Briefly about higher education in Portugal

  • Education in Portugal is suitable for those wishing to study tourism and business. The country has long-standing ties with the UK, so there are many double degree programs there.
  • Prices. Tuition costs for studying in English are 7,622-16,332 USD per year. There are many more programs in Portuguese, and tuition is usually cheaper — from 3,266 USD. Also, some private universities give discounts to foreigners for good academic performance.
  • Requirements. You can apply for a Bachelor's program (Licenciatura) after high school. The minimum language requirement is B1-B2. However, many Portuguese universities do not require applicants to have a certificate of English or Portuguese proficiency.
  • Legalization of documents. For admission to a Portuguese university, the original education documents must be apostilled by the Ministry of Education. Then the certificate/diploma with apostille must be translated and then certified by the Ministry of Justice.
  • Scholarships. Bachelor's and Master's students can compete for various grants from the Government of Portugal and universities, including need-based DGES grants.
  • Employment. To stay in the country, you need to obtain a work permit valid for three years. Then it can be renewed several times. At the same time, finding a job in Portugal is a rather difficult task: in 2019, youth unemployment was more than 18%.
Advantages of education in Portugal

  • Low education costs. Compared to other European countries, tuition in Portugal is quite affordable. The average cost of higher education programs is 6,533 USD per year for foreigners, and even less for EU citizens. Coupled with a relatively low cost of living, it makes studying in Portugal quite affordable.
  • An open attitude towards foreign students. Portugal is less prone to formalities than other European countries. In particular, for admission to most universities in the country, you do not even need a language proficiency certificate. For the committee to assess the student’s language abilities, conducting an interview is considered enough. In some cases, universities accept applicants even with a beginner’s level of language, making them attend language courses at the university simultaneously with the main studies. Many teachers are sympathetic towards foreign students, at first glancing over the grammar mistakes. Throughout the studies, great attention is paid to the creativity of the students, not to the thorough knowledge of the subject. Moreover, students with a proven track record in studies or research are often assisted in finding a job. Thus, studying in Portugal will be less stressful.
  • Career opportunities. In Portuguese universities, students acquire both theoretical and practical knowledge, which allows graduates to confidently enter the European labor market. In addition, many students in Portugal are learning the local language, which is spoken by a total of 270 million people across 5 continents. Knowledge of this language is valued in many companies. An added bonus: by speaking Portuguese, you can easily learn Spanish, the second most spoken language in the world.
  • Low prices of goods and services. Renting a house, dining at a restaurant, buying a movie ticket or attending a concert in Portugal will cost significantly less than in other European countries. The shops feature mainly domestic goods of excellent quality. Examples include wine, fruit, clothing, shoes, which are sold at very affordable prices. Living in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal and the most expensive city in the country, will cost about 599 USD per month without rent[1]. And the cost of living in student residences at Portuguese universities is much lower than the average in most European countries. Naturally, moving to Portugal does not impose significant costs, which attracts foreign students.
  • Comfortable conditions. Situated along the ocean coast, Portugal is famous for its mild climate, picturesque mountains, and sandy beaches. The short distances between cities and the convenient schedule (students mostly study in the morning) make it possible to combine hard work with leisure and travel. In Portuguese universities, just like in the country as a whole, the atmosphere is friendly and open, which contributes to the quick adaptation of foreign students.
Disadvantages of education in Portugal

  • Portuguese. Despite a growing number of partly or fully English-taught programs, most of the study programs at universities are taught in Portuguese. Therefore, it is advisable for students to have appropriate language training before arriving in Portugal. In addition, not knowing the local language will make daily communication much more difficult.
  • Unemployment. Foreign students graduating from universities in Portugal find it difficult to get a job to stay in the country. The youth unemployment rate in 2019 exceeded 18%, which is high by European standards[2]. In addition, the average salary of specialists in Portugal is lower than in other countries of the European Union. The graduates of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the country — Coimbra, Lisbon, University of Porto, and the University of Lisbon Nueva, have better chances of employment. Thus, when choosing a university, it is worth remembering the economic situation in the country and getting prepared for the problems that await a graduate.
  • Lack of punctuality. The Portuguese, like people in other southern regions of Europe, are known for their frivolous relations with time. It is normal to arrive at a meeting 15 minutes late and then leave early. This must be taken into account when making arrangements with anyone from university representatives to even banks. University and/or scholarship applications must be submitted as early as possible, as there may be unforeseen delays.

Cost and structure of education in Portugal

Type of studyAgeDurationMin. costAvg. costLanguage requirementsExams
Summer camp6+1-7 weeks653 USD/week1,307 USD/weekn/an/a
Language courses12+1-52 weeks338 USD/week381 USD/weekA1Taken at school
Secondary education10+11-12 yearsFree30,269 USD/year


Foundation16+1-2 semesters.2,940 USD/semester7,622 USD/yearB1DEPLE
Bachelor's17+3-4 years3,266 USD/year6,533 USD/yearB2DIPLE, IELTS 6.0 / TOEFL 79
Master's20+1-2 years3,266 USD/year6,533 USD/yearB2


MBA20+1-2 years9,799 USD/ year13,066 USD/yearC1IELTS 6.5 / TOEFL 93
Doctoral20+3-4 years

3,266 USD/year

9,255 USD/yearC1DAPLE / IELTS 6.5 / TOEFL 93
Additional expenses

Registration fees109 USD
Visa98 USD
Accommodation544 USD/month
Insurance152 USD/year
Food327 USD/month
Public transport49 USD/month

All prices and requirements are approximate and must be checked on the university websites.

Options for admission to Portuguese universities

Options for admission to universities in Portugal
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Admission requirements in Portuguese universities

Until 2006-2007, Portugal had had its own higher education system, which was revised after the country joined the Bologna Process. Currently, the education system in Portugal includes three cycles of study: Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD programs. Thus, a foreign student can easily enroll in a Portuguese Master's program with a Bachelor's degree from another country.

Documents are submitted directly to universities online. For admission you need:

  • Completed application form;
  • Copy of the passport;
  • Certificate of completed secondary education / Bachelor / Master's degree, a transcript with grades;
  • Portuguese (B1-B2) / English (less often, B1-B2) proficiency certificate;
  • Additional tests for some programs (tests for physical, athletic, social, and visual abilities);
  • Motivation letter;
  • Letters of recommendation;
  • Interview (rare).

Each university and program has its own requirements, so all information must be checked on the university websites.

The Portuguese school year usually runs from September/October to July. It includes 2 semesters. Christmas and Easter holidays are usually 2 weeks long, and summer holidays (férias grandes) continue from June to September.

Legalization and recognition of diplomas in Portugal

Portugal's participation in the Bologna Process means that the recognition of qualifications from other European countries is usually automatic. Any difficulties are usually handled by the university or the Portuguese branch of the Academic Recognition Network ENIC-NARIC. If required, diplomas from outside of Europe can be formally recognized by an authorized Portuguese institution.

Preparatory programs in Portugal

Pre-university and Foundation programs are designed for students who have graduated from high school and are planning to enter higher education institutions in Portugal. Preparatory programs improve the knowledge of general subjects and language and help the students to adapt to the European educational system. For admission you will need:

  • Certificate of completed secondary education and transcript with grades;
  • Portuguese or English language proficiency at the B1+ level;
  • Motivation letter.

As a rule, pre-university programs open admission to their home universities. However, the applicant submits documents on the same conditions as the other foreigners.

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Vocational education in Portugal

Vocational education in Portugal is offered by polytechnic colleges. They provide hands-on training and are profession-oriented, while universities have a strong theoretical base and are focused on research. Polytechnic colleges issue only Bachelor's and Master's degrees. Programs are mainly offered in the fields of education, management, technology, health care, and agriculture, although there are programs in Arts, Sports, Journalism, Tourism, and Marine Science.

There are also professional higher technical courses. These are short degree programs (120 ECTS) lasting 2 years. Upon successful completion, the degree of a professional senior technician is awarded to the graduates.

Programs’ composition:

  • Technical training courses (70%) — practical classes; laboratory work or workshops, depending on the specialty;
  • Subjects of general and scientific education (30%);
  • Work-related training — minimum 1 semester of internship.

Bachelor’s in Portugal — undergraduate

The first cycle of higher education — Bachelor's — is similar to other European countries. In Portugal, it is called Licenciatura. The duration of study is 3-4 years (180-240 ECTS), during which students study basic and specialized disciplines. They attend lectures and seminars, work on projects and assignments. In the final year, and often even earlier, students have to decide what to do next: they can complete their studies, get a diploma and enter the labor market, or continue their studies in a Master's program to increase their chances of employment or to build an academic career.

Often, universities have special admission procedures for foreign students, for example, the International Student Statute (EEI) at the University of Porto or the International Students regime at Fernando Pessoa University. For admission, you’ll usually need:

  • The equivalent of a Portuguese certificate of secondary education and a transcript. In some cases, you will have to apply to the Directorate-General for Education for recognition of equivalence;
  • The results of the final school exams, equivalent to Portuguese (double-check with the university). In some cases, for example at the University of Coimbra, foreigners must pass the Portuguese admission exams on their own initiative (as “alunos autopropostos”). They are held in local and foreign Portuguese schools. Registration deadlines for these exams are published annually by the DGES;
  • Proof of Portuguese (DIPLE) or English (IELTS / TOEFL) proficiency;
  • Copy of passport;
  • Additional tests for some programs (tests for physical, athletic, social, and visual abilities).

In Portuguese universities, various knowledge control systems are used. Typically, during the semester, students take oral and written exams; do tests, projects, and laboratory work. The main measure of the quality of teaching is the examination. In universities, exams are held two times a year: the winter exams can last from the end of December to the end of February, the summer ones — from the beginning of June to the end of July.

Master's in Portugal — graduate/postgraduate

The next step after Licenciado is Mestrado. Most programs last 1-2 years (90-120 ECTS). The Master's degree in professional disciplines (Medicine and Law) is called Mestrado integrado. It partially overlaps with undergraduate studies. Mestrado integrado takes up to 6 years and consists of 300-360 ECTS.

Both types of programs usually end with a final project or research paper. Documents for admission are submitted directly to the educational institution online. Usually, you need:

Some programs limit seats using the numerus clausus quota system. This ensures that talented students are accepted and the number of graduates does not exceed the demand in the labor market. There are often separate quotas for international students. However, their applications are also compared with those of other candidates, GPA in particular. The advantage is given to students who have already proven themselves in research work. In some cases, passing an entrance exam may be required.

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Doctoral studies in Portugal — postgraduate

Doctoral degrees (doutoramento) are awarded by universities and their institutes. PhD programs are structured according to the Bologna Process and internationally recognized.

Application periods for doctoral studies and visa applications often coincide — both require documentation issued by each other (e.g., enrollment confirmation is required for visas, and immigration documents — to apply for a PhD). It is recommended to start both procedures simultaneously and leave enough time to complete them.

In Portugal, it is customary to contact the future educational institution and/or supervisor before admission. Application deadlines vary by university. For admission, the following is required:

Doctoral studies last 3-4 years. In the beginning, students attend lectures and seminars, and the rest of their time is devoted to a thesis or an art project (for PhD in Arts). The latter also includes written work.

It can take quite a long time to write a thesis: according to statistics, the average age of a PhD student in Portugal is 37 years old. Scientific work is defended orally. The defense has to be attended by at least 5 teachers and experts with a PhD, and half of them should be from other educational institutions. The commission takes into account the scientific novelty of the work, the relevance of the topic, and the presence of candidate's publications in scientific journals.

Portuguese universities have a 20-point grading system:

  • Below 10 — “unsatisfactory”;
  • 10-13 — “satisfactory”;
  • 14-15 — “good”;
  • 16-17 — “very good”;
  • 18-20 — “excellent”.

For admission to doctoral studies and for the academic position of assistant, the GPA of the previous diploma must be at least 16.

Academic career in Portugal

The quality of education in the country largely depends on the teaching staff. In public universities in Portugal, there are strict regulations, which allow a successful student to make an academic career.
The first step of the ladder is the position of a Junior Assistant (Assistente Estagiário), to which bachelors with an average score of 16 or higher can apply. The student fulfills the duties of Assistente Estagiário for 4 years (2 terms of 2 years). During this time, they must get a Master's degree. After that, the graduate takes the position of an Assistant (Assistente) and at the same time studies in a doctoral program; after graduation, they can already apply for a teaching position.
In order to obtain the position of Assistant Professor (Professor Associado) or Professor (Professor Catedrático), you must have the academic title of Agregação. It is awarded to people with a doctoral degree after passing additional exams in the field of studies and Teaching.
It is common practice for Portuguese universities to invite their own students to full-time positions, and the position might even be purposefully kept vacant until the candidate obtains the required degree. At the same time, competitions for the positions of associate professors and professors are announced in public sources.
The average salary of professors in Portugal is quite high: 42,029 USD per year[3].

Scholarships and grants in Portuguese universities

The government and universities offer scholarships to international and local students.

  • Directorate General Higher Education Grant (DGES). An annual grant aimed at covering tuition costs for students with financial difficulties. The grant is usually awarded for a full academic year for Bachelor’s and Master's students. In addition to Portuguese and EU citizens, the following candidates can apply for a grant:
    • Holders of a permanent residence permit;
    • Holders of long-term resident status;
    • Applicants from countries with which Portugal cooperates in the field of educational benefits.

    For more information, contact the SAS (Social Services) or GAS (Social Office) of the higher education institution.

  • The Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) issues scholarships, grants, and funding for doctoral programs’ students involved in science and technology in Portugal. FCT provides:
  • Doctoral fellowships for 3-4 years and/or research grants for 1 year;
  • Courses, laboratory rotations, or other fieldwork.

    The number of doctoral programs funded by the FCT is limited. The selection is done by internationally recognized experts. For example, in the 2012 and 2013 competitions, 96 FCT doctoral programs were approved.

  • Some universities offer material support to students based on merit or financial need. Such opportunities should be looked up on the websites of the universities themselves.

The Erasmus program is especially popular in Portugal. It funds joint Master's degrees and short exchange programs abroad. Ploteus, operated by the European Commission, also provides information on grant opportunities in Portugal.

Student visa to Portugal

Students who intend to study for more than 1 year must apply for a resident permit. It is valid for 4 months. The requirements are:

  • Completed application form;
  • Passport;
  • 2 passport photographs;
  • Medical insurance;
  • Permission to request a criminal record from the Immigration and Border Guard Service (SEF);
  • Police certificate from the country of citizenship or country of residence (for those over 16);
  • Proof of solvency (a sponsorship letter from a citizen or resident of Portugal is accepted);
  • Letter of acceptance from the university.

Additional documents for researchers:

  • Letter of acceptance from the university;
  • Scholarship certificate or proof of the university’s willingness to cover the costs of tuition and living;
  • Applicants admitted to officially recognized universities are exempted from providing health insurance and proof of solvency.

The cost of a visa is 98 USD. State scholarship holders are exempted from paying the visa fee. The decision to issue a residence visa is usually revealed after 60 days. Additional information can be found on the website of the Portuguese Embassy in your country. Upon arrival in Portugal, the student must apply for a residence permit at the Immigration and Border Guard Service (SEF).

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Working while studying in Portugal

Foreign students in Portugal are allowed to work 20 hours a week (full-time during the holidays). In this case, students must inform SEF of the work contract.

It should be noted that the minimum monthly wage in Portugal is one of the lowest in Western Europe: 806 USD[4]. There are student centers offering jobs on and off-campus to help find part-time jobs. Knowledge of English and another language will be an advantage. Such students can count on positions of consultants in shops and travel companies, hotel administrators, tutors, or translators. Students who are actively involved in research work have a chance to get an official contract in the laboratory of their university. During the holidays, students can take lifeguard jobs on Portuguese beaches to combine leisure and work, or travel to neighboring European countries for higher-paying positions.

Immigration in Portugal

Portugal allows EU-citizens graduates to seek work after studies without additional permission. However, students from other countries must obtain permission. It is worth noting that applications from graduates of Portuguese universities are generally approved without hassle.

To apply for a work permit, you need to make an appointment in advance. Documents are given in-person to any department or regional branch of SEF. The following is required:

  • 2 recent photos;
  • Passport;
  • Valid resident visa;
  • Proof of solvency;
  • Proof of residence in Portugal;
  • SEF Permit to Check Portuguese Criminal Records (for those over 16);
  • An employment contract that follows the Portuguese law;
  • Permission to check registration with the tax authority;
  • Authorization to check regular social security payments.

The residence permit is valid for 2 years and then is renewed every 3 years. The cost of the procedure and additional details can be found on the SEF website.

Prospects and employment opportunities for graduates

  • In Portugal. The country's economy is recovering after a long crisis. As of February 2020, the unemployment rate was only 6.4%, but among young people, it’s much harsher: in 2019 it was more than 18%. Graduates of the faculties of Computer Science, Technology, Construction, Engineering, Medicine, and Exact Sciences have good chances to get a high-paying position. The Bachelors in Liberal Arts will have it the hardest when it comes to employment. It should be kept in mind that fluency in Portuguese is a key factor for successful employment.
  • In Europe. Diplomas from Portuguese universities are recognized by all employers in Europe. Often, the priority is not the grades, but the recommendations of the supervisor and a correctly written resume reflecting the professional skills of the applicant. Participation in international scientific projects, publications in academic journals, and study/internship/work in other European countries are seen as additional advantages.
  • In Latin America. The education received in Portugal is highly regarded in Latin America and in other Portuguese-speaking countries outside of Europe. Since education in Portugal has centuries-old traditions, graduates of Portuguese universities have an advantage when looking for work in Brazil, Chile, and other countries of the region. Thus, a diploma from a Portuguese university opens the way not only to Europe but also to more distant — and no less promising — countries.
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