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Living in Brazil - A Guide for Students

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

What's it like to study abroad in Brazil?

Oscar Niemeyer (Architect – UN Headquarters in New York and Serpentine building in London’s Hyde Park), Paulo Coelho (Mystical author), Fernando Meirelles (Film director – The Constant Gardener), Francisco Costa (Calvin Klein designer), Gisele Bündchen (Supermodel), Rubens Barichello (F1 driver) and Pelé (Football legend)… What do they have in common? They’re all from Brazil! The country has been producing some fascinating and diverse people known the world over. A country of contrast, a laid back attitude, a geography like no other, a Latin American culture unlike any of its neighbouring countries – what will you make of Brazil?

Key facts for Masters students in Brazil

  • The academic year in Brazil usually begins in February.
  • Around 14,400 foreign students study at Brazilian universities.
  • Brazil spends approximately 5.8% of GDP on education as a whole, with 1.0 spent on tertiary education specifically.
  • The official language of Brazil is Portuguese, but English is also widely spoken.
  • The currency of Brazil is the Brazilian real (R$).
  • Brazil has a population of around 202.6 million, about 4 million of whom live in and around the capital, Brasília and 43 million live in and around the largest city, Sao Paulo.
  • Brazil is a democratic republic, with a federal political system.
  • Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion in Brazil, but many of the population practice other faiths or do not hold religious beliefs.

Culture, leisure and everyday life for Masters students in Brazil

In contrast to its rigorous higher education system, Brazil’s laid back attitude (you may hear “Calma gringo, calma” = Relax foreigner, relax), is something of national philosophy so don’t be surprised if people seem very relaxed about everything in Brazil. Just beware that the laid back attitude can extend to everyday life and don’t be surprised if buses are late or if, 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, the country will soon be home to the 2016 Olympic Games will be in Rio de Janeiro (famous for its amazing annual carnival). This means that studying a Masters in Brazil could involve making one tough decision - which of your friends from home gets to stay with you for the next international sporting event?

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. Despite its unique characteristics, Brazilian cuisine is not well-known internationally which actually is weird (when you come to think of it) for a country of that size and with the diversity of food specialities and fresh produce it has.

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 favour. Feijoada, a stew of beans with beef and pork, is considered as 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, yams/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.

Sites you must see

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

With white sandy beaches, tropical islands, music-filled metropolises and charming colonial towns, Brazil’s coasts as much to offer, from the easy going coast and 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). Brasilia is not particularly well known 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 / $14-40 per day).

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

  • Lodging (ie: renting out a bedroom in a property where the owner lives) R$160-350 ($65-142) per month. This a great option if you want to immerse yourself in the Brazilian culture.
  • Pensionata: R$350-800 ($142-324) per month for a room with meals included.
  • Furnished flat: up to R$2,000 ($810) per month (depending on the city you live in, prices can be as reasonable as R$400 / $162)

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. Below are some indicative prices to help you plan a budget. Variations will reflect differences in prices between regions or in large cities.

Product or Service Price

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant

R$10-20 / $4-9

Meal for two at mid-range restaurant

R$50-100 / $20-41

Cappuccino in a café

R$3-5 / $1.20-2

One-way ticket (Local Transport)

R$2.50-3 / $1-1.2

Monthly public transport pass

R$100-170 / $41-69

Basic utilities (electricity, heating, water, rubbish collection) for medium-sized flat per month

R$150-260 / $61-105 (not applicable if lodging or in pensionata)

Internet (per month)

R$55-100/ $22-41

Fitness club (outside of university) per month

R$80-160/ $33-64

Cinema ticket

R$15-20 (6-8)

Other useful information for Masters students in Brazil

Of course, there's more to living and studying a Masters in Brazil than just finding a place to live, sorting out your budgets and getting a good seat for the 2016 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. 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 here. Click 'read more' to get started.

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 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 service's 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, in 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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