Private: Portuguese Education System

The Portuguese Education System: A Guide for Expat Families

As an expat family moving to Portugal, one of the most important aspects to consider is the education system. Understanding how the Portuguese education system works, from primary to higher education, will help you make informed decisions for your children's education. In this guide, we will provide you with valuable information on navigating the Portuguese education system, ensuring a smooth transition for your family.

Primary Education in Portugal

Primary education in Portugal is compulsory for children aged 6 to 15 years old. The primary education system is divided into three cycles: 1st cycle (1º ciclo), 2nd cycle (2º ciclo), and 3rd cycle (3º ciclo).

The 1st cycle covers grades 1 to 4, where children learn basic subjects such as Portuguese language, mathematics, science, social studies, and physical education. The curriculum also includes arts, music, and foreign languages.

The 2nd cycle encompasses grades 5 and 6, focusing on building upon the knowledge acquired in the 1st cycle. Students continue to study core subjects, but with more depth and complexity. They also have the opportunity to choose an elective subject, such as a second foreign language or technology.

The 3rd cycle covers grades 7 to 9 and prepares students for secondary education. The curriculum becomes more specialized, and students have the option to choose different paths, such as humanities, sciences, or arts.

Secondary Education in Portugal

Secondary education in Portugal is not compulsory but is highly recommended for students to pursue higher education or vocational training. It is divided into two cycles: lower secondary education (ensino básico) and upper secondary education (ensino secundário).

Lower secondary education, also known as the 3rd cycle, is the continuation of the 3rd cycle in primary education. Students study a wide range of subjects, including Portuguese language, mathematics, foreign languages, sciences, social studies, physical education, and arts. At the end of the 9th grade, students take national exams that determine their eligibility for upper secondary education.

Upper secondary education offers different paths for students to choose from, depending on their interests and career goals. The three main paths are general education, technological education, and vocational education.

General education prepares students for university entrance and is divided into scientific-humanistic courses and artistic courses. Scientific-humanistic courses focus on subjects such as mathematics, sciences, languages, and humanities. Artistic courses focus on subjects like visual arts, music, and performing arts.

Technological education provides students with a more practical and technical approach to learning. It offers courses in areas such as information technology, health, tourism, and management.

Vocational education focuses on preparing students for specific professions and trades. It offers courses in areas such as mechanics, electronics, hospitality, and agriculture. Vocational education combines classroom learning with practical training in real work environments.

Higher Education in Portugal

Portugal has a well-regarded higher education system, offering a wide range of courses and degrees. The two main types of higher education institutions in Portugal are universities and polytechnic institutes.

Universities in Portugal offer a more theoretical and research-oriented approach to education. They provide a wide range of courses, including humanities, sciences, engineering, medicine, and social sciences. Universities also offer master's and doctoral programs for further specialization.

Polytechnic institutes focus on applied sciences and professional training. They offer courses in areas such as engineering, business, tourism, health, and arts. Polytechnic institutes emphasize practical skills and internships to prepare students for the job market.

Admission to higher education institutions in Portugal is based on national exams, which vary depending on the chosen course. International students may also need to provide additional documentation, such as language proficiency certificates.

International Schools in Portugal

If you prefer an international education for your children, Portugal also has a number of international schools that follow different curricula, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the British curriculum. These schools cater to expat families and provide education in English or other foreign languages.

International schools offer a familiar educational environment for expat children and often have a diverse student body. They provide a smooth transition for families relocating to Portugal and ensure continuity in their education.


Navigating the Portuguese education system as an expat family may seem daunting at first, but with the right information and guidance, you can make informed decisions for your children's education. Understanding the different levels of education, from primary to higher education, will help you choose the best path for your family's needs. Whether you opt for the Portuguese education system or prefer an international school, Portugal offers a range of options to ensure a quality education for your children.

At SMOOVER Moving, we understand the importance of a smooth transition for expat families. Our team of experts can assist you with all aspects of your move to Portugal, including finding the right schools and navigating the education system. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can make your move to Portugal hassle-free.