Home to a number of leading universities, Portugal offers a modern urban lifestyle and idyllic scenery, making it the perfect place for international students to live and study
As a vibrant place of history and culture, Portugal is the westernmost country in mainland Europe. It benefits from a mild Mediterranean climate - it can get scorching hot in summer, but also benefits from a refreshing sea breeze.
Portugal has been attracting large numbers of international students for years due to its wide selection of courses, excellent universities and reasonable tuition fees.
As a student, you'll have the opportunity to learn one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Most courses are taught in Portuguese, so knowledge of the language is essential. Fluency will also help you settle into your new surroundings and language skills always look impressive on your CV.
Whatever your interests, you'll find leisure activities to suit you. Music fans can attend a range of festivals and events such as Rock In Rio in Lisbon, foodies can sample delicious local seafood dishes in the Algarve, sightseers can explore everything from castles to caves, while football fans can sample the exhilarating match atmosphere at Estádio do Dragão, home to FC Porto.
Portugal is a full member of the Bologna Process, with its higher education system consisting of both public and private institutions, which are divided into two main bodies:
- Universities - teaching is traditionally based on theory and research, with degrees such as medicine, law, natural sciences, economics and psychology.
- Polytechnics - provide vocational training that leads to a profession. Nursing, healthcare, accounting and teaching degrees are offered by polytechnic institutions.
Public institutions are made up of 14 universities and 20 polytechnics, while the private higher education network comprises 36 universities and 64 polytechnics.
There are three cycles or levels of study:
- Licenciatura (Bachelors)
- Mestre/Mestrado (Masters)
- Doutor/Doutoramento (Doctoral).
First and second cycle degrees can be studied at both university and polytechnic institutions, but third cycle degrees can only be awarded at universities.
Many universities in Portugal ask prospective students to sit an entrance exam - public universities use a national exam, whereas private institutions set their own.
Seven Portuguese universities currently feature in the QS World University Rankings 2020, with four making the top 500:
- University of Lisbon (338th)
- University of Porto (353rd)
- University of Coimbra (406th)
- Universidade Nova de Lisboa (421st).
The Portuguese academic year is divided into two semesters - the first takes place between September and January/early February, while the second runs from February until June/July.
Degree courses in Portugal
For admission onto a Bachelors programme, you must hold a secondary school leaving certificate or equivalent and complete the necessary entrance exams. To find out about additional entry requirements, check with individual institutions.
Students can study a variety of courses at undergraduate level including medicine, law, finance, creative arts, psychology, IT and business. Courses usually take three to four years to complete.
Due to the Bologna Process, undergraduate degrees gained in Portugal are directly comparable to those gained in the UK.
You can browse undergraduate degree courses at Study & Research in Portugal - Search.
There are two types of study:
- A straightforward Masters (Mestrado), undertaken on completion of an undergraduate programme. These typically take one or two years to complete.
- An integrated Masters (Mestrado integrado), which includes an undergraduate component. This study method is more common for professional subjects such as law or medicine and can take up to six years to complete.
The majority of Masters courses are structured around units of coursework and culminate in a dissertation or independent project.
To be accepted onto a Masters course, you'll need to hold a relevant undergraduate degree. However, entry requirements will differ depending on the institution and course, so check before you apply.
To find Masters programmes in Portugal, visit Study & Research in Portugal - Search.
A Doctorate (Doutoramento) is the highest available qualification in Portugal. Courses normally take three or four years to complete, although there's no minimum period of enrolment.
Programmes are available in a range of subjects and to be accepted onto a course you'll require a good undergraduate degree and a relevant Masters. For courses taught in Portuguese, you'll also need to prove your proficiency in the language.
To successfully achieve a PhD, you'll be tasked with producing a thesis and then need to publicly defend it to a panel of expert examiners.
You can view Doctorate programmes at Study & Research in Portugal - Search.
Following the UKs departure from the European Union (EU) the government has announced the new Turing Scheme for students looking to secure overseas placements and study abroad at an overseas university for the 2021/22 academic year.
The scheme is backed by over £100million worth of funding, enabling thousands of students from schools, colleges and universities to gain study and work experience overseas.
Your university must have a formal agreement with a partner university in Portugal. Check that your institution is involved in the programme and offers the Scheme.
EU citizens are entitled to attend university in Portugal and are not required to pay higher course fees. EU nationals are also entitled to apply for any available grants towards tuition fees.
Both public and private institutions set their own tuition fees, so the cost varies depending on where you choose to study. Private institutions charge considerably more than public universities. If you choose to study at a private institution, you'll pay monthly fees, while at public universities you pay annually.
For Bachelors and Masters programmes, expect to pay up to €1,500 per year (£1,307) at a public university and up to €4,000 per year (£3,485) at a private institution.
International students (those from countries not part of the EU) can expect to pay higher fees.
To find out more about tuition fees, contact your individual institution.
Funding to study in Portugal
Portugal offers grants and scholarships to both EU and non-EU students. EU students are eligible to apply for grants in the same way as Portuguese students. Grants are available from individual institutions and to be eligible, students must apply to a course or university that's recognised by the Portuguese Ministry of Education.
Scholarships for foreign students are available from a number of sources, although it's advisable to check the availability and eligibility criteria.
EU students can also contribute to study costs by working part time for up to 20 hours during term time and on a full-time basis during holiday periods.
As a result of Brexit the rules for UK citizens travelling to EU countries changed on 1 January 2021. You can travel to countries in the Schengen Area (which includes Portugal) for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. However, if you plan to study in Portugal for more than three months you must apply for a residence visa.
This can be applied for through your local Portuguese Embassy or consulate and requires:
- a valid passport
- passport photos
- criminal record check
- international health insurance
- proof of accommodation
- a letter of acceptance from a Portuguese university
- proof of sufficient funds.
It's advisable to apply for a study visa at least two months before you're due to fly out to Portugal. For those in the UK, this would be done at the Embassy of Portugal in the United Kingdom based in London.
As Portugal is part of the Schengen Area this means that many citizens of the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA), including Switzerland, only need an identify card or passport to enter Portugal.
As an EU citizen, you're permitted to live in any EU country while studying as long as you:
- are studying for more than three months
- are enrolled at an approved university/other institution
- have sufficient income (from any source) to live without needing income support
- have full health insurance cover.
Students from the EU should apply for an EU citizens residents card within four months of arrival.
How to apply
All higher education applications are made exclusively online.
For undergraduate programmes you can apply through a centralised system called Candidatura Online (in Portuguese) and for postgraduate courses you apply directly to your chosen university.
When applying, it's worth contacting your chosen institutions international office for advice on studying in Portugal and the necessary entrance examinations and procedures.
Most undergraduate programmes are taught in Portuguese, so if you intend to study at this level, you'll need a solid understanding of the language. If Portuguese isn't your first language, you may be asked to prove your proficiency as part of your application.
At Masters level, an increasing number of courses are taught in English - although some knowledge of Portuguese will come in useful. Look on institutional websites and contact universities directly to find out if your chosen subject is delivered in English. If so, and English isn't your first language, you may need to provide evidence of proficiency.
Comparison to UK qualifications
Portuguese courses and higher education qualifications are directly comparable to those gained in the UK. It's always best to check with employers before applying for jobs, but Portuguese degrees should be recognised in the UK.
Find out more
- Discover what it's like to work in Portugal.
- For further information on studying in the country, see DGES Portugal.