Study abroad in Brazil is in a phrase: lying on the beach in bliss, but periodically vendor after vendor approaches you to sell you sunglasses when you clearly have some on your face.
Your time in Brazil will involve many once in a lifetime experiences; whilst also a sort of constant unease. In a good way.
Let me expand.
I am sat on the back of motorbike, flying up to the top of Rocinha, the second largest favela community in Latin America. The driver also keeps turning around. He keeps turning his whole head around to tell me my eyes are bluer than the sea.
At this moment I was at 80% sure we were going to crash to our death. It was week 2 in Brazil and it was going to be a short sweet, short visit. Miraculously, we did reach the top and branded forever in my mind is the driver ‘s sad puppy look as I sprang off so quickly I burn my leg on the exhaust pipe and limp wildly away from him.
Whose fault was it that we were both hurt by the end? My enamored motorist or me for getting on in the first place?
Study abroad in any country is going to take you out of your comfort zone, but when we look at Brazil my key piece of advice is knowledge. Knowledge is your friend, it’s your bargaining chip and it’s your safety guard. So, what do you need to know to study abroad in Brazil?
Student Visas for Study Abroad
Visas are the bane of my life. You need to be accepted by a university or study abroad program and receive their personal acceptance letter. If you study 20 hours per week at a certified Portuguese language school this also qualifies for a letter. This letter is your gold mine. It’s the only way to guarantee that precious visa, so guard it with your life.
Study Abroad in Brazil Visa Check List:
- Long winded form
- Le passport – you need 6 month validity from leaving data
- Study acceptance letter
- Funds – (parent/ guardian bail out promise & bank account with $1000 per month)
- Mug shot (recent photograph 3.5 x 4.5 cm)
- Police report (ACRO i.e proof of no criminal proceedings)
- Return flights
- Receipt of payment of tax
- Paid return envelope (unless you are close enough to pop back to consulate in a week)
Brazilian Student Visa Nuisances
You have to return to your country of residence in order to pick up the visa from the Brazilian consulate. You cannot pick it up from another embassy or consulate elsewhere in the world.
My fairly ambitious plans were to travel from Guatemala across the Central American jungles into the Brazilian Amazon via boat. These plans were foiled, maybe for the better, by this visa hiccup.
The visa is only valid 90 days from issue date. Make sure you get in in time or you’ll have to do the whole process again.
Study Abroad Student Visa Process
- Book an appointment at your closest Brazilian consulate in your country via the Brazilian consulate website
- Gather all original documents in checklist above
- Lodge your application in person (be super smiley)
- Wait for passport to come back in post
- Get yourself on the plane within 90 days!
PUC-Rio has detailed information on the student visa process, which is where I studied abroad.
Paying Tax / Arrival to Brazil
To legally validate your student visa you must register with the federal police within 90 days of entering the Brazil. You must book a slot online via the federal police website and it must be the port where you arrived. i.e I arrived in Rio de Janeiro international airport and registered with the federal police in the same State.
You must pay a tax. The first of many my friends. To pay a tax in Brazil you print a unique bar code, like in a supermarket. Go to the bank noted on the paper, get a ticket to stand in queue and then pay. Sometimes there’s no ticket and you have to stand in the line. Pay in cash to the clerk and keep your receipt to take to the police.
This little dance happens for most things like paying utility bills, buying university materials etc. If you happen to have a Brazilian bank account you can pay these boletos (invoices) online. Though without a permanent visa you’ll be pushed to open a Brazilian bank account. Therefore, just head to the bank in person for less of a headache.
Accessing Money when Studying Abroad in Brazil
Bank accounts are difficult to open and in general you have to pay a monthly fee. You have to show your income, your Brazilian I.D and proof of residence, therefore I didn’t get one until I became a resident.
Instead, I used a Caxton card. This is a top up cash card that allows you to withdraw money abroad. Sometimes the rates are poor, however, on the whole it’s a pretty safe and efficient alternative for a study abroad program. Many different banks offer these top up cash cards so hsop around to find a good rate.
Another great way to get money to Brazil is via Transferwise. You need to have or know someone with a Brazilian bank account, but it gives the best rates for transferring money. If you use the link above I get a small commission, but it costs you nothing extra and helps keep this website running!
My most important advice is only use ATM machines to withdraw money inside banks in the day that have security guards watching. I started using random machines and had my card duplicated. So another precaution would be to keep the funds pretty low on any card you use and stay attentive because you don’t want to lose all your dollars.
Brazilian University System
- Firstly, get a student ID from your host university. You get every cultural activity half price with your Brazilian student ID. Tickets to your favourite band that cost R$400 (US$100) down to R$200 real. The cinema is half price, tourist attractions including the Pão de Açucar cable car, theatre plays. I forged my ID for years after.
- Secondly, Brazil has a first come first served policy on booking university classes. Thus, book online as soon as possible so you aren’t left with the rubbish times when you could actually be loving life at the beach.
- Teachers arrive late. You can arrive late too. Yay for equality.
- They love the exams. Midterm exams and half term exams and the end of term exams. You have oral exam and written exam. Just exams.
- You are going to feel cold like ice. They love air conditioners. One time in interpreting class, I made the error of turning up not wearing socks. I was wearing sandals because it was 40 million degrees outside. By the end I couldn’t feel my toes. They had the same sensation you get in winter and your shoes get wet in the snow. Feeling was just gone for a good couple of hours. Pack your jackets and cardigans.
Finding Accomodation in Brazil
The best way to rent in Brazil during a short term period of 1 year or less is to sublet. Rental contracts are complicated often requiring a guarantor who has property in the city you are renting. Contracts are generally set up for a 3-year period, though there are more 1 year options cropping up.
Stay with a family: many universities have a homestay program where they place students with an eligible family relatively close to the university. The pros are you have a Brazilian point of contact to help you with problems and getting settled in. You also get the bonus of practising Portuguese. The negative aspects can be that you can’t choose the neighbourhood, so you won’t necessarily be by the beach. Some homestay hosts are weird too, with weird rules. It happens all over the world.
Rent longterm on Airbnb: Brazil currently has no restrictions on renting longterm via Airbnb. This can go two ways: you could rent a room with a Brazilian host or get your own apartment. There’s no complicated paperwork, you can pay in your own currency, you don’t have to deal with bills.
Sublet a room: Subletting is common in Brazil but it is informal. Find these opportunities advertised on university notice boards or in FB groups for subletting in your specific city.
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