An Expat's Guide to Dating in São Paulo

Dating couple
Dating couple | © Wyatt Fisher / Flickr
Euan Marshall

São Paulo has a population of over 12 million people, 21 million if you count the surrounding metropolitan area. However, even in such a big city, São Paulo can feel lonely and isolating, especially for foreigners. Dating can be a daunting prospect at first, but it doesn’t have to be – you just need to know where to look. Here are a few tips to dating as an expat in São Paulo.

Use your apps

The first thing to know about dating in São Paulo is that your mobile phone is your friend. While there are plenty of bars and clubs where you can go to meet other single people, in São Paulo this is more geared towards casual hookups and one night stands. Dating apps, on the other hand, are indispensable for those looking to meet people in the city.

Tinder is a huge hit in Brazil

While there are other apps available, such as OkCupid!, Happn and Bumble, Tinder is still the undisputed king in São Paulo. Every single Paulistano is on Tinder, whether they admit it or not.

Clearly it’s not enough to just be on Tinder, you have to know how to use it properly. Helpful information to have on your profile includes your height, your interests (favorite TV shows are always a winner), your star sign (São Paulo is full of amateur astrologists), whether you speak Portuguese, and perhaps even an indication of your politics.

Once you’ve got a few matches, kicking things off with a creative and/or funny line is always welcome, though it’s not necessary. Tinder users in São Paulo are usually courteous enough to reply to a simple “Hey, how are you?”, without getting bored and un-matching right away.

Using dating apps is the norm in São Paulo

Once the conversation is underway, try to keep things interesting. We’ve all answered the same old boring questions about where we work, where we live, time and time again, so try to think outside the box. As a foreigner, you’ll have the added advantage of some ready-made conversation topics. It is a near certainty that you will be asked about why you came to Brazil, why São Paulo, and what you think about the city. Paulistanos find it fascinating to hear an outsider’s views about their home town, so use this to your advantage. A word to the wise, however: don’t be overly negative of São Paulo! Locals love to moan and complain about their city, but often take exception when a foreigner does the same. Accentuate the positives!

Get to the point

While it’s not unknown for people to have stimulating conversations on Tinder, in most cases, drawn-out chats are a turn-off. It’s difficult to be erudite or charming over instant messaging apps, so always make sure the conversation doesn’t drag on longer than it needs to. Politely ask for the person’s number, leave your own number, or better still, try to set up a date.

It is important to note that in general terms, Brazilian people have a tendency not to give straight answers, especially when these answers are negative. If you are asking someone out on a date, follow this up with a specific time and a place. When dating in São Paulo, “Let’s hang out some time”, often means “I don’t really want to hang out, but I want to let you down easily”. This works both ways, if a Paulistano asks you out and gives you a time and place, the interest is real.

Prepare for lateness

Ironically, setting a time is very important, but that doesn’t mean that anyone is going to stick to it. If your date is late (which he/she will be), don’t be offended – everyone does it. With this in mind, schedule your dates a little bit earlier. For example, a Brazilian 8pm translates into around 9pm-9.30pm. While this can be pretty frustrating at first, leading to several wasted hours on your own in a bar, playing on your phone, you’ll soon get used to it. And after some time in São Paulo, you’ll go native and start showing up late to everything anyway.

Be aware of your gringo-ness

On the whole, foreigners are treated quite differently in São Paulo. This can often work to your advantage, as it helps you stand out a bit in a city of tens of millions. You may notice that you are receiving significantly more Tinder matches than your Brazilian friends, for example. It’s not always completely positive though, as you should be aware that people may be interested in you precisely because you’re a gringo, be it your accent, or your foreign appearance. This particularly applies to men, as Brazilian guys are stereotypically seen as being rude and a bit sexist. Granted, this can make it much easier for foreigners to meet people in São Paulo, but it’s not always a great foundation for something more serious and long-term.

Dating couple

Less is often more

Of course, there are no strict rules to dating, whether it be in São Paulo or anywhere else in the world. Everyone expects something different and that’s part of the thrill and excitement. In São Paulo, however, there is a more relaxed attitude towards dates themselves, often being simpler and more informal than people coming from Europe may be used to. Many times, fancy restaurants and chic cocktail bars are not necessary, and sometimes even frowned upon, with the most popular type of date being a laid-back drink in a half-decent bar, a perfect place for a good conversation. Ladies, don’t be taken aback if your date takes you to a boteco, where the beer is cheap, the décor is simple and the tables are sometimes made of plastic. And guys, don’t feel pressured into taking your date to the most expensive restaurant you can think of – less is often more.

Botecos, such as this one, are classic Brazilian date spots
landscape with balloons floating in the air

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