I had a relative murdered there. Colleagues assaulted. Acquaintances victims of pick pocketing. For all those motives, when someone asked me Is São Paulo Safe? , the obvious answer should be a big, bold no, certainly not.
However, this is not my opinion. At least not nowadays.
São Paulo can be considered a safe place. In this article, I will tell you why.
First things first: São Paulo can be either one of the 26 states of Brazil or the capital of this same state. The city has a population of 12.2 million people. This makes it the largest city of Brazil, and one of the largest cities in the world.
Only São Paulo state alone have an area equivalent to the entire United Kingdom, and a population comparable to Spain.
It is important to have those dimensions in mind. We must remember that Brazil is a continental country when we talk about violence. While I would classify Brazilians cities like Maceió or Belém as very dangerous, the question is São Paulo safe have a different answer from me:
Yes, it is relatively safe to live there, depending on few conditions.
Below I will list the three main reasons.
1st – The Violence is very location-specific.
São Paulo (the capital city, not the state) have 96 districts. 33 of those districts have a homicide rate smaller than the USA (4.8 per 100 thousand inhabitants).
On the other hand, 28 districts have a homicide rate higher than Nigeria.
Some districts, like Jaçanã, are more violent than Mexico.
Other districts, like Jardim Paulista, are safer than Germany.
Probably the reader is guessing, correctly, that those enormous discrepancies have their origin in income levels and presence of law enforcement. This may lead to the following conclusion:
If near one third of the districts are super-dangerous, then it is dangerous to live there because people need to go to different parts for different reasons!
This is not entirely true. São Paulo have plenty of traffic jams. Enough to rank among the Cities with the worst traffic in the world. Across the years, the city bypassed this problem by developing a peculiar way of urban organization.
Every district of São Paulo works like a mini-city, having nearly everything you need. This makes unnecessary for someone to go out of his neighbourhood frequently and face gigantic traffic jams.
I lived in São Paulo, in the western region (more specific, in the Butantã district). Never had been to any of the violent Zona Leste (eastern zone) districts, except those closer to the center like Tatuapé. I was once in a very dangerous district in the extreme south, but only because I took a wrong bridge when crossing the Pinheiros river.
If you ask people who lived there their whole lives, chances are their story will be similar. Most of the time they spend in their neighbourhood and adjacent districts. I am not saying this is good. This kind of social segregation is bad in the long term. However, I am just stating a fact: You will not need to cross dangerous districts frequently, unless you live close to one.
2nd – The Violence is decreasing in São Paulo. Everywhere.
It is a difficult task to define the reasons behind endemic violence in a country like Brazil. It is equally difficult to list the reasons behind sharp falls or rises in the criminality across extended periods.
I am not going to do that here, but just state a fact:
Violence is falling in most states of Brazil consistently for already some years. In São Paulo state this delinquency reduction is even sharper.
In 2001, the homicide rate of São Paulo was 33.3 per 100 000 people. Less than two decades later, this number felt to 6.42.
To put this into perspective, in 2001 São Paulo had a murder rate similar to Mexico. Now it is just a little above the USA.
The fall in criminality is not only about homicides, but in other crimes as well. It is also not restricted only to specific regions, but widespread. The chart above is about the ABC region, metropolitan cities of the São Paulo conurbation. Even though it is in Portuguese, you can see crimes like latrocínio (robbery + murder) decreasing 58% in the first semester of 2019 compared to the previous year.
3rd – There are ways to dodge most of the risks.
While there is not a 100% efficient system to avoid thieves and other crooks, most of the paulistanos (people from São Paulo) already mastered the daily habits to not become a victim.
More details on this you can see in one of the chapters of my book Budget Travelers, Digital Nomads & Expats: The Ultimate Guide: 50 Tips, Tricks, Hacks and Ways. You can also check this article I wrote for Medium about some of those tricks.
Things like not expose cell phones in the central region, not use expensive photographic machines publicly, or have a dummy wallet. A common accessory of people in the Sé region (a place ridden by pickpocketers) is the pochete (sort of a money belt). It makes you look fat, but is great to keep your documents and cards safe.
Conclusion: Is São Paulo Safe?
Going against the common belief that everywhere in Brazil is dangerous, I would answer the question Is São Paulo Safe? With yes, it is.
It is safer compared to most regions in Brazil, and even in Latin America. It is also relatively safe if you live in half of the districts and do not wander in the other half. But the best news is: São Paulo is getting safer year after year, continuously, during decades already.
Author: Levi Borba, founder of Colligere Expat Consultancy, former RM specialist for the world´s greatest airline, co-founder of Nearby Airport Hostel Warsaw and author of the book Moving Out, Living Abroad and Keeping Your Sanity. You can check some of his articles here.
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