Complementary and alternative medicine, and in particular acupuncture, has been practised and taught in recent years in many universities in the Western world. Here, we relate our experiences since 1997 in teaching acupuncture to medical students at Rio Preto Medical School (Faculty of Medicine of São José do Rio Preto (FAMERP)), Brazil. Classes are given in the third and fifth years. The main goals of understanding the mechanisms of action and being able to recognise patients who may benefit from treatment and referring them have been well achieved, scoring 3.6 and 4.1, respectively, on a scale of 1–5. Also using that scale, medical students believe that acupuncture is important in the curriculum (4.6), course time is not sufficient (2.7) and they would like more information (4.6). To overcome these concerns, many students join an undergraduate study group (Acupuncture League) where they have more time to learn. We also describe the presence of foreign medical students who, since 2000, have enrolled in a course of 150 h in an exchange programme.