How the higher education system works in Portugal

Let us start by telling you how the higher education system in Portugal works. 

The higher education system in Portugal is mainly 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 higher 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 they can continue studying and upgrading their certificate with a master’s and doctorate degrees, should they so desire. The higher education degrees are as follows: 

1- A bachelor’s 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 from five to six years. 

2- A master’s degree (Mestrado):

This is a higher-level degree for the university student who chooses to continue studying, and it typically takes one to two years. Specialties like Medicine and Law take five to six years. 

3- Doctorate (Duotoramento): 

This is the ultimate higher education step, and, at this level, students for doctoral 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 to 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 European countries, whether you’re considering a public university or a private one. Applying for any Portuguese university and getting accepted depends on many factors, the most important ones are your exam results and the available places in the university you’re choosing. 

If you are an EU citizen, the good news is that you can enjoy being a part of free higher education in Portugal, but you’ll just 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 spouses or parents are EU citizens. 

3- You’re a foreigner who has been legally living in Portugal for more than two years.

For non-Eu citizens, the case is a little different, because higher education is not completely free as is the case for EU citizens, but still, it’s one of the most affordable routes to receive an education in the EU.  

For foreigner students, enrolling in universities in Portugal may cost you tuition fees between €3000 to €12000 per year. The most expensive courses in the Portuguese universities are the English language taught courses, but even so, they are still affordable for global students as compared to many other countries. Take the UK as an example, higher education varies from €17000 to €36000 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 that you will need as a student in Portugal, and this won’t cost you a lot per month. In case you prefer to live on your own in a rental studio the budget can go higher up to €500-600 per month. Prices can always change according to where you settle in, for example, big cities like Lisbon and Porto can have higher rental costs than the rest of the cities.  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 Portuguese university are the same. To be able to start the enrollment process you should: 

Most Portuguese universities require applicants to have completed A-levels or an International Baccalaureate (IB) program

For non-Eu students who consider 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

Part of being well-prepared for the university you’re planning to enroll in is knowing how the process goes. Before each academic year, each Portuguese university publishes the number of available vacancies, terms and conditions for applicants, and different rules for EU and non-EU students. You should be following the universities in Portugal that you’re targeting and keep checking their websites and newsletters to be aware of all the latest news. 

After publishing the available spots for each university and the application conditions, students will have specific deadlines to complete their paperwork and apply. Don’t worry about this part, the universities make sure to leave enough period between the admission process and the starting date of the study, so students can submit all the required documents. 

In general, the academic year in Portugal, just 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 B2 level. This is applicable in case of the course is taught in Portuguese, 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 will need to 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. 

You can always check the website of the Council of Europe and UNESCO on education and the recognition of international qualifications

As an applicant, the university you’re applying for may ask you to send your motivation letter explaining why you want to specifically study there and why you are motivated to take the course. In some cases, 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 global 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 one of them is the perfect choice for your future. 

1. The University of Porto: (Universidade de Porto)

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 specialized in applied sciences: Engineering, Construction, Architecture, Astrophysics, genetics, immunology, cell biology, and Marine ecology.

The University of Porto has 3 different campuses in different districts of Porto. The university also offers more than 600 programs per year to students at 15 faculties. It also 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 the ability to join the labor market. The University of Porto has a strong curriculum in accordance with the needs of the job market. 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

Prestigious degrees

The University of Porto offers prestigious degrees in various fields to enlarge the options circle for national and foreign students. If you’re considering the University of Porto you can choose from the following: 

 2. The University of Lisbon: (Universidade de Lisboa – ULisboa)

Here you’re choosing the largest and most prestigious university in Portugal, and also 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 as one of the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2017 for several subjects including art and design, mining engineering, and geography. It has a large research center that conducts research in the field of robotics, plasma physics, nanotechnology, telecommunication, and molecular medicine. More than 8000 foreign students choose the University of Lisbon each year.

The University of Lisbon:
– Annual Tuition Fees: €3,000 – 12,500
– QS World University Rankings: 356
– Ranking by Employability: 181-190
– Academic Ranking of World Universities: 201
– Languages of Study: Portuguese, English

Prestigious degrees

3. The new University of Lisbon: (Universidade Nova de Lisboa)

From its name you can tell that it’s one of the newest universities in Portugal, and it’s the third highest-ranked among the 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 it offers the Lisbon MBA in partnership with the Catholic University in Lisbon (Universidade Catolica Portuguesa).

The New University of Lisbon:
– Annual Tuition Fees: €3,000 – 7,000
– QS World University Rankings: 431
– Ranking by Employability: 201-250
– Academic Ranking of World Universities: 601
– Languages of Study: Portuguese, English

Prestigious degrees

4. The University of Coimbra: (Universidade de Coimbra)

The oldest university in Portugal, where you will enjoy vintage design and high-quality education. The University of Coimbra was established way back in 1290. This university ranks 438 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 as well as 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 New University of Coimbra:

Annual Tuition Fees: €7,000
– QS World University Rankings: 438
– Ranking by Employability: 251-300
– Academic Ranking of World Universities: 501
– Languages of Study: Portuguese, English

Prestigious degrees

5. The University of Aveiro: (Universidade de Aveiro)

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 some other Portuguese universities, the University of Aveiro includes the oceans in its areas of research. The Department of Scientifics 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 also the different ways of obtaining food.  The university has a library, sports grounds, dormitories, student cafes, and shops. You can find out more about Aveiro 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

Prestigious degrees

The best universities in Lisbon and Porto

You should know that if you’re considering a university in Porto or Lisbon, then you’re targeting one of the largest two cities in Portugal, and almost half of the country’s population is located in these two cities. This will give 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 capital of the country, 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 industrial main 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. 

Top universities in Madeira

With a lovely unique location on the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest of Portugal, Madeira is an amazing touristic 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. Courses are taught there in Portuguese and the annual tuition fee is about €1000. 

Top universities in the Algarve 

It’s no way that you don’t consider studying and living in a great area like the Algarve. If you’re running from the capital life, and the big cities’ noise, then go directly to the Algarve. There you will find a great mix of quality of life and peace of mind. 

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 big touristic 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 every year, and it’s a member of the Association of European UniversitiesStudents can study one of its various specialists, and the annual tuition fee is between €2.000- 4,000.

Top universities in other regions of Portugal

As stated before, Portugal has 14 universities around the different cities, and you will find so different options to consider when choosing the right one for you 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 and each one of them has its own characteristics which make them good options for students to choose between. 

List of the best universities in other regions of Portugal

Selecting the right university

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 life. Portugal is one of the most popular destinations in Europe, and it offers a very high-quality education for people considering studying abroad. Portuguese universities are affordable and highly focused on research and practical studies. 

As an expat, studying in one of the Portuguese universities 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 European countries. 

The Mediterranean climate in Portugal is another selling point; hot summers and beautiful beaches — are all you need to relax after big exams. If you like exploring nature, Portugal’s natural beauty and unique sites are waiting to be explored. There are over 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, among 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 being a small country, Portugal has it all — beautiful beaches, snowcapped mountains, picturesque forests — and is somewhat of a dream for avid explorers. The small size allows you to get around easily.
If you are an expat looking to move to Portugal with family, there is the potential to secure Portuguese permanent residency and 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 investment in the country).

At GoldCrest we have a 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’s 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, but you’ll just 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 as an example, 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, great choice, 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 as a student in Portugal is cheaper than the other European countries. Your expenses as a student in Portugal will be lower than in Germany and the UK, according to the Cost-of-Living Index by country 2022.

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