Knowing how to transit an unfamiliar airport (in an unfamiliar language) can be daunting, especially if it's one of the busiest in the Southern Hemisphere! São Paulo's main international airport, Guarulhos (officially called São Paulo/Guarulhos–Governador André Franco Montoro International Airport) or GRU, serves as a major hub for travelers moving in and out of Brazil. If you find yourself transiting through GRU, this Planet Patrick guide is for you.
I arrived in GRU on an overnight Latam flight from Johannesburg, South Africa, so I was super tired on arrival and concerned about finding my way in Portuguese. So let's explore what it's like to move within and between terminals at São Paulo Airport.
1. Know Your Terminals
São Paulo Airport has three main terminals:
- Terminal 1: Serves mainly domestic flights and a few regional destinations.
- Terminal 2: Handles both domestic and international flights.
- Terminal 3: The primary international terminal with the most updated facilities.
My strong advice to you if you're switching flights, is to be super clear in advance about which terminals your incoming and outgoing flights are in.
2. Navigating Between Terminals
- On Foot: Terminals 2 and 3 are adjacent to each other and can be reached on foot.
- Shuttle Bus: There's a free airport shuttle bus that connects all three terminals, running every 15 minutes or so during the day. Watch out for signs for the shuttle bus (or staff will help direct you as you disembark your incoming flight).
3. Clearing Customs and Immigration
If your transit involves switching between an international and domestic flight (or vice versa), you'll need to clear customs and immigration first. Keep your passport, boarding pass, and any necessary visas handy. In real life, I use this light sling bag to keep things close and safe.
My experience: I was transiting from Terminal 3 to another international flight in Terminal 3, and I had to pass through *just security* again (you don't take anything out of your bags for this check). After security, I took an escalator up to the departures floor and that was it (10 minutes all-in).
4. Amenities and Facilities
GRU Airport offers:
- Lounge Access: Several lounges available, some of which can be accessed with certain credit cards or membership programs like Priority Pass. I used the Amex Executive Lounge in Terminal 3.
- Free WiFi: Available everywhere throughout the airport. Follow the instructions on your device to connect.
- Dining: Heaps of dining options ranging from local Brazilian options to well-known international fast food. At 4.30am, Piola was open and serving hot coffee (which I was very grateful for!).
- Shopping: Duty-free shops, local souvenir shops, and various brands available, especially in Terminal 3.
5. Resting Between Flights
If you have a long layover:
- Try the TRYP Hotel: Located in the airport, it offers rooms for a full night or even hourly rates for short rests.
- Lounges: Many offer food and drink, comfortable seating and showers. I use Priority Pass to keep things simple.
6. Getting Around
- ATMs and Currency Exchange: there are multiple options throughout the airport if you need local currency.
- Local SIM Cards: Widely available in local small shops or dedicated mobile phone stores, after Customs.
7. If You Decide to Venture Out
If you have a particularly long layover and want to experience a bit of São Paulo before you transit São Paulo airport:
- Leave Extra Time: São Paulo's traffic is notorious. Factor in way more time than you think you'll need if you decide to leave the airport and return to get your next flight.
- Storage Lockers: Available to store your luggage if you decide to go sightseeing. (GRU recommends Malex in Terminals 2 and 3, but I've not used them personally).
8. Tips for a Smooth Transit at São Paulo Airport
- Language: Portuguese is the main language. Having a translation app like Google Translate or a phrasebook can be helpful.
- Safety: Like any major airport, always keep your belongings with you.
- Stay Informed: Regularly check the flight screens for updates, especially if there are gate changes (this happened to me at nearly every South American airport!).
Transiting through São Paulo's GRU Airport will be straightforward as long as you're prepared. With clear signs in both Portuguese and English, I found the airport to be very clean and well-maintained. With decent facilities and the stores/food you might need, you should be on your way pretty quickly.