museu Lasar Segall

    Lovers of modern art, particularly of cubism and Klee and Kandinsky, will enjoy a visit to the Segall museum. Born in the Jewish ghetto of Vilnius in Lithuania in 1891, Segall started his painting career in Europe, but moved to Brazil in 1923. Over the years his work grew increasingly abstract and geometric. The museum was also his residence from 1932 until his death in 1957. On display are his sculptures, pen drawings, watercolors, graphite, and oil paintings. No English signs.

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    Ibirapuera Park

    Blessed with over 2 million square meters of green space, São Paulo’s version of Central Park offers quite a bit to see and do. You can wander the paths beside pleasant lagoons or rent a bicycle and cycle the pathways. Every Sunday morning there’s a free outdoor concert in the park’s Praça da Paz. Sunday from 10am to 4pm you can take advantage of the Bosque de Leitura, a kind of free outdoor lending library that lets you borrow magazines or books (including many in English) to read in the park for the duration of day. In the corner near Gate 3 there’s the Museu de Arte Moderna (Museum of Modern Art; see listing, below). Just nearby there’s the excellent Museu Afro Brasil and the OCA Auditorium, a flying saucer-shaped building that often hosts traveling art exhibits.

    Monument to Latin America

    Designed by famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, the monument consists of a vast field of concrete dotted about the edges with perfectly geometrical concrete pavilions originally painted blinding white, but long-since streaked by the rain.

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    Business Hours

    Most shops In Brazil are open from 9 am – 6:30 or 7 PM, weekdays, and from 9 am – 1 PM on Saturdays. Some shops may close earlier, and many shopping centers stay open as late as 10 PM. Banks open from 10 am – 4:00 PM, Monday – Friday, in most parts of the country with small regional variations. In some regions, shops may also close for lunch. Business (office) hours are normally from 9am to 6pm, with an extended lunch hour from around noon to 2pm.

    Currency & Banking

    Since 1994, the Brazilian currency has been the Real (plural: Reais), symbol is R$. There are bills of R$1, R$2, R$5, R$10, R$20, R$50 and R$100. Coins exist in values of 1 cent (R$0.01), 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents and 1 Real. Coins vary in size and color.

    To open a bank account (“conta bancária” in Portuguese) as a foreigner in Brazil is not very easy. Typically you will need a CPF (Cadastro da Pessoa Fisica) and a long-term visa such as a work or permanent visa with the ID card (CIE, Cédula de Identidade de Estrangeiro).

    There are two different types of bank accounts for individuals (pessoas físicas):

    Conta corrente (checking/current account)

    Conta de poupança (Savings account)

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    Embassy & Visa

    Americans living or traveling in Brazil are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website ( and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Brazil.  Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.  The U.S. Embassy is located in Brasilia. Consular Section public hours are 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday except Brazilian and U.S. holidays. Non-emergency services are provided by appointment.

    US Embassy in Brazil

    Avenida das Nacoes

    Lote 3


    011 55 61 3312-7000

    011 55 61 3312-7400 (after hours)

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    It is essential to have health insurance in Brazil, as hospital and medical fees are high. For most regions of the country you don’t need to worry about vaccinations. Yellow fever shots are necessary however if you plan to visit the following states; Acre, Amazonas, Goias, Maranhao, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Para, Rondonia, Amapá and Roraima. For these regions vaccination against typhoid, polio and malaria is also recommended.

    The public health system (SUS, Sistema Único de Saúde) in Brazil has a lot of problems, such as crowded public hospitals and medical service units (Postos de Saúde), and long waiting lines to be attended for exams and consultations, even in cases of emergency. Therefore it is recommended that you obtain private health insurance (Plano de Saúde) which can cover all medical and dental emergencies partially or completely.

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    The People

    Brazilians are friendly and free-spirited, with an incredible zest for life. They are very risk-oriented and very creative. Predominantly Roman Catholic (73%), families are large and often include extended family members. Family, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds are important to Brazilians.

    Meeting and Greeting

    Take time to greet and say good-bye to each person present. Women kiss twice — once on each cheek — if they are married. Single women add a third kiss.

    Body Language

    Physical contact is part of simple communication. Touching arms, elbows and backs is very common and acceptable. Brazilians also stand extremely close to one another. Do not back away.

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    Postal Service

    Correios e Telegrafos
    0800 570 0100
    A post office is called a correio: they have bright yellow postboxes and signs. An imposing Correios e Telégrafos building will always be found in the center of a city of any size, and from here you can send telegrams as well; but there are also small offices and kiosks scattered around which only deal with mail. Because post offices in Brazil deal with other things besides post, queues are often a problem. Save time by using a franking machine for stamps; the lines move much more quickly. Stamps (selos) are most commonly simply available in two varieties – either for mailing within Brazil or abroad. A foreign postage stamp costs around 60¢ for either a postcard or a letter up to 10 grams. It is very expensive to send parcels abroad – if you plan to cross into Paraguay consider sending packages from there, as it has much lower postal rates.

    Mail within Brazil takes three or four days, longer in the North and Northeast, while airmail letters to Europe and North America usually take about a week or sometimes even less. Surface mail takes about a month to North America, and three to Europe. Although the postal system is generally very reliable, it is not advisable to send valuables through the mail.



    It is fairly easy to find property to rent in Brazil, and depending on your choice of location there is often a wide range of choices available. These include modern apartments and condominiums with a wide range of on-site amenities, town houses with gardens and swimming pools, and traditional fazendas, or country houses. In general, newer properties are of a good standard of construction and decor.

    For those who wish to live in the city, typical rental rates for an apartment in Sao Paulo are between R$700 and R$2,000, depending on the number of bedrooms. Here, most expatriates live in the zona sul, or southern part of the city, where there are many luxury apartments in close proximity to the shops, restaurants and galleries. In Sao Paulo, most expatriates live in “closed condominiums,” or gated communities that have 24-hour security. There are also some smaller towns outside the cities which are popular with expatriates, such as Alphaville and Tambore, around 20km outside Sao Paulo, where rental prices are lower but there is a long commute for those who work in the city.

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    Language School

    Eurolingua Institute

    Compulsory Education

    Virtually all expatriate children living in Brazil attend a private school. There are many good private schools in Brazil’s main cities and in other locations with substantial expatriate communities. Some of these are international schools, accredited overseas, which mainly follow the American or British curricula, while others are Brazilian-run. There are also some Christian schools which are popular with expatriates, and a number which offer bi-lingual instruction. The international schools normally have a high percentage of students from the more affluent Brazilian families.

    Some expatriate parents choose to send their children to a Brazilian private school with lower fees than an international school. The medium of instruction in Brazilian schools is Portuguese, but some children have additional English language classes. Many expatriate children attend boarding schools in their home countries for their secondary education.

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