According to OECD and EU23 data, children in Portugal spend 39.1 hours per week in a nursery.

Portugal is also one of the countries offering a wide range of childcare facilities for children under three years old, when compared to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and EU-23 (European Union member countries of the OECD). In Portugal, the coverage rate is 36.7 percent, slightly above the OECD (36.3 percent) and EU-23 (35.6 percent) averages.

Although this is a good rate, the response given by the system is very far from the real needs of parents. In Portugal, maternity leave is up to 120/150 days (it can be extended in specific situations), which makes it urgent to have somewhere to leave the children when this time ends.

Waiting lists

As waiting lists are a nightmare that parents have to face, we went to find out what parents can do to sign up their children as early as possible.

Speaking to João Carlos Pereira, president of the Centro Popular de Lagoa, he said that the first step foreign parents have to take is to go to Social Security (Segurança Social) and request a NISS (social security identification number) for their new born baby.

The Centro Popular de Lagoa is a Private Institution of Social Solidarity (IPSS) that works as a nursing home for the elderly, as well as with children, having a kindergarten, as well as a nursery and an after-school club to support parents who have no chance to look after their children during the day.

"In the nursery - up to the age of three - we have 110 babies, then in the kindergarten we have around 130 and in the after-school club we have 60 children." Among these children, they have several nationalities - from Chinese and Ukrainians to Moroccans. Also "we now have two German families who don't live here all year round, but when they do, they have the children with us," he said.

"For those who live here, the first step is to ask for a social security number for the child and come here and register the child. In terms of waiting lists, the biggest struggle is always related to babies up to 1 year old, because we only have 12 baby cots," he added.

Pre-registration

In Portugal, there are many who try to enrol their baby in nurseries while they are still pregnant. However, they cannot do so. "We already had situations like this, but we can’t accept it, only after the child is born. However, due to these situations, we decided to adopt a pre-registration process."

In Portugal, there are no state nurseries. However, there are private ones, and then there are some that are subsidiary as is the case of the Centro Popular de Lagoa. Currently the price that parents pay will depend on the IRS of each couple which will reveal the income they have available to face these expenses on a means tested basis.

Free places

However, next year, we can expect new rules to come out. As the government has announced, subsidiary nurseries will be free for all children up to one year old during the 2022-2023 school years.