Education in Portugal: A Guide for Expats

Finding the ideal school for your children when you’re thinking about moving to Portugal can be a little difficult. Fortunately, Portugal has a lot to offer besides employment and business opportunities, and those who have families will be pleased to know that Portuguese education is of very high quality.

Portugal has a top-notch educational system that gives parents a wide range of options for schools and universities, including international schools.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the Portuguese educational system, including its stages, the distinctions between its different school types, and how to choose the best school for your children in order to ensure they receive a top-notch education.

Portugal Education System

If you’re moving to Portugal, you can rest assured that your children will attend the appropriate schools at various ages as part of Portugal’s free public and private school systems. The Portuguese education system, from preschool through secondary school, is governed by the Ministry of Education. Additionally, school groups collaborate closely with regional governments to determine the curriculum and allocate funding. 

There is a mix of public and private education in Portugal. Since public education in Portugal is free, most families opt for public education. Before the compulsory age of six, when children must start school, children can enroll in the pre-school education stage. Colleges in Portugal are also known for their good quality education.

Despite the fact that Portuguese is the primary language in public schools, the country provides many excellent opportunities for expats to enroll in international schools, making it simpler for their children to start their educational journey by enrolling in suitable schools in their native language. Before making a choice, it is crucial to comprehend the different levels of the Portuguese educational system and the options available for your children.

The Structure of Portuguese Education

Portugal’s educational system is divided into the following four stages:

  • Ages three to six for pre-school education 
  • Ages six to 15 for primary education 
  • Ages 15 to 18 for secondary education 
  • Ages 18 and up for higher education 

School is compulsory from the age of six to the age of 18. After that, students can go to university or start working.

Pre-school Education in Portugal

Kindergartens continue to offer pre-school instruction for kids between the ages of three and six. Portugal’s childcare facilities for children younger than three are governed by the Ministry of Labor, Solidarity, and Social Security. 

Early childhood education facilities are, however, mostly privatized. Childminders (amas) who come to parents’ homes are an option for parents in addition to kindergartens (creches).

From the age of three, pre-school instruction is free for 25 hours per week. International schools, however, charge fees.

Portugal's Primary Education

From the age of six to 15, primary education (Ensino Básico) is compulsory in the country. Portugal has good international and private primary schools, and you can probably find one in your neighborhood.

Primary School System 

The policies governing state schools are all under the ministry of education’s supervision, and this phase includes the following three main cycles:

  • First cycle (Grades 1 to 4): For the duration of this cycle, which is four years long, only one teacher is in charge of instructing students
  • Second cycle (Grades 5 to 6): Different teachers are in charge of instructing a wide range of subjects during this two-year cycle
  • Third cycle (Grades 7 to 9): This cycle lasts three years, and each subject is taught by a different teacher. This cycle also includes vocational studies. A diploma/certificate is awarded at the end of this cycle

Public Primary Schools

Thanks to Portugal’s free public education system, many locals choose to enroll their children in these institutions. Except for a few small expenses like books, school lunches, and the occasional field trips, parents in public schools don’t have to worry about paying any fees.

For all public schools in Portugal, the curriculum is the same. Students study mathematics, science, history, and geography in addition to Portuguese. English is also mandatory which is one of the components that make Portugal one of the top 10 English-speaking nations in Europe. Furthermore, starting in grade 7, students have the option of studying another foreign language which is usually either French or Spanish.

If you’re going to choose to enroll your children in a public school, it is best to register early because there may be waiting lists, especially for popular public schools. Although Portugal’s public schools are of high quality, students who do not speak Portuguese as their first language may find it difficult to follow what is being taught in class.

There are two ways to resolve this language barrier: You can make sure your children start learning Portuguese before you relocate so that they can communicate easily once they start school. The second option is to enroll them in a private international school or English speaking schools in Portugal.

Private Primary Schools

Private primary schools are also very popular in Portugal. Many expat families choose to enroll their children in these schools where their children can interact with students from other countries while studying in their own language. Additionally, it ensures that their education continues even if they move to another country or go back to their home country.

Smaller class sizes, a more robust system of extracurricular activities, and more up-to-date facilities are some reasons why parents opt for these private schools. International schools fall are under the private primary school category.

Some private and international schools require entrance exams, reports from previous schools, and interviews.

Portuguese Secondary Education

In Portugal, secondary education is also mandatory. The main goals of this educational level are to raise the children’s knowledge and develop the skills they already acquired in primary school. 

Secondary Education System

Students must have a certificate of basic school education to be admitted to secondary education, which lasts three years from Grade 10 to Grade 12. General education, artistic, and technical or vocational courses are all included in this educational level.

Public Secondary Schools

Portugal offers free public secondary education (Ensino Secundário), which is generally of high quality. Core subjects like Portuguese, philosophy, physical education, and a foreign language are taught at this level. The remainder of the curriculum depends on their preferred stream.

Students have the option of enrolling in either a vocational stream or a science-humanities stream. Those who pursue the vocational stream study to earn trade certifications, giving them direct entry into careers in IT, design, or hospitality. Science-humanities streams, on the other hand, are more academic and cover topics like the humanities, sciences, and visual arts. 

There is also another option that allows students to enroll in a specialized artistic course in order to pursue a career in the arts.

Private Secondary Schools

If you decide to send your kids to a private school, you can pick from three different options in Portugal, including boarding, international, and religious schools.

Religious Schools

There are a lot of Catholic secondary schools in Portugal where students study some religious subjects in addition to the core curriculum. Many parents prefer these schools because they offer more extracurricular activities and perform better on the annual exams. Some schools offer instruction in English as well, and IB diplomas are an option for graduates. 

International Secondary Schools

The best option for expats residing in Portugal is to attend an international school. Portugal international schools offer a multicultural setting that enables students to develop more global competencies, interact with various cultures, and gain significant language proficiency.

If you prefer that your children learn in their native tongue, you can choose from British, American, French, or German schools.

Education in Portugal: Stages

Education Level Age
Pre-primary Kindergarten 3-5
Primary  First cycle
Second cycle
Third cycle
Secondary Academic focus (professional)
Practical focus (vocational)
Higher University

Calendar and School Hours

Each region in Portugal has different school hours and holidays, whereas international schools follow the school calendar of their curriculum and country of origin.

Children attend school from 9 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. during the basic first stage of primary education. Their day runs from 8.45 a.m. to 4.45 p.m. in the second and third stages.

In Portugal, there are three terms in a school year. The exact dates vary, but school typically begins in mid-September and ends in mid-December. After Christmas, school begins in early January and continues until the Easter holiday (late March to early April). The third term begins in April and ends in June.

School Costs and Fees

Public schools are free for both citizens and foreign residents until high school (secondary education).

The fees for Portugal international schools vary from school to school. In general, annual fees are around €20,000 for the secondary school level. In a private school, you can expect to pay around €600-700 per month. In addition, there is an enrollment fee which is approximately €300. The books are also around €300.

Tuition fees at public universities vary depending on the course. However, the costs can’t exceed the statutory limit, which changes every year.

International Baccalaureate (IB) in Portugal

The International Baccalaureate is a pre-university program of study that equips students for more difficult tasks in higher education. The International Baccalaureate is a secondary school diploma that students can earn. Universities in all around the world accept this qualification, so having it is advantageous for any applicant seeking higher education at any university. 


To graduate from secondary school, students who follow the national curriculum must pass each of their subjects. The final grade is based on written assessments, participation in class, and assigned homework. Additionally, there are three required exams that they must take: two at the end of grade 11 and one at the end of grade 12. On the other hand, students taking vocational courses don’t have to take these final exams to pass. However, they will have to take them if they want to apply to a university.

Educational Support in Portugal

International students who do not yet speak Portuguese may find it difficult to attend a local school. Many public schools, on the other hand, provide language support classes. Students can also take non-native speaker-adapted final Portuguese exams.

Special Educational Needs (SEN)

Portugal wishes to establish a system of inclusive education. As a result, special educational needs (SEN) programs are available in the majority of schools. 

Under the supervision of a special education teacher, children under the age of six can study at home or in a kindergarten. They will then be able to attend their local primary school. At this point, they are given an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) that is tailored to their specific learning requirements. It may include, for example, specific learning tools or exam conditions. At the end of the school year, children are given a plan to help them transition into adulthood.

Portugal Education System: The Bottom Line

Portugal has become a popular destination for expats thanks to a mild climate, growing economy, and favorable tax regime. Choosing where to send your children to school can be difficult for people who are moving to Portugal with children. Hope this guide has made it easier to have a better understanding of education in Portugal.

Good luck with your new life in Portugal!

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