With more than 22 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area, Sao Paulo is the most populous city in the Americas. It’s an infinite accumulation of wealth disparities and a microcosmos of Brazil. As such, it’s one of the most fascinating cities in South America. On this basis, here is a complete Sao Paulo digital nomad guide.
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Welcome to Sao Paulo: The Biggest City in the Americas
In 1554, Portuguese colonists founded a village in the region of modern-day São Paolo (we won’t use the accent in this article). During the colonial period, Sao Paulo steadily grew into a hub for the coffee industry, but it was a far cry from an important city.
During the industrialization of independent Brazil in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Sao Paulo started growing into the megacity that it is today.
Railroads, industrial infrastructure, and economic opportunities brought people from all over the country to Sao Paulo, and the city expanded in all directions.
By the year 2000, the city proper already had over 10 million people. Today, the Sao Paulo metro area is home to over 22 million inhabitants, making it the largest city in the Americas.
Sao Paulo is an incredible city full of contrasts, economic might, and cultural diversity. You’ll find people and traditions from all over Brazil here, as well as stark wealth disparities.
For digital nomads, the largest city in Brazil has several advantages over Rio de Janeiro:
- Sao Paulo is a bit more affordable than Rio for nomads and remote workers;
- It’s a microcosmos of Brazil and an excellent place to learn Portuguese;
- You’ll find the best museums and cultural institutions in all of Brazil here;
- The infrastructure is top-notch in the upscale neighborhoods;
- Sao Paulo has the busiest airport in Brazil, with regular connections to North and South America as well as Europe; and
- It’s a lot less touristy than Rio.
If your priorities aren’t beaches and parties (Sao Paulo has plenty of nightlife too, but it’s not as famous as Rio’s), rather infrastructure and culture, Sao Paulo is undoubtedly the best place in Brazil.
Here is a complete Sao Paulo digital nomad guide covering all the bases.
The Best Neighborhoods in Sao Paulo for Digital Nomads
Sao Paulo is a massive city, and the areas are highly diverse. For digital nomads, three areas are among my top choices.
Thanks to their safety, infrastructure, and culinary offer, these are the best neighborhoods in Sao Paulo for remote workers and ex-pats. If you’re wondering where to stay in Sao Paulo, consider basing yourself in one of these three areas.
Avenida Paulista and Jardins
Avenida Paulista is Sao Paulo’s equivalent to Fifth Avenue. The road has lots of banks, hotels, malls, and museums.
Around Avenida Paulista, you’ll find the neighborhood of Jardins. Jardins is full of upscale apartment buildings, hotels, restaurants, and bars. As one of the wealthiest parts of Sao Paulo, it’s one of the best areas in terms of infrastructure and safety.
Better still, Jardins is well-connected to other parts of the city by metro.
Pinheiros is another high-end district with great infrastructure and nightlife. It is livelier than Jardins, and the population is more diverse.
On the minus side, it’s further away from Avenida Paulista and other transportation hubs.
Finally, Vila Madalena is located south of Pinheiros and is a more alternative, upper-middle-class residential area. It has lots of trendy bars and coffee shops – and younger demographics. It is also more affordable than Jardins.
Like Pinheiros, it’s further away from the city’s transportation hubs, malls, and business centers.
Cost of Living in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Sao Paulo isn’t the cheapest place in Brazil. Nevertheless, it’s still nowhere near what you’d pay in an American or Western European metropolis.
Here is a cost of living in Sao Paulo breakdown with one month of digital nomad expenses:
- Airbnb in Jardins: 750€ (nice studio apartment in a residential tower with a gym and swimming pool);
- Food and Drinks: 300€;
- Transport: 50€;
- Tours and Activities: 30€;
- Miscellaneous like hairdressers, coworking, SIM Cards: 50€.
Total Sao Paulo digital nomad budget: 1,180€ (~1,300 USD).
Sao Paulo is more affordable than Rio, and you can have great bargains if you eat at local restaurants. Thanks to the loss of value of the Brazilian real, everyday expenses decreased for people who earn dollars or euros.
Of course, the fancier your lifestyle, the more you’ll spend. All in all, 1.2k-1.5k USD per month should suffice for average digital nomad expenses.
The Best Sao Paulo Coworking Spaces and Coffee Shops
Sao Paulo offers a vast range of spots to work from for every taste and budget. Here are some of my favorite Sao Paulo coworking spaces and nomad-friendly coffee shops.
- Spaces Coworking Sao Paulo: an excellent modern coworking chain with several locations in the city;
- Regus Sao Paulo Coworking: a modern coworking location right on Avenida Paulista;
- oWorks: a trendy and laidback coworking space with accessible prices close to the Botanical Garden;
- CoLab: located in Pinheiros, CoLab Sao Paulo coworking is one of the best locations with ultra-high-speed Wifi and a relaxing coffee shop;
- Blocktime: another top-notch coworking space in Pinheiros;
- Coffee Lab Pinheiros: a fantastic coffee shop for digital nomads with high-speed Wifi; and
- Perseu Coffee House: close to Avenida Paulista, Perseu has an uber-cool industrial vibe, great coffee, and excellent Wifi.
The Top Attractions in Sao Paulo, Brazil
As a tourist destination, Sao Paulo isn’t as well-known as Rio, but there are still plenty of things to do in the city.
The Downtown Core: Sao Paulo Cathedral and Municipal Market
Sao Paulo’s downtown core isn’t a particularly appealing neighborhood, but it does have a few notable attractions.
Finished in 1913, Sao Paulo Cathedral is the largest Catholic church in the city and is famous for its unique Gothic Revival style.
Aside from the Cathedral, the Municipal Market is an authentic place to shop for local goodies.
Avenida Paulista: Viewpoints and Shops
Avenida Paulista is Sao Paulo’s most bustling avenue – and home to lots of malls and museums.
Don’t miss the SESC viewpoint, one of the best places to get panoramic views over Sao Paulo’s endless concrete jungle.
Sao Paulo is well-known all over the world for street art. In this context, the Beco do Batman in Vila Madalena is an unmissable spot for photographers and street art lovers.
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Ibirapuera Park is the largest and most-visited park in all of South America.
Covering an area of over 158 hectares, it’s the ideal place for a date or a casual stroll. Ibirapuera also has a Japanese Garden, outdoor gyms, food stands, and lakes.
The Best Museums in Sao Paulo
The sheer number of fascinating museums in Sao Paulo is mind-blowing. You won’t be able to visit all of them, but here are some of my favorites:
- Museum of Art of Sao Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (classic art);
- Pinacoteca of Sao Paulo (mainly 19th-century art);
- Museum of Contemporary Art (incredible rooftop terrace with a café);
- Museum of Football;
- Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art;
- Afro Museum (Brazil’s African culture);
- Museo Catavento (Science); and
- Immigration Museum.
If you only have time to visit a few of the best museums in Sao Paulo, I would prioritize the Sao Paulo Assis, the Pinacoteca, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Football.
Liberdade: the Japanese Neighborhood
Situated east of Avenida Paulista, Liberdade is a must-visit neighborhood in Sao Paulo.
Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, and many of them are in Liberdade. You’ll find fantastic eateries and Japanese shops here.
The area’s heritage, however, isn’t limited to Japanese culture. Liberdade is also home to sizable Chinese and Korean minorities.
The Botanical Garden
Founded in 1928, Sao Paulo’s botanical garden is one of the biggest in the world.
It’s located in the southern part of the city and is home to thousands of exotic plant species and leafy walks.
Northeastern Traditions Center
If you are looking to learn more about Brazil’s diversity, the Centro de Tradições Nordestinas is a great place to start.
It’s quite far away from the center of Sao Paulo, but its delicious food and cultural events warrant a visit.
Sao Paulo Digital Nomad Guide: Know Before You Go
To complete my Sao Paulo digital nomad guide, here are some FAQs and general things to know.
Wifi and SIM Cards
The Wifi in Sao Paulo Airbnbs and hotels is generally decent. You’ll encounter world-class Wifi in coworking spaces and select coffee shops.
Always check with your Airbnb host or landlord whether their Wifi meets your requirements.
In terms of SIM Cards, Claro offers 8 Gb of data for R$50. They have the best coverage in Brazil. If you’re on a budget, TIM is a cheaper option.
Brazil isn’t known for English proficiency. Unlike Rio, Sao Paulo doesn’t have a large tourism industry, so you won’t find too many English speakers.
As such, learning some basic Portuguese is highly recommendable.
How to Get Around Sao Paulo
Sao Paulo has one of the best subway networks in all of South America. A single ticket costs no more than R$4 (0.85 USD). You can get a card and charge it at every station. Most stations have been renovated, and the safety standards are good.
Alternatively, you can take Ubers, but Sao Paulo’s infamous traffic will slow you down.
Brazil Digital Nomad Visa
As of 2022, you can stay in the country for up to one year with a Brazil digital nomad visa. The conditions include health insurance, working for a foreign company, and meeting minimum income requirements of around 1,5k USD per month.
Find more info on the Brazil digital nomad visa here, and note that if you are a US citizen moving to Brazil, you may need to continue filing a tax return with the IRS.
Any other Sao Paulo digital nomad will need a 90-day tourist visa if they aren’t part of the exemptions (most countries in the Americas and Europe). Find more info on Brazil’s tourist visa policy here.
Safety in Sao Paulo
One of the primary doubts that many Brazil digital nomads have concerns safety.
In truth, Sao Paulo isn’t the safest city on the planet, but you can manage 99% of the city’s dangers with a few simple rules:
- Do not walk around at night unless it’s a busy area in one of the better neighborhoods. Uber is the safest option.
- Guard your belongings carefully at all times, especially on public transport.
- Keep your valuables in a theft-proof sling bag. I recommend the PacSafe VentureSafe Sling Pack or the Bellroy Crossbody Sling Bag. Both have served me well all over Central and South America.
- Always ask locals whether a particular area is safe to visit. Downtown Sao Paulo, for example, is quite rundown and dodgy.
Sao Paulo Digital Nomad Guide: Conclusion
I loved my time in Sao Paulo. I also believe that the city is highly underrated as many travelers see it as a mere stopover point to get to other places in Brazil.
If you like megacities and have some experience in South America, you will love Sao Paulo.
It’s not the best place to go as a first-time digital nomad. In that same vein, I wouldn’t base myself in Sao Paulo if I had never been to South America. The city can feel intimidating at first, and you’ll need to learn some Portuguese.
On the other hand, the cultural institutions are second to none in Brazil, and if you get to know the city, you’ll start to appreciate its endless attractions.
Finally, I loved the fact that Sao Paulo isn’t as touristy as Rio. Better still, you can actually get work done here without feeling like every day is a party.