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PhD Study in Portugal - A Guide for 2019

Portugal holds education and research in high regard, has one of the oldest universities in the world and takes pride in the social responsibility of its researchers to engage with the public. All of which create excellent prospects for PhD students.

Portugal is also an idyllic place to study, with a warm climate, sunny weather, stunning landscapes, Atlantic beaches and a Meditteranean climate. Its calm, welcoming and tolerant culture also means Portugal is regarded as a happy place to live.

This page introduces PhD study in Portugal, with information on universities, programmes, fees and international funding opportunities.

PhD opportunities in Portugal – what’s on offer for 2019?

A PhD in Portugal gives you the opportunity to study in a country with a rich academic heritage (the country’s oldest university, the University of Coimbra, is also one of the oldest in the world), an international culture and an enviable lifestyle and climate.

  • International outlook – Portugal has high numbers of foreign students and provides experience of international research (78% of students learn two or more languages)
  • Science and society – Science and technology are considered important aspects of Portuguese society and public engagement is actively encouraged
  • Climate and lifestyle – Portugal is the one of the world’s leading tourist destinations with 3,000 hours of sun per year, hundreds of beaches and tropical oceans and widely considered to have excellent quality of life

PhD Study in Portugal - Key Details
Universities 116
Nobel Prizes 2
Oldest University University of Coimbra (1290)
International Students 16,888
PhD Length 3-4 years
Representative Fees €2,500-3,000 per year
Academic Year September to July

PhD life in Portugal

Want to know more about what it's like to live and study abroad in Portugal during a PhD? Our detailed guide covers everything from accommodation and living costs to culture and entertainment.

Portuguese universities

Higher education institutions in Portugal are divided into two main types:

  • Universities (universidade) – focus on science and research training. They are able to award PhD degrees. This category also includes more specialised university institutes
  • Polytechnics (politénico) – focus on vocational and technical training. They are not able to award PhD degrees. This category includes more specialised polytechnic institutes. Some polytechnic institutes may be integrated into universities.

Both types of higher education institution can be public or private; public institutions have a tighter regulation of fees and student numbers.

Additionally, Portugal has an Open University (Universidade Aberta) that can award degrees through distance learning. Some of its institutions also operate within the MIT-Portugal Programme.

Portuguese university cities

There are several cities in Portugal with one or more universities and large numbers of students:

Portuguese university rankings

Despite the country’s small size, Portugal does well in international university rankings. There are four universities that feature in each of the main global league tables, and other universities also do well in individual rankings.


Top Portuguese Universities in 2019
University THE 2019 QS 2019 ARWU 2018
University of Porto 401-500 328 301-400
University of Aveiro 501-600 531-540 401-500
University of Coimbra 501-600 =407 -
University of Lisbon 501-600 =355 151-200
NOVA University of Lisbon 501-600 =405 -
University of Algarve 601-800 - -
University of Beira Interior 601-800 - -
Catholic University of Portugal 601-800 751-800 -
ISCTE-University Institute of Lisbon 601-800 - -
University of Minho 601-800 651-700 401-500
Polytechnic Institute of Porto 601-800 - -
University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro 601-800 - -
University of Évora 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 rankings matter for PhD study?

University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.

Accreditation

All higher education institutions are governed by the Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education (MCTES). Each university awards its own degrees and are regulated by the Higher Education Assessment and Accreditation Agency (A3ES) and granted by the Directorate-General for Higher Education (DGES). This two-stage process enables objective assessment of higher education and responsibility for quality and success.

PhD structure

A doctoral degree (doutoramento) can only be awarded by Portuguese universities and university institutes. PhD programmes are structured according to the Bologna process and are therefore internationally recognised and similar in structure to PhDs in the UK.

PhD length

Full-time doctoral programmes in Portugal usually last between 3-4 years (or 6-8 semesters). In the early stages of your PhD you may be required to more coursework and training, before moving onto research and work on your doctoral thesis.

The Portuguese academic year is made up of two semesters, with holiday periods based around traditional seasonal festivals.

Supervision

All PhD candidates will have an academic supervisor, and often a secondary or co-supervisor, responsible for overseeing your research progress. You may be able to choose your supervisor, or an appropriate supervisor may be assigned by your prospective university. In Portugal, individual universities set the rules and conditions for the role of the supervisor.

Assessment and examination

To be awarded a doctoral degree in Portugal, you must produce either:

  • An original thesis in an expert field, or a compilation of coherent and relevant research, subjected to a public defence
  • An art piece, or compilation or art pieces, with complementary written work (only applicable to PhDs in the Arts)

You are also likely to undertake additional research training units that may be assessed or examined.

Doctoral public defence

The PhD usually culminates in a public doctoral defence of your thesis. This takes place in a public environment and will be conducted by a panel of experts from inside and outside your university.

The examining panel will assess the merit of your thesis and any other relevant work, investigate the breadth and depth of your subject knowledge, and take into account your completion of curricular units during your doctorate.

Fees and funding

Portugal has a low cost of living, but relatively high tuition fees for PhD students. However, there are several sources of funding available to finance your Portuguese doctorate.

Portuguese PhD fees

Individual Portuguese universities have the freedom to set their own tuition fees, with a minimum cost for programmes at public universities set by the government. Therefore, fees can be relatively high compared to other EU countries (although, this is offset somewhat by the low cost of living in Portugal).

Typically, you will be expected to pay between €2,500-3,000 for the first year of full-time study, and between €1,500-,3000 per year thereafter. The specific cost of tuition fees is set annually by the university and can therefore vary slightly each year. Additionally, non-EU / EEA international students may be expected to pay higher fees then domestic students.

Portuguese PhD funding

There are several sources of funding for international PhD students in Portugal:

  • Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) – provides studentships, grants and funded PhD programmes for Science and Technology students in Portugal
  • Directorate-General of Higher Education (DGES) – offers Merit Grants, the +Superior Programme for economically disadvantaged students in particular Portuguese regions, and grants for students with disabilities
  • Erasmus+ – delivers short-term funding support for EU /EEA students researching in Portugal

More funding opportunities can be found at Study & Research in Portugal. Additionally, individual universities provide their own funding opportunities – you can check their websites for more information.

Applying for a PhD in Portugal

Applying for a PhD in Portugal follows a similar process to the UK.

International applications for doctoral study are often intertwined with visa applications – both processes require documentation from the other for the application to progress (e.g. confirmation of enrolment may be needed for the visa application, immigration documents may be needed for the PhD application). You should aim to commence both processes together and leave plenty of time to complete them.

Application process

In Portugal, you are usually expected to contact your prospective institution and / or PhD supervisor before applying. This enables discussion about your proposed research. You can find potential supervisors using contact details associated with advertised PhD projects or listed on a university’s website.

Once you have discussed your ideas and received support for your proposal, you can apply for your doctoral course. You will be asked for several documents, such as a completed admission form, proof of qualifications, and immigration documents. These may need to be translated by an official source, where necessary (your university should be able to provide advice and support).

Application dates for doctoral degrees can vary depending on the individual university. You should check dates and deadlines, and the specific application process, with your prospective university.

Admission requirements

In order to enrol on a PhD programme in Portugal, you will need either:

  • A relevant Masters degree (mestrado), or equivalent (this is required in most cases)
  • A relevant Bachelors degree (licenciatura) and an excellent academic CV
  • An excellent academic CV (this will have to be particularly good, demonstrating ability and experience in research, in order to be considered)

The specific entry requirements and eligibility criteria are determined by the individual university and can vary according to the institution and academic discipline.

You may also be required to submit other application materials such as a research proposal, personal statement and references and / or partake in an interview.

You can check the recognition of foreign degrees and diplomas at the Portuguese National Academic Recognition Information Centre (NARIC).

PhD entry requirements

The general eligibility criteria for PhD applications in Portugal is similar to most other countries in the Europe. Our guide explains entry requirements for a prospective PhD student.

Language requirements

Most doctoral programmes in Portugal are taught in English, but many are still delivered in Portuguese. In either case, non-native speakers will need to submit the scores from appropriate English language tests or Portuguese language tests.

Even if you are not required to learn Portuguese for the purposes of your PhD, it will still be useful to learn some of the 4th most spoken language in the world. Language courses may be taught by your prospective institution or through the Portuguese for All Programme.

Applying for a PhD

PhD applications in Portugal will require additional application documents and processes. These are similar to those in the UK. Our guide explains PhD applications for a prospective PhD student.

Student visas

As a member of the EU and European Economic Area (EEA), and a signatory to the Schengen Agreement, Portugal is a relatively simple country for registered international students to enter and study in.

Some travel and immigration documents and procedures are still required. Your prospective university will be able to offer guidance and may assist with aspects of the applications. More information can be found from the Portuguese Border Services (SEF).

Study visa

Doctoral students from EU / EAA countries and Switzerland do not require a visa to enter Portugal, and only need a valid passport or identity card.

Students from other international countries will need to apply for a study visa from your local Portuguese Consulate or Embassy. It is recommended that this is done at least three months before journeying to Portugal. The study visa is valid for the duration of your study programme and up to one year afterwards.

Residence registration

EU / EEA / Swiss students are required to apply for a Registration Certificate from your nearest Municipal Hall within three month’s residence in Portugal. Other international students will need to acquire Residence Permit.

Next steps

Studying for a doctorate in Portugal is an impressive achievement and should set you up for a range of career prospects. The Portuguese university system is well-regarded, with a particular strength in Science and Technology subjects.

Portuguese universities are required to report on your early career after graduation, and therefore have a responsibility to ensure you have high employability both in and out of academia.

Can I work in Portugal after my PhD?

Students from the EU, EEA and Switzerland are free to work in Portugal after their studies, provided you apply for the appropriate residence permit.

Other international students are automatically permitted to live in Portugal up to one year after completing your studies as a condition of your study visa. However, you will still need a valid residence permit and will also require a work permit.

Find a PhD in Portugal

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in Portugal? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

Last updated - 30/11/2018

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