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Best international schools in Portugal: from Lisbon to the Azores

Choosing a school is one of the decisive factors for families with children when moving to Portugal. First of all, parents pay attention to the school's prestige, cost, and study language.

Here is a guide on the best Portuguese schools. Learn how to enrol a child in a school, how much it costs and how to study for free.

The best international schools in Portugal: education system, public and private schools

Education system and school types in Portugal

Portuguese residents, citizens and foreigners can get primary education in the country. In most schools, students learn Portuguese, one of the most widely spoken languages ​​in the world. Pupils also get education through international programs. 

The system leans toward academics rather than practice. In general, classes can be large with a heavy workload in class and at home for children. The quality of education is high.

School types. There are two types of schools in Portugal: public, where they teach in Portuguese, and international, with programs in English. The cost of education depends on the prestige of the school and the composition of teachers: the more foreign teachers, the more expensive the education.

Program. Children study Portuguese, mathematics, science, music, drawing, and physical education in elementary school. English is taught from the third grade. Children of foreigners can attend additional free Portuguese lessons. 

If the parents believe that the child needs the help of a psychologist to adapt, the school allocates a specialist free of charge. To apply, please contact your class teacher.

An additional plus of Portuguese schools is that you do not need to buy textbooks and diaries. The administration issues a QR code, according to which parents pick up textbooks in the school library or a specialized store. Journals are also free. Parents pay only for backpacks and stationery.

Portuguese schools usually consist of several buildings. Students under the age of 10 study separately from high school students.

Schedule and school calendar. Lessons last 90 minutes. Classes are held from 9 am to 5 pm, but parents can bring their children to class by 7:30 am. The pupil can stay for an after-school between 5 pm to 7 pm.

90 minutes
Duration of one lesson in a Portuguese school

The school year begins in mid-September. There is no fixed date: the Portuguese Ministry of Education recommends when to start studies, for example, between the 15th and 20th of September. The school administration determines the date of the first classes independently. 

Vacation dates are also not fixed. At the beginning of the academic year, they are approved by the Portuguese Ministry of Education. 

Pupils rest for two weeks at Christmas and Easter. Classes are closed for a week from late February to early March, when the Mardi Gras carnival occurs. 

The most extended holidays are summer: they start in early July.

Stages of education in Portugal

Schooling takes 12 years in Portugal. However, it might take more if a child goes to preschool classes. A child can graduate from school at the age of 15, after the ninth grade, or continue studying in high school to prepare for university.

12 years
Duration of school education in Portugal

Pre-school. Children from three to five years old are accepted into preparatory classes. Their training is optional. 

Primary school education takes nine years, from 6 to 15. Primary school is divided into three stages:

  1. Ensino Básico, 1º ciclo, or grades 1—4. Children start going to school when they turn 6. During the first four years of school, pupils take Portuguese, math, science and art lessons. Children start learning English in the third grade, but you can often take English classes earlier as an extracurricular activity.
  2. Ensino básico 2º ciclo, or grades 5 and 6. At this stage, children of 10 to 12 years old learn Portuguese, English, history, the geography of Portugal, maths, sciences, PE, visual education, information technologies and music.
  3. Ensino Básico 3º ciclo, or grades 7 to 9. The teenagers from 13 to 15 years old continue to take classes in Portuguese, English, maths, history, geography, chemistry, physics and PE. At this stage, pupils usually start learning a third foreign language.

High school. Students study according to the general program for the next three years if they want to enter universities or according to the specialised program if they plan to work immediately after school.

Final exams. Pupils take final exams at the end of the 12th grade. Subjects depend on the speciality chosen by the student.

The maximum score on exams is 20 points. Students who score 18 or 19 points pass the entry threshold in most universities.

1
1—3 years
Pre-school
2
4 years
Primary school
3
2 years
Primary school, the second cycle
4
3 years
Primary school, the third cycle
5
3 years
High school

Grading system in Portuguese schools

Middle schools use a grading scale from 1 to 5:

  1. The lowest grade, fail to pass.
  2. Unsatisfactory.
  3. Satisfactory.
  4. Good.
  5. Excellent.

High schools use a grading scale that goes up to 20, where 1 is the lowest, but the minimum pass mark is 10.

Comparison of Portuguese and US high school grades

Portuguese gradeUS gradeDescription
1—6FMau — very poor
7—9FMediocre — poor
10—11CSuficiente — the minimum passing grade, sufficient knowledge
12—13CSuficiente — satisfactory but with many errors
14—15BBom — good, but some errors occur
16—17AMuito bom — very good, with a few errors
18—19A+Excelente — excellent
20A+Muito bom con distincao e louvor — very good with distinction and honours

How to enrol a child into a Portuguese school

Entry order. Children enrol in a school if they turn six before September.

6 years
The age of enrollment in a school in Portugal

School enrollment opens in May. Information on the number of free places can be found on a school website or administration.

Parents must submit an online application to enrol a child in a school. They attach the following documents: 

  1. Copies of parents’ and child’s passports.
  2. A medical certificate with vaccination information, translated into Portuguese.
  3. A father's or mother's individual tax number.
  4. A student's personal file.
  5. Two photos for a personal file.
  6. Documents confirming the residence address. For example, a property deed for an apartment or a lease agreement.

International students. Families who move to Portugal from other countries need to prepare documents in advance and certify them with an apostille. 

If a student is transferred from a foreign school, they need to get their personal file with information on progress in subjects. Based on the personal file, the student is enrolled in the appropriate class.

Public and international schools in Portugal: Public School Dona Filipa de Lencastre. Lessons in the lower grades
Dona Filipa de Lencastre Primary School for children aged 6 to 10 
Source: Escola Básica e Secundária D. Filipa de Lencastre

Best public schools in Portugal

Portuguese public schools follow the generally accepted secondary education program — the International Baccalaureate or the IB Diploma Programme. 

The lessons are in Portuguese. If the child does not know the language well enough, the school provides additional classes for free.

In public schools, classes are re-formed every year, and the number of pupils regularly changes. The school administration ensures that students from the same parallel get to know each other and quickly adapt to their studies.

The Observer newspaper and the Nova SBE business school named Escola Secundária Infanta D. Maria the best public educational institution in Portugal. They compared the average students’ grades in the final exams in 539 private and public schools. The higher the performance, the higher the place of the school in the ranking. 

10 best public schools in Portugal

SchoolLocationAverage student scoreContact information
Escola Secundaria Infanta D. MariaCoimbra13.12+351 239 701 838

[email protected]
Escola Secundaria Alves MartinsViseu13.02+351 232 419 820

[email protected] 
Escola Básica e Secundaria Clara de ResendePorto12.86+351 22 606 4689
Escola Básica e Secundaria Henrique SommerLeiria12.76+351 244 770 120

[email protected]
Escola Secundaria José FalcãoCoimbra12.67+351 239 487 170

[email protected] 
Escola Básica e Secundaria D. Filipa de LencastreLisbon12.66+351 218 437 680

[email protected] 
Escola Básica e Secundaria Dr. Serafim LeiteSão João da Madeira12.64+351 239 487 170
Escola Secundaria do ResteloLisbon12.64+351 21301 6528
Escola Secundaria João Gonçalves ZarcoMatosinhos12.62+351 229 396 250

[email protected]
Escola Secundaria Garcia de OrtaPorto12.55+351 226 198 340

[email protected]

Pros and cons of public schools

The Portuguese certificate of secondary education is recognized in all EU countries. Despite problems with teachers, the level of education in public schools in Portugal is not inferior to private ones. 

Public schools are free for the country’s citizens and families who have received residence permits in Portugal.

The family pays only for after-school and school lunches: from €70 to €90 per month. If parents do not have time to take the child to classes, they can use the free school bus. The bus driver will pick up the child in the morning and bring them home after school.

Children from low-income families can get financial help. The student is allocated monthly money for the purchase of notebooks and pens. The payment amount depends on the parents’ income. Free lunches are provided as well. Children from low-income families are given laptops and free Internet with a monthly limit of 2 GB. The rule applies to citizens and foreigners.

The main disadvantage of public schools is that you cannot choose where the child will study. Children are enrolled in schools at the place of residence of parents or relatives who look after them.

The lack of teachers is another disadvantage of public schools. Classes may be postponed for several months if there is no teacher.

Best private and international schools

Private schools teach according to the British GCSE and A levels, which meet the standards of education in the UK. 

Parents can choose a regular school or a boarding school where children study and live for the entire academic year. There are boarding schools with separate education for boys and girls. 

The Nova SBE business school and The Observer newspaper named the Colégio Sagrado Coração de Maria the best private educational institution in Portugal. The college provides high-quality education in mathematics, physics and chemistry.

10 best private and international schools in Portugal

SchoolLocation Average student scoreMonthly tuitionContact information
Colégio Nossa Senhora do RosárioPorto15.62€480 to €543 +351 226 197 590

[email protected]
Colégio ModernoLisbon14.95€435++351 217 991 840

secretaria [at] colegiomoderno.pt
Colégio D. Diogo de SousaBraga14.94€180++351 253 201 290

[email protected]
Salesianos de LisboaLisbon14.83No data+351 210 900 500

 [email protected]
Colégio Luso-FrancêsPorto14.81€290 to €435 +351 224 830 104
Colégio do Sagrado Coração de MariaLisbon14.74€474 to €500 +351 218 475 342

[email protected]
Colégio da Rainha Santa IsabelCoimbra14, 62No data+351 239 793 960

[email protected]
Colegio St. Peter's SchoolPalmela14.56No dataEnquiry form
Colégio Manuel BernardesLisbon14.52No data+351 217 570 501

[email protected]
Salesianos do Estoril - EscolaCascais14.5No data+351 214 678 970

[email protected]

Pros and cons of international schools in Portugal

Unlike public schools, where they teach in Portuguese, private schools teach in English, German, French and other foreign languages.

➕ International schools offer a wide range of extra-curricular activities, even niche subjects like creative writing, chess, theatre and dance.

Smaller classes are one of the biggest advantages of international schools in Portugal. They usually include 10 to 15 children so that the teacher can devote enough time and attention to everyone.

International and private schools are paid for the Portuguese citizens and foreigners. The cost of studying varies from €200 to €10,000 per month. 

€200 to €10,000
Monthly tuition fee in private schools in Portugal

Strict admissions process. Private schools take past school records into account. They also usually have entrance exams, and sometimes an interview is required. For example, Colégio Nossa Senhora do Rosário hold interviews with future students.

Best international schools in Lisbon

Colegio Moderno de Lisboa. The students of Moderno College get the highest grades of 15 points on average. 

Another feature is that its graduates speak English at the CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English) level, which allows them to freely communicate on any topic and read and write complex texts. Students take the Cambridge ESOL English language proficiency exam to obtain a certificate.

St. Julian's School. Students who study English and plan to enter a university in the UK choose St. Julian's School. The school accepts children from 3 to 18 years old. Children study according to the British curriculum. The annual tuition fee is between €10,000 and €15,000. Lunch is additionally paid for €1,400 per year, and admission to exams costs €1,000.

Carlucci American International School prepares for admission to universities in the UK and the USA. Children aged 5 to 18 are accepted here. In 2016, the school received the Educational Innovation Award from Hewlett-Packard.

One of the main advantages of the school is foreign teachers. 25 of the 67 teachers are US citizens. 

To apply for admission, you will need to pay €500. The average tuition fee is €2,000 per month. Parents also pay for lunches, a school bus and excursions in the amount of €2,500 per year.

Salesianos de Lisboa. If foreign languages are not the sole priority, parents can choose a school based on the abilities and interests of the child. For example, Salesianos is the best school in humanities. The PUBLICO newspaper and the Catholic Business School say that Salesianos has the highest level of teaching history and philosophy. Lessons at Salesianos are taught in English and Portuguese.

College Sacred Heart of Mary is suitable for those interested in the exact sciences. The primary bias in the program is in mathematics, physics and chemistry. The school is among the top three in Portugal in these subjects.

International schools in Portugal: Colegio Moderno de Lisboa
Colegio Moderno de Lisboa ranks in the top three best private schools in Portugal
Source: Colégio Moderno

Best international schools in Porto

Colégio Nossa Senhora do Rosário is the best Portuguese private school located in Porto. The school was established at the premises of the IRSCM Institute in 1849.

Teaching is held in English and Portuguese. Students take Cambridge ESOL exams to confirm knowledge of the English language. Pupils receive an FCE (English First) certificate after the 8th grade, a CAE (Certificate of Advanced English) certificate after the 10th grade, and a CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English) certificate after the 12th grade. 

Children can choose extra-curricular activities: a robotics club, dance and drawing schools, a sports studio and a chess club.

To enrol a child in the college, you must apply on the website and attach documents. After reviewing the documents, parents will be invited to a personal meeting. The final stage is an interview with the child to check whether his knowledge matches the accepted level.

Colégio Luso-Francês is in the top 10 schools in Portugal. The college cooperates with European institutions. 

College students win international competitions in biotechnology, history and mathematics. 

Psychologists help school children with career guidance and the choice of subjects.

Classes at the school are conducted in French and Portuguese. Pupils also study Spanish and German.

Best private school in Portugal: Colegio Nossa Senhora do Rosario
Colegio Nossa Senhora do Rosario is recognized as the best private international school in Portugal
Source: Colegio Nossa Senhora do Rosario

Best public and international schools Algarve 

Aljezur International School. Training is conducted according to the IGCSE program of the University of Cambridge. All students study English, as well as 4 to 13 subjects from five groups: foreign languages, science, mathematics, art and design. 

Grades are on a scale from A to G. The final grade in the subject is influenced by the points accumulated during the training, the results of tests and term papers. 

A child is classified as an excellent student if grades from A to C predominate. Grades from D to G are considered satisfactory.

Aljezur International School is the leader in student achievement in the Algarve. In 2020, 36% of students received the highest score on the IGCSE test. Every year, the school arranges kayaking and open-air theatrical performances. Another feature of the Aljezur is that it is located in a large farmhouse. 

Nobel International School is located in the Algarve and is the oldest and largest private school in the south of Portugal. Students from 41 countries study here. 

If the family lives far from the school, the child can be left on full board. In this case, schoolchildren live in a dormitory in double rooms, and their parents take them on weekends and holidays.

The school is equipped with a swimming pool, a sports ground for football, volleyball, a theatre group and a music studio.

The school is divided into two campuses: national and international. Nationally, students are taught according to the Portuguese program by the Ministry of Education, and internationally — according to the program of the University of Cambridge.

Best international school in Portugal: Aljezur International School
Students of Aljezur International School hold exams under the IGCSE program of the University of Cambridge
Source: Aljezur International School

Best international schools in Madeira

International School of Madeira is the most prestigious on the island. Training takes place in English and Portuguese. One of the advantages of the school is that there are no more than 10 students per class.

Education is paid; the cost depends on the age of the child. Children from 4 years old are accepted to preparatory classes; the tuition fee is €4,250 per month. The first grade begins at the age of 6, and the monthly fee for a first-grader is €6,270. The maximum monthly tuition fee for children from 15 years old is €9,330.

To enrol a child in the International School of Madeira, you need to leave an application on the website and pass an interview.

International Sharing School is another prestigious school on the island. Children study under the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which operates in 2,718 schools in 125 countries. The program's primary goal is to prepare students for admission to the best universities in the world.

Children from 5 to 11 years old are taught under the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP), and schoolchildren aged 11 to 16 years old are taught under the Middle Years Program (MYP). Each program assumes that students choose from 3 to 5 disciplines for in-depth study. For each of these subjects, 240 hours of study are allocated; for the rest — 150 hours.

In addition to English and Portuguese, students can choose up to five foreign languages: German, Spanish, French, Chinese or Russian.

Best international school in Portugal: International School of Madeira
At the International School of Madeira, lessons are taught in Portuguese and English
Source: International School of Madeira

Best public school in the Azores

Manuel de Arriaga Public School was founded in 1853. It is the only school in Horta, on the island of Faial. 

The building was damaged twice by earthquakes in 1926 and 1935. In September 2007, the school moved to a new building and is now considered one of the best in Europe in terms of equipment. 

There are 36 classrooms, seven laboratories, two computer science rooms, six workshops, a gym, and a 25-meter heated swimming pool.

Best international school in Portugal: Escola Secundária Manuel de Arriaga
Manuel de Arriaga Public School is the oldest in the Azores. It has been operating since 1853 in Horta
Source: Manuel de Arriaga Secondary School (Escola Secundária Manuel de Arriaga)

Portuguese school graduates get an opportunity to learn foreign languages ​​and enter universities in the UK, USA and EU countries.

The main advantage of schools in Portugal is the high level of education and accessibility. Not only citizens but also holders of a Portugal residence permit study for free.

Frequently asked questions

If a child already goes to school, is it possible to transfer them to a Portuguese school?

Yes, it is possible. A suitable class will be selected based on a personal file. A personal file and a medical certificate with a mark on vaccinations are certified by an apostille.

How to enrol a child in a school in Portugal?

To enrol a child in a school in Portugal, you must apply online on an educational institution’s website. Attach the following documents: 

  1. Copies of parents’ and child’s passports.
  2. A medical certificate with vaccination information, translated into Portuguese.
  3. A father’s or mother’s individual tax number.
  4. A student’s personal file.
  5. Two photos for a personal file.
  6. Documents confirming the residence address. For example, a property deed for an apartment or a lease agreement.

In some schools, students are accepted only based on the interview and testing results.

Are schools in Portugal good?

Public schools are free in Portugal. Although quality can vary, some schools can be better than private schools, depending on what you are looking for for your children. On average, Portugal has good schools with quality education.

How much does it cost to study in schools in Portugal?

In public schools, education is free for citizens of the country and families who have residence permits in Portugal. Parents pay only for lunches and after-school activities.  

How to get a Portugal residence permit by investment

The cost of education in private schools ranges from 200 to 10,000 per month. The amount depends on the prestige of the school, the language in which the lessons are conducted, the curriculum and the teaching staff: the more foreign teachers there are, the more expensive.

Does Portugal have international schools?

Yes, it does. The list of the best international schools include Colégio Nossa Senhora do Rosário, Colégio Moderno, Colégio D. Diogo de Sousa, Salesianos de Lisboa, and Colégio Luso-Francês.

How many international schools are there in Portugal?

There are 49 international schools in Portugal in 7 different cities. See the list of the 10 best international schools.

How many international schools are there in Lisbon?

There are 26 international schools in Lisbon. See the list of the best international schools.

Are international schools free in Portugal?

Public schools are free for all citizens and foreign residents. On the other hand, private and international schools can be pretty costly. Prices differ from school to school and vary from €200 to €10,000 per month.

Which is the cheapest international school in Portugal?

One of the cheapest international schools is Colégio D. Diogo de Sousa. The monthly tuition fee starts from €180.

Public schools are free for citizens of the country and families who have received a residence permit in Portugal.

When does school start in Portugal?

Each school year starts in mid-September and ends in mid-June.

When do schools open in Portugal?

Enrollment for the next academic year usually opens in May. Information on the number of places and conditions of registration can be found on the official website or in the school administration by phone.

How long is a school day in Portugal?

An average school day starts at 8 am and finishes in the afternoon.

Do I need to know Portuguese to study in a Portuguese school?

The child will be accepted into the school even if they do not speak Portuguese. In public schools, extra-curricular classes for foreigners are conducted free of charge; in private schools, you can study in English and Portuguese at the same time.

What languages are taught in Portuguese schools?

Lessons in public schools are taught in Portuguese. International schools can teach in English, Spanish, French and German.

Can religious topics be discussed in schools in Portugal?

The constitution supports freedom of religion and worship and stands against discrimination based on faith. Therefore, there should be no problem with discussing religious topics in schools.

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Best international schools in Portugal: from Lisbon to the Azores