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Home› Cultures› Portugal› Society & Culture


The population of Portugal is estimated at 10,102,022 people (Demographics of Portugal, 2004).  The majority of the population lives near coastal areas and share many of the characteristics of the southern European Mediterranean populations. 

Since 1974, as a result of de-colonization, people from former colonies in Africa have settled in urban areas.  In addition since 1990, many east-European migrants have settled in Portugal in search of economic opportunity.  The principal cities are Lisbon , the capital (population 2,662,949 based on a 2001 census), Oporto, Coimbra, and Setúbal (Political Divisions of Portugal, 2004).

Although the population of Portugal is primarily of Mediterranean heritage, there are descendants of immigrants of African origin who migrated during the process of de-colonization along with descendents of northern European settlers.


The official language of Portugal is Portuguese spoken by the entire population (Portuguese Language, 2005). Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world (Couto, J., 2004) and is also the official language of the following countries: Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde Islands, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and S.Tome  and  Prince (Teixeira, 1997). Portuguese-speaking students will show predictable linguistic influences from Portuguese when learning to understand, speak, read and write English.

Note:  For more extensive information on the Portuguese language, particularly in terms of the way in which knowledge of Portuguese may influence the learning of English as a new language is available on the Portuguese language section of this web site.


A national health care system is provided by the central government, which promotes health education, intervenes to prevent communicable diseases and is responsible for the administration of all public hospitals and health centers in the country (Epidemiology, Statistics and Health . . . , 1997). Affluent Portuguese may opt for paid private health care.

Educational System

The Portuguese public education system offers nine years of free and compulsory education from ages 6 to 15. The academic year begins in October and ends in June. Public education is comprised of five levels:

The Pre-school Level (Pre-Escola) is for ages 3 to 5 and is free and optional.

The First Cycle (Primeiro Ciclo – Ensino Básico) comprises grades 1 (age 6) through 4 (age 10), and it is compulsory.

The Second Cycle (Segundo Ciclo) comprises grades 5 (age 10) through 9 (age 15), and it is compulsory.

The Third Cycle (Terceiro Ciclo) comprises grades 10 (age 16) through 12 (age 18), and it is optional.

Higher Education at a Polytechnic College or University is organized in two levels: undergraduate, graduate and post graduate.  The transfer of credit from college to university is allowed.


The grading system is qualitative for the Pre-School (Pre-Escola) and First Cycle (Primeiro Ciclo) levels.  Students are graded with satisfactory, indicating grade level performance, and non-satisfactory, indicating the need for improvement.  Students at the Second Cycle are graded on a scale 1-5 (passing grade is 3) and in the Third Cycle, and Higher Education levels are assessed on a quantitative numerical grading system of 0-20.  The passing grade is 10. 

School Financing

Public education is free for the first three Cycles.  Higher education is not free, but the tuition (propinas) is minimal. School is not financed by local property taxes.

The Education System in Portugal:

Post-Graduate Higher Education
0 – 20 point scale
Teacher Training
College Prep - Vocational
12th grade -  18

11th grade - 17-18

10th grade -  16-17
Third cycle (Terceiro Ciclo) Secondary Level
0 – 20 point scale
9th Grade – 14-15 Second cycle (Segundo Ciclo) Ciclo Preparatório Compulsory 1 – 5 > point scale
8th Grade – 13-14
7th Grade – 12-13
6th Grade – 11-12
5th Grade – 10-11
4th Grade – 9-10 First Cycle Primeiro Ciclo-Ensino Básico Compulsory Qualitative Grading; Satisfactory & unsatisfactory
3rd Grade – 8-9
2nd Grade – 7-8
1st Grade -  6-7
Preschool 3-5 Preschool Level

From Ministério da Educação, Portugal (2004).

Portuguese National Holidays

New Year's Eve and Day December 31 and January 1
Carnaval  (Tuesday) 4 days preceding Lent
Good Friday and Easter Variable
Liberty Day April 25
Labor Day May 1
Day of Portugal and the Communities June 10
Blessed Mary Day August 15
Republic Celebration Day October 5
Memorial Day November 1
Independence Day December 1
Immaculate Conception Day December 8
Christmas Day December 25

Elements of popular culture

The Portuguese culture is expressed in a variety of regional ways in music, dance, food and lore.  However, there is national nostalgia expressed in fado , which is considered the national song and the way the Portuguese best express their feelings of saudade, a word evocative of longing or things lost (Music of Portugal, 2004). The Portuguese have a long history, which is celebrated with a national holiday, the Day of Portugal, Camões and the Communities (Dia de Portugal, Camões e das Comunidades) on June 10 every year and all over the world.  The Portuguese, in Portugal, regard soccer (Portuguesesoccer.com, 2004) as the national sport and in some areas of the country bullfights (Valera-Lema, 1996) are still popular.

©2005 Maria de Lourdes Serpa.
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