Universities in Portugal: The Ultimate Guide for Expats
Updated: March 13, 2023
Selection of Best Portuguese Universities by Region
Choosing a good university in any country is a huge decision. Navigating through all the available options and deciding which university you will join requires a lot of time, effort, and thoughtful planning. For expats considering Portugal for higher education, we’ll provide you with everything you need to know about the universities in Portugal, global ranking, tuition fees, and how to choose which university is the best option for you.
Portugal has some top universities, and the education offered here provides excellent options for local and international students. The country has 14 universities overall, and four of these Portuguese universities are included in the top 500 universities in the world in terms of education quality. According to QS World University Rankings 2023, the best-ranked university in Portugal is the University of Porto.
It’s worth mentioning that universities in Portugal apply the standards of theEuropean Bologna System but with much more affordable prices than many other European countries. Most Portuguese universities have special training and internship programs for the students to enhance their studying experience and ensure they get exposed to real life while studying.
A great part of studying at a Portuguese university is that you’ll live in a charming country with a high yet affordable quality of life. Many cities have enjoyed an influx of expats looking to appreciate its amazing climate and beautiful ocean views. Imagine studying during the day and then venturing out to explore the vast array of cultural events after classes or spending your weekends trying out new activities, such as surfing. In Portugal, there are many activities to get involved with, things to see and do, and stunning places to explore. Whatever your interests or passions, you should find Portugal a very accommodating country.
In the following section, we will dive into more detail to provide you with everything you need to know to gather information about the universities in Portugal and the available options for you to consider.
How the Higher Education System Works in Portugal
Let us start by telling you how the higher education system in Portugal works.
Portugal’s further education system is divided into two systems: University education and non-university higher education (polytechnic education). The only major difference between the two systems is that universities focus more on academic research, while non-university education is more about preparing the student for a specific career path. You may find some common subjects between the two types of tertiary education, like engineering and management, but the way of teaching may be slightly different.
Students who graduate from a Portuguese polytechnic institute will graduate with a “license” to practice a specific profession, while those who graduate from a Portuguese university get a bachelor’s degree and can continue studying and upgrading their certificate with a master’s degree or doctorate, should they so desire. The higher education degrees are as follows:
1- A bachelor’s degree or licentiate’s degree (Licenciatura):
Both university and polytechnic institutions grant the degree of licenciado (bachelor), which takes between three to four years to complete. In some cases, such as studying Law or Medicine, this can take five to six years.
2- A master’s degree (Mestrado):
A master’s degree is a higher-level degree for the university student who chooses to continue studying, typically taking one to two years. Specialties like Medicine and Law take five to six years.
3- Doctorate or doctoral degree (Doutoramento):
This is the ultimate tertiary education step, and, at this level, students for doctoral degrees or Ph.D. degrees are allowed to take as much time as they need to prepare for their projects and get ready for the exams. The country pays for some scholarships for future doctoral students for at least €1000 per year.
The Cost of Higher Education in Portugal
As mentioned above, universities in Portugal are very competitive, and the cost of Portuguese higher education is much cheaper than in other countries in Europe, whether you’re looking at public universities or private universities. Applying to any Portuguese university and getting accepted depends on many factors. The most important ones are your exam results and the available places in your chosen university.
If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, the good news is that you can enjoy being a part of free higher education in Portugal and will only need to pay the minimum annual administrative fees of around €700. To enjoy this great benefit, one of the following conditions has to apply to your case:
1- You’re an EU citizen.
2- You’re an applicant whose spouse or parents are EU citizens.
3- You’re a foreigner who has legally been living in Portugal for more than two years.
For non-Eu citizens, it is a little different because higher education is not completely free, as is the case for EU citizens. However, it is still one of the most affordable routes to receive an education in the EU.
For foreign international students, enrolling in universities in Portugal may cost you tuition fees between €3000 to €12,000 per year. The most expensive courses in Portuguese universities are those taught in English, but even so, they are still affordable for global students compared to many other countries. Take the UK, for example, where higher education varies from €17,000 to €36,000 per year.
Considering one of the universities in Portugal is not just a great option because of the affordable prices but also because of the affordable cost of living in the country. Your expenses as a student in Portugal will be lower than in Germany and the UK, for example, according to the Cost-of-Living Index by country 2022.
A bed in a dormitory room is all you will need as a student in Portugal, and this won’t cost you a lot per month. If you prefer to live on your own in a rental studio, the budget can increase to €500-600 per month. Prices can always change according to where you settle. For example, big cities like Lisbon and Porto can have higher rental costs than other cities in Portugal. Regarding other living costs, don’t worry; you will receive some discounts as a student on public transportation, cinemas, and theaters.
Interested in studying in Portugal? Great, let’s move to the next step and tell you how to start preparing yourself for admission to a Portuguese university.
How to prepare for admission to a Portuguese university?
For EU and non-EU citizens, the conditions for applying to a university in Portugal are the same. To be able to start the enrollment process, you should:
Have completed a secondary course or a national or foreign qualification that is legally equivalent
Have sat the entrance examinations required for the degree program the student wishes to attend and get the minimal mark required (there are higher education institutions that accept foreign tests or exams)
Have fulfilled the prerequisites for the higher education course the student wishes to attend, if required
For non-Eu students who are considering applying to universities in Portugal, you should know that most of the Portuguese universities may require international applicants to enroll in the Foundation program, which lasts from six months to a year, as an alternative to A-levels or International Baccalaureate courses. The main target here is to help foreign students adapt to the new system of education and improve their level.
The Enrollment Process at a Portuguese University
Knowing how the process goes is part of being well-prepared for the university you’re planning to enroll in. Before each academic year, universities in Portugal publish the number of available vacancies, terms and conditions for applicants, and different rules for EU and non-EU students. You should follow the universities in Portugal you’re targeting and keep checking their websites and newsletters to be aware of all the latest news.
After this information has been published, students will have specific deadlines to complete their paperwork and apply. Don’t worry about this part, as the universities make sure to leave enough time between the admission process and the starting date of the academic year, so students can submit all the required documents.
In general, the academic year in Portugal, like most countries, is divided into two semesters; the winter semester, which lasts from September or October until the end of February, and the spring semester, which lasts from March until the end of July.
Foreign applicants will need to prove their knowledge of the Portuguese language at level B2. Universities can accept students with level B1 language certificates only if they are willing to undertake classes to raise their level to the B2 level. This is applicable in cases where the course is taught in Portuguese, and the same requirements are also applicable to the English language if the course is taught in English.
Documents Required for Admission
Applicants who want to apply for the new academic year in any Portuguese university must fill out an electronic form on the online portal of the selected faculty. Take into consideration that universities take commissions for your online application, and this commission can differ from one university to another. For example, the University of Lisbon takes a commission of €60, while the University of Aveiro’s commission is €50.
Moving to the paperwork part, you may find slight differences between the Portuguese requirements for admission documents, but the main ones will be as follows:
1- University application form
2- Scanned passport copy
3- Scanned secondary education certificate or bachelor’s diploma
4- Scanned certificates in the Portuguese and English languages
As an applicant, the university you’re applying to may ask you to send a motivation letter explaining why you want to study there specifically and why you are motivated to take the course. Sometimes, you may have a Skype interview with the university council.
*Note: Applied documents from foreign educational institutions must be apostilled, translated into Portuguese, and certified by the consulate.
Top 5 Universities in Portugal
Universities in Portugal enjoy a globally well-known reputation thanks to the high-quality education they offer with very reasonable costs to encourage expats from all around the world to come to Portugal and apply to them.
In the following section, we’ll dive into more specific details on some of the most famous universities in Portugal. All you need to do is read carefully and decide which is the perfect choice for your future.
Not only one of the best universities in Portugal but also one of the best European universities, with a world ranking of 295, according to the QS World University Rankings in 2022. The University of Porto was founded in 1911, and it has a large community of over 31,000 students, including around 3,280 international students. It was created based on a polytechnic institute and specializes in applied sciences: Engineering, Construction, Architecture, Astrophysics, Genetics, Immunology, Cell Biology, and Marine Ecology.
The University of Porto has three different campuses in different districts of Porto. The university offers more than 600 programs annually to students at 15 faculties and has 50 research units, dormitories, sports facilities, libraries, cafes, and shops.
The main focus of the University of Porto is the rapid advancement of the students’ level and their ability to join the labor market. The University of Porto has a strong curriculum following the job market’s needs. There are practical classes with constant interaction with professionals from various fields.
The University of Porto:
– Annual tuition fees: €3,500 – 8,000
– QS World University Rankings: 295
– Ranking by employability: 201-250
– Academic ranking of world universities: 301
– Languages of study: Portuguese, English
The University of Porto offers prestigious degrees in various fields to widen the circle of options for national and foreign students. If you’re considering the University of Porto, you can choose from the following:
Here you’re choosing the largest and most prestigious university in Portugal and one of Europe’s leading universities. The University of Lisbon ranked joint 356th in the World Top Universities Ranking. It was formed by the merger of the former Technical University of Lisbon (UTL) and the University of Lisbon (UL) in 2013, with the main University in Lisbon originally founded in 1911.
It’s worth mentioning that the University of Lisbon consists of 18 faculties, schools, and institutes, and it has 19 dormitories, sports grounds, libraries, cafes, and shops. It is ranked among the top 500 of the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2023 for several subjects, including art and design, mining engineering, and geography. It has a large research center that conducts research in robotics, plasma physics, nanotechnology, telecommunication, and molecular medicine. More than 8000 foreign students choose this university each year.
From its name, you can tell that it’s one of the newest universities in Portugal, and it’s the third highest-ranked among Portuguese universities. The New University of Lisbon was founded in 1973 and is informally known as NOVA. This university has a student population of over 19,500 students per year.
The university ranks 361st in the world and offers the Lisbon MBA in partnership with the Catholic University in Lisbon (Universidade Catolica Portuguesa).
This is Portugal’s oldest university, where you will enjoy vintage design and high-quality education. The University of Coimbra was established way back in 1290. This university ranks438th in QS World University Rankings 2023 and is located in the city of Coimbra (the former national capital). The student community at the University of Coimbra is almost 24,800 students. It consists of eight faculties, covering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects and arts and humanities.
Many of the university’s buildings have been recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. There is a botanical garden near the university.
The unique thing about the University of Aveira is the fact that it has a global aim to make significant changes in the future for society and people. Students at the University of Aveiro learn and apply knowledge through environmental research. Unlike other Portuguese universities, the University of Aveiro includes the oceans in its research areas.
The Department of Scientific Oceanology teaches students how to preserve and manage the global resources of our planet. Students also learn the impact of the ocean on climate, the regulation of rain and drinking water, and the different ways of obtaining food. The university has a library, sports grounds, dormitories, student cafes, and shops. You can find out more aboutAveiro Portugal here.
The New University of Aveiro:
– Annual tuition fees: €4,000 – 5,500
– QS World University Rankings: 581
– Ranking by employability: 251-300
– Academic ranking of world universities: 601
– Languages of study: Portuguese, English
Meteorology, Oceanology, and Geography
Electric and Computer Engineering
Economics and Business
The Best Universities in Lisbon and Porto
You should know that if you’re considering a university in Porto or Lisbon, you’re targeting one of the largest two cities in Portugal. Almost half of the country’s population is located in these two cities, giving you a great opportunity to enjoy city life and experience life in a buzzing city while studying.
To be honest, almost all Portuguese universities generally offer a good education. However, Lisbon and Porto’s universities are the most famous ones. Lisbon comes first since it’s the country’s capital, with its beautiful coast on the Atlantic Ocean, and most of the national financial, trade, entertainment, and education institutions are located there.
Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal and the center of the main industrial offices of the country, where international corporations are located. The city also has a very rich historical heritage.
Here is a summarized table with the best universities in Lisbon and Porto with the average of their tuition fees.
University of Lisbon (ULisboa): €3,000 – 12,500
New University of Lisbon: €3,000 – 7,000
University of Porto: €3,500 – 8,000
Catholic University (UCP): €5,385
University Institution of Lisbon (Iscte): €3,000 – 7,000
With a lovely unique location on the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest of Portugal, Madeira is an amazing tourist destination. The autonomous island is full of botanical gardens, beautiful beaches, and numerous schools for water sports, including windsurfing and diving.
The University of Madeira is one of the top 20 universities in Portugal. This public university was founded in 1988 in Funchal. It is now under the CMU/Portugal agreement in Computer Engineering, Human-Computer Interaction, and Entertainment Technology.
Students can choose to study at one of its scientific, engineering, medical, and humanitarian faculties. The courses taught there are in Portuguese, and the annual tuition fee is about €1000.
It’s highly unlikely that you won’t consider studying and living in a great area like the Algarve if you have Portugal on your radar. If you’re running from fast-paced city life and the noise of bustling cities, then go directly to the Algarve. You will find a great mix of quality of life and peace of mind there.
The Algarve has long been a favorite destination for tourists to enjoy their holidays next to the crystal-clear ocean. Since it’s a very popular tourist destination, the Algarve has its own airport in Faro, and it provides quick access to many places, including Spain. Many people flock to the Algarve for its beauty and safety, as well as the high quality of the healthcare and education facilities. The University of Algarve welcomes almost 10,000 students each year and is a member of the Association of European Universities. Students can study one of its various specialties, and the annual tuition fee is between €2.000- 4,000.
Top Universities in Other Regions of Portugal
As stated before, Portugal has a number of international universities around the different cities, and you will find different options to consider when choosing the right one to continue your study. From the north to the south of the country, there are many other high-quality options.
Depending on what you are looking to study, every region in Portugal is special in its own way. Each has its own characteristics, making them good options for students to choose between.
List of the best universities in other regions of Portugal
By considering Portugal as your destination to study in and spend the next part of your life, you are adding a great chapter of experience to your journey. Portugal is one of the most popular destinations in Europe, and it offers a very high-quality education at some of the best universities for people considering studying abroad. Portuguese universities are affordable, even for international students, and highly focused on research and practical studies. Whether you’re looking to complete a master’s degree or doctorate, there are many universities in Portugal for you to choose from – both public universities and private universities – meaning you’re sure to find the perfect fit for you.
As an expat, studying in one of the best universities in Portugal will enhance your experience by enabling you to meet and interact with other expats from all over the world. Plus, you’ll receive a high-quality education that will perfectly prepare you for life after graduation. Keep in mind, as a student, that the cost of living in Portugal is very affordable, and you will be able to have a good quality of life with fewer costs than in many other countries in Europe.
The Mediterranean climate in Portugal is another selling point; hot summers and beautiful beaches are all you need to relax after stressful exams. If you like exploring nature, Portugal’s natural beauty and unique sites are waiting to be explored.
There are 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, along with many other places that are worth visiting. You should also know Portugal is a very small country, so it is easy to get around and explore. Despite its relatively small size, Portugal has it all — beautiful beaches, snowcapped mountains, picturesque forests — and is somewhat of a dream for avid explorers. Its small size is an advantage, as it allows you to get around easily.
If you are an expat looking to move to Portugal with family, there is the potential to securePortuguese permanent residencyand even citizenship after five years. This can be done through the Portugal Golden Visa (residency by investment) or the D7 Visa (for those that don’t want to make a significant financial investment in the country).
At GoldCrest, we have great experience in helping individuals and their families find the perfect real estate in Portugal by working with them to help them secure their dream property. Contact us now, and let us help you speed up the process of finding the perfect house tailored to your needs.
Frequently asked questions about universities in Portugal:
Are universities free in Portugal?
If you are an EU citizen, the good news is that you can enjoy being a part of free higher education in Portugal. You will only need to pay the minimum annual administrative fees of around €700.
Non-EU citizens can still enroll but will need to pay some fees. Keep in mind that the higher education system in Portugal is one of the most affordable in Europe, and it offers great education quality
Are there any English-speaking universities in Portugal?
There are English courses in Portuguese universities, and while applying, you will be able to choose the program that you want to enroll in. Keep in mind that the most expensive courses are the English language programs and that graduating from a bilingual department will grant you a dual degree.
It is also worth mentioning that the cost of the most expensive higher education in Portugal is still considered affordable when compared to many other European countries. Take the UK, for example, where higher education varies from €17,000 to €36,000 per year.
Is it cheap to study in Portugal?
If you’re a foreigner who is considering studying in Portugal, you’re opting for one of the most affordable routes to get an EU education. As a foreign student in Portugal, you can enroll in a fee-paying department of the university you choose. Tuition costs range from €3,000 to €12,000 per year. Not only is the cost of education affordable in Portugal, but also the cost of living for a student in Portugal is cheaper than the other countries in Europe. Your expenses as a student in Portugal will be lower than in Germany and the UK, according to theCost-of-Living Index by country 2022.
Portugal is an attractive and accessible option for international students who are looking to study abroad in Europe. The country offers quality education and an affordable cost of living, as well as an excellent quality of life.