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Living in Brazil - A Guide for Students

As the birthplace of people like Oscar Niemeyer, Gisele Bündchen, Rubens Barichello and Pelé, Brazil has produced fascinating and diverse personalities known the world over.

A country of contrast, a geography like no other, a Latin American culture unlike any of its neighbouring countries – what will you make of Brazil as an international postgraduate?

Culture, leisure and everyday life for Masters students in Brazil

In contrast to its rigorous higher education system, Brazil’s laid-back attitude is something of national philosophy so don’t be surprised if people seem very relaxed about everything in Brazil. Just remember that the laid-back attitude can extend to everyday life and don’t be surprised if buses are late or, in shops or restaurants, things don’t move as fast as you are used to.

If you are a sports fan Brazil is a particularly exciting place to be. Having hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, Brazil is a sports-mad nation. Responsible for some of the greatest football players ever – think Pelé, Cafu and the original Ronaldo – Brazil has won the FIFA World Cup more times than anyone else.

Outside of football, Brazil has a fine pedigree in motorsports, giving us legends like Ayrton Senna. Elsewhere, capoeira is a captivating mixture of martial arts, dance and acrobatics, deriving from the survival efforts of the first slaves to arrive in Brazil, back in the sixteenth century. Capoeira is now recognised by UNESCO for its cultural significance, and forms an important part of the Brazilian national identity.

Food and drink

The variety in Brazilian cuisine comes from indigenous, European and African influences. You’ll find there is a national cuisine but it is marked by regional culinary tradition.

Brazilian food can be very simple, based on fresh vegetables, beans (and other pulses), rice and meat or fish. It doesn’t mean, however, that it lacks in flavour. Feijoada, a stew of beans with beef and pork, is considered the national dish and it originates from Portugal (you’ll find similar dishes in other former Portuguese colonies).

Markets are definitely worth exploring if you want to source out fresh produce, exotic fruit in particular. Root vegetables such as cassava, sweet potato, and fruit like açaí, cupuaçu, mango, papaya, guava, orange, passion fruit, pineapple, and hog plum are among the local ingredients used in cooking.

Coffee is the most common beverage in Brazil and cachaça is the native liquor, distilled from sugar cane and the main ingredient in the cocktail, caipirinha.

Climate

Brazil is a huge country so depending on where you live, the climate can vary considerably. In general you can expect a fairly temperate climate in coastal regions (where most of the 200 million Brazilians live).

In the North (the Amazonian regions), the rainy season is from November to May while the Southern regions experience hot summers and very cold winters. Remember also that Brazil is the southern hemisphere and that the worse of the winter will be in July and August.

Sights you must see

The fifth largest country in the world offers many attractions and historic sites for students, so you may struggle to see everything!

With white sandy beaches, tropical islands, music-filled metropolises and charming colonial towns, Brazil’s coasts have much to offer, from the easy-going carnival culture of Salvador to the historic ports of São Luís.

The country’s capital city is Brasilia, not Rio or São Paulo, as people often mistakenly suggest (notably during trivia games). Designed by modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, Brasilia is not particularly well-known outside of Brazil and competes for the limelight against the iconic Rio de Janeiro and the vast metropolis of São Paulo.

Inland there are a few cities, such as Manaus, but the tourist attractions are the imposing waterfalls, such as those found in the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Iguaçu National Park, wetlands filled with wildlife, and the untouched wilderness of the Amazon river and rainforest.

Accommodation and living costs for Masters students in Brazil

Accommodation

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. The international office of your university may have some advice about finding a place to stay. One option on arrival are hostels (R$35-100 / USD $10-30 per day).

For longer term options, you will have the choice of:

  • Lodging (i.e. renting out a bedroom in a property where the owner lives) – R$160-350 (USD $50-105) per month. This a great option if you want to immerse yourself in the Brazilian culture.
  • Pensionata – R$350-800 (USD $105-240) per month for a room with meals included.
  • Furnished flat – up to R$2,000 (USD $605) per month (depending on the city you live in, prices can be as reasonable as R$400 / USD $120)

Living costs

Brazil remains a fairly affordable country to live in and, unless you are aiming to live in luxury it is easy to eat well and take part in leisure activities without breaking the bank.

As a rough guide, a monthly public transport pass will cost you R$100-170 (USD $30-50). You should budget around R$150-260 per month (USD $45-80) for basic utilities like electricity, heating water and rubbish collection.

A meal at inexpensive restaurant will cost about R$10-20 (USD $3-6), while a dinner for two at a midrange establishment will be between R$50-100 (USD $15-30).

Other useful information for Masters students in Brazil

Of course, there's more to living and studying a Masters in Brazil than sampling the local cuisine, finding a place to live and sorting out your budget. You'll also need to prepare for your study abroad experience by learning a little about Brazilian travel, banking and healthcare – which is why there's an introduction to all of those topics below.

Travelling

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).

Renting a car is expensive, and the distances are huge. From Recife to Brasilia is 2,121km (1,315 miles) while the route from Salvador to Rio is a 1,800km (1,116-mile) drive. Within Brazilian cities driving a car is not for the faint-hearted: you may find that local drivers are on the aggressive side, driving rules are sporadically applied, and parking is a competitive sport.

Although both the bus and road networks are of good quality, the sheer vastness of Brazil (and the lack of rail travel) makes air travel the most time-efficient way of travelling. Since the closure of several Brazilian airlines, Varig, Transbrasil and Vasp, the choice of companies is more limited. However, TAM (now the only national airline) continues to operate internal flights and worldwide routes. Low-cost company Gol is also a good option to travel within Brazil or to other South American countries.

Banking

The Brazilian banking system is one of the most complex and bureaucratic in the civilized world. But in a way this doesn’t matter too much because temporary residents (such as students) generally cannot hold a bank account in 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.

Healthcare

Brazil's public healthcare system is technically free at the point of use, with a system modelled on other services such as the British NHS. However, the delivery of medical care actually takes place through a combination of public and private providers.

Where private hospitals provide treatment on a public healthcare basis, they are reimbursed by the government, but, paid-private healthcare will usually lead to more prompt treatment and is generally to be advised in emergency circumstances. Public hospitals may also refuse to treat existing or outstanding medical conditions for free. For this reason you may benefit from taking out some form of personal healthcare insurance whilst studying a Masters in Brazil, though you will be eligible to use the Brazilian public healthcare system as a registered resident student. Your university should be able to offer advice on the health services in its local area.

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Last updated - 04/04/2018

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