Masters Study in Portugal - A Guide for 2020 |
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Masters Study in Portugal - A Guide for 2020

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 students from around the world, and the country hosts more than 22,000 international students.

This guide covers all the essential information you need to know about being a postgraduate in Portugal, from tuition fees and course types to visas and the typical application process.

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Postgraduate opportunities in Portugal – what’s on offer for 2020?

Portugal's higher education system 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 international rankings.

Here are some of the best reasons to consider a Masters in Portugal:

  • Global outlook – 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.
  • Tuition fees – Along with relatively low living costs, the average yearly tuition fee at a public university in Portugal is currently €1,250, making it an affordable country in which to study.
  • Language – Portuguese is the sixth most widely spoken native language in the world, so any language skills you pick up will be useful across the globe.
  • Lifestyle – Portugal ranks near the top of several quality of life metrics, with high levels of political stability, press freedom and environmental performance, and low crime rates.

Masters Study in Portugal - Key Details
Universities 140
Oldest University University of Coimbra (1290)
International Students 16,888
Course Length 1-2 years
Typical Fees (Domestic / EU) €1,250 (on average)
Academic Year September to July

Portuguese universities

Many Portuguese higher education institutions can trace their heritage back to long-established centres of learning. Other institutions are more modern, founded 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 (politénico) 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, while 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, while 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

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

Four Portuguese universities feature in each of the main international league tables: the University of Porto, the University of Aveiro, the University of Lisbon and the University of Minho.

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

Top 10 Portuguese Universities in 2020
University THE 2020 QS 2020 ARWU 2019
Catholic University of Portugal 351-400 - -
University of Porto 401-500 =353 301-400
University of Lisbon 501-600 =338 151-200
University of Aveiro 601-800 551-560 601-700
University of Beira Interior 601-800 - -
University of Coimbra 601-800 406 501-600
ISCTE-University Institute of Lisbon 601-800 - -
University of Minho 601-800 651-700 401-500
NOVA University of Lisbon 601-800 =338 151-200
University of Algarve 801-1000 - -
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do university rankings matter for postgraduates?

University league tables can help you in your search for a Masters degree, but you need to know what to look for. Our guide to university rankings for Masters study can help.

Portuguese university cities

Although Portugal only has a population of around 10 million people, there are several higher education hubs to choose from.

The beautiful capital Lisbon is famed for its hills, trams and cobbled streets, and is also home to a number of universities. Meanwhile, Porto is Portugal’s second city and has its own charms – including some iconic bridges crisscrossing the River Douro.

As the location of Portugal’s oldest university, Coimbra’s academic tradition and heritage are unique among student cities in Portugal.

Course types

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 Queima das Fitas ('ribbon burning') festival.

Masters degree content and assessment in Portugal

There are two common ways to study for a Masters degree in Portugal:

  • Most 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 and is a long-cycle qualification. 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.

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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 around 1.3 times the country's current minimum wage.

Masters fees are set by each public higher education institution, but are on average €1,250 for the 2019-20 academic year. Some private institutions may charge 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.

As an international student in Portugal you might also be able to seek support through the Erasmus+ programme. Erasmus+ opportunities include funding for Joint Masters Degrees, shorter Mobility Grants for placements abroad and international Masters Loans.

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

If you’re an American citizen looking to study in Portugal, the Fulbright Program could be a source of funding.

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 typically 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 'numerus 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 getting 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).

The Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service website has more information on registration certificates for EU and EEA citizens.

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 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.

A 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 from the Portuguese immigration service.

Next steps

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 for more information on studying a PhD in Portugal.

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Last updated 23/01/2020

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