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Portugal’s education system: kindergartens, schools and universities

The Portugal education system consists of three stages — primary, secondary and higher schooling. Kindergartens and nurseries are not required but are in great demand among locals and expats.

What are the advantages of studying in Portugal? How can a foreigner enter a local university and enrol a child in a school or kindergarten?

Portugal education system

Portugal’s education system and ranking

In Portugal, you can find free public and private schooling where you and your children of different ages receive the proper education. Portugal has had a high illiteracy rate of 99,7% in total. 97% of children attended preschool in Portugal in 2021.

Education system in Portugal includes preschool at nurseries and kindergartens, primary and secondary education at schools and tertiary education in Portugal’s universities. School is mandatory from the age of 6 to 18. After that, students can continue studying at university or apply for a job.

Stages of the education system in Portugal

AgeEducationIn Portuguese
Not obligatory
Ages 0 to 2NurseryInfantario
Ages 3 to 5KindergartenEducação Pré-escolar
Obligatory
Ages 6 to 14Primary schoolEnsino Básico
Ages 15 to 18Secondary schoolEnsino Secundário
Ages 18 and aboveHigher education Ensino Superior

Portuguese diplomas are recognised in all EU countries and valued in Latin America. Some Portuguese universities develop programs jointly with British universities. Their graduates receive double certificates.

Higher education in Portugal is among the most affordable and prestigious in the EU. Six Portuguese universities entered the top 500 best universities in the world under the QS World University Ranking 2022. Among them are:

  • the University of Lisbon, 
  • the University of Porto, 
  • the University of Minho, 
  • the University of Aveiro, 
  • the New University of Lisbon,
  • the University of Coimbra.

The Catholic University of Portugal, the New University of Lisbon and the School of Management of the City of Porto are among the universities with the highest level of education in economics and business, according to the Financial Times and IESE Business School.

Foreigners can enrol their children in a public kindergarten or school if they have residence permits. 

The Portugal Golden Visa Program allows you to obtain a residence permit by investment. Depending on the budget, an investor can buy shares in Portuguese companies or shares in investment funds, register a company for 10 jobs, invest money in real estate, research activities or the restoration of cultural heritage.

The most budget option is investing in culture. It is enough to invest €250,000. The residence permit will be issued within 8 to 10 months.

Kindergartens and nurseries in Portugal

Portuguese kindergartens accept children from three months to five years. But preschool education is optional and is at the discretion of the parents.

First, the kids visit the younger group. They learn to eat, dress, and develop fine motor skills here. Nursery groups are available only in some places. The information can be checked on the kindergarten website or by phone to save time on a visit.

At three, kids are transferred to a preparatory group, where they learn to read, write, draw, and dance. The task of educators is to prepare children for school.

Parents can choose a public or private kindergarten. You don't have to pay the government. The family only compensates for the cost of meals: an average of €40 per month. If the child is brought to the group before 9 am and picked up after 3 pm, the parents pay an extension of about €80 per month.

Enrolling a child in a private kindergarten is easier: there are no queues. Another plus is that no more than 10 children are in groups, two times less than in public kindergartens. In addition to standard reading and writing, educators teach children foreign languages.

In Portugal, there are private kindergartens with instruction in English. The monthly fee for a private kindergarten ranges from €250 to €500.

In a public kindergarten, the total cost of lunches and after-school meals depends on the family's budget. The lower the official income of the parents, the less you have to pay.

If a family rents an apartment or pays off a mortgage loan, the monthly payment for kindergarten will be reduced. You can confirm payments on the loan with a bank statement or receipt. It is important that the terms of the loan, the amount of the monthly payment and the address are indicated in it. Confirming rental expenses is more complicated: you will need printed receipts for the last three months.

Groups form from April to June, so you should apply in advance. For pre-registration, no documents are needed. It is enough to indicate the child's date of birth and a contact phone number.

If you missed the deadline, you could sign up for the queue. Kindergartens form lists every year, but the wait can take years, so parents queue up before the child's birth.

Many public kindergartens in Portugal are attached to schools and colleges. After the preparatory group, the child is enrolled in a specific school.

Study in Portugal

Saídos da Casca nursery in Lisbon for children from 3 months to 3 years old

Source: Saidos da Casca

International schools in Portugal

Private kindergarten Escolinha de Sonhos 

Source: Escolinha de Sonhos

Schools in Portugal

Kindergarten at the American International School CAISL in Lisbon

Source: Caislisbon

Primary education in Portugal

A primary school in Portugal covers basic education between preschool and secondary school. The year for primary schools typically starts around the second week of September.

The primary education system has three cycles, as follows:

  1. First cycle — grades 1 to 4, where each class has one teacher across several subjects, including Portuguese, social studies, mathematics, and English as a foreign language. Occasionally, a teaching assistant teaches topics such as arts.
  2. Second cycle — grades 5 to 6, with additional subjects like history, geography, and sciences. A different teacher responsible for each subject.
  3. Third cycle — grades 7 to 9 add physics, chemistry, and a second foreign language.

A student’s final grade is based on a 1 to 5 sliding scale when below 3 is a fail. Students who score below 3 for Portuguese and mathematics don’t pass grade 9. 

They can retake the exams in the summer. However, if they still don’t pass, they will be held back a year.

Secondary education in Portugal

Children between the ages of 15 and 18 must apply for secondary education in Portugal. Secondary education covers grades 10 to 12. When enrolling, students can choose several options that suit their objectives. 

There are three main tracks in the secondary education system in Portugal, and pupils can choose which one they want to follow:

  • science-humanities, 
  • vocational courses,
  • specialised in art. 

Due to Portugal’s religious background, many private secondary schools are often Catholic institutions that teach religious subjects with the general curriculum. These schools are renowned for their discipline and diverse extracurricular activities. Some of them even offer the International Baccalaureate with lessons taught in English.

Enrollment and studying process in school

To enrol your child in school, you must apply. From 2020, all applications will be accepted only in electronic form.

When enrolling foreigners, you will need the following:

  • copies of the passport of the parents and the child;
  • a medical certificate with vaccination information translated into Portuguese;
  • an individual tax number of the father or mother;
  • 2 photos for a personal file;
  • documents confirming the address of residence. For example, a lease for an apartment.

If the parents have residence permits, the child will be admitted to a public school on a general basis.

If the child has already started school and then the family moved to Portugal, a student file must be obtained. It contains information about academic performance in subjects and health status. Based on a personal file, the child is enrolled in a suitable class. Documents on education are certified by an apostille.

Changing schools in Portugal. Children can change schools at any time during the year. You need to justify this transfer, such as a change of address. There is no cost involved when it comes to changing schools in Portugal. 

Parents can apply online via the Portal das Matrículas if they have a Portuguese citizenship or directly with the school.

There are two types of schools in Portugal: public and private. Education in public schools is free, and parents only pay for lunch.

Each school determines the cost of meals and menus independently. The average amount ranges from €30 to €50 per month. If a student is on a diet, for example, because of a food allergy, parents must inform the school about the restrictions so that the child has a separate menu.

The choice of a public school depends on the official residence of the parents or grandparents who will look after the student. If there is no one to take the child to school, you can apply for a free bus: it picks up the children for lessons and takes them home at the end of the day.

Lessons in Portuguese schools last for 90 minutes. Classes start at 9 am and end at 5 pm. 

There is a paid extension, which will cost an average of €40 per month. Payment for lunches and additional stay at school is determined individually, depending on the family's income.

The language of education. Classes in public schools are taught in Portuguese. You can choose a private international school where they teach in English or French. The most prestigious are the American Carlucci International School and the British St. Julians, which are famous for their graduates and compete in a friendly way.

Some foreigners choose boarding schools. Here the child studies and lives the whole school year.

Holidays. In Portugal, children enjoy several school holidays throughout the year. This includes Christmas, Carnival, Easter, and a long summer break between each grade. Schools also close on public holidays.

  • Christmas break: 19 December 2021 – 2 January 2022
  • Carnival break: 20–22 February 2023
  • Easter break: 3–14 April 2023
  • Summer break: taken between 7 June and 12 September 2023. Length and exact dates will differ depending on age group.

Exams at the end of the course. At the end of the 11th grade, students in private and public schools take a test in two core subjects. After the 12th grade, they take an exam in Portuguese, the results of which are taken into account when entering a university.

Parent-teacher meetings are rare in Portugal. If necessary, the class teacher appoints an individual meeting with the family. 

If a child is stressed or in a difficult situation, they can turn to a school psychologist. The student will be offered a free consultation at the parents' request or the teacher's initiative.

Portugal education system

A primary school in Azeñhas do Mar. If a foreigner obtains a residence permit in Portugal, their child will be admitted to a public school for free

Public schools in Portugal

St. Julian’s School in Carcavelos. Source

Private schools in Portugal

Carlucci American International School of Lisbon. Source

Portugal’s higher education system

Higher education in Portugal is received at institutes and universities. Polytechnic institutes produce practitioners; universities prepare researchers and scientists.

Graduates of the institutes receive a licentiate or bachelor's degree. The master's degree is awarded only at the university. Like schools, universities are divided into public and private.

The Catholic University has the special autonomous status of the best university in Portugal according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022. One of its faculties, the Lisbon Catholic School of Business and Economics, tops the list of Portugal's most prestigious business schools. The Financial Times annually marks it in the European ranking.

In public institutes and universities, they study for free. Students are enrolled based on the results of school exams.

Each university has its requirements for the level of knowledge of applicants, and the disciplines for which entrance exams are held differ. Documents for admission are accepted until the end of spring, but it is better to check the information on the official website of a particular university.

Enrollment. Every year, universities publish information on the number of places vacant for international students. For admission, you must provide a school certificate.

If a student has already received a bachelor's degree from a foreign university, in addition to the diploma, an extract with a list of subjects that he studied and the number of academic hours will be required. Documents are confirmed with an apostille, translated into Portuguese and certified by a consulate.

Study in Portugal without IELTS. IELTS, the International English Language Testing System, is one of the essential English language test requirements worldwide as proof of language capabilities. You can choose a Portuguese university without IELTS to study for your further education. Several colleges in Portugal do not demand IELTS, provided that the student's previous education was completed in the English language.

Studying process. Some universities hold lectures and seminars in English, and foreigners can learn Portuguese in parallel. In some universities, for admission, you must present a certificate of knowledge of the Portuguese language at the initial level B1.

The application for training is submitted electronically. In some universities, it is paid: for example, at the University of Lisbon, it costs €60.

To apply, you need the following:

  • a completed application form;
  • a copy of the passport;
  • a copy of the certificate of secondary education or bachelor's degree;
  • certificates of knowledge of Portuguese and English, at least on the B1 level.

Some universities require a letter in which the applicant explains why they chose to study in Portugal and this particular institution. In rare cases, they may interview via Skype.

Portugal education system ranking

The Catholic University of Portugal, Lisbon. Source

Portugal student visa

The University of Coimbra, founded in 1290, is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Included in the list of top 500 universities in the world

International schools in Portugal

Portugal attracts many expats from all over the world. Most international schools centred on Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve. Foreigners and locals can choose between several international educational models.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) in Portugal is one of the most popular programs in the world due to its international recognition. 

There are 14 IB World Schools in Portugal, all teaching English. The International Baccalaureate Diploma is offered by 12 schools, while primary and secondary IB programmes are taught at: 

Most students prefer learning in the IB system because it teaches them how to learn and how to think. Many parents describe the IB curriculum as challenging, but worthwhile. 

American international schools follow the academic system of the US, consisting of elementary, middle, and high schools. Students study social studies, maths, English, science, and foreign language. After graduating, students can attend university in the USA or Canada easier.  

Here are a few American schools in Portugal:

British international schools follow the national curriculum of England. These schools are good enough for students who hope to study throughout the Commonwealth or the UK. Most British schools offer students International General Certificates of Secondary School, facilitating more accessible entrance to university.  

British international schools in Portugal:

Some private schools in Portugal teach British, American or IB programmes alongside the Portuguese system. For example, Queen Elizabeth’s School in Lisbon teaches in English and Portuguese and offers the Cambridge International Programme with Portugal’s primary school model.

Educational support for local and expat students 

Government support. Children from low-income families can apply for scholarships in Portugal. Parents can request financial aid, known as Ação Social Escolar, through their school. The application for state scholarships is carried out online.

Education loan. Portuguese banks offer students loans to finance undergraduate, postgraduate, master and doctorate courses. Students can spend money paying tuition, expenses with computers and other educational expenses. Students can count on a very competitive fixed rate of 3,5%.

3,5%
The interest rate on an education loan in a Portuguese bank

Scholarships for expat students. In Portugal, students can benefit from different types of scholarships. It is available in the government higher education institutions for local and international students.

Portugal takes part in all EU-derived scholarships, like Erasmus Mundus programs. Several private and semi-private organisations and institutes offer scholarships for study in the Portuguese language and culture, sciences, and technology.

Educational support for expat students in Portugal
International students who don’t speak Portuguese may face difficulties attending a local school. That's why many state schools offer extra language support classes. Non-native speakers can take the final Portuguese exams adapted for them.

Alternative schooling options

Primary and secondary education may take place at home. There are two ways to make it possible: online platforms or with a person responsible for the curriculum. Many expat families who travel a lot consider alternative education options for their children.

Homeschooling in Portugal. Parents or legal tutors must have a university degree. Children must also be registered at a public or private school and follow the national curriculum as external students. It includes sitting the annual exams, which are in Portuguese. 

Under the Home Education Decree no. 55/2018 children are enrolled in homeschooling or individual teaching:

  • home education means that students are taught at home by a family member or by a person living with them,
  • individual education means that a qualified teacher teaches students.

Online schooling involves enrolling in an online platform to receive an accredited education. 

An online schooling platform will provide you with interactive learning content, live and recorded lessons, direct chat with teachers, discussion forums and marked assignments. 

There are a variety of online schooling platforms in Portugal:

Many families opt for this style of schooling as it allows the child to learn in a comfortable environment. 

How much does it cost to study in Portugal for a semester?

Higher education in Portugal is one of the most affordable in the European Union. A year of study will cost €2,500—8,000. For comparison: the average cost of studying at universities in the UK varies from €16,000 to €24,000.

€2,500+
The cost of a year of study at a Portuguese university

At public universities, students study for free. However, there is a minimum annual administrative fee of €697. 

According to the laws of Portugal, free education can be received by:

  • citizens of an EU country;
  • applicants whose spouses or parents are citizens of the European Union;
  • foreigners who have legally resided in Portugal for more than two years.

The cost depends on the duration of the study and the popularity of the institute or university. The cost of education is higher in Portuguese universities, where they teach in English and issue double diplomas.

Costs of study at famous universities

QS World University RankingUniversityMinimal cost per annum
357Universidade de Lisboa (ULisboa)€7,000
357Universidade do Porto€3,000
428Universidade Nova de Lisboa€3,500 
431Universidade de Coimbra€7,000 
581Universidade de Aveiro€3,000 
591Universidade of Minho€4,500 
801Universidade Católica Portuguesa (UCP)€5,385 
Universidade de Évora€2,500 
Universidade da Beira Interior€1,500 
Universidade do Algarve€3,000 

How to get a Portugal student visa and permanent residency after study

To study at a university in Portugal, you need to obtain a student visa. It allows you to live in the country during your studies and six months after graduation. Students of Portuguese universities with valid visas travel freely within the EU countries.

Student visas are of two types:

  • D4 — for training programs for a year or more;
  • D5 — short-term visa for exchange students and summer internships.

A student visa is issued to foreigners who have received an official letter of admission to a polytechnic institute or university in Portugal. The letter indicates the name of the educational institution, the duration of the training, and the speciality the student will receive. If the student has been allocated a place in a hostel, they also indicate the residence address.

An application for a student visa must be submitted to a Portuguese Consulate at least two months before departure. To apply for a visa, you will need the following:

  • the original and copies of the passport;
  • a birth certificate and parental permission to leave the country if the student is under 18;
  • a photograph of 3.5 by 4.5 cm;
  • a bank statement or sponsorship letter from parents;
  • medical insurance;
  • a certificate or other documents on education with an apostille.

All documents must be translated into Portuguese and certified by a notary.

A student visa is issued for 120 days. Then students extend it without leaving Portugal.

After graduating, foreigners can apply for a job and residence permit. The resident permit is initially granted for one year and can be extended for 5 years. Permanent residence in Portugal can be obtained in 5 years with temporary residency.

Costs of living in Portugal

Portugal ranks 20th among the European countries in terms of cost of living. Prices here are several times lower than in Spain and other EU countries.

The most expensive city in Portugal is Lisbon, but even here, students can use social cards and rent accommodation in student dormitories. Especially for foreigners, the University of Lisbon calculated the cost of living.

Housing rental prices. A room can be rented for an average of €350 per month, and a small studio for €450—600. The rent does not include payments for electricity and water.

€450+
Cost of renting a student studio per month

Foreigners can live in student dormitories, and their monthly fee is lower than the rent of apartments. For example, 19 dormitories have been opened at the University of Lisbon. Many of them are located in the city centre or near the faculties. The dormitories have libraries, study rooms and Wi-Fi.

Universities annually reserve several rooms for international students. You must apply to the university website to get a place in a dormitory.

Lunch costs. The minimum amount per month is €225. Lunch at student canteens is cheaper than in the most democratic cafes in Portugal. For example, a full meal, which includes a bowl of soup, bread, drink, fruit or yoghurt, in the canteen of the University of Lisbon will cost €4.

€4
The cost of lunch at the student canteen of the University of Lisbon

Transport. A public transport pass costs €40 per month. Lisbon has a very developed public transport system. Students can travel by bus, tram, funicular, metro, and city lift.

Entertainment. Ticket prices for museums range from €2 to €15, and for a theatre or opera — up to €75. You can go to the cinema for €7.

You can buy a discounted ticket to a museum, theatre and a concert using a youth card for schoolchildren and students. The card cost is €10, and the validity period is 1 year. You will need a photo and a passport to apply for a card. The card is issued in Ponto JA stores and Abreu Travel travel agencies.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why study in Portugal?

Portugal is one of the cheapest places to study and live in Europe and is an excellent option for international students. Enjoy a sunny climate, cosmopolitan cities, and a welcoming culture.

The Catholic University of Portugal, the New University of Lisbon and the School of Management of the City of Porto are among the universities with the highest level of education in economics and business, according to the Financial Times and IESE Business School.

How good is education in Portugal?

Portugal’s higher education system ranked the 35th best in the world in the first edition of the QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings. Alongside its top universities, Portugal is also home to several reputable polytechnics, which focus on preparing students for a specific career path.

Is Portugal good for international students?

Portugal is an attractive and accessible destination for international students who want to study in Europe. Prices here are several times lower than in other EU countries.

The higher education system in Portugal is split between public and private institutions, universities, and polytechnics and generally focuses on theory and research.

What types of education are available in Portugal?

In Portugal, you will find a mix of state and private education. Since state education is free, most Portuguese families choose public or private education. Children can be enrolled in the preschool education stage before the mandatory age of joining the school at six.

How to get a student visa for Portugal?

A student visa is issued to foreigners who have received an official letter of admission to a polytechnic institute or university in Portugal. The letter indicates the name of the educational institution, the duration of the training, and the speciality the student will receive. If the student has been allocated a place in a hostel, they also indicate the residence address.

How much is it to study in Portugal for non-EU citizens?

Expect to pay between €550 and €2,500 a year for a degree and from €2,500–3,000 a year for a PhD at a public university. However, costs are usually higher for private institutions.

How to study in Portugal as a non-residents?

Residents who have legally lived in Portugal for more than two years can study for free at a Portuguese institute or university.

Some universities in Portugal offer additional scholarships and discounts for international students. For example, students of the University of Coimbra with an average grade of at least 18 points can receive discounts on tuition or accommodation in a student dormitory and coupons for free meals in canteens.

The University of Porto provides scholarships for academic excellence, up to five times the minimum wage. The Catholic University of Lisbon offers tuition discounts — up to 50% of the academic year’s cost.

The University of Aveiro reduces the tuition fee to €1,000 if the average score of an international student is above 15 points.

Can students get PR in Portugal?

The standard resident permit in Portugal applicable to most non-EU nationals is an employee’s resident permit. The resident permit is initially granted for one year and can be extended for 5 years. After 5 years, the candidates can apply for a permanent residence permit in Portugal.

Can I stay in Portugal after graduation?

You can stay in Portugal once you finish your studies only if you have a job offer. You and your employer must meet the requirements for a Portugal work visa to switch from a student residence to a working residence permit.

How long is a school day in Portugal?

School begins between 8:30 and 9:30 and lasts until 16:00 or 17:00. Schooling must cover five hours a day, including breaks.

Is kindergarten free in Portugal?

Public kindergartens are free in Portugal. They enrol children aged between four and five.

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Portugal’s education system: kindergartens, schools and universities