Living in Brazil – A Guide for PhD Students
Written by Ben Taylor
Brazil is a vibrant and diverse place to study a PhD, offering research opportunities that simply aren’t possible anywhere else. You can expect your life as a PhD student in Brazil to be fun, challenging and fascinating.
This page is an overview what it’s like to study and research in Brazil, covering essentials like transport, banking, living costs and culture.
There are over 20,000 international students in Brazil, making it one of the most popular study abroad destinations in the Americas.
Culture and tourism
The 27 federal states of Brazil are endlessly varied, encompassing Amazonian rainforest, grassy plains, swampy wetlands, bustling cities and stunning beaches. Rio de Janeiro, with its iconic Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer statue, is where many tourists and students first arrive. The largest city is Sao Paulo, a major financial and economic powerhouse with a reputation for cutting-edge art galleries.
Brazil’s incredible biodiversity is a must-experience – just outside Rio you can explore the Parque Nacional da Tijuca, home to many species of animal and plant. And there’s the Iguaçu Falls (Iguazu in Spanish) at the border with Argentina, a majestic waterfall system that eclipses Niagara.
Sport and leisure
The Brazilian infatuation with futebol is world-famous, and with good reason – the men’s national team (known as the Seleção) have won the World Cup on a record-breaking five occasions. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a Brazilian who doesn’t follow the travails of their favourite club and the national team with alternating delight and despair.
Beyond football, volleyball is a popular pastime – particularly on the sandy beaches of Rio de Janeiro – and Formula One racing is followed closely. If you’re looking for a new hobby and a great way of keeping fit, why not give capoeira a go? Capoeira is a unique martial art that fuses dancing and combat.
Food and drink
Brazilian cuisine is a vibrant mix of cultures, absorbing a variety of African and European influences. Feijoada is the national dish: a hearty stew of pork, beef and black beans.
It won’t be too difficult to get yourself an authentic caipirinha cocktail, which mixes cachaça (similar to rum), lime and sugar.
Few universities offer student accommodation to international students so your options are a bit more limited than in other countries. It will also be quite difficult to secure accommodation before your arrival.
Your university’s international office may have some advice about finding a place to stay. One option on arrival are hostels, which can cost between approximately R$35 and R$150 per day (USD $7-30).
For longer term options, you will have the choice of:
- Lodging (renting out a bedroom in a property where the owner lives), a great option if you want to immerse yourself in the Brazilian culture
- Pensionato – a room with meals included
- Furnished flat
Brazil is an affordable place to live, particularly by Western European standards. Unless you are aiming to live in luxury it is easy to eat well and take part in leisure activities without breaking the bank.
Prices in Brazil
This table will give you a rough idea of some of the typical costs associated with student life in Brazil.
Student Cost of Living in Brazil - 2023
|Monthly Travel Pass
|Based on crowdsourced data published by Numbeo.
Recent years have seen the Brazilian government relax previously strict restrictions on foreign students working in the country.
It’s now possible to apply online for a work permit. First, you’ll need to buy a digital certificate token from an authorised post office, which will then give you access to the online system. Your employment must be linked to your studies and you’ll need to renew your permit each year. For more information, please visit the Brazilian government’s website.
The Brazilian banking system is one of the most complex and bureaucratic in the world. But in a way this doesn’t matter too much because temporary residents (such as students) generally cannot hold a bank account Brazil. It is recommended therefore that you try opening an account with an international bank such as Citibank, HSBC or others that may also operate in your home country. This may facilitate transfers of funds you may have in your country of origin. Before you leave for Brazil, check whether your bank has branches in Brazil. If not, you may have to open a new account at home first.
The massive distances involved in travelling between Brazilian cities and regions can be daunting. There isn’t much of a rail network, so buses and domestic flights are the best way of getting around.
Bus travel in Brazil is comfortable, efficient and affordable. The only problem is it’s a long way from anywhere to anywhere else. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time with reserved seats. All buses are non-smoking, and in most cases people adhere to the regulations. On many popular routes travellers can opt for a deluxe coach with air-conditioning and leito (seats that recline almost flat).
There are several domestic airlines operating in Brazil, offering quick way to travel long distances. For example, flying between Porto Alegre in the south and Salvador in the north-east can take just over five hours by air (compared to 40 hours by car!).
The metropolises of Rio and Sao Paulo have extensive metro systems, while most Brazilian cities have a reliable and cheap bus network. Taxis can be a reasonably priced option, but make sure you take a licensed one with a meter.