Universities for Expats in Brazil

Submitted: April 2014

There are over 2,000 universities and colleges in Brazil. There is a world university ranking site here showing how Brazilian universities rank globally. While there is a mixture of public and private institutions, it is the public ones that have the highest reputations and fiercest competition for available places. On average there will be ten students competing for each place at a public university, compared to two for each place at a private one. Public universities are either supported by the Federal Government (their acronyms generally start with the letters UF), or by the State/Municipal Governments. Approximately 25% of the universities are public, and the remaining 75% are private. Public universities are free. Private universities charge fees, which can be quite large.

Entry into university is decided on the basis of examination results. The main exam is called the vestibular, a multi paper exam covering a broad range of subjects. There is an additional multiple choice exam called Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio (ENEM). Some universities will use the result of the ENEM only to determine admission, some will use a combination of both results, and others will just use the vestibular. Individual universities hold vestibular exams at different dates in the year; some will hold more than one a year. The examinations can spread over up to five days. Prospective students may have to travel thousands of kilometres in order to be able to attend exams at universities in different parts of the country. 

As an expat, you should be aware that generally all classes are conducted in Portuguese, so fluency or near fluency in the language is a prerequisite for attending university in Brazil. Many universities will only accept foreign students who hold a CELPE-Bras (Certificate of Proficiency in Portuguese for Foreigners).

Undergraduate degrees (graduação) at Brazilian universities take anything up to six years to complete, depending on the subject chosen. There are three types:

Postgraduate courses (pós-graduação) at Brazilian universities take anything from one to four years to complete, depending on the type of degree and the subject chosen. There are two types:

Ser Universitario is a useful site which translates quite well on Google Translate. It is full of information regarding universities in Brazil. It has a search tool here for finding all the universities approved by the Brazilian Ministry of Education. You can search by state of individual city or town, and the results will lead you to a link to the website of each university. It also has information on the vestibular exam, including a mock test to help you to familiarise yourself with the types of question asked.