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Masters in Brazil

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

Why study for a Masters degree in Brazil?

Though it may not be the first place that springs to mind when considering postgraduate study abroad, a Masters in Brazil can be an excellent choice for international students in various subject areas. Brazil's economic rise has been matched by the development of a sophisticated, modern university system. Already, Brazilian higher education punches well above its weight; Brazilian universities dominate rankings in Latin America, with 17 Brazilian institutions in the top 50 in the Latin America QS rankings. Only three South American universities are in the Times Higher Education (THE) world ranking but two of them are from Brazil!

Brazil has more than 100,000 researchers and scholars engaged in research at private and governmental institutions. Brazilian graduate programs deliver 30,000 masters per year and are continuously evaluated, using an internationally recognized methodology, conducted by the Brazilian Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education (CAPES).

Needless to say, Brazil itself is a fascinating location for any postgraduate student looking to live in a country known for exciting cities, dynamic culture, stunning beaches, and an incredible biodiversity. However, before you investigate studying a Masters in Brazil as a study destination it is worth noting that you will need at least some knowledge of the official language, Portuguese, to find out more since most of the university websites are in Portuguese. Luckily for you, we have done some of the work for you so you can at least start to explore Brazil (virtually) for your Masters.

Masters degrees at Brazilian universities

The Brazilian government engaged in an ambitious reform of the public higher education sector in the 1970s and 1980s and invested large sums in graduate education. Conversely, the public school sector did not receive as much attention and the current university student population from Brazil comes mainly from the private education sector.

The reforms also saw a systematic effort to finance graduate and postdoctoral studies abroad. A large proportion of these graduates returned to Brazil and helped to shape higher education institutions and graduate programmes, particularly in public universities.

Brazil has quite a diverse higher education system, with a relatively small number of public research universities and a large number of private institutions. As a result of the reforms public-funded universities tend to offer the best quality education in Brazil. There are currently 84 higher education institutions managed by the Federal government, 94 by state governments, a number of research centres both federal and state run, technical higher education institutions under municipal authority and a large number of private universities. All universities have acronyms (in Portuguese) and those starting with UF are the federal universities.

Choosing your university

Rankings can only tell you so much about universities. Besides, Brazilian universities are nowhere near equal in standing and quality. Even within each university there are notable variations between departments.

Why not ask people at your current university? Is there a Brazilian society in your university? Why not get in touch and ask for advice. Consider all the information carefully and, of course, beware of personal preferences and bias! In addition, your lecturers may have research connections in Brazil and might be able to advise you.

Universities in Brazil may have a world class reputation for a particular subject area. For example, Unicamp in Campinas and USP in São Paulo are well known for their strength in electrical/electronic engineering and telecoms and mechanical engineering.

Quality assurance is an integral part of Brazilian higher education and graduate programs are evaluated every three years, with scores ranging from one (lowest) to seven (highest). Programs with scores of three or below are closely monitored by CAPES and consistently re-evaluated while deficiencies are improved, or the programs are closed. These scores can guide your search for your particular subject area.

Structure and content of Masters degrees in Brazil

In Brazil, a "mestrado" is a preparation for research and lasts two years. Similar to Masters programmes in other countries, it includes a taught component and a research project resulting in a dissertation. A Masters course will comprise of 60 ECTS credits (one credit is equivalent to 15 hours of classes).

The general conditions (remember there are always exceptions and variations) for the award of a mestrado is that you have to sit a qualifying examination, prepare a dissertation (which is examined – see below) and have the required number of credits from taught courses (which are also examined) and have a good attendance record for these classes.

The dissertation examination is very similar to that of a PhD. This means that it is a public examination in front of a committee. The committee will examine whether you can demonstrate, through your dissertation, that you can use the most advanced techniques for scientific, technological or artistic investigation available in a particular field of knowledge. The committee will be chaired by your supervisor and will have up to three other examiners, all of whom must hold PhDs. As it is a public event, anyone can sit in the audience.

Applying for a Masters in Brazil

Applicants to a Masters program 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 the applicants’ motivations.

As with 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 e-mail. Deadlines for applications for postgraduate study will vary depending on the university but can be really early. Remember that the academic year starts in February so make sure you check with admissions departments of individual institutions when the deadline is.

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

  • Application form.
  • Official copies of diplomas (“Official” means that it may have to be stamps by a lawyer or by local authorities at your local town hall, consulate or embassy).
  • UG transcripts.
  • A CV to include participation in subject-relevant conferences/meetings/courses, experience in teaching, publications as well as relevant professional experience.
  • Two/three 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.

Entry requirements

In Brazil, you need a “licentiatura” (or any international equivalent to a Bachelor degree) to apply for a Masters. If your long-term aims are to do a PhD, then make sure you select a Masters degree considered as "strictu sensu”. “Lato sensu” degrees represent a specialisation in a professional areas (such as medicine or law). A Masters in management is the equivalent of an MBA.

Examinations and courses are generally 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.

Some universities are starting to offer international programs delivered in English such as UNESP (programs in Agricultural Sciences, Alternative Energy, Dentistry, and Literature and Linguistics) or department of chemistry at Unicamp which 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). Most universities offer both pre-sessional and in-sessional intensive Portuguese courses so be sure to find out about those.

Visas and immigration for Masters students in Brazil

Interestingly enough, and despite a relaxed attitude to life, there is actually a lot of red tape and bureaucracy in Brazil. The process of obtaining a visa is rather lengthy. It is difficult to say whether it is the laid back character of Brazilian officials or the bureaucratic process which causes this (laid back bureaucracy? Did I not say Brazil was a country of contrast?!)

As a student, you will have to apply for a visa belonging to the category of “temporary residence” visas which involve considerably more bureaucracy than the simple tourist visa (which would not be long enough for your Masters or PhD). Visas for studies in Brazil are issued for up to one year (renewable).

You will have to apply for your student visa well before your departure to Brazil at a Brazilian embassy or consulate in your home country. In most cases the application process takes two – three months so allow plenty of time.

For a temporary residence visa, students have to submit the following documents:

  • A passport with a minimum remaining validity of 6 months.
  • Application form (Pedido de Visto) in duplicate.
  • Two passport-size photos.
  • Police statement of no criminal record (not older than 3 months), 1 original and 1 copy
  • Proof of sufficient funds for the duration of the stay This may be bank statements, scholarship letter or a letter of guarantee from your parents.
  • Medical examination and yellow fever vaccination card (only if you are from countries it applies to).
  • Confirmation from your educational institution in Brazil stating your enrolment and the duration of your stay. Your host university has to be recognised by the Brazilian Ministry of Education.

Once in Brazil you have to register with the Federal Police within 30 days of your arrival. Beware, Federal police offices are sometimes found in international airports rather than in the city you are living in (therefore if you can bear it, complete your police registration when you land in the city you’ll be studying in). Police registration is necessary in order to formalise your stay and to get an ID card for foreigners. If you fail to present yourself for police registration, a tax will be charged for each day past the 30 days limit. It may prevent you from applying for visa extensions or visa renewal.

As a temporary residence visa holder, you may also apply for a visa for accompanying family members. Note also that as a student in Brazil you are not permitted to take up any remunerated job and it is the same for any dependents or spouse that comes with you.

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

Fees and funding for Masters degrees in Brazil

There are no tuition fees for Brazilian students in universities (a right established in the Brazilian Federal Constitution) and universities make up most of the federal and state institutions. The great news is that many public universities do not charge fees to international students either.

As a result, public universities are generally free of charge for international students while private universities will charge tuition fees ranging from R$300 ($121) to R$3,000 ($1,213). You may also be charged an application fee at both public and private universities. Other costs will include international student health insurance (see “The Masters student guide to living in Brazil”) and student services (such as sports facilities). Your student card will give you access to discounted public transport and university restaurants.


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-Masters). 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 to living costs. Note however, that international students are entitled to all the educational loans available to Brazilian students, for accommodation, transport, meals, and books.

Bilateral agreements may have made by embassies, consulates or government agencies to provide bursaries to study in Brazil so visit the websites or e-mail them to find out. For example:

  • The French embassy in Rio de Janeiro offers French students a bursary for Masters and PhD students in the social and sciences through the Réseau Français d’Etudes Brésiliennes.
  • The embassies of Portuguese-speaking countries such as Angola also have scholarships available to study in Brazil through bilateral agreements.
  • The Brazilian Student Exchange Program for Graduates (PEC-PG).
    PEC-PG is a program ran by Brazilian agency CAPES and provides financial aid to Masters and PhD students to increase the qualifications of professors, researchers, professionals and graduates in developing countries with a cultural or educational cooperation agreement with Brazil. More information (in Portuguese) and a list of eligible countries can be found on CAPES website.

Other scholarships:


Our own postgraduate funding website provides a comprehensive database of small grants and bursaries available to support postgraduate study around the world, including travel bursaries, living cost support, fee waivers and exchange programmes. Click here to start searching for funding to study a Masters in Brazil, or elsewhere.

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