The Portuguese are moving heaven, or at least the taxation system, to make Lisbon a popular expat haven, so here are the basics on the schooling side of things, if you take up their offer and are looking for an international school.
It could be the lure of a ‘pastel de nata’ (an eggy custard tart) to start the day, rather than additional cash in the pocket, that is bringing more expats to Lisbon but it is certainly a reality. Admittedly, a large number are digital nomads, drawn by its growing reputation as a place for tech start-ups, but the slightly older generation are also moving here and looking for schools for their offspring.
Lisbon offers attractive alternatives, when it comes to choosing a family-friendly neighbourhood. You can either settle down in central areas such as, Avenidas Novas, which has an almost Parisian feel with its wide boulevards, cafés and restaurants or maybe Restelo, home to the football stadium and glossy houses, with prices to match. If the relaxed seaside vibe is more your thing, Cascais is not the only choice of towns outside the centre with good transport links, as places like Carcavelos and Oeiras are also on the line into the city. Sintra, an exceptionally pretty town, is only 45 minutes’ drive from Lisbon.
While the expat community does tend to concentrate in Cascais, none of the larger international schools is situated on the spot. There are local pre-schools, including the billingual nursery Colégio Cachabui, as well as the tiny (under 60 students) International Christian School of Cascais (half an hour’s walk from the centre) and PaRK International School is also on the edge of the town. Most of the other likely candidates including St Dominic's International, and Oeiras International School, teaching the IB curriculum from the age of 11, are between Cascais and Lisbon.(barring the two newest schools and the Lycée Francais Charles Lepierre).
For families who decide to live in central Lisbon, the school run is not much more arduous, at around 30 minutes to most of the international options. Most schools also operate bus services, for instance St Julian’s School (the longest established and probably the most popular choice) picks up from Carcavelos and Cascais, as well as from the city itself, and there are a dozen or so independent mini-bus companies who compete on price with the schools' own services.
Until recently, the choice of international schools was fairly limited, but three brand new schools, the British School of Lisbon, United Lisbon International School and TASIS Portugal, have just opened (the two latter in 2020. Two of the established schools (Carlucci American International School and the International Preparatory School) have moved to purpose-built campuses and one day care centre, PaRK International School, has expanded into the largest group of international schools in Portugal. In total, there are now around a dozen international schools for consideration.
Non-English speaking schools include the Lycée Francais Charles Lepierre (founded over a century ago) and large, thriving German and Spanish schools (subsidies from the home-country government mean fees are kept relatively low), plus a small Swedish school in Carcavelos.
It’s almost always the curriculum, that most parents look at first and, in Lisbon, the International Baccalaureate Diploma is on offer from all the English-speaking schools that go through to 18. Unsurprisingly, the Carlucci American International School also offers the American High School Diploma. At primary level, the International Preparatory School, the British School of Lisbon, St George’s and St James’s schools (now working together) teach the National Curriculum for England, making it easy for British children to transition to prep or secondary schools in the UK.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Lisbon considered by expats'.
Edificio Cadin (www.cadin.net) is not a school as such but was set up in 2003 in a purpose-designed building in Cascais. A unique resource, in the area if not in the whole of Portugal, for children with a wide range of special educational needs. It offers help to children with AD(H)D, autism spectrum, specific learning disabilities, epilepsy, dyslexia, etc. Supported by several local businesses as a charitable institution, it offers subsidies to those that cannot afford the fees so that it is within the reach of poorer families in the Cascais area.
In the mainstream, the International School of Cascais has established a good reputation for helping SEN children, even when the problem is quite severe.
Portuguese state and private schools
These schools are open to foreign residents and have a smattering of international pupils these days (often the children of migrant workers from eastern Europe). The state schools share the problems of urban schools anywhere, but although they are reputed to set very high academic standards, only a minority make the grade. Private schools are often run by (Catholic) religious orders and teach to the same standards, but have smaller class sizes and place more emphasis on old fashioned discipline and pastoral care. (The latter can border on the obsessive/smothering.)
Lisbon is increasingly becoming one of the most popular places in Europe to live in a more relaxed (and cheaper) way and the international schools provide an alternative to sending your children to boarding school back home, and are particularly strong at the primary level.