Study in Portugal | Top Universities

Offering a mild Mediterranean climate, beautiful coastline and cities packed with historic interest and cultural experiences, Portugal – the westernmost country in mainland Europe – is surely among the continent’s most attractive destinations. Aside from the many historic sites and areas of natural beauty, the country is also known for its contemporary culture and nightlife.

If you’re a fan of rock and world music, in the main cities along the coast you’ll find a remarkable number of festivals and events to suit your tastes. But if this isn’t your thing, fear not, because the diverse student communities in Portugal’s major cities will ensure there’s always something to get involved in. So, whether you’re a food lover, hiker, music fanatic, sight-seer or history buff, choosing to study in Portugal is a great option.

Read on for information about the top universities in Portugal, as well as popular student cities and practical information to help you get started.

Universities in Portugal


Five universities in Portugal feature in the QS World University Rankings® 2018, the highest entry being the University of Porto, which is placed joint 301st in the world. With a long history of well-respected universities, Portugal’s higher education system was ranked the 35th best in the world in the first edition of the QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings.

As well as strong universities, Portugal is also home to a number of well-reputed polytechnics. The main difference between the two is that the universities have a greater focus on academic research, while the polytechnics are more focused on preparing students for a specific career path. Some subjects are only offered at either universities or polytechnics, but there’s also a lot of overlap. For example, both universities and polytechnics offer degrees in engineering, management and humanities subjects.

Since 2006, Portugal has adopted the Bologna Process throughout its universities and polytechnics, a European reform process which aims to establish a common structure for higher education across Europe. In accord with this structure, Portuguese universities offer three levels of degree. These are:

  • Bachelor level or licenciatura,which usually takes between three and four years to complete
  • Master level or mestrado,which takes one or two years
  • Doctorate level or duotoramento,which typically takes three years

Most courses – especially at bachelor’s level – are taught in Portuguese. At graduate level, it’s more common to find English-taught programs, but it’s still definitely an asset to be able to speak the national language. This is not a country where you can rely on everyone being able to speak English.

University of Porto 



The University of Porto, ranked joint 301st in the QS World University Rankings® 2018, is a public university located in the city of Porto. Founded in 1911, it has a large community of over 31,000 students, including around 3,280 international students. With a recent expansion of research and development activity, the University of Porto has developed a strong output of research. Among the most recognized of the school’s research centers are the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, the Institute of Molecular Pathology and Immunology and the Research Institute of Computer Systems.

University of Lisbon 

University of Lisbon

Ranked joint 305th in the world in 2018, the University of Lisbon is the largest university in Portugal, home to over 47,000 students in 18 faculties. 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. The university is currently ranked in the global top 100 of the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2017 for several subjects including art and design, mining engineering and geography.

Universidade NOVA de Lisboa


The third highest-ranked Portuguese university is the Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, which stands at joint 361st in the world. Founded in 1973, the Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, informally known as NOVA, has a student population of over 19,500.

NOVA benefits from specialized faculties with a particular emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and FAME (finance, accounting, management and economics) subjects. The university also offers the Lisbon MBA, in partnership with Universidade Catolica Portuguesa.

University of Coimbra



The oldest of all universities in Portugal is the University of Coimbra, established way back in 1290. Ranked 401-410 in the QS World University Rankings and located in the city of Coimbra (the former national capital), with a student community of approximately 24,800, the university has a sizeable proportion of international students and teaches across eight faculties, covering STEM subjects as well as arts and humanities.


Other institutions in Portugal to consider include the Universidade Catolica Portuguesa, Lisboa (651-700 in the world), Católica Lisbon School of Business and Economics and the Nova School of Business and Economics.

Student cities in Portugal

Find out about some of Portugal’s most popular student cities, and discover the top universities in Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra.



Located on Portugal’s west coast, Lisbon (or Lisboa) is pretty much everything you could want from a European capital city: rich in culture, character and history, full of great food, wine, music and nightlife. Against an attractive backdrop of historic buildings, winding streets and vintage trams, Lisbon offers an eclectic selection of activities and experiences, from traditional public baths to lively cafés and even livelier nightclubs, all soundtracked by a mix of traditional fado music and new electronic bands. Don’t worry if your music tastes skew a little bit cheesier though, as Lisbon will host the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time in 2018, following Portugal’s first win in 2017.

The great scenery in Lisbon is made all the better due to the city’s hilly terrain, and although this makes walking and cycling more of an effort, the views (and the improved fitness levels) are most definitely worth it.

Two public universities in Lisbon are featured in the QS World University Rankings 2018– the University of Lisbon (joint 305th) and the Universidade Nova de Lisboa (joint 361st), as well as the private Universidade Catolica Portuguesa, Lisboa (651-700).

Other polytechnics and universities in Lisbon include the Technical University of LisbonLisbon University Institute, Lusiada University, Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa, Católica Lisbon Business and EconomicsNova School of Business and Economics and several others, both public and private.



Portugal’s second-largest city, Porto is also located on the west coast, over 300 kilometers north of the capital. It holds its own in terms of both history and hills, and, like Lisbon, combines deep historic foundations with vibrant and varied cuisine, music and nightlife. The colors of the city, as well as the narrow paths, stairways and streets, all combine with the modern atmosphere and efficient amenities to make Porto a fascinating destination for students and visitors alike.

Porto is home to the University of Porto (Portugal’s leading institution at joint 301st in the world rankings), as well as the Instituto Politecnico de Porto and a number of private universities, including Lusiada University of Porto and Universidade Fernando Pessoa. The Universidade Catolica Portuguesa also has a campus here.



In between Lisbon and Porto, but further inland, Coimbra is the home of Portugal’s oldest university. Here again, you’ll find medieval streets and architecture, overlaid with the buzz and dash of modern life – and, in particular, the activities of a fun and lively student community. The University of Coimbra is a particularly popular choice among international students coming to study in Portugal. Other options in the city include the Instituto Politecnico de Coimbra, and several specialist institutes.



Applying to universities in Portugal

Undergraduate applications to study in Portugal are made through a centralized online system, called Candidatura Online, which allows applicants to choose up to six programs in order of preference. As well as submitting evidence of your secondary level qualifications, you are likely to need to sit an entrance examination in your home country; public universities use the national exam, while private universities have their own. If studying in Portuguese (as is likely) you’ll need to prove your proficiency in the language.

Prospective graduate-level students should apply directly to the universities in Portugal they wish to study at, submitting all the required documents, including proof of previous qualifications.

Student visas for Portugal 

Portugal beach

Those from countries outside the EU/EEA and Switzerland who intend to study in Portugal for longer than three months must apply for a residence visa (visto para residencia) before entering the country. This can be applied for through your nearest Portuguese embassy or consulate, and requires:

  • Passport valid for at least three months after the end of your course;
  • A completed application form;
  • Letter of acceptance from a Portuguese university;
  • Academic transcript;
  • Photocopy of key passport pages;
  • Three passport-sized photos;
  • Police record of good conduct;
  • Copy of health insurance;
  • Proof of sufficient funds – either a bank statement or grant/scholarship.

Your visa will cost a maximum of €170 (~US$205) and will take two or three months to be issued, so you should apply in good time. Students from within the EU should apply for an EU citizen residence card within four months of arriving in Portugal, and pay a small fee for this.

Tuition fees and living costs


Tuition fees vary as Portuguese universities set their own fees, and public institutions are likely to charge less than private universities. Tuition fees for bachelor’s and master’s degrees average around €950-1,250 per year (~US$1,140-1,500) while fees for doctorate programs are around €2,500-3,000 per year (~US$2,400-3,600).

Although the cost of living in Portugal has increased in recent years, it’s still a relatively affordable place to live. Accommodation will be your biggest monthly spend, and the cheapest option is to live in your university’s halls of residence, which is likely to cost between €165-230 (~US$200-280) a month, whereas renting an apartment in private accommodation could cost in the region of €400 (~US$480) each month.

To cover all your living expenses, you will need around €7,800-10,200 (~US$9,400-12,300) a year, but you may wish to budget more for life in large cities such as Lisbon. 

Students from the EU can work for up to 20 hours per week during semesters, and full-time during semester breaks. If you’re a non-EU student, you can also work, but will need authorization from the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service (SEF).


Fast Facts

  • Capital and largest city: Lisbon
  • Portuguese is the world’s eighth-largest language by number of native speakers.
  • Currency: Euro (€)
  • The oldest nation-state in Europe
  • Major exports include textiles, electrical equipment and wood products (Portugal is the largest producer of cork in the world).
  • Westernmost country in mainland Europe
  • Population of around 10.4 million people
  • Portugal’s coastline spans 800 kilometers and is famous for its great surfing spots.
  • Portugal and England have the longest-running diplomatic alliance in the world.
  • Borders with Spain to the north and east, and Atlantic Ocean to the west and south
  • Portugal is among the world’s top 20 most-visited countries, with a yearly average of 13 million foreign tourists.
  • Lisbon and second-largest city Porto are both recognized as key global cities by the Globalization and World Cities Research Group.
  • Traditional Portuguese ‘fado’ music is known for its mournful melodies and lyrics.
  • The annual Queima das fitas (‘Burning of the Ribbons’) festival, celebrated by students at several Portuguese universities, features a full week of music concerts, parades, campaigns and general merriment.
  • The Portuguese empire was the first global empire in history (1494).