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Masters in Portugal

by Mark Bennett

A Masters in Portugal combines academic excellence and an enviable climate to present an inviting study abroad opportunity.

It's no surprise that the country's sun, sea and beautiful cities have made Portugal a popular choice for international students around the world. In fact, over 10% of enrolments at Portuguese universities already originate from overseas.

Why study a Masters in Portugal

Student life and achievement have always been celebrated in Portugal. Each year the country hosts a huge student festival called the quiema des fatas (or 'burning of the ribbons').

Portugal's higher education system also has plenty to be proud of. The country's oldest university - the University of Coimbra (Universidade de Coimbra) - was founded in 1290. This makes it one of the first universities in Europe. Its beautiful campus has now been identified as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Other Portuguese universities perform well in various European and international rankings.

Portugal's position at the edge of Europe and its history of global trade and exploration also give it an excellent international outlook, maintaining strong relationships with Lusophone (Portuguese speaking) nations and communities around the world.

This means that a Masters degree in Portugal can offer some excellent opportunities in subject areas that benefit from international links and multicultural perspectives.

The Portuguese higher education system: an introduction for postgraduates

Many modern Portuguese higher education institutions can trace their heritage back to long-established centres of learning. Other institutions are more modern, established to develop and communicate new ideas and technologies.

In recent years Portugal has also adopted reforms in accordance with the Bologna Process, allowing its higher education providers to combine traditional expertise with the potential for international flexibility in a modern format.

Today Portuguese higher education institutions arrange degrees into a familiar three-cycle format:

Undergraduate licenciatura are followed by postgraduate mestrado (Masters) and doutoramento (Doctorate, or PhD) level qualifications.

The European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) is also used to organise and weight units within programmes.

Universidade and politénico

Portuguese higher education providers are divided into two types:

  • Universities (universidade) undertake research and maintain the higher level expertise required to award PhD degrees.
  • Polytechnic institutions (politéniceo) specialise in more applied training and often focus on professional fields.

Both types of institution offer the opportunity to study a Masters degree in Portugal.

Programmes at universidade may be more academic and theoretical, whilst courses in applied or professional subject-areas are more common at politénico. There is some overlap however, including a small number of politénico integrated with universidade to offer specific training in appropriate fields.

Politénico may charge lower fees in some instances, but the overall distinction between Portugal's two categories of higher education institution is one of specialism rather than quality. Your own choice of institution will probably depend upon the availability of programmes in your specific field.

Both universidade and politénico may be public or private institutions:

  • Public institutions are more tightly regulated in terms of the fees they can charge and the places they are allowed to make available.
  • Private institutions have greater freedom, but are often more expensive in practice.

Accreditation and regulation of Portuguese Masters programmes

Initial approval of programmes at Portuguese higher education institutions is undertaken by an independent body, the Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education (A3ES). Official recognition is then granted by the government's Directorate-General for Higher Education (DGES), a branch of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education.

This ensures that the government remains responsible for insuring the quality of institutions and programmes, whilst also allowing for non-partisan scrutiny.

Language requirements

The majority of university-level teaching in Portugal is carried out in Portuguese, but English-language-teaching is more common on Masters programmes.

Appropriate language tests in English or Portuguese may be required on some courses.

Don't forget either that Portuguese is spoken by more people worldwide than any other European language except English and Spanish, so coming out of your Masters with some ability to speak it certainly won't hurt your future employment and study prospects!

Portuguese university rankings

Portugul does well in international university rankings, despite the country's small size.

Three Portuguese universities feature in each of the main international league tables: the University of Lisbon, the University of University of Porto and the University of Coimbra.

Other Portuguese universities and higher education providers also do well in individual rankings.

Portuguese universities in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings

There are five Portuguese universities in the top 500 of the 2015-16 THE World University Rankings:

Portuguese Unis in the THE Ranking
University Place
Instituto Superior Técnico Lisbon 351-400
University of Aveiro 401-500
Humboldt University of Coimbra 401-500
University of Lisbon 401-500
University of Porto 401-500

Three Portuguese universities also feature in the THE 100 Under 50 Rankings - a table that evaluates newer universities:

Portuguese Unis in the THE 100 Under 50 Ranking
University Place
University of Minho 64
University of Aveiro 69
University of Lisbon 89

For information on understanding and using the THE World Rankings as a postgraduate, see our guide.

Portuguese universities in the QS World University Rankings

Three of Portugal's universities rank in the top 500 of the 2015-16 QS World University Rankings:

Portuguese Unis in the QS World University Rankings
University Place
University of Porto 308
University of Lisbon 351
University of Coimbra 367

For advice on understanding and using the QS World University Rankings as a postgraduate, see our guide.

Portuguese universities in the Academic Ranking of World Universities

Three Portuguese universities feature in the top 500 of the 2015 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU):

Portuguese Unis in the ARWU
University Place
University of Lisbon 201-300
University of Porto 301-400
University of Coimbra 401-500

For more information on understanding and using the ARWU rankings as a postgraduate, see our guide.

Portuguese Masters degrees program types and course structure

The Portuguese academic year normally runs between September / October and July. It includes two teaching semesters along with various holidays and festivals.

A fortnight is usually allowed for Christmas and Easter breaks, with a longer summer vacation (the férias grandes) organised between June and September. Shorter holidays take place at some institutions to mark the Carnival celebrations (before Lent) and the quiema das fitas.

Masters degree content and assessment in Portugal

There are two common methods of studying for a Masters degree in Portugal:

  • The majority of courses are second cycle postgraduate Masters (mestrado) programmes. These begin after the completion of an undergraduate degree. They take one or two years to complete and are worth 90-120 ECTS credits.
  • In professional subjects (such as medicine and law), a longer joint-degree course is sometimes taken. This is known as the mestrado integrado. It takes up to six years to complete (including an undergraduate component) and is worth 300-360 ECTS credits.

Both types of programme are usually organised around successive units of coursework. They typically culminate in an independent project. This may be a researched dissertation or an equivalent piece of practical work.

In some cases a live examination or 'defence' of the thesis or project may be conducted at a programme's conclusion. This distinguishes the Portuguese Masters degree from some other systems. It also offers excellent preparation for PhD in Portugal (or elsewhere), where oral examination is far more common.

Applying for a Masters in Portugal

Applications to study a Masters degree in Portugal should be made directly to your chosen higher education institution. Confirmation of enrolment on a course will be required for some visa applications, so you should try to begin the process as early as possible.

Admissions requirements

Admission to a second-cycle mestrado programme will usually require you to have a relevant undergraduate degree.

Portugal's participation in the Bologna Process means that recognition of qualifications from other European nations will usually be automatic. Any difficulties can usually be resolved by your university, or by a Portuguese branch of the ENIC-NARIC academic recognition network.

Degrees from outside Europe may need to be formally recognised by a responsible office within your prospective Portuguese universidade or politénico.

Competitive admissions

Some courses at Portuguese institutions limit places using a 'numerous clausus' quota system. This ensures that only students of a sufficiently high standard are admitted and that graduates do not exceed demand.

Separate quotas often exist for international students. However, your application may still be ranked against other prospective candidates for your course. In some cases an entrance examination may also be set.

This more competitive application process can seem daunting. But you should look upon it as an opportunity. Successfully obtaining a place under such circumstances enhances the value of your degree and admits you to a higher education system where student status is a mark of respect.

Masters student visas in Portugal

Because Portugal is a member of the European Union, European Economic Area and Schengen Area, its immigration procedures are quite relaxed for students from other European countries.

EU citizens, together with those from the EEA and Switzerland, only need to apply for a registration certificate, which should be obtained within three months of arrival in the country (though an additional 30 day grace period may apply).

More information on registration certificates for EU and EEA citizens is available online from the Portuguese government.

If you are a national of a state that is a signatory of the Schengen Agreement, you may enter Portugal freely on a Schengen Visa.

Nationals of most other countries will need to apply for a student visa in order to study in the country for more than three months.

Visa requirements

Specific requirements for different visas and registration certificates may vary, but you will usually need to provide some or all of the following materials:

  • A valid passport or identity card.
  • Confirmation of enrolment at a Portuguese higher education institution.
  • Evidence of sufficient funds or funding to support you for the duration of your studies.
  • Confirmation of Health Insurance (covered by an international agreement such as the European Health Insurance Card, or through a private policy).
  • Proof that you possess no outstanding criminal convictions.

Visa applications

Applications for a Portuguese student visa should first be made to a Portuguese embassy in your normal country of residence.

student visa may take up to the three months to issue, so you should investigate your individual requirements at an early stage of your application to study abroad. Additional advice is available at the website of the Portuguese immigration service.

Masters fees and funding in Portugal

Portugal's low cost of living is offset by relatively high fees for university study. However, funding for postgraduate study in Portugal is available from various sources.


The Portuguese government maintains a minimum cost for programs at public institutions. This is currently calculated at 1.3 times the country's current minimum wage.

Minimum Masters fees for the 2014-15 academic year are fixed at €631-1068. Some institutions may charge slightly more than this.

No additional fees are incurred by international students from EU countries (or Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). Students from outside the EU may be required to pay at a higher rate.


Individual universities may offer funding to their students, awarded according to merit or financial requirement.

EU nationals are automatically eligible for these opportunities, but restrictions may apply to other students from overseas. You should be able to find out about potential funding availability and eligibility from your institution.

Opportunities to study in Portugal may be offered and supported through the European Erasmus+ program, which offers joint degrees, exchanges and student loans. You can read more about the Erasmus+ program here.

The Ploteus website, run by the European Commission, may also be able to provide information on funded study opportunities in Portugal.


Our own postgraduate funding website provides a comprehensive database of small grants and bursaries available to support postgraduate study around the world, including travel bursaries, living cost support, fee waivers and exchange programmes. Click here to start searching for funding to study a Masters in Portugal, or elsewhere.

After graduation careers and opportunities with a Portuguese Masters degree

Employability is a key factor in the design and provision of Portuguese Masters programmes. In fact, the government requires universities to provide annual reports on the measures being taken to enhance their graduates' career prospects.

As part of this emphasis on employability, the Portuguese government requires Masters level programmes to focus upon delivering a strong level of overall competence in a candidate's field, rather than simply transferring knowledge in specific specialist areas.

Of course, your CV will also benefit more broadly from time spent living and studying abroad and, if you've taken the chance to learn some Portuguese, you'll be well prepared for work or PhD study in Lusophone countries like Brazil.

Can you remain in Portugal to work after completing a Masters degree?

As part of the EU, Portugal allows citizens of other member countries to seek work in the country without a permit. If this applies to you you can remain in the country and seek work after your Masters without restriction.

Students from other countries will need to seek a work permit. However, as a graduate of a Portuguese university, your application will normally be looked upon favourably. Portugal is keen to reap the benefit of its own education system and retain the economic contributions of its graduates.

Can you remain in Portugal for further study after a Masters degree?

Yes. A Portuguese Masters degree will entitle you to apply for a PhD in Portugal (or elsewhere). Its emphasis on practical work and the inclusion of an oral dissertation exam will also prepare you especially well for advanced postgraduate study.

See FindAPhD.com for more information on studying a PhD in Portugal.

Last updated - 13/11/2015

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