Lisbon student group at descobrimentos

Diversity in Lisbon

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CIEE wants all our students to feel welcomed, supported, and empowered to succeed while studying abroad. On this page, local CIEE staff have provided details about conditions and cultural attitudes that students with specific identities might encounter at their location.  
The information below is just a broad overview so if you have specific questions or concerns not covered here, please email We would be glad to have local staff share their perspectives, talk with you about accommodations, connect you with resources, and/or put you in touch with a program alum who could speak about their experiences navigating a program in this location.  
No matter where you choose to study abroad with CIEE, our staff—all of whom receive regular and comprehensive training in diversity, equity, and inclusion—will be on hand throughout your program to provide advice, resources, and support regarding these issues.



Weight, height, hair style, and body image are common daily topics among the Portuguese. On one hand, there is little about your body-type, skin-color, and dressing style than can single you out given that Portugal is a tourism destination and there are people from all over the world. American Pop-Culture is also very prevalent. On the other hand, Portuguese tend to be thinner and shorter than Americans, so you may appear bigger than the average person. You might feel that your physical traits attract unwelcome attention, as there is a tendency to stare at people. In most cases, this occurs out of curiosity, and it is not intended as criticism. Staring is not considered rude in Portugal.

Sometimes people use adjectives referring to body image to refer to someone, in most cases as a compliment, for example, the blond one, the tall one, the skinny one, fatty (gordinha), etc. While this may seem rude, these nicknames are not meant to be insulting but rather are meant as an expression of tenderness and familiarity. Healthy living, concentrated on exercising but especially on healthy eating habits, is very common in Portugal. Therefore, some people might see being overweight as unhealthy and related to low social-economic status. At the same time, social life in Portugal revolves around food and host mothers tend to encourage students to finish everything on the plate and eat more out of hospitality.



Portuguese, on a personal level, have a positive and understanding attitude regarding people with disabilities, and are eager to help. The Portuguese Government has different associations and official policies to support individuals with disabilities. Yet, students with disabilities (especially students who use a wheelchair and those who are vision and hearing impaired) may find their time in Portugal to be a challenge due to a lack of public access for those with special needs.

Cities in Portugal are ancient so many streets are not easily accessible for people who use a wheelchair because they have steps, high sidewalks, or are uneven or cobble-stoned paved. Portugal is behind the U.S. in providing physical accessibility features at public and private institutions. Newer buildings are usually adapted, but when a student takes class in an older building, the solution tends to be that the class is offered in the basement floor. City buses and special cabs usually accommodate wheelchairs.

Students are encouraged to provide as much information as they can related to their specific disabilities (or related needs) prior to arrival so CIEE staff can assess potential challenges and arrange for appropriate accommodations.

For neuroatypical students, the situation is pretty similar to the one in the United States. Students who receive academic accommodations will need to provide that information several months in advance, along with an official letter from their home institution.



In 1977, the Portuguese constitution was reviewed to mirror the Equality between men and women. Nevertheless, it is still a society that needs to keep working towards gender equality. Women still tend to work more hours taking care of the children and the household, while having a full-time job. Younger generations, as in the U.S., are very comfortable with all sorts of gender identities, but this is not always true for older people. CIEE staff will address gender identity issues in orientation and will provide suggestions on how to cope with gender discrimination should students encounter it.


X Gender Marker

Portugal has allowed individuals to change their name and gender on their Citizen Card without gender reassignment surgery since 2006. However, transgender people in Portugal currently can only have the gender with which they identify legally recognized if they provide evidence of a gender dysphoria diagnosis. The only categories available are “female” and “male,” meaning non-binary people must carry documents designating them as a gender with which they might not identify.



Portugal had a large emigration of people to the East and West Coast of the U.S. and to Hawaii during the 1960's (or even before). Most of these families were from the Azores and Madeira islands.

There is no stereotype regarding heritage students coming from the U.S. Occasionally some people may question why students with a Portuguese background do not have strong language skills or are not knowledgeable about Portuguese history, but this could be a wonderful opportunity for students to share more about their family background, goals, and expectations, creating a great cultural exchange opportunity for all people involved.

Heritage students are usually surprised at how progressive Portugal is today, as their expectations of Portugal and Portuguese are many times based on reports from their families (often grandparents) who left the country many decades ago and during the dictatorship.



Portugal for many centuries was a very homogeneous society, consisting of a predominantly white population. After the revolution in 1974, and with the decolonialization process, Portugal began hosting a large number of African immigrants from several former colonies such as Cape Verde, Mozambique, or Angola and large cities became much more heterogeneous. Since then, a flow of immigrants from Europe, Brazil, and Asia has turned Portugal into a diverse society (although it is not as diverse in the interior of the country in small cities and villages). U.S. students tend to be hosted and welcomed well, no matter their racial or ethnic Identity.

In Portugal it is illegal to classify people by ethnicity or to collect information about citizens based on their race or ethnic identity, as in the past this categorization existed to define different stages of citizenship. This principle of colorblindness to reach true equality is now being questioned by parties and organizations and many believe the U.S. approach to the census that does recognize race and ethnicity is needed to better understand the needs of the minorities living here.



In 2011, 81% of the population described themselves as catholic, but only 13% attend mass regularly. Since most of the population identifies as being catholic, religion is not a common topic in everyday conversations. Since Catholicism the most practiced religion over centuries, folklore and celebrations are typically connected to Christianity, making the society a culturally catholic one, not necessarily a conservative or traditional one.

Portuguese people might ask you several questions if you identify as being a Jew or a Muslim, but most of it will be out of pure curiosity, as you may be the first person identifying as such they encounter. Anti-Semitism and islamophobia are almost nonexistent compared to other countries in Europe.



Over the last decades, Portugal has come to recognize sexual diversity. Same sex marriage was legalized in 2010 and, against many expectations given that Portugal is a traditional country, there was not strong opposition to this decision. Gay adoption was more recently approved by parliament, and that decision also was well accepted by society. At the same time, the Portuguese often consider sexuality to be something private and intimate, so they may have a hard time with open discussions of sex.



Lisbon is known to be perfect on a student budget! Many places of interest are free to visit and staying with a host family can save you money on meals. Lisbon is a walking city and a great way to discover it without spending a penny is to simply stroll around enjoying the architecture, squares, parks, fresh markets, and the all the cobble-stone streets that it has to offer!

The integrated public transport system is relatively inexpensive, too – unlimited rides for 30€ a month. The average monthly cost for shopping per person (food and hygiene) is usually around 80€ for the most careful spenders or double for an average spender. The best thing to do if eating out is to stay away from the busy tourist streets. Find places to eat in less crowded neighborhoods. The prices will be lower there and probably even taste better!

For cultural activities, take advantage of Sundays to visit the museums for free. The CIEE center organizes a wide range of activities during the semester as well – these are already included in the program fee so there’s no extra expense to you! Activities include day trips to nearby historical sites, museums visits, workshops, and other cultural experiences.

Programs in Lisbon