The number of outbound students from Latin America is increasing, as is the number of inbound students, and researchers at Latin American universities are increasingly focusing on international partnerships and positioning themselves to compete for international students. Could this ‘sleeping giant’ region start to have a bigger impact on the global education and student housing market?

Latin American universities increasing international collaboration and capability

Universities in Latin America have traditionally been hesitant to embrace internationalisation strategies, however, this is changing. A 2019 QS Survey found that 89.7% of the Latin American universities who participated had an international strategy in place and were focussing on both partnering with institutions outside Latin America (41%) and internationalisation of their institution (48.7%).

Latin American higher education institutions have also invested significantly in their technological capacity during the pandemic, which has made international and intra-regional collaboration easier – particularly in the area of research. This investment is also predicted to attract larger cohorts of international students, predominantly from within the region.

Growing number of inbound students

In 2019 QS reported that Latin American countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Argentina were receiving almost as many inbound students as they were sending, with 137,000 students received in 2019 according to UNESCO data. The latest UNESCO figures show that the number of students received by these countries has grown to 205,289.  This growth appears to be mainly due to increasing intra-region mobility, creating opportunities for regional student accommodation operators with a keen understanding of local markets. Argentina, for example, is currently home to 121,577 international students. The top three sending countries were Brazil (20,515 students), Peru (17,964 students) and Bolivia (13,760 students).

Intra-region mobility can be expected to grow further in the coming years as a result of a new Regional Convention for the Recognition of Studies, Degrees and Diplomas in Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean led by UNESCO which came into force on 23 October 2022.

Outbound destinations

Unsurprisingly, OECD figures show that the United States (US) is the most popular destination for students from Latin America and the Caribbean, although student numbers plateaued in the five years between 2016 and 2020. In 2016, for example, there were 80,129 students from Latin America and the Caribbean studying in the US – this figure dropped slightly to 78,807 in 2020. Students from Mexico and Brazil were the two largest sending countries within this cohort.

Whilst numbers travelling to the US stalled, the alternative English-speaking destinations of Canada and Australia benefitted. The number of students from Latin America and the Caribbean hosted by Canadian tertiary institutions doubled from 9,714 in 2016 to 18,702 in 2020, and the number in Australia tripled over the same period, rising from 6,351 to 20,879. Sadly, the UK failed to benefit from this growth pattern, with numbers almost static between 2016 and 2020 at approximately 10,000 students.

Outside the US, Spain and Portugal are two of the most popular destinations for students from Latin America and the Caribbean, sharing linguistic, cultural, and often familial ties. But while the numbers heading to Spain have increased fairly steadily from 22,227 in 2016 to 37,461 in 2020 (led mainly by Colombian and Ecuadorian students), Portugal has tripled its population from 6,958 to 19,327 in the same period, almost all from Portuguese-speaking Brasil.

Even after such rapid recent growth, further growth in Europe as a destination looks likely as illustrated by a 2022 survey conducted by Keystone Education Group showing that “Latin American student interest in Spain has increased by 56.5% overall”.


While the pandemic no doubt caused significant difficulties for tertiary education in Latin America, it may in future be seen as a pivot point for its internationalisation. Institutions have invested in technology, and are innovating and collaborating more than ever before, creating significant growth and increasing student mobility and demand for student housing within the region. At the same time, students from Latin America are increasingly looking at international options to travel and study, presenting a growing opportunity for well-marketed and sympathetically-designed student accommodation, particularly in North America and the Iberian peninsular.