With its flamboyant and highly westernised culture, Brazil has become a popular international student destination for those looking to study overseas and learn a new language

As the largest country in South America, Brazil covers nearly half (48%) of the continent, and is home to the Amazon River, more than half of the Amazon Rainforest and 22 UNESCO world cultural and nature sites - including Brasilia, the Historic Centre of Salvador De Bahia and Iguaçu National Park. It also has an impressive selection of beautiful beaches, such as Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro.

It's therefore no surprise that many are drawn to Brazil for its natural beauty (as well as its fanatical devotion to the sport of football) - but you could also be boosting your career prospects. The country welcomes over 20,000 international students and offers hundreds of English-taught courses, particularly at universities in the popular student locations of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

What's more, if you opt to study at a publicly-funded university you won't have to pay any tuition fees - meaning you'll have more money to use exploring.

Before travelling to the country, always be sure to check the UK government's latest Brazilian travel advice.

Brazilian universities

There are nearly 300 publicly-funded universities and more than 2,000 private institutions in Brazil.

Public universities offer free education to international students, while private institutions are more costly. Because of this, securing a place at a public university will be tough - while the ratio of applicants to places at private institutions is less than two-to-one, there are nearly ten candidates for every place at public universities.

As well as making 27 appearances in the QS World University Rankings 2022 - with five in the top 500 - Brazil dominates the QS Latin America Rankings 2022. Indeed, 95 Brazilian institutions make the cut, with three in the top ten:

  • Universidade de São Paulo (2nd)
  • Universidade Estadual de Campinas/Unicamp (7th)
  • Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (9th).

The academic year runs from February to December, with a break in July.

All prospective students must pass the vestibular entrance exam, before they can enrol. The vestibular typically spans one or two days between November and January, and consists of multiple choice and essay elements to test your knowledge of a range of subjects including literature, maths and history. It's used as a formality at private universities, but designed to whittle down the competition for places at publicly-funded institutions.

Degree courses in Brazil

The Brazilian higher education system corresponds with the European Union's Bologna system of Bachelors, Masters and PhD degrees, although there's no formal link between them.

Quality assurance is integral to Brazilian higher education - once every three years, courses across all levels are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 10, with those scoring 3 or below being closely monitored by the Co-ordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES).

Brazilian institutions offer three types of Bachelors degree:

  • Bachelors (Bacharelado) - the broadest option, which can take three to six years to complete
  • Licentiate (Licenciatura) - an elementary or secondary teaching degree, lasting from three to four years
  • Technology (Tecnologia) - professional programmes offering specialised knowledge, over the course of two to three years.

For these programmes, you'll need to apply directly to your chosen institution.

Masters degrees

A Mestrado, or Brazilian Masters, is a two-year course, comprised of taught lectures and research projects resulting in a dissertation.

You'll undergo a public assessment before you graduate - meaning anyone can attend - where you'll present your thesis to a committee chaired by your supervisor.

PhDs

A Doutorado is the highest level of postgraduate degree in Brazil, and takes three to four years to complete.

You'll need a Mestrado (or international equivalent) to start a Doctoral programme in Brazil, as well as a high level of Portuguese proficiency - very few programmes are offered in English at this level, and a good grasp of the country's official language is essential for getting by.

Student exchanges

There are a number of exchange opportunities for students hoping for a taster of Brazil:

Your university may have its own connections with Brazilian universities and offer exchanges or placements at postgraduate level, so check with your department to see what's available.

Course fees

When it comes to tuition fees, the Brazilian higher education system treats its international students the same as Brazilian nationals. The Brazilian Federal Constitution has cemented the right for free public education up to postgraduate degree level, meaning publicly-funded degrees are free of charge for international students.

How much private institutions charge varies - fees typically fall between BRL 11,300 and BRL 55,050 (£1,500 and £7,300) per year, depending on where you study.

Remember to factor in any additional costs to your budget - your tuition fees may be free, but you'll have to pay for health insurance, student services (such as joining societies and paying for course materials) and application fees, as well as your maintenance costs - for food, accommodation and leisure activities.

Funding to study in Brazil

International students are entitled to the same financial aid subsidising the costs of meals, books, accommodation and transport through their university as Brazilian nationals. Each university sets its own rules, so check with yours to see what you could be entitled to.

Student visas

The 'temporary residence' visa allows for one year's study, which can be extended to suit your needs. The application process takes up to three months, so allow time and begin your application early.

To obtain a visa, you'll need:

  • a valid passport
  • two printed and signed application forms
  • two passport-sized photos
  • evidence of no criminal record, original and duplicate
  • proof of sufficient funds
  • medical records
  • a letter of confirmation from your Ministry of Education (MEC)-approved institute.

You'll be required to register with the federal police in the city you're living in within 30 days of your arrival. This formalises your visit, and you'll receive a foreigners' ID card, which you can then use for other purposes, such as opening a bank account.

To renew your visa, you'll need to submit your application to the federal police at least 30 days before it expires.

Read more about Brazilian visas at the Embassy of Brazil in London - Visas to travel to Brazil.

How to apply

You can apply for most postgraduate courses via individual university websites, although the majority of these will be in Portuguese.

When applying for postgraduate study, you'll need to prove you have a Bachelors degree (or equivalent), as well as evidence of the following:

  • a completed application form
  • official copies of your qualifications, stamped by authorities at your local Brazilian embassy
  • a CV displaying relevant professional and teaching experience
  • references
  • a letter of confirmation from your university supervisor
  • a copy of receipt for application fee payment where applicable.

Language requirements

In order to study in Brazil, you'll need to prove your proficiency in Portuguese - even if you're studying a course delivered in English.

The only test recognised by the MEC for international students is the CELPE-Bras, involving a range of listening, reading, writing and speaking tasks.

The MEC-accredited institution for administering the test in the UK is King's College, London. The exam is offered twice a year, typically in April and October, and is comprised of two parts:

  • a three-hour written component, where you'll provide written answers to tasks based on video, audio and text materials
  • a 20-minute oral component, where you'll discuss a topic, not known in advance, with your examiner.

Visit King's College London - CELPE-Bras Exam for full details of the process.

Many courses will offer intensive Portuguese classes for non-native speakers, which are worth looking into to develop your understanding.

Comparison to UK qualifications

As the Brazilian higher education system follows the same pattern as the Bologna system followed in the UK, having your qualifications recognised shouldn't cause any problems.

Typically, your qualifications will be accepted in Brazil if the institution you're applying to offers an equivalent - such as the Brazilian Bacharelado and the UK Bachelors.

Find out more

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