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PhD Study in Brazil - A Guide for 2019

Brazil makes for a compelling place to study a PhD. The country is blessed with an amazing biodiversity and a vibrant mix of cultures and traditions, and has the potential to become a genuine economic powerhouse in the coming years.

This page will give you an introduction to PhDs in Brazil, with information on fees and funding, the university system and visas, as well as how to apply.

PhD opportunities in Brazil – what’s on offer for 2019?

Brazil is globally famous for its rainforests, beaches and commitment to joga bonito (the ‘beautiful game’ as practised by such greats as Pele, Ronaldinho and Marta). But it’s also an emerging power beginning to assert itself on the world stage, producing vital research in several areas and committing plenty of financial support to its public university system.

With that in mind, now is as good a time as any for adventurous research students to think about studying a PhD in Brazil. These are a few of the best reasons to consider making the move yourself:

  • Free tuition – Brazil’s prestigious public universities offer free tuition to all, regardless of nationality
  • Language – While it’s possible to study some Brazilian PhDs in English, studying in Brazil is an excellent chance to brush up on your Portuguese, which is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world (by native speakers)
  • Extensive university sector – There are over 2,400 universities in Brazil and the country produces around 13,000 PhD researchers each year
  • Unique research prospects – There’s nowhere else quite like Brazil if you want to conduct research into rainforests and biodiversity

PhD Study in Brazil - Key Details
Universities 2,448
Oldest University Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (1792)
International Students 19,996
PhD Length 4 years
Representative Fees None (at public institutions)
Academic Year February to December

PhD life in Brazil

Want to know more about life for international PhD students in Brazil? Our detailed guide covers everything from accommodation and living costs to culture and entertainment.

Brazilian universities

Brazil has a diverse higher education system with nearly 300 public universities and over 2,000 private institutions.

These are the main kinds of higher education institution in Brazil:

  • Federally-managed universities
  • State-managed universities
  • Research centres
  • Technical higher education institutions under municipal authority
  • Private universities

All universities have acronyms (in Portuguese) and those starting with UF are the federal universities, which tend to be the most competitive – and prestigious.

Brazilian university rankings

Brazilian universities feature heavily in Latin American league tables, with 13 institutions in the top 25 of the Latin America University Rankings according to Times Higher Education.

Worldwide, several Brazilian universities feature in global league tables.


Top Brazilian Universities in 2020
University THE 2020 QS 2020 ARWU 2019
University of São Paulo 251-300 =116 101-150
University of Campinas 501-600 214 301-400
Federal University of Minas Gerais 601-800 651-700 401-500
Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul 601-800 801-1000 401-500
Federal University of Santa Catarina 601-800 701-750 601-700
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do rankings matter for PhD study?

University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.

PhD structure

In Brazil, a PhD usually lasts for four years and leads to the award of doutorado. In some universities/research centres, the first year may mainly comprise of classes and you might not have to choose a thesis supervisor right away. In others, the structure will consist of four years of research with some taught components throughout.

Brazilian PhD programmes are challenging and rigorous, sometimes involving teaching seminars and other responsibilities.

Brazilian graduate programmes deliver around 13,000 PhD degrees per year and are continuously evaluated using an internationally-recognised methodology, conducted by the Brazilian Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education (CAPES).

Assessment and examination

The general conditions for the award of a PhD in Brazil involve:

  • Sitting a qualifying examination (the equivalent of the first-year review in the UK)
  • Preparing a thesis
  • Having the required number of credits from taught courses

The thesis examination is very similar to that of the French PhD, the défense, which is a public examination in front of a committee. The committee will examine whether your research counts as an original contribution in a particular field of knowledge – this is the most important criteria for a successful outcome.

Your supervisor will chair the committee, which will have up to five other examiners, all of them PhD holders themselves. As it is a public event, anyone can sit in the audience.

Fees and funding

There are no tuition fees for Brazilian students at public universities (a right established in the Brazilian federal constitution). What’s more, many public universities extend this right to international students too.

Private universities will charge tuition fees in the region of BRL 1,400 and BRL 2,400 per month (USD $370 - $640).

You may also be charged an application fee at both public and private universities.

Other costs include international student health insurance (see our guide to living in Brazil) and student services (such as sports facilities). Your student card will give you access to discounted public transport and meals at university restaurants.

Scholarships

There are a number of scholarships available to study in Brazil but a large number are for one-year study abroad (for example as part of a joint PhD or as a visiting PhD researcher). Your university or your department may also have funds for your research. The biggest expense (if you are studying in a public university) will be associated with living costs.

Embassies, consulates and government agencies – particularly those of other Portuguese-speaking countries – sometimes make bilateral agreements to provide bursaries to study in Brazil.

The Brazilian Student Exchange Program for Graduates (PEC-PG) is a programme run by Brazilian agency CAPES to provide financial aid for Masters and PhD courses to increase the qualifications of professors, researchers, professionals and graduates in developing countries. More information (in Portuguese) and a list of eligible countries can be found on the Brazilian Ministry of Education website.

Other scholarships include the Kleinhans Fellowship for Community Forestry Research.

The Fulbright program offers grants to American citizens to study a PhD in Brazil, while the Council on International Educational Exchange has two kinds of grant available for American students to study abroad:

Applying for a PhD in Brazil

In Brazil, you need a mestrado (or an international equivalent to a Masters) to start a PhD. This is the norm in Brazil and even if it is common practice in your home country to accept students directly from a Bachelors degree, it is unlikely to be sufficient in Brazil.

Please note that degrees considered as lato sensu postgraduate qualifications are not suitable for entry onto a PhD programme degree. MBA programmes in Brazil are classified as lato sensu programmes. You will need a stricto sensu Masters degree (comparable to academic Masters in the UK).

Entry requirements

Applicants to a PhD programme often have to take entrance examinations, but check with your university as there are also other selection processes. Entrance examinations, when they are required, may include written tests (often subject-specific) and an interview during which the panel assesses your motivations.

As for most countries, applications for the majority of postgraduate courses can be made online via individual university websites. Sometimes you will have to contact your chosen department and ask for a form to be sent to you by email.

Deadlines for applications for postgraduate study will vary depending on the university but can be really early, and remember that the academic year starts in February so make sure you check with admissions departments of individual institutions when you application needs to be submitted.

As part of the application, you will have to provide:

  • Application form
  • Official copies of diplomas
  • Undergraduate and postgraduate transcripts
  • A copy of your Masters thesis
  • A CV
  • Reference letters
  • A letter from an academic who has agreed to be your supervisor
  • A copy of the receipt showing that you have paid your application fee (where applicable)

The selection process normally consists of reviewing your qualifications, professional experience and the relevance of the course chosen for your future career. Some universities have a two-stage application process and if you are selected, you may be ask to attend an interview (in person or via video call).

Language requirements

Most examinations and courses are delivered in Portuguese so it is essential that you have adequate levels of Portuguese proficiency. To demonstrate your knowledge of Portuguese, you will have to provide a Celpe-Bras certificate, the only Portuguese language test recognised in Brazil.

For PhD students, there is a small number of departments that are willing to let you apply in English. However, you will require at least some Portuguese before you start your studies (and for everyday life). Universities offer both pre-sessional and in-sessional intensive Portuguese courses.

How do I write a PhD research proposal?

The research proposal is an important part of any PhD application, regardless of where you choose to study. Take a look at our guide for some tips and advice on putting yours together.

Student visas

As a student, you should apply for a VITEM IV study visa. These kinds of visa are issued for up to one year but can be renewed with the Federal Police in Brazil at the end of the period of validity.

You’ll need to apply for your student visa in person at your local Brazilian embassy or consulate, booking an appointment in advance. The application process can take two to three months so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to arrange everything.

At your visa interview, you’ll need to present the following documents:

  • Your passport
  • A passport-size photo
  • A completed visa application form
  • A police check
  • A copy of your return flight tickets
  • Evidence that you have enough money to support yourself during your studies
  • A letter from your prospective Brazilian university

Once in Brazil you have to register with the Federal Police within 90 days of your arrival. Police registration is necessary to formalise your stay and to get an ID card for foreigners.

Unfortunately, you’re not permitted to undertake any paid work in Brazil while in the country on your student visa.

When you are at the point of requiring a visa renewal, you will have to submit an application to the Federal Police at least 30 days before the expiration date.

Next steps

If you want to stay on in Brazil after gaining your doctoral degree, there are plenty of opportunities for further research at the country’s universities.

Of course, Brazil also happens to be the largest economy in Latin America and one of the emerging BRICS powers, so you can apply your new-found research skills in many varied business sectors across the nation (and beyond). You’ll need to apply for a VITEM V work visa at the Brazilian Ministry of Justice and Public Security.

Find a PhD in Brazil

Decided that Brazil is the right destination for your PhD? Why not get started browsing some Brazilian PhDs? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

Last updated - 04/10/2019

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