Portugal could be the perfect place to broaden your educational horizons with its prestigious universities and lively nightlife. What's more, the Portuguese are known for their hospitable nature so international students will feel right at home
Portugal, a vibrant place of history and culture, is the westernmost country in mainland Europe.
It benefits from a mild Mediterranean climate - temperatures reach a balmy 30 degrees in the summer months, but its sunny weather, idyllic location and laid-back lifestyle aren't the only advantages.
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 in Portugal you'll have the opportunity to learn one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. The majority of courses are taught in Portuguese so some knowledge of the language is essential. Fluency will also help you to settle into your new surroundings and language skills always look impressive on your CV.
No matter your interests you'll find leisure activities to suit you. Music fans can attend a range of festivals and events, foodies can sample unique Portuguese cuisine, sightseers can enjoy beautiful beaches and historic beauty spots, culture vultures can explore metropolitan cities and sporty types can get involved with popular activities such as football and surfing.
In recent years higher education in Portugal has undergone reform in order to comply with the Bologna Process. Higher education can be either public or private and is 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 into a profession. Nursing, healthcare, accounting and teaching degrees are offered by polytechnic institutions.
Public institutions are made up of 14 universities, 20 polytechnics and six military/police academies, while the private higher education network comprises 36 universities and 64 polytechnics. For a list of all institutions, visit Study in Portugal - Higher education institutions.
Higher education is divided into three cycles or levels of study and these include:
- Licenciado (Bachelors);
- Mestre (Masters);
- Doutor (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 examination; public universities use a national exam, whereas private institutions set their own.
Five Portuguese universities currently feature in the QS World University Ranking 2016/17. These include:
- University of Porto;
- University of Lisbon;
- Universidade Nova de Lisboa;
- University of Coimbra;
- Universidade Católica Portuguese (UCP).
The Portuguese academic year is divided into two semesters - the first takes place between September and January, the second runs from February until June.
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Students attending UK universities can take part in the European Union's (EU) education, training and youth support programme Erasmus+. The scheme offers study, training, work experience and voluntary placements to millions of young people, students and adults. Opportunities last from three months to one academic year.
Financial support is available through the Erasmus+ initiative to any UK public, private or not-for-profit organisation actively involved in education and training.
Your university must have a formal agreement with a partner university in Portugal. Check that your university is involved in the programme and offers the Erasmus+ scheme in your subject.
Speak to the Erasmus+ coordinator at your university about available opportunities.
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.
When it comes to Masters degrees there are two types of study methods:
- A straightforward Masters, 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 usually takes six years to complete.
The majority of Masters courses are structured around units of coursework and culminate in the completion of a dissertation or independent project.
To be accepted onto a Masters course you will need to hold a relevant undergraduate degree. However, entry requirements will differ depending on the institution and course, so check before you apply.
To search for second cycle (Masters) programmes in Portugal visit Study in Portugal - Studies 2nd cycle.
A doctorate is the highest available qualification in Portugal. Courses normally take three or four years to complete, although there is no minimum period of enrolment.
Programmes are available in a range of subjects and to be accepted onto a course you will need a good undergraduate degree and a relevant Masters. For courses taught in Portuguese you will also need to prove your proficiency in the language.
To successfully achieve a PhD you will need to produce a thesis and then publicly defend it to a panel of expert examiners.
Search for doctorate programmes at Study in Portugal - Studies 3rd cycle.
EU citizens are entitled to attend university in Portugal or any EU country 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 will pay monthly fees, while at public universities you pay annually.
For Bachelors and Masters programmes you should expect to pay between €950 and €1,250 per year and up to €3,000 per year for certain PhD courses.
To find out more about tuition fees contact your individual institution.
Funding to study in Portugal
The cost of living in Portugal has risen in recent years but compared with other European countries it is still a relatively affordable place to live.
EU students are eligible to apply for grants in the same way as Portuguese students. Grants will be available from individual institutions and, to be eligible, students must apply to a course or university that is recognised by the Portuguese Ministry of Education.
Scholarships for foreign students are available from a number of sources, although it is advisable to check the availability and eligibility criteria of these opportunities every year.
EU students can also contribute to study costs by working part time for up to 20 hours during term time and full time during holiday periods.
How to apply
All higher education applications are made exclusively online.
For undergraduate programmes you can apply through a centralised system called Candidatura Online and for postgraduate courses you apply directly to your chosen university.
When applying, it is 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 will 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 still 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 is not your first language, you may need to provide evidence of proficiency.
Portugal is part of the Schengen Area, a group of 26 European countries, which have eliminated boarder controls between each other. This means that many citizens of the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA), including Switzerland, only need an identify card in order to enter Portugal.
As an EU citizen, you are 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 a EU citizens residents card within four months of arrival.
Certain nationals of other countries can enter Portugal for a stay of up to three months with a passport only. To find out if this rule applies to you see Study in Portugal - Visa and entry requirements.
If you are from outside the EU or EEA you will require a residence visa if you intend to stay for longer than three months. This can be applied for through you local Portuguese Embassy or consulate and requires:
- a valid passport;
- a completed application form;
- a letter of acceptance from a Portuguese university;
- academic transcripts;
- passport photographs;
- proof of sufficient funds;
- copy of health insurance.
Comparison to UK qualifications
Portuguese courses and higher education qualifications are directly comparable to those studies and gained in the UK. It's always best to check with employers before applying for jobs but degrees gained in Portugal should be recognised in the UK.