Studying in Lisbon

Studying in Lisbon : university
Updated 2023-11-05 17:34

Wishing to move to Portugal to pursue your studies? Lisbon alone offers 27 different universities, both private and public, with a wide range of options regarding BAs, MAs and PhDs - some of the courses are even taught in English.

Most universities in Lisbon are included in the Erasmus program as well, so you can kickstart your expat life as early as possible. Furthermore, with entry-level Portuguese classes available at most universities, you can even add a foreign language to your CV. Different nationalities are subject to different scholarship programs as well, so it's something worth checking once you have decided which university is best for you.

Applying to universities in Lisbon: The process

The application process for public universities based in Lisbon depends on the cycle of studies you are seeking to complete. Undergraduates must register on the DGES website (Higher Education Administration, in English) to be able to apply, listing 6 different public institutions in order of preference. On the other hand, graduates and postgraduates must apply directly on the website of their university of choice. In both cases, applicants will be asked for official translations of their school records and/or final exams (such as the SAT in the USA or the A-Levels in the UK), which must also be recognized at the Portuguese Embassy in your country of residence.

As for private universities in Lisbon, the entire application process is managed directly by the institution. This means you should contact the university beforehand and ask about the application requirements and any additional information that can be useful to candidates.

Plus, if you are not a part of the Erasmus program (non-EU Citizen/Resident) nor any other student transfer protocol and wish to apply to a Portuguese university, bear in mind you will need to complete admission exams. These take place every year between May and July and are used as a ranking for entry to the university. If you're not living in Portugal, you can request to take these exams at the Portuguese Embassy in your country of origin or reach out directly to the university you're seeking to attend and enquire about the admission exams and how to take them.

Finally, the application process for international students in Portugal is usually split into three different stages (January-February, June-July and August-September), with minimum grade requirements changing for each one of them. Usually, vacancies get smaller and smaller with each passing deadline, so it will be technically easier to get in if you do it during the first stage. Furthermore, by applying during the first stage, you will have plenty of time (classes start in September) to sort out your student visa and accommodation arrangements. On the other hand, if you already live in the country and are going to apply through the “local route” (after taking the admission exams), applications take place in July and August.

Be that as it may, different institutions can bear different deadlines for their application process (especially in private universities), so always make sure to stay in touch with a representative of your preferred higher education institution so that you don't miss your opportunity. After applying, you will receive feedback from the university within one/two months of the deadline.

Documents needed for applying to a university in Lisbon

Should your course be taught in English, you will need a proficiency test like IELTS or TOEFL. If your degree is exclusively taught in Portuguese, as an international student, you might need a proficiency certificate as well. Other documents can include transcripts of academic records, motivation letters, proof of payment of application fee and portfolio. Documents are usually required to be presented in English (plus the original language).

Needless to say, your official passport will be needed, as well as a valid student visa (depending on nationality and length of stay)

The best universities in Lisbon

According to the famous and reputed Shanghai Ranking, Lisbon boasts two universities ranked among the 700 best in the world: Universidade de Lisboa and Universidade Nova de Lisboa, with the former featuring on the top 300.

Regarding Universidade Nova de Lisboa, the ranking highlighted the institution's work in Finances (top 100), Tourism (top 150), Civil Engineering (top 200), Food Science (top 200), Economy (top 200), Political Science (top 200), Business Management (top 200) and Biotechnology (top 300).

As for Universidade de Lisboa, it showed great results regarding its degrees in Naval Engineering (6th best in the world), Civil Engineering (43rd best in the world), Oceanography (top 75), Pharmacy (top 75), Geography (top 100), Atmospheric Sciences (top 100), Agricultural Science (top 100) and Veterinary Medicine (top 100).

Although they didn't make the ranking, other well-rated institutions of higher education in Lisbon include Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (Social Sciences, Technology, Business and Architecture) and Universidade Católica Portuguesa (private).

Tuition fees in Lisbon

As one might expect, public universities are generally slightly cheaper than private ones for international students. Generally, the cost of undergraduate courses ranges from 3,000€ to 7,000€ per year, while that of graduate and post-graduate courses ranges from 1,200€ to 2,500€, depending on the degree and the university. However, if you're an EU citizen, you'll be paying the same public fees as Portuguese students, which are currently capped at 697€/year.

Needless to say, private universities' tuition fees can go much higher than that. Taking Universidade Católica as an example, annual tuition fees for lower-level degrees currently stand at 7,000€ for international students, though you also need to factor in hundreds upon hundreds of euros in application and registration fees, extra credits and other bureaucratic processes.

How to get a student visa to study in Lisbon

If you're an EU citizen (plus Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) you do not need to apply for a student visa in Portugal. In fact, if staying for less than 3 months, you don't have to worry about any bureaucratic requirements. However, should your cycle of studies in the country last longer than the aforementioned 3 months, it is mandatory to register your stay with local authorities. To get a registration certificate, students will need to apply at their local council within 30 days after completing three months of arriving in Portugal. This certificate costs 15€ and is valid for the entire stay of the student in the country, being issued immediately upon request. To complete the application, candidates need to present a valid ID document, a written affidavit declaring that they are enrolled in an officially recognized school in the country, proof of financial subsistence and proof of health insurance (only if your country requires the same for Portuguese students).

On the other hand, if you come from outside the EU/EEA, you'll probably need a student visa. The only exception applies to citizens who are staying for less than 3 months AND come from one of the 63 visa-exempt countries, such as the US, the UK, Canada or Japan. Nonetheless, students from countries that require a Schengen visa or are planning to stay longer than 90 days (regardless of nationality) will have to apply for a student visa. In order to do so, you will need to get a letter of acceptance from the university you wish to enroll in and get in touch with the Portuguese Embassy in your country of residence. After scheduling your interview at the embassy, you'll fill out the application form, submit all the required documentation in person, and pay the 90€ visa fee. Once you get a positive response and the magic sticker on your passport (it might take up to 3 months – worst case scenario), you can take care of travel arrangements.

Keep in mind the student visa is only valid for 3 months, which is why you will also need to obtain a residence permit if you're staying longer than 90 days. After your visa expires, this permit will allow you to remain in the country legally. You'll have to book an appointment at a local SEF (Foreigners and Borders Service) facility and submit the proper form in person, along with two photos, your identification document (passport), proof of address (accommodation), proof of financial subsistence, student visa and criminal record. This permit is valid for 1 year (can be extended at least 30 days before expiring) and costs 155€ in total (83€ for the submission 72€ as processing fee).

Accommodation for students in Lisbon and cost of living

Unfortunately, recent times have seen rent and property prices skyrocket in Lisbon, as well as the cost of living. As a result, Lisbon is no longer the cheap, sunny, western-European capital it once was, though it is still admittedly cheaper than the likes of Paris, London or Amsterdam. Be that as it may, accommodation for students is scarce and expensive, with good deals getting increasingly harder to come by. This comes as no surprise since recent studies point out that private listings only make up about 10% of the number of students currently enrolled in Lisbon's universities.

For a humble bedroom in an apartment where all remaining areas are shared with other people, expect to pay upwards of 450€, although it is not at all rare to find landlords asking for 700€ /month. Average prices are also higher for furnished/equipped apartments and for listings that already include other living expenses, such as water, electricity or internet services.

While there have been efforts to build new student residences as quickly as possible, public efforts are not able to tackle the high level of demand, while private enterprises are targeting higher-end local students and international applicants. Standing as the perfect example, a brand-new privately funded residence was inaugurated a couple of months ago in Lisbon, with room prices ranging from 650€ to 1096€/month (over 2x the average room price for students in the city).

Student Support Services (Serviço de Acção Social) usually run programs for accommodation within the compound of university residences. These rooms are much cheaper than what you'll find in the private market (between 243€/month for a private bedroom and 600€ for a fully-equipped apartment), but not all international students are eligible for this SASULisboa program.

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