8 Outstanding universities in Latin America for international students

Life at universities in Latin America

Share This Post

The leading universities in Latin America deliver high-quality teaching in world-class facilities and the chance for an academic adventure you’ll cherish long after you graduate. 

You can find learning environments of every type across South and Central America. Small, often private or catholic, institutions that excel in a handful of academic disciplines. And sprawling public institutions with an extensive program of degree courses teaching 100,00+ students. 

Competition for admission to the best universities in Latin America can be fierce. But exchange programs coupled with a desire to fill postgraduate programs with global expertise offer a gateway to motivated learners.  

You’ll almost always need a high level of Spanish or Portuguese. But with the right qualifications and a thirst for fresh scholarly experiences, there are some golden opportunities at our pick of universities in Latin America.

Ready to lift your Latin American Spanish to the next level? Start with just 30 minutes of daily learning on our innovative teaching program.

Study in Buenos Aires, home to some of the best universities in Latin America

Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA)

Buenos Aires, Argentina

The prestigious and multicultural University of Buenos Aries deserves its place at the top of our list.

QS world university rankings place the sprawling university 67th, the highest on the continent. Alternative ranking systems may disagree slightly, but all place UBA in South America’s top three.

Remarkably, Bachelor’s courses are free for international students (and Argentinians), while Master’s courses cost just USD 1,000. Doctoral and post-doctoral fees vary by faculty.

QS reports that nearly 30,000 students at UBA are international, the vast majority (88%) on undergraduate courses. Those figures represent the entire population at many European universities and exceed other regional institutions.  

UBA teaches a broad program of subjects, excelling in political and social sciences, law, medicine, and business. Alumnus includes four Nobel Laureates and 16 former Argentine presidents. And one current.

Che Guevara also studied at UBA, presumably without a poster of himself in his student residence.

With the profile of a small city, UBA fills 13 faculties across Greater Buenos Aries. Scholars oversee research programs and administer multiple city hospitals, museums, and scientific institutes. The Faculty of Economic Sciences is the largest, with around 36,000 students.

Safe and cosmopolitan, Buenos Aires is likened to southern European cities by many students. If you’re looking for universities in Latin America situated in a culturally exhilarating city, the Argentine capital delivers.

From the stately Plaza de Mayo to absorbing museums, to enticing restaurants and a nightlife that gets going at midnight, Buenos Aires has something for everybody. 

Despite being one of the region’s most exciting and modern cities, westerners will appreciate the relatively low cost of living. Numbeo puts the average cost for a single person at USD 421 (excluding rent). Rent is inexpensive even in student hotspots like Palermo or Belgrano: around 71% cheaper than in Madrid, for example.

Alongside world-cup-winning footballers, Argentina exports thousands of highly-educated professionals annually. Many attended UBA. Add to the proposition a vibrant city and low living costs, and it is easy to see why it is one of the most popular universities in Latin America for international students.

Universidad de Buenos Aires in numbers

Total students (2023): 117,449
International students: 29,516
Bachelor’s degree annual fees: Free (Domestic and international)
Master’s degree annual fees: USD 1,000
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): USD 421
International student info and contact for Universidad de Buenos Aires
UNAM is situated on an award-winning campus and is one of Latin America's leading universities

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

Mexico City, Mexico

The National Autonomous University of Mexico is the largest in Latin America and oldest in North America, with campuses across Mexico and several in the USA and Canada. It is also among the best, ranked 104th in the QS international ratings.

Like other sizeable universities in Latin America, UNAM teaches an impressive range of programs. Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD studies are delivered across 20 different schools, with postgraduate studies attracting over half of all international students.

A publicly funded research centre, UNAM counts three Nobel Laureates amongst its alumnus, including the poet Octavio Paz and nuclear disarmament campaigner Alfonso García Robles. Iconic filmmakers Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro studied there, as did multiple South American presidents, including the current Mexican leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The roll call of alumni includes many other notables from literature, science, and medicine.

UNAM registered nearly 4,000 international students in 2023, making it one of the most popular universities in Latin America for foreigners. Those numbers are eclipsed by the mind-boggling overall student count of 369,607. The 42,535 academics working there would fill a typical European university alone. 

Mexico City is a big draw. The megacity is exciting and multi-faceted, yet one of the most densely populated places on earth.

Even the noted modernist campus in Mexico City, Ciudad Universitaria (University City), is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Host of the 1968 Olympics and home to several museums, it is firmly on the tourist trail.

Other universities in Latin America fit the bill if you crave tranquillity. But life in the fast lane comes with perks: history and culture hide around every corner. Think world-class cultural attractions like the Frida Kahlo Museum and lively mezcalerías for fun-seeking students.

Student feedback about life in Mexico City is overwhelmingly positive, especially around international student hubs like Roma, Polanco, and Condesa.

Is Mexico City affordable for students? Data from residents suggest USD 587 is enough to live on, excluding rent. That’s a little higher than other cities in Latin America but far more affordable than studying in western Europe.

Course fees are inexpensive compared to many private universities in Latin America. They vary by course, but aggregated data suggest a Bachelor’s degree costs up to USD 1,000 annually. A Master’s degree costs between $1,000-2,500 USD. Many domestic students obtain scholarships to study for free.

Sprawling institutions in capital cities dominate lists of the top universities in Latin America for international students, and UNAM enrols more than most. It is a leading choice for students seeking top-tier teaching in a city rich with cultural diversions.

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in numbers

Total students (2023): 369,607
International students: 3,847
Bachelor’s degree annual fees: USD 1,000 (up to)
Master’s degree annual fees: $1,000-2,500 USD
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): USD 587
International student info and contact for Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Montevideo - A compelling destination for international students in Latin America.

Universidad de la República (UdelaR)

Montevideo, Uruguay

Uruguay might not be the first country on anyone’s list, including ours. But the country with more cows than people is worth a second look. In particular, the University of the Republic holds its own against other top-flight universities in Latin America.

Opened in 1849, UdelaR is Uruguay’s foremost higher learning and research institute. QS ratings (2023) place it in the top 800 universities worldwide and the top 50 in Latin America. With over 76,000 enrolled students — 2,000+ from abroad —it is also one of the largest universities in Latin America.

Unlike other universities in Latin America, most international learners at UdelaR are there for Bachelor’s degrees. Only 20% (approximately) register for postgraduate studies.

UdelaR’s 16 schools offer extensive scholarly programs in art, medicine, science, and law. Home to the first law school in the country, UdelaR is an academic pipeline for Uruguay’s political leaders.

Although free for domestic students, fees for international students are relatively high compared to other universities in Latin America. They vary by subject but start at USD 2,000.

One of the most prosperous countries in South America, Uruguay is known as safe and progressive. Students speak positively of their time in Montevideo, appreciating its friendly and accessible neighbourhoods.   

Although frequently likened to Buenos Aires across the River Plata, Montevideo is a gentler city. Locals are still fuelled by asado and maté, but the pace of life is slower than in other South American capitals.

The quiet life in Montevideo is not cheap. Numbeo estimates USD 800+ monthly costs, excluding rent. Student rentals cost roughly double the price of accommodation in Buenos Aires.

If you can look past relatively high living costs, UdelaR is one of the most attractive universities in Latin America in one of the region’s most progressive and laidback cities.

Universidad de la Repúblic in numbers

Total students (2023): 76,215
International students: 2,166
Bachelor’s degree annual fees: $2,000 USD
Master’s degree annual fees: $2,000 USD+
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): USD 800+
International student info and contact for Universidad de la República
Santiago, Chile  - home to the University of Chile,  one of the leading Latin American universities

Universidad de Chile (UC)

Santiago, Chile

Rated 137th globally by QS, the University of Chile is one of the leading public universities in Latin America. Situated in the heart of the Chilean capital, UC benefits from residing in one of the continent’s most developed and prosperous countries.

Chile’s oldest and most prestigious university was founded in 1842, a continuation of the colonial Royal University of San Felipe opened in 1738. Spread over 5 campuses, 16 faculties, and a mix of research labs and museums, the university teaches a broad range of undergrad and postgrad courses.

Over the years, the university has primed the upper strata of Chilean society, including 21 former presidents of Chile and two Nobel Laureates (Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral).

The first Latin American university to accept women on postgraduate courses, UC is a renowned seat of progressive learning. The university can lay claim to several other Chilean firsts, from registering the first Chilean domain name to building the country’s first solar car.

Consistent teaching excellence attracts around 2,000 international students from a total student count of 43,000+. It’s a higher proportion than other top-flight universities in Latin America.

Most international students pursue postgraduate courses, underlining the university’s strong research record. The curriculum includes 116 Masters and 38 PhD courses versus 60 Bachelor’s degrees.

Fees for international students vary across courses, determined by teaching hours. Expect annual fees of up to USD 5,000 for a Bachelor’s degree; USD 7,000+ for Master’s programs. Expensive when contrasted with other universities in Latin America, especially as no scholarships are offered to international learners.

Not only is UC one of the most expensive public universities in Latin America, but local living costs are also high at an estimated USD 723 per month, excluding rent.

Although relatively expensive, students are fortunate to have Santiago on their doorstep. Nearly 40% of Chile’s population lives in Santiago’s metropolitan area, and every type of activity and lifestyle is crammed within its boundaries.

Backdropped by the soaring Andes, dynamic Santiago is valued by students for its colourful museums and galleries, exciting cuisine, and proximity to the natural wonders of Patagonia. With some of the safest and most welcoming neighbourhoods in South America and world-class teaching, UC should be on every shortlist.

Universidad de Chile in numbers

Total students (2023): 43,000+
International students: 1,900+
Bachelor’s degree annual fees: USD 5,000 (approx.)
Master’s degree annual fees: USD 7,000 (approx.)
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): USD 723
International student info and contact for Universidad de Chile
Monterrey is home to ITESM, one of the finest universities in Latin America

Tecnológico de Monterrey (Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey — ITESM)

Monterrey, Mexico

Mexico is home to several of Latin America’s leading universities, and the private Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education is one of the finest.

ITESM has a decidedly global outlook. Placed 170th in the QS global rankings, the university boasts the maximum of 5 QS stars:  internationalisation, employability, teaching, research, and academic development.

Of the 90,000+ students, nearly 4,000 are from abroad. Around 90% enrol on undergraduate courses, reflecting strong teaching credentials.

ITESM’s appeal to undergraduates is bolstered by overseeing preparatory courses — PrepaTec — for potential undergraduates and Spanish learners.

A varied program of studies falls under 6 educational banners: social sciences, creative studies, built environment, health, engineering, and business. ITESM’s business school is the most prestigious in the region, producing more billionaire alumni than other universities in Latin America.

Even if you don’t aspire to join the 1%, an ITESM degree opens doors. According to QS measures, 94% of students gain employment within one year of graduating.

Despite an elite teaching reputation, annual course fees are low for domestic and international learners compared to many other universities in Latin America. They vary across courses, but figures posted online hover around USD 1,200.

Despite the name, ITESM has outgrown Monterrey to occupy 26 campuses. Study locations are determined by the subject, but there are possibilities to study in electrifying Mexico City and the tequila and mariachi capital, Guadalajara.

ITESM’s primary campus remains in the ‘Mountain City’, Monterrey. The flourishing industrial metropolis is known for its parks and museums. Ignored by tourists and detached from Mexico’s trouble spots, Monterrey is considered a safe and liveable Mexican city for students, with air pollution the biggest complaint.

Although Monterrey is among the most prosperous cities in Mexico, the cost of living compares favourably with Mexico City. Figures show rent is 19% cheaper, and the monthly expenditure for a single student (excluding rent) averages USD 622. Unlike other universities in Latin America, international can apply for several scholarship funds.

With post-graduation employment figures lesser universities in Latin America aspire to, ITESM is a top choice for students looking to advance their careers.

Tecnológico de Monterrey in numbers

Total students (2023): 94,424
International students: 3,458
Bachelor’s degree annual fees: Approximately USD 1,200 (variable)
Master’s degree annual fees: Approximately USD 1,200 (variable)
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): USD 622
International student info and contact for Tecnológico de Monterrey
University of São Paulo in Brazil's most populous city is a great study location for international students in Latin America

Universidade de São Paulo (USP)

São Paulo state, Brazil

If you’ve mastered Portuguese, the University of São Paulo is a leading contender for international study. Brazil’s largest university was 115th in the QS 2023 international rankings, placing it in the top three universities in Latin America.

The public university teaches over 1,600 international students from a total headcount of 65,000+. Most arrive via exchange programs.

Scattered across 42 schools and 7 cities in São Paulo state, USP plays a vital role in local development. The university operates four hospitals, four museums, and numerous research laboratories.

Founded in 1938, Brazil’s largest university teaches an extensive curriculum of Bachelor’s degrees, excelling in architecture, engineering, languages, and science. Its postgraduate courses are the main draw for international learners, with 86% enrolled on Master’s and PhD programs.

If you hope to run for office one day, you could do worse than USP: 19 Brazilian presidents were taught there. A 2016 report placed USP 16th for producing CEOs of the 500 largest global corporations. It’s a compelling proposition for ambitious students.

It’s not all business and politics. Noted alumni include writers, filmmakers, and even a superstar footballer, Sócrates (medical degree).

Amazingly, there are zero fees for undergraduate or postgraduate courses. Distance learning and MBAs are exceptions. 

Although campus locations vary, international students are usually based at four campuses in São Paulo city. The most populous city in the Americas is Brazil’s financial hub and is considered one of the most cosmopolitan and exciting cities in Latin America. Upbeat testimonials confirm that international students feel at home in the city.  

While living costs broadly match costs at other universities in Latin America, São Paulo is an expensive city by Brazilian standards. Budget at least USD 593 for monthly living costs, excluding rent. Rent is around 30% higher than in Rio de Janeiro, underscoring the city’s domestic appeal.

Spanish speakers are spoiled for choice when choosing universities in Latin America. Not forgetting Spain itself (we’ve written about universities in Spain here). But for Portuguese speakers seeking a South American learning experience, USP is a peerless option.    

Universidade de São Paulo in numbers

Total students (2023): 97,325
International students: 1,693
Bachelor’s degree annual fees: Zero
Master’s degree annual fees: Zero (except for some courses, notably an MBA)
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): USD 593
International student info and contact for Universidade de São Paulo
Palermo in Buenos Aires is home to one of the top LatAm universities

Universidad de Palermo (UP)

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Students adore Buenos Aires. That’s why we return to the Argentine capital for our next entry.

The University of Palermo is another acclaimed university (390th in 2023 QS rankings) with outstanding international appeal amongst universities in Latin America.  

With 11,000 students, UP is one of the smallest yet most diverse universities in Latin America. The small, private institution counts 74 nationalities amongst its 3,000+ international students.

UP offers a tight study program, with just 42 undergraduate and 10 postgraduate courses. 6 schools teach architecture, business, design, engineering, law, social science, and psychology.

UP also offers a semester-long course in Spanish language and Latin American culture to finesse language skills before plunging into degree studies.  

Founded in 1986, UP has risen up the rankings quickly. Their business courses are recognised as among the best in South America. And the university’s international credentials are bolstered by an academic network that includes the London School of Economics, Yale Law, Harvard, and other first-class universities.

A top-flight education does not come cheap, and course fees are markedly higher than other universities in Latin America. Domestic students study free, albeit subject to uncompromising admission standards. International students pay $5,000-7,000 USD depending on the degree level.

Balancing high course fees is the low cost of living in Buenos Aires, averaging USD 421 (excluding rent). An inexpensive lifestyle is matched by affordable accommodation compared to other regional countries.

Low living costs might leave students with a few spare pesos to enjoy the irresistible charms of Buenos Aires. Several neighbourhoods are popular with students, notably Retiro, Barrio Norte and Balvanera. However, Palermo itself is one the most fashionable barrios, known for its picturesque park, funky shops, and refined restaurants.

When weighing up the merits of universities in Latin America, it is hard to ignore the University of Palermo’s compelling blend of international outlook, first-class teaching, and exciting backdrop. 

Universidad de Palermo in numbers

Total students (2023): 11,000+
International students: 3,000+
Bachelor’s degree annual fees: $5,000USD
Master’s degree annual fees: $7,000USD
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): USD 421
International student info and contact for Universidad de Palermo
Bogota is home to the University of Los Andes, one of lesser-known universities in Latin America

Universidad de Los Andes (Uniandes)

Bogotá, Colombia

We land in the Colombian capital for our final pick of leading universities in Latin America for international students.

Colombia boasts several top-rated universities, yet they tend to be overlooked by foreign learners. The modern University of Los Andes does garner some international attention.

The highest-rated Colombian university (according to the 2023 QS rankings) was founded in 1948. Intriguingly, it was the country’s first university unaffiliated with the church or political groups.

Uniandes has 15,000+ students, although only around 1% are international scholars. Around 30% of international students are pursuing postgraduate studies, compared to 14% of domestic students.

The renowned research university offers a comprehensive program across nine schools. Occupying a modernist campus in the well-heeled La Candelaria district of Bogotá, the university boasts world-class facilities and a neighbourhood bursting with museums, art galleries, theatres, and other cultural attractions.

Students are carefully screened for admission to the top-flight university, with nearly all domestic students plucked from the top 1% of academic performers nationally.

While the international student body is small, there is plenty to divert students’ attention outside the university. Students report that Bogotá is a safe, fun, and congenial city.

La Candelaria, home to the main campus, is the city’s noted historic district and a tourist highlight for many visitors. It’s the ideal location for curious students wanting to immerse themselves in the Bogotá lifestyle.

Another selling point is Bogotá’s low cost of living. According to Numbeo data, average monthly living costs are USD 384. The figure excludes rent, although a shared room is inexpensive compared to neighbouring countries.

Course fees vary and are broken down into cost per credit. A Master’s degree typically requires 8 credits, and most credits cost around 1,500 COP (USD 320). Check the fees schedule for up-to-date fees for all postgrad programs.

Bachelor’s degrees are expensive compared to other universities in Latin America. 2023 fees for most undergraduate courses are 21,870,000 COP (USD 4,664). Hefty scholarships (up to 95% of costs) are offered to qualifying students. Check the Uniandes fees schedule to see current rates.

The singular charms of Bogotá add colour to the driest of academic disciplines. And while the University of Los Andes may not have the cachet of other universities in Latin America, it is sure to delight students with an education of rare opportunity. 

Universidad de Los Andes in numbers

Total students (2023): 15,000+
International students: 209
Bachelor’s degree annual fees: USD 4,664
Master’s degree annual fees: USD 320
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): USD 384
International student info and contact for the University of Los Andes

Universities in Latin America – the essentials to consider

There’s a lot to unpack when assessing universities in Latin America. Even after narrowing down a country and college of interest, you’ll need to navigate admission requirements, immigration, and expenses.

While impossible to generalise two continents, a few considerations are broadly consistent.

Language requirements to study in Latin America

Almost without exception, international students need to be fluent in Spanish (or Portuguese). Many arrive via exchange programs from other Spanish (and Portuguese) speaking nations.

Proof of language competency is obligatory. Sometimes an entrance exam will test language skills. Unless you’re a native speaker, a B1 competency on a certified course (IELTS, TOEFL, etc.) may be requested.

Read more about the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

However, most universities offer Spanish language preparatory courses lasting one semester. They may also provide a grounding in local culture to help students acclimatise before diving into their principal studies.

Visas to study in Latin America

Immigration rules vary by country. Generally, a student or temporary resident visa is issued after being accepted at a recognised learning institution. All the entries in our guide to universities in Latin America are recognised institutions.

Visas may be valid for limited periods and require ongoing renewal. Here is a quick summary with links to the relevant pages.  

Argentina: visas are obtained via local consulates and cost USD 150.

Brazil: apply online for a VITEM IV visa costing €120.00. Visas for EU students enrolled for less than 90 days (usually on exchange programs) are not required.  

Chile: student visas are obtained online or by post. Fees vary by nationality.

Colombia: student visas can be obtained via the immigration office or a local consulate. Student visas cost USD 40 (+ USD 15 for visa study).

Mexico: apply online for a student visa for courses lasting 180+ days. Fees are currently USD 51.

Uruguay: most nationalities do not require visas in the first 180 days. For extended student visas, contact a local Uruguayan consulate or embassy.

Remember, you will be required to provide proof of financial independence, usually calculated to match the national annual cost of living.

Course fees for international students in Latin America

Course fees vary considerably across universities in Latin America and within individual countries. They range from free studies at public universities to USD 11,000 for MBA courses at top-flight private universities.

Most universities in Latin America charge from $1,000-5,000 USD for undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

Scholarships may be offered to international learners, especially in Master’s and PhD programs. Scholarships are posted online, so check with your chosen university to see if you qualify.

Exchange programs

Exchange programs are the primary option for international students at universities in Latin America.

Typically lasting from one semester to a full academic year, exchanges allow the transfer of academic achievements and are intended to build cross-cultural ties.

Exchanges are typically between universities within established academic networks. Check with your home university to find out what universities in Latin America are in the same network.  

Cost of Living

The cost of living in Latin America is moderate. Average living costs vary by country but range from USD 600 to USD 800 per month, excluding rent.

Depending on location, a shared room or student lodging can cost USD 100-500 per month. Expect to pay more in popular student neighbourhoods in capital cities.

While you can make significant cost savings at universities in Latin America compared to many countries, remember you must have verifiable funds available for the duration of the studies. Work opportunities are limited and may be forbidden on a student visa. Travel insurance, medical insurance, and other sundry costs should be factored in.

According to Numbeo, the most expensive country in Latin America is Uruguay, followed by Chile. Argentina and Colombia are the cheapest countries covered in our guide. 

We hope you found something interesting in our pick of universities in Latin America. Whether you’re looking to apply your language skills, seeking cultural adventures, or building a career in a new country, every entry in our guide promises to broaden your horizons.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Don't miss out on any new French Lessons! You will also get a free copy of our graphical overview of all French Verb Tenses!

More To Explore

Do You have any feedback? let me know!

I would love to know how I can make learning Languages easier for you