He is educated in a Catholic mission in the village of Soibada. From 1964 until 1969 he visits the Senior High School at Timor.

José Ramos-Horta shares the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with Bishop Ximenes Belo, "for their work towards a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor". Since Indonesia took control of East Timor in 1975, José Ramos-Horta has been the spokesman for East Timor’s cause, and has worked out a peace plan for reconciliation in the region. Ramos-Horta has played a leading role in negotiating the institutional foundations for independence.

East Timor finally declares independence and joins the United Nations in September 2002. Ramos-Horta becomes foreign minister in Mari Alkatriri’s Fretilin government.

He studies Human Rights Law in Strasbourg and at Antioch University where he gains an MA in Peace Studies in 1984. He also attends courses in American Foreign Policy at Columbia University in New York and is a Senior Associate Member of St Antony’s College Oxford, UK. He also attends the Hague Academy of International Law and the International Institute of Human Rights, Strasbourg.

He wins the 2007 East Timorese presidential election and serves as president until 2012. On 11 February 2008, Ramos-Horta is injured in an assassination attempt.

Ramos-Horta is involved in the development of political awareness in Portuguese Timor, speaking up against the Portuguese rule, which causes him to be banned from the territory in 1970–71. In 1974, he founds "Fretilin", a resistance movement that fights for independence, first from Portugal and later from Indonesia. When Portugal withdraws from East Timor in 1975, Ramos-Horta serves as the Minister of External Relations and Information in the first provisional government.

José Ramos-Horta is born in Dili, the capital of East Timor (then Portuguese Timor).

José Ramos-Horta flees from East Timor shortly before Indonesia invades the territory in December 1975. He spends 24 years in exile lobbying foreign governments and the UN to take action in the face of the violent Indonesian occupation. He is the Permanent Representative of Fretilin to the UN for the next ten years. After a violent independence referendum in 1999, the Indonesian regime falls and Ramos-Horta returns to East Timor.

In 2006, civil unrest grips East Timor and Alkatiri was forced to step down. Three weeks later, the country’s president, Xanana Gusmao, pronounces Ramos-Horta as the acting prime minister.

He is currently the United Nations' Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS).