Surviving São Paulo’s Public Transportation

São Paulo, the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere, can be very overwhelming especially when one has to figure out how to get from one region to another. Luckily, the city has a pretty good public transportation system that is usually reliable and efficient. However, if you don’t have a basic understanding of how it works or what the unspoken rules/tips are for taking public transportation, the task can seem daunting. Being seasoned public transportation users, we have decided to let you in on the secrets and tricks that make using this megalopolis’ public transit a breeze.

The Metro

  1. Try to avoid rush hours like the plague. Sometimes it’s unavoidable and you just have to grab the green line between 7-8am or 5-6pm but if you have a choice and would rather maintain even the slightest notion of personal space, use during off-times.
  2. Stay to the right on stairs and escalators. This is especially true if you aren’t walking up the escalators, people will push you out of the way (or, less forcefully, glare at the back of your head and make a lot of annoyed sounds) if you are standing on the left side.
  3. Buy tickets in advance during slow hours. If you wait until the last minute to buy tickets, you may be met with long lines to get tickets, long lines to get through the turnstiles, etc.
  4. If you aren’t getting off at the next stop, stay away from the area around the doors unless it is unavoidable. If you are trapped, make sure to step out of the metro and out of the way for people to exit before hopping back on when the doors start closing.
  5. Keep you bags in front of you and out of the way.
  6. Do not sit in the preferencial seating unless there is either A no one else on the train needing that seat (that fits the preferencial seating guidelines) or B you fit the preferencial seating guidelines.
  7. Be aware of your surroundings and report suspicious activity using the new texting system. It is actually quite efficient (we have used it twice).
  8. If someone comes around and places candy/gum/mints/etc. on your lap, know that it is not just some kind soul giving away free goodies and that this person is violating the rules of the metro. Unless you really want it and are willing to pay, just leave it sitting on your lap for them to retrieve before the next station.
  9. Even though some signs may be in English or any other language (as well as mention that if you have questions you can ask the staff for help), no one working for the metro system speaks English.
  10. When you look up directions, try to also find out which door is the best one to exit out of. On Avenida Paulista, for example, each metro has multiple exits that drop you off at various points along the avenue.

The Bus

  1. Try to have exact change for the bus. Since most people living in the city have their own rechargable bus cards, often times the buses will not have change for bills higher than R$10 and if they do the drivers will be too lazy to give you that left over 10 cents.
  2. If you can sit down, do it! The buses speed around turns and over speed bumps leaving you flailing for the nearest handhold and clinging to the poor stranger who did manage to stay upright.
  3. Get as close to the back as you can a couple of stops before yours so that you know you will be able to get off when your stop comes. We both have missed our stops on multiple occassions because we couldn’t push through the crowds in time to get off.
  4. Like on the metro, keep your belongings in front of you and out of the way.
  5. If you don’t know exactly where you should get off, ask the employee that handles the money what stop is closest to your destination and to let you know when that is coming up.

As always be safe! This is without a doubt the best way to see the city so don’t be scared by the crowds and just enjoy the chaos.


Any tips that we may have left out? Let us know in the comments!

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