Whether it is the climate, the history, the good standard of living, or the quality of life, many families are drawn to Portugal’s shores. The education system in Portugal is very good and there are many excellent international schools in the country, focused mainly in Lisbon and Porto. Indeed, when it comes to education in Portugal, families moving to the country can be happy in the knowledge that their children will receive a good education so that they are well set up for life.
The basic education program lasts nine years, split up into three successive cycles of four, two, and three years. Children must begin their first academic year in that calendar year if they are six years old by September 15th. For education in Portugal, you have very good public and private schools, Portuguese-speaking schools, and international schools in Portugal.
Portugal has become something of a world-class business hub in the past years, but the country has much more to offer for families than simple work and business opportunities. As families can spend much of the year outside due to the favorable climate, and the fact that the Portuguese are a very family-centered people, it is probable that families can establish greater family ties while living in Portugal. Additionally, Portugal was ranked as the fourth safest country in the world in 2021 and 12th in Global Citizen Solutions Quality of Life Index. With an education in Portugal of a very good standard, the country seems set to continue to attract families from the world over.
In this article, we’ll provide information on the following:
- The grading system in Portugal
- The cost of education in Portugal
- Finding a school in Portugal
- Public education in Portugal
- Private and international education in Portugal
- The best schools in Portugal
- The best international schools in Portugal
- Post-secondary education in Portugal
- Graduating in Portugal
- Scholarships and financial aid
- Useful resources
Grading System in Portugal
When it comes to Portugal’s education system ranking, Portugal is ranked as the 35th best in the world in the first edition of the QS Education System Strength Rankings.
However, it is important to note that families moving to Portugal can expect to find a different grading system from that of their home country, for basic education, secondary education, and higher education.
The basic education program in Portugal is simple:
- Pre-school education: Ages three to six;
- Basic education: Ages six to 15;
- Upper secondary school: Ages 15 to 18.
For basic education (ages one to nine) a five-point scoring is used, with 50% being the lowest grade to pass.
90-100% – Muito bom – Very good
70-89% – Bom – Good
50-69% – Suficiente – Satisfactory
20-49% – Insuficiente – Unsatisfactory
0-19% – Mal – Fail
For secondary education (ages 10-12) and higher education, a 20-point grading system is used.
17.5-20 – Excelente – Excellent
15.5-17.4 – Muito bom – Very good
13.5-15.4- Bom – Good
9.5-13.4 – Suficiente – Satisfactory
3.5-9.5 – Insuficiente – Unsatisfactory
0-3.4 – Mal – Fail
With this grading scale, decimals from 0.5 and higher are rounded up to the closest whole number — for instance, 9.5 becomes a 10, therefore making 9.5 the minimum grade to pass. When comparing the Portuguese grading system to American education systems, and other countries’ grading systems, they are very different so it is a good idea to understand how to compare the two.
Is education free in Portugal?
When it comes to Portugal’s school fees, education in the country is free, and every child must attend school up to the age of 18. Public and state schools and free, and Golden Visa residents are able to enroll their children in the local school.
As is the same in other public school systems, the school that your child will attend is based on the neighborhood where they live or where their parents work. If you are thinking about sending your child to a public school, then factor this into the equation when deciding on which property you purchase — is there a good public school closeby?
Private and international schools will require tuition fees and will vary depending on the school that you choose. This will be addressed later in this article.
Pre-school education is optional. This is for children between the ages of three and five and is provided by kindergartens. Kindergartens are managed by a variety of public organizations, private schools, charitable institutions, and cooperatives.
Is university education free in Portugal?
Public Portuguese universities are free to decide the tuition fee amount that students have to pay. Full-time students that are enrolled in bachelor’s and master’s programs are charged tuition fees of approximately 950 to 1250 EUR each year.
Finding a school in Portugal
Parents will each be looking for something different for their children. To find the school that is most suitable for you, contact one of the schools in the area that you are living in Portugal or the Regional Education Authority (Direcção Regional de Educação).
If you would like to find a good public school for your child close to where you live or work, then it’s a good idea to factor this in when buying property in Portugal.
The final date for enrollment is usually the 15th of July of each year. However, it is best to confirm this with the school that you decide on, as specific dates may vary. For students that are coming from a foreign school during the school year, then there is no final date for enrolment. You will need to contact the governing bodies of the school for further information if this is the case for you.
Note that any student in a state school in Portugal (between preschool and year nine) and whose mother tongue is not Portuguese is able to have one-on-one language support, should they need it, something that is an added bonus for foreigners that are looking to move to Portugal and send their children to a state school in Portugal, many of which offer an excellent standard of education.
Public education in Portugal
Many teachers in Portugal have an excellent command of English. However, the public curriculum is taught in Portuguese. While this may be difficult for non-native Portuguese speakers, there are plenty of resources available to help children overcome the language barrier and support them in their language learning process. If you choose to send your child to a public school, they will no doubt be bilingual and will quickly give you a run for your money with their Portuguese-speaking skills.
The general documents that you will need to present for your child to enroll in a public school in Portugal are the following:
- Completed enrollment form, provided to you by the school.
- Child’s ID or birth certificate.
- One photograph of the child.
- Medical records and your child immunization records (boletim de vacinas).
Note that some schools may require additional documents and criteria.
Ultimately, the public Portuguese education system may not be for everyone, and many residents choose to send their children to other school systems — a private or international school.
Private and international schools in Portugal
There are several private and international schools in Portugal, particularly in Lisbon, Cascais, Porto, and the Algarve, that operate on paid tuition and fees. Many new residents opt for private schools, with some of the advantages being smaller class sizes, many extra-curricular activities, and more modern facilities. Note that private school teachers in Portugal are generally paid less than teachers in the public school system, and may be younger and less experienced.
International schools are popular with Golden Visa residents, because of high education standards and a variety of extra-curricular activities. Particularly if you are looking for international schools in Lisbon, there are many options available.
Private secondary schools in Portugal
There are three different kinds of private schools in Portugal that you can pick from if you want your children to attend one: International, religious, and boarding school.
The greatest choice for expats residing in Portugal are international schools – there are several in the country, particularly locations favored by expats. These institutions offer a multicultural setting that enables students to develop global competencies, interact with various cultures, and gain significant language proficiency.
If a parent prefers that their child studies in their native tongue or is familiar with the curriculum, they can choose among British, American, French, or German schools. Fortunately, compared to other European nations, Portugal’s international school tuition is relatively inexpensive, starting at about 5,000 EUR per year.
There are a lot of Catholic secondary schools in Portugal where pupils learn some religious courses in addition to the core curriculum. Religious schools are popular with parents because they offer more extracurricular activities and do better on the annual tests (in Portuguese).
Some schools offer teaching in English as well, and IB diplomas are an option for graduates. The annual cost of tuition is usually between 2,500 and 10,000 EUR.
Families looking for boarding schools in Portugal will discover some very good options schools.. Few boarding schools exist in Portugal and those that do tend to be located around Lisbon and the Algarve. Since annual tuition is normally approximately 30,000 EUR, it is recommended to visit the school to familiarize yourself with the campus and the curriculum before applying.
Private and international Schools: admission requirements
Private and international schools in Portugal can sometimes have strict admissions processes. It’s worth checking with the school that you are interested in about their procedure, but most will have the documents for admission on their website.
You will typically need to provide the following documents:
- School enrollment form (available from the school’s website).
- ID cards for the parents and child.
- Three passport photos of the student and their sponsor of education (encarregado de educação).
- Proof of residence.
- Previous school records and reports.
- Medical certificates and the child’s immunization records (boletim de vacinas).
- Proof of payment of the application fee.
- Language tests, if applicable.
Some schools will require an entrance exam, past school records, and many will ask for a personal interview with the student.
Many parents choose international and private schools, confident that their children will have a world-class education where they can compete with their peers when it comes time for university education.
Private schools: Tuition fees
Private schools can be quite costly and will vary from school to school. On average, expect to pay between 400-500 EUR each month, from primary to high school level. There are also enrollment fees to consider, which will be around 300 EUR per year, and books can cost up to 300 EUR, an extra cost to keep in mind.
International Schools: Tuition Fees
Tuition schools for international schools in Portugal will vary. To provide you with some indication of the price that you may need to pay, monthly fees are usually around 800 EUR per month (the minimum that you would pay is 400 EUR) and prices can reach as high as 1,800 EUR per month.
For the majority of these schools, you will pay a nonrefundable fee for submitting the application that is usually between 30 and 70 EUR. Also, there is an annual enrollment fee of 200-500 EUR and additional costs for books, school supplies, and possibly a school uniform, depending on the school that you opt for.
Best schools in Portugal
A national ranking of the best schools in Portugal determined that the following basic education schools are very good:
- Colégio Nossa Senhora do Rosário, located in Porto
- Colégio D. Diogo de Sousa, located in Braga
- Colégio Nossa Senhora da Conceição, located in Guimarães
- Colégio dos Plátanos, located in Lisbon;
- Grande Colégio Universal, located in Porto
When it comes to the best high schools in Portugal, the following are good options:
- Colégio Nossa Senhora do Rosário, located in Porto;
- Colégio da Rainha Santa Isabel, located in Coimbra;
- Grande Colégio Universal, located in Porto;
- Colégio D. Diogo de Sousa, located in Braga;
- Colégio Luso-Francês, located in Porto.
Note the Portuguese terms for education establishments. Escola is a more universal term but usually refers to public schools. Private schools are usually referred to as colégios. Private schools tend to be, in general, better than public schools, which can be seen firsthand by the fact that the colégios dominate the list of best schools in Portugal.
Best international schools in Portugal
Some very good international schools are shown below. If you are looking for an American school in Portugal, there are also options, such as Cascais International School that provides an American style of teaching. Another American school in Portugal is the United Lisbon International School, where the curriculum is based on US standards (NEASC).
In Lisbon and the surrounding area
Some options for international schools in Lisbon and the surrounding area are:
International schools in Porto
Some options for international schools in Porto are:
- Oporto British School
- Luso-International College of Porto
- Luso-French College
- Lycée Français International de Porto
International schools in the Algarve
Some options for international schools in the Algarve are:
Post-secondary education in Portugal
Post-secondary education in Portugal is well-known worldwide, with many international students choosing to study in Portuguese universities. The University of Porto ranks as the highest in the country, according to the QS World University Rankings. In Lisbon, Universidade NOVA , Catolica University, ISCTE – University Institute of Lisbon, and Técnico Lisboa are very well regarded universities.
Portugal is also home to many reputable polytechnics which enable students to focus on a specific career path.
While some subjects are only offered by either a university or polytechnics institute, there is considerable overlap, with both universities and polytechnics providing degrees in subjects such as management, engineering and humanities.
Most courses at the bachelor’s level are taught in Portuguese. However, there are several English language programs that exist at the graduate level and many courses at Master’s level are taught in English.
Additional information about moving to Portugal that may prove useful to you can be found in these articles:
- Should I buy property in Lisbon or Porto
- Your essential guide as an expat in Portugal
- Moving to Portugal from the USA
- Living in Portugal as an expat
Graduating in Portugal
In the first edition of the QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings, Portugal’s higher education was ranked as the 35th best in the world. The University of Porto is the top-ranked university in the country out of the seven that are included in the QS World University Rankings 2022.
Portugal’s higher education system is separated into two components:
- Universities that offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. These higher education institutions concentrate on theoretical education and research.
- Polytechnic institutions in Portugal that provide undergraduate and graduate degree options offering education and training in particular subjects.
You can find excellent polytechnic universities that concentrate on training students for a particular job route in Portugal. Although there is substantial overlap, both universities and polytechnics grant degrees in fields like management, the humanities, and engineering. Some disciplines are only taught at universities or polytechnics.
The majority of classes, notably those at the bachelor’s level, are taught in Portuguese. However, there are a number of English-language graduate programs, following patterns seen in universities around Europe.
Scholarships and financial aid
Portugal allows students to take advantage of the various scholarships offered by the government and higher education institutions, both to local and international students.
Portugal participates in all scholarships deriving from the EU, such as the Erasmus Mundus programs. Portugal also provides funding to a number of private and semi-private institutions and organizations that award scholarships for studies in the humanities, social sciences, and technological fields.
In Portugal, children from low-income households are also eligible to request government support. Through their school, parents can apply for a family allowance (abono de família) and financial help, often known as Ação Social Escolar (ASE).
Children with disabilities are also given financial assistance by the Portuguese government, and their families are eligible to apply for at least one of the following subsidies through the country’s social security system (Segurança Social):
- Support for assistance by a third person, also called the subsídio por assistência de 3a pessoa;
- Disability bonus, also called the bonificação do abono de família para crianças e jovens com deficiência;
- Subsidy for special schooling, also called the subsidio de educaço especial.
Children have a variety of financial aid alternatives available to them to help with the cost of attending school. Parents can explore the alternatives for their children with the school administration and provide documentation on their low financial status.
There are some resources regarding education and support in Portugal that might be handy for you.
- The Portuguese Social Security System – Segurança Social;
- The European Commission – Eurydice;
- A non-profit organization providing help for families whose children have neurodevelopmental disorders – CADIn;
- The Ministry of Education of Portugal – Direção-Geral da Educação (DGE);
- Service that provides information on how to apply for financial school aid in Portugal – Doutor Finanças;
- Service that answers frequently asked questions about homeschooling in Portugal – Ericeira Living;
- An organization that supports children from migrant families – Alto Comissariado para as Migrações (ACM);
- A non-profit association helping children with special educational needs (SEN) – Associação Nacional de Apoio à Criança Especial (ANACE).