Study in Brazil | Top Universities

For a country with a developing economy, Brazil has an impressive number of universities in the QS World University Rankings® – many of which have climbed significantly in recent years. There are over 2,300 higher education institutions in Brazil that are recognized by Brazil’s Ministry of Education (MEC) so there’s lots of attractive opportunities for international students who want to study in Brazil.

Brazil features 22 times in the QS World University Rankings® 2018, with its highest-ranked university being the Universidade de São Paulo (USP) in 121st place. Next is Universidade Estadual De Campinas (UNICAMP) (joint 182nd), which is also based in the São Paulo area. 

Unsurprisingly, given this strong global presence, Brazil dominates the QS regional rankings for Latin America. In the QS Latin America University Rankings 2018, Brazil claims 83 of the region’s top 400 universities, far more than any other nation. This includes four universities in the region’s top 10. In addition, Brazil’s higher education system was ranked the 22nd best in the world in the QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings.


Study in Brazil


The Brazilian higher education system

Undergraduate (bachelor’s) degrees are known as bacharelado and take between three and six years to complete. Aspiring teachers can take a licentiate degree (licenciatura), which takes three to four years to complete, while technology degrees (tecnologia) offer highly specialized professional courses such as tourism management or agribusiness and take between two and three years.

Although the licentiate degree has a focus on education and allows the degree holder to teach their chosen subject, the core courses taught are so similar to a bachelor’s degree that the option to undertake a licentiateship or a bachelor’s degree can be made towards the end of the course. Technology degrees, meanwhile, are comparable to the US associate’s degree.

Quality assurance is an integral part of Brazilian higher education, with postgraduate programs evaluated every two years. Programs with low scores are closely monitored by CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior), the Brazilian Federal Agency for the Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education.

Read more about the top universities in Brazil:

Universidade de São Paulo (USP) 

Universidade de São Paulo (USP)

The highest-ranked institution in Brazil, Universidade de São Paulo (USP) is ranked 121st in the world and third in Latin America in 2018. It’s Brazil’s largest public university, with 94,875 students enrolled at 11 campuses. USP’s strong reputation is supported by its achievements in the latest QS World University Rankings by Subject, with the university featured among the world’s best in 42 out of a possible 46 subject areas, including several top-50 positions.

Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp)

Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp) is currently ranked second in Latin America and joint 182nd in the world, and is consistently referred to as one of the world’s most prestigious younger universities, having been founded in 1966. Unicamp produces 15% of Brazil’s research input, and has around 35,650 students at its three campuses, including 16,655 postgraduate students. Ranked in the global top 50 for dentistry and agriculture and forestry, Unicamp is also featured in the subject rankings for a further 30 subjects.

Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro 

Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

Ranked seventh in Latin America and 311th in the QS World University Rankings 2018, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) is Brazil’s oldest university, founded in 1792, when its polytechnic school was known as the Royal Academy of Artillery, Fortification and Design. Today, about 67,000 students are enrolled, and the university owns several museums, hospitals and research facilities around the city of Rio de Janeiro. UFRJ is ranked among the world’s top universities for 33 subjects, and is featured in the global top 50 for anthropology.

Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP)

The Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP) is ranked 10th in Latin America and in the 491-500 range of the QS World University Rankings 2018. UNESP is one of six public universities in the São Paulo state, and is another fairly young university, having been established in 1976. UNESP ranks among the world’s best in 17 subjects, including top-50 positions for dentistry and veterinary science. Considered one of the top universities in Brazil, UNESP also receives four QS Stars.

Universidade de Brasília

Located in the heart of the capital city, Brasília, Universidade de Brasília is ranked 18th in Latin America and in the 651-700 range globally. It was founded in 1962 and currently teaches about 40,000 students, 9,000 of whom are postgraduate students. The university is included in 12 subject rankings, including a top 100 position for anthropology.

See the results of the QS Latin America University Rankings

Find out more about some of Brazil’s major student states and cities…


São Paulo

Along with Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo is one of Brazil’s largest metropolises. Primarily a business city, São Paulo also caters to beach lovers drawn by the relatively unspoiled beaches near Iguape and Guarujá, while the endless fields of cattle pasture, sugar cane, oranges and soya further inland appeal to nature fanatics. São Paulo state is also home to Brazil’s highest city, Campos do Jordão, which has an Alpine-style resort and cooler temperatures than the rest of the country.

São Paulo city is the cultural heart of Brazil, with a buzzing nightlife, world-class art galleries and museums, and vibrant fashion, drama and music scenes. It produces more orange juice than any single nation worldwide, boasts the best coffee in Brazil, and is known for its varied and sophisticated cuisine, including Chinese, Italian, Lebanese, French and Japanese influences. It’s also home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan. If you’re more footy than foodie, don’t miss the Museu do Futebol, housed in the Art Deco-style Estádio do Pacaembú.

Among the universities in São Paulo is the highest-ranked university in Brazil in the World University Rankings 2018 (USP). There’s also Universidade Estadual Paulista “Júlio De Mesquita Filho” (UNESP), ranked 491-500 in the QS World University Rankings 2018, and Universidade Federal De São Paulo (UNIFESP) and Pontificia Universidade Católica De São Paulo (PUC-SP), both of which are ranked 501-550.

Other universities in São Paulo (the state) include Universidade Federal do ABC (UFABC) and Universidade Federal de São Carlos (UFSCar). Along with the Universidade de São Paulo, Universidade Estadual de Campinas is well known for its strength in electrical/electronic engineering, telecoms and mechanical engineering programs.

See where São Paulo ranks in the QS Best Student Cities >


Rio de Janeiro

Mention Rio de Janeiro and most people think of the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer, an important symbol in Brazilian Christianity, or the annual Rio Carnival, famous for its spectacular parades, music and infectious dance atmosphere. Rio’s enthusiasm for dance is matched only by its enthusiasm for sport – Rio de Janeiro hosted a large part of the FIFA World Cup 2014, as well as the 2016 Olympic Games.

Rio de Janeiro’s urban landscape coexists well with the beaches on one side and lush mountains on the other. While science, technology and politics students will enjoy its scientific conferences and cultural debates, Rio also has plenty for literature and arts students with plays, shows, concerts and street performers galore.

Top universities in Rio de Janeiro include Universidade Federal Do Rio De Janeiro (UFRJ), ranked 311th the QS World University Rankings 2018, Pontificia Universidade Católica Do Rio De Janeiro (PUC-Rio) at 501-550, Universidade Do Estado Do Rio De Janeiro (UERJ) at 801-1000 and Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) at 801-1000.



Salvador is second only to Rio when it comes to melding a natural setting, in Salvador’s case on the mouth of the bay of Todos os Santos (All Saints), with a modern skyline. It has the largest collection of colonial architecture in Latin America and a vibrant modern culture. Salvador is Brazil’s most Afro-Brazilian city and you’ll never be far away from a great samba bar.

Salvador lies in Bahia state which is famous for having invented the trio elétrico – groups playing on top of trucks wired for sound – which are used during Carnival and other similar events throughout the world. Salvador’s Carnival (along with Rio and Olinda, just outside Recife) is among the biggest and most inclusive. Salvador also joins Rio in being one of the most gay-friendly cities in Brazil. Brazil, in general, has a very tolerant attitude to sexuality so you’ll find the divide between gay and straight nightlife is often very blurred here.

Notable universities in Salvador include Universidade Federal Da Bahia (UFBA), ranked 801-1000 in the QS World University Rankings this year. Other universities in the city include Universidade do Estado da Bahia (UNEB), Universidade Católica do Salvador (UCSAL) and Universidade Salvador (UNIFACS).

Minas Gerais

Minas Gerais is a state in Brazil, and its capital city Belo Horizonte is home to Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), ranked 551-600 in the QS World University Rankings 2018 and joint 11th in Latin America. The Universidade Federal de Viçosa (UFV) is also based in Belo Horizonte, along with Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais (PUC-MG) and Universidade do Estado de Minas Gerais (UEMG). Belo Horizonte is filled with numerous museums, including the UFMG Botanic Gardens, as well as cultural landmarks, such as the Mineirão football stadium.

Minas Gerais also contains former colonial cities such as Ouro Preto, where you’ll find the Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto (UFOP). While its stunning baroque architecture remains, Ouro Preto is now a university town with a vibrant student culture – there are approximately 10,000 students in the city. Most students live in communal houses similar to fraternity or sorority houses, each of which has its own unique history and initiation process.

Other universities in Minas Gerais include Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora (UFJF) in the industrial city of Juiz de Fora (once the state’s largest city and home to the Mercedes-Benz factory) and Universidade Federal de Uberlândia (UFU), located in west Minas Gerais’s Uberlândia, a location which is ideally situated for quick trips out of state. There’s also Universidade José do Rosário Vellano (UNIFENAS) and Universidade Federal de Alfenas (UNIFAL-MG), both found to the south in Alfenas, an important university town known for its courses in agronomy, dentistry, pharmacy and medicine.

See the results of the QS Latin America University Rankings

Tuition fees in Brazil

The Brazilian Federal Constitution has established the right for free public education up to post-graduate level so most public universities only charge a registration fee for students. Most higher education institutions in Brazil are run by the federal government, the state government or the municipal government. Federal and state institutions are generally known as ‘universities’ and tuition is free, while municipal governments tend to run smaller institutions that sometimes charge tuition fees.

Private higher education institutions are primarily university centers or integrated faculties and charge wide-ranging fees depending on the degree programs offered. Private tuition fees can cost from around US$2000 to over $10,000 per year. Despite this, public universities are usually viewed as offering the best quality education. There are nearly ten candidates for every place in public universities, while in private universities the ratio is less than two-to-one.

Financial aid to study in Brazil

Brazil’s higher education funding has grown, particularly in recent years – the Brazilian government now offers a limited number of tuition grants for poorer students to attend private universities. This does not apply to international students, so if you do need financial assistance, it will be easier to secure funding with a home-based organization in your country of origin.


Entrance examinations for universities in Brazil

All prospective candidates to a private or public university in Brazil must take an entrance examination, similar to the SAT or ACT test in the US. Before signing up, you’ll need to choose the university and degree program you are interested in, as each university runs its own exam. Depending on the university, you’ll need to take the “Vestibular” exam, the ENEM exam or both.

The Vestibular exam includes many of the subjects covered in high school including mathematics, sciences, history, geography, literature, Portuguese and a foreign language (candidates can usually choose between English, Spanish and French). The specific questions you will need to answer depend on the degree program for which you are applying – law students will likely be tested on history, geography and mathematics while medical school students might get biology, chemistry and geography.

A fairly new national secondary school exam known as Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio (ENEM) is used by some universities in the place of the Vestibular. Sometimes the ENEM may replace only the first qualifying section of the Vestibular. ENEM results can be used as part of the final overall grade in the Vestibular. A few public universities (such as USP and UNICAMP) have chosen not to use ENEM grades at all – basing their admission criteria on the Vestibular exam only.

Applying to universities in Brazil

Managed by the Ministry of Education (MEC), a national university application system known as SISU (Sistema de Seleção Unificada) is used by public higher education institutions in order to offer vacancies for candidates who have taken the ENEM. You’ll need to register on the SISU site when its selection process starts (held twice a year at the beginning of the semester) using your ENEM registration number and password. Once registered, the system will inform you of any additional documents and/or admissions requirements you must fulfill before being able to apply to your chosen university.

You can then proceed to choose your options among the vacancies offered by the participating institutions. You can change your options during the registration period but must finalize your decision before the end of this period. The system then automatically selects the best ranked candidates in each course according to their overall ENEM grade.

Universities that have not joined SISU (such as UNIFESP, UFRJ, UFMG and Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS)) have their own independent exams. These exams are usually their own version of the Vestibular exams, and may be used in conjunction with the national ENEM.

Due to Brazilian initiatives to promote access to education for students with socioeconomic disadvantages, many universities in Brazil have racial quotas and quotas for students whose secondary education was spent entirely in a publicly funded school. As such, some students may be given extra points in their admissions test if they agree to receive this advantage based on either of the factors mentioned.

Proficiency in Portuguese

All prospective international undergraduate students applying to study in Brazil must be able to prove their proficiency in Portuguese, to be able to study in the language and take the admissions examinations. This is assessed by the Certificado de Proficiência em Língua Portuguesa para Estrangeiros (CELPE-Bras). The CELPE-Bras is offered in Brazil and countries such as the US, Germany, Chile and Japan with the support of the Brazilian Ministry of International Relations (MRE). You can register for the CELPE-Bras online in February, March, August or September.

Brazilian visa requirements

Most international students will need to obtain a visa to study in Brazil. You can do so through the Consulate General of Brazil (Consulado Geral Do Brazil) in your home country. Student visas are issued for one year and can be renewed.

Visas usually take around two to three months to be processed, so make sure you allow plenty of time before the start of your course. You can fill in the visa application form online. To complete the Brazilian visa requirements, you will then need to send a printed and signed receipt to your nearest Brazilian consulate along with the following documents, or go to the consulate in person:

  • Passport valid for six months after the end of your course
  • Copy of birth certificate (may or may not be required)
  • Two printed and signed visa application forms (Pedido de Visto) which will be stamped by the Consulate General
  • Two passport-size photos
  • Copy of a letter of acceptance from a Brazilian institution recognized by the MEC. Letter should include the length of the course, number of hours per lesson and number of lessons per week. The signature on the letter must be legalized by a Notary (Tabelião) in Brazil.
  • Certificate of prosecution/conviction history issued in the last 3 months
  • Proof of sufficient funds/financial support for the duration of your stay
  • Medical examination results – depending on your country of origin you may also need to get a yellow fever vaccination (you’ll be given a vaccination card which you’ll need for your visa application)
  • Receipt of payment of the consular fee for visa processing

You will also need to submit your academic transcripts to the Conselho Estadual de Educação, the educational institution located in each Brazilian state, which will authorize recognition of foreign education certificates.

You must enter Brazil within 90 days from the date the visa is issued. When you get to Brazil you’ll need to register with your local branch of the Federal Police (Polícia Federal) within 30 days of your arrival – you’ll be charged a tax for each day of delay after these 30 days and it may harm your chances of applying for a visa renewal or extension later on.

Police registration is necessary order to formalize your stay and to get an ID card for foreigners. You must present your passport, student visa, copy of the letter given to you by your university, and your consular fee receipt. You need to pay for this card using a special form given to you by the Federal Police. You must also use the Federal Police department to apply for a visa renewal – at least 30 days before your visa expiration date.

As a student visa holder, you may also apply for a visa for accompanying family members to join you while you study in Brazil, but neither they nor you are allowed to work in Brazil. You will also need to purchase private health insurance – either before you leave your home country (which will be easier) or when you get to Brazil (with the assistance of your institution’s Office of International Affairs/Assessoria De Relações Internacionais who are responsible for foreign students).

Make sure to hold on to your Embarkation/Disembarkation card, which you will fill in, sign and get stamped by the immigration officer at the airport. You will need to give it back to an immigration officer when leaving Brazil so they can record your departure.

Search and compare the top universities in Brazil

Fast Facts

  • Official name: Federative Republic of Brazil
  • Capital city: Brasilia
  • Largest city: São Paulo
  • Federal republic government with president as Head of State
  • Currency: real (one real = 100 centavos)
  • One of the top 10 largest economies in the world
  • Approximately 207 million inhabitants - the fifth most populous country in the world
  • Largest country in the Latin American region, fifth largest in the world and bigger in landmass than the US (excluding Alaska)
  • Borders all other South American countries except Ecuador and Chile: Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana on the north, Colombia on the northwest, Bolivia and Peru on the west, Argentina and Paraguay on the southwest and Uruguay on the South. The Atlantic Ocean is on the east.
  • Major religion: Christianity (Roman Catholic)
  • Official language: Portuguese
  • Most popular national sport: football (soccer); Brazil has won the World Cup five times, most recently in 2002.
  • Main exports: aircraft, electrical equipment, ethanol, textiles, footwear, steel and iron ore and cars.
  • Major agricultural products: soy beans, wheat, rice, corned beef, orange/orange juice and coffee (the best Brazilian coffee is exported).
  • Feijoada is considered Brazil’s national dish, coffee its national drink, cachaça its national liquor and Caipirinha its national cocktail.
  • Most of Brazil’s electricity is generated from hydropower and ethanol – both renewable sources.
  • Divided into three time zones from UTC-2 to -4. UTC -3 is the official time of Brazil.
  • Internet domain: .br
  • International dialing code: +55