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Portugal Education System for US Citizens

Portuguese Education System for US Citizens

If you are considering a move to Portugal with your family or as a student, rest assured that Portuguese primary and secondary schools, universities, kindergartens, and all other educational institutions in the coutnry are renowned for their high-quality service standards. This means that you or your children will receive an excellent education, no matter which institution you choose.

A few studies corroborate this, with the Portuguese education system coming in 24th position in the 2022 Best Countries for Education Report, prepared by US News and World Report, BAV Group, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. 

Education System in Portugal

The Portuguese Education system is divided into four stages, regardless of whether you choose a public (state) school or a private one: 

  • Preschool education (Pré-escolar): Ages 3 to 6 
  • Primary Education (Ensino Básico): Ages 6 to 15
  • Secondary Education (Ensino Secundário): Ages 15 to 18
  • Higher education or tertiary education (Ensino Superior/Universitário): Ages 18 and above 

In Portugal, education is mandatory from the first cycle until the last year of secondary school (from 6 to 18 years old) and is free to all citizens and residents. Private options and international schools are also available to all residents, as are kindergartens and nurseries—the latter are not mandatory. 

Universities, which can be public or private, are also not part of the mandatory Portuguese education, but you’ll find plenty of options available. Indeed, for many reasons (including the climate, security, quality of life, openness, and affordability), Portugal has become one of the top choices for many international students in the last few years. Today, the country has over 50,000 students from abroad, which has elevated the competitiveness of Portuguese universities and improved their quality of schooling. 

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Education Options Available in Portugal for US Children and Students

Portuguese Education Options

If you are bringing your children from the US to Portugal, you have different education options. First, you can enroll your children in a Portuguese public or private school, where their education curriculum will include the study of English (a mandatory subject in the national curriculum), mathematics, history, science, geography, and Portuguese, among other subjects. The “mandatory” nature of English studies from a young age might be the reason why Portugal has become one of Europe’s top ten English-speaking countries. 

That said, even though Portugal’s public and private schools have a great reputation, it’s important to note that the primary language of instruction is Portuguese, which might become a struggle for a non-Portuguese-speaking student. You have two options: enroll your children in extra Portuguese-learning classes or choose an international school.

You can find many international schools in Portugal (including the Carlucci American International School of Lisbon), which will ensure a more straightforward adaptation process for your children, as they not only learn in their native language but also follow their home country curriculum (aiding the moving schools process). American international schools in Portugal follow the US academic system, consisting of elementary, middle, and high schools. Subjects studied include social studies, mathematics, English, science, and a foreign language. After graduating from one of these schools in Portugal, students will find the transfer process to a US university significantly easier.

Regarding higher education, Portugal offers some of Europe’s most affordable and prestigious options, as mentioned before. Six of the country’s universities, including the University of Lisbon, the University of Porto, and the University of Coimbra, are even listed among the top 500 best universities in the world. This means that if you or your children choose to pursue their studies in Portugal, access to high-quality education at a reasonable cost will be a guarantee. 

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How Much Does It Cost to Study in Portugal?

As mentioned above, public schools are tuition-free for Portuguese citizens and foreign residents until the end of secondary school (12th grade). If you are, however, considering a private option, be prepared for varying prices that can exceed €500 for primary to high school levels. This monthly fee can even go up to €800 if your choice falls on an international school.

Higher education, not being mandatory, is offered at a higher cost. For a US student, the Bachelor’s and Master’s tuition per month can range from €3,000 to €5,000 per academic year in a public university or up to €12,500 if you choose a private university. 

How Can a US Citizen Enter a Portuguese University or Enroll A Child in a School or Kindergarten?

How to Enroll a US child in a Portugal School

As a US citizen, you must have a resident permit to enroll your children in a public kindergarten or school. Be advised, however, that both are in high demand in the country for both locals and expats alike. If you plan to move or start a family in Portugal, you must consider pre-registering your child months (sometimes even more than one year) in advance. 

Besides having a resident permit, you will need:

  • a copy of the child’s and the child’s parents’ passports,
  • a medical certificate including vaccination information (this must be in Portuguese),
  • an individual tax number for the father or mother, and
  • documents confirming a residence address in Portugal (a lease contract or an electricity bill will do).

If your children are already in school in the US, then, on top of the before-mentioned document, you will also need to add a student file containing information about academic performance (so that enrollment is made according to the child’s educational status).

Once you have all these necessary files and information, you must apply online on the Portal das Matrículas or check directly with the school. The process differs slightly if you’ll be enrolling yourself or your child directly into the university as each university has its own requirements for the level of knowledge of applicants, and many times, students need to take and pass (with a minimum set grade) the national entrance exams. Usually, admission documents are accepted until the end of spring for higher education, but you better confirm this information directly with your chosen university or on their website. 

Bear in mind that if your child already holds a bachelor’s degree from the US (or any other foreign country), you will have to add the Diploma and a translated list of all the subjects studied, including the number of academic hours.

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Frequent Questions

1. What types of schools are available in Portugal?

Portugal offers a variety of educational options, including public schools, private schools, and international schools. Public schools are free and provide education in Portuguese, while private and international schools often offer curricula in English or other languages.

2. How does the Portuguese education system work?

The Portuguese education system is divided into several stages:

  • Pre-primary Education (Educação Pré-escolar): For children aged 3-5 years.
  • Basic Education (Ensino Básico): Compulsory education for children aged 6-15, divided into three cycles (1st cycle: grades 1-4, 2nd cycle: grades 5-6, and 3rd cycle: grades 7-9).
  • Secondary Education (Ensino Secundário): For students aged 15-18, covering grades 10-12 and leading to the national exams required for university entrance.
  • Higher Education (Ensino Superior): Includes universities and polytechnics offering undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs.

3. Are there English-speaking schools in Portugal?

Yes, there are several international schools in Portugal that offer instruction in English. These schools often follow the British or American curriculum or the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Examples include the Carlucci American International School of Lisbon, the International School of the Algarve, and St. Julian’s School.

4. How can I enroll my child in a Portuguese public school?

To enroll your child in a public school in Portugal, you will need to provide several documents, including proof of residence, your child’s birth certificate, health records, and previous school records. Enrollment usually takes place at the local education office or directly at the school.

5. What is the cost of education in Portugal?

Public education in Portugal is free, including textbooks and meals for primary school students. Private and international schools charge tuition fees, which can vary widely. Tuition for international schools can range from €5,000 to €20,000 per year depending on the school and the grade level. Most foreign citizens agree that public schools in Portugal work pretty effectively particularly if your children arrive in Portugal with at least a basic understanding of the Portuguese language.

6. How does the school calendar work in Portugal?

The school year in Portugal typically starts in mid-September and ends in late June or early July, divided into three terms with breaks for Christmas, Easter, and the summer holidays.

7. What extracurricular activities are available for students?

Portuguese schools offer a range of extracurricular activities, including sports, music, arts, and various clubs. International schools often have extensive extracurricular programs, including competitive sports teams, performing arts, and community service opportunities.

8. What support is available for non-Portuguese speaking students?

Many schools in Portugal, especially international schools, offer support for non-Portuguese speaking students, including language classes and integration programs. Public schools may provide additional language support classes to help foreign students learn Portuguese.

9. Are there any educational requirements for homeschooling in Portugal?

Homeschooling is legal in Portugal, but parents must follow specific regulations. They must register with the Ministry of Education and ensure their children follow the national curriculum. Annual assessments are required to monitor the child’s progress.

10. What is the process for applying to universities in Portugal?

To apply to universities in Portugal, students must complete secondary education and pass national exams. International students may need to provide proof of qualifications, language proficiency, and other documentation as required by the specific university. Some universities also offer programs in English.

For more detailed information, you can refer to resources like Expatica’s Guide to the Portuguese Education System or the Ministry of Education in Portugal.

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11. How are special education needs addressed in Portugal?

Portugal has a legal framework to support students with special education needs (SEN). Public schools provide specialized programs, individualized education plans (IEPs), and resources such as special education teachers and therapists. Many international schools also offer SEN support, including dedicated staff and tailored learning plans.

12. What is the quality of education in Portugal compared to the US?

The quality of education in Portugal is generally high, with public and private schools adhering to strict standards. International schools often offer curricula comparable to US or UK standards, providing a seamless transition for American students. Portugal’s education system ranks well globally, particularly in mathematics and science. It is possible that – on average – public education in Portugal is superior to the one offered in the US.

13. What are the requirements for student visas for American children?

American children planning to study in Portugal for more than 90 days need a student visa. Requirements typically include proof of enrollment in a Portuguese school, a valid passport, health insurance, proof of sufficient funds, and a criminal record check for students over 16. The visa application is submitted to the Portuguese consulate in the US. Children migrating with their parents may also qualify under different visa types, such as the family reunion visa.

14. Can my child transfer credits from their US school to a Portuguese school?

Credit transfer policies vary by school. Public and private schools may require a review of the student’s academic records to determine equivalency. International schools are more likely to accept US credits, especially if they offer an American or IB curriculum. It’s best to check directly with the school for specific requirements.

15. Are there bilingual education options in Portugal?

Yes, several schools in Portugal offer bilingual education programs, particularly in Portuguese and English. These programs are available in both public and private schools and aim to support language development and academic achievement in both languages.

16. What are the school hours and typical daily schedule for students in Portugal?

School hours in Portugal usually start between 8:30 and 9:00 AM and end between 3:30 and 4:30 PM. The schedule includes a lunch break and shorter breaks between classes. After-school programs and extracurricular activities often extend the school day for students participating in them.

17. How can I support my child’s education transition to Portugal?

To support your child’s transition, you can:

  • Engage with the school community through parent-teacher associations.
  • Enroll your child in language classes to improve their Portuguese.
  • Encourage participation in extracurricular activities to make new friends.
  • Stay informed about the curriculum and school expectations.

18. Are there boarding schools available in Portugal?

Yes, Portugal has several boarding schools that offer comprehensive education and residential facilities. These schools often follow international curricula and provide a supportive environment for students from diverse backgrounds.

19. How is higher education in Portugal structured for international students?

Portugal’s higher education system includes universities and polytechnics. Many institutions offer programs in English, particularly at the master’s and doctoral levels. International students must meet admission requirements, which typically include academic qualifications, language proficiency, and relevant documentation.

20. What are the options for vocational education and training in Portugal?

Portugal offers vocational education and training (VET) programs at secondary and post-secondary levels. These programs provide practical skills and training in various fields, including technology, health, and business. VET programs are available in public and private institutions and are designed to enhance employability and meet labor market demands.

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