Before moving to the United Kingdom expats are advised to research UK visas and immigration procedures, including British citizenship, before starting the UK visa application process or applying for a residence permit.
If you are visiting or moving to the United Kingdom, you need to find out if you will need a UK visa to enter the country and which type of UK visa you will need to apply for. This will depend on where you are travelling from and the purpose of your visit.
The UK is currently a member of the EU but has opted out of becoming a Schengen area country, meaning that it has its own border controls and visa policy. Immigration and border controls have been contentious issues in the UK for a number of years and there have been various changes to UK immigration policy in recent years. There are likely to be further changes following the Brexit vote in 2016 which means that the UK will cease to be an EU member state around 2019. This will have implications for citizens of EU states entering and moving to the UK.
This guide to UK visas and UK residence permits will cover the following topics:
- Who needs a UK visa?
- Types of UK visas
- UK visa fees
- UK visa application
- Applying for a residence permit UK
- UK visa for work purposes
- UK visa for students
- UK visa application for joining a relative or partner
- Applying for British citizenship or UK permanent residence
- UK visa extensions
The UK is presently an EU member state. Although it is nor part of the Schengen area, nationals from EU/EFTA countries can enter the UK without needing a UK visa and they have the right to reside in the UK if they are employed, self-employed or registered as a jobseeker. See our guide for EU/EFTA nationals moving to the UK for more information.
The right to enter without a UK visa and reside without a UK residence permit also extends to citizens of British Overseas Territories and citizens of Commonwealth countries born before 1 January 1983 who qualify for Right of abode (ROA) through a parent being born in the UK.
The UK also allows citizens of the following countries to enter without a UK visa and stay for a maximum of 6 months:
Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, East Timor, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Micronesia, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Taiwan, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu and Vatican City.
You can get an electronic visa waiver (EVW) for just £15 if you are from Kuwait, Oman, Qatar or the United Arab Emirates. This allows a visa-free stay of up to 6 months for tourism, business, study or medical treatment.
Citizens of all other countries will require a UK visa to enter the UK. You can check exact UK visa requirements on the UK Visas and Immigration website here.
There are various different types of UK visa that can be broken down into five categories – tourist and short stay visas, work visas, student visas, family visas and transit visas.
UK tourist and short stay visas
> Standard Visitor visa – UK visa for leisure, business or private purposes valid for up to 6 months. This can be for up to 11 months if receiving private medical treatment or up to 12 months for academic research
> Short term study visa – UK visa for short study courses valid for 6 months, or 11 months if you are taking an English language course and are over 18
> Marriage Visitor visa – UK visa for the purposes of getting married in the UK if you are not planning to settle in the UK. Valid for 6 months.
> Permitted Paid Engagement visa – UK visa if you have been invited for a specific purpose by a UK-based organisation or client, or if you want to take up short-term paid work without a sponsor. Valid for 1 month.
> Parent of Tier 4 child visa – UK visa if you are the parent of a child attending an independent fee-paying school in the UK. Valid for up to 12 months.
> Visit the UK in a Chinese Tour Group – UK visa valid for up to 30 days for Chinese citizens who are part of an official tour group.
It is also possible to apply for long-term visit visas that last for 2, 5 or 10 years.
UK work visas
The UK has a points-based immigration system for work visas and issues them under either Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 5. See our guide to UK work visas and permits for more information.
> UK student visas – In addition to the short-term study visa, there is a general student visa and a child student visa. Visa length depends on the length of the course. See our guide to UK student visas for more information.
> UK family visas – If you’re from a non-EU/EFTA country, you can apply to join family living permanently in the UK. See our guide to Joining a relative or partner in the UK for more information.
> UK transit visas – Direct Airside Transit visa (DATV) – UK visa that lasts for 24 hours if you are flying into a UK airport and getting a connecting flight without leaving the airport and passing through border control.
> Visitor in Transit visa – UK visa needed if you are leaving the airport and passing through border control but leaving the UK within 48 hours.
The cost of UK visas depends on the type of UK visa and the length of time you are staying in the UK. A 6-month Standard Visitor visa currently costs £89. If you are applying for a long-term visit visa, the current costs are:
- 2 year stay – £330
- 5 year stay – £600
- 10 year stay – £752
You can check your UK visa costs on the UK Visas and Immigration website here.
You can apply for a UK visa at the UK visa application centre in your home country. You can find a list of UK visa application centres worldwide here. You can also apply online through the UK Home Office Visas and Immigration Service website.
The documents required for your UK visa will depend on the type of UK visa you are applying for. If you are applying for a UK Standard Visitor visa, you will need to provide:
- a valid passport or travel ID
- evidence that you can support yourself financially for the duration of your stay (e.g. bank statements)
You will also need to provide information regarding:
- dates of travel
- where you will be staying in the UK
- details of your current address and how long you’ve lived there
- your parents’ names and dates of birth
- estimated costs of your trip along with how much you earn in a year
You will also need to have a tuberculosis test if you are coming to the UK for more than 6 months and are from any of the countries listed here.
Once you have completed the UK visa application form, printed it and filled it out, you will need to book an appointment at the UK visa application centre in your home country.
If you are applying for a Standard Visitor visa, a Marriage Visitor visa or a Permitted Paid Engagement visa, you can apply online and access the UK visa application form by setting up an account here. For all other UK visas, you can set up an account here.
UK visa processing times vary according to UK visa type and where you are applying from. You can check the standard processing time for your UK visa here.
The UK Visas and Immigration website has information on managing your UK visa application, containing information on things such as getting documents back and reporting a change in your circumstances, which can be found here.
When you arrive in the UK, you may need to register your UK visa with the police. You should receive information about whether you need to register in your UK visa sticker or letter from the UK Home Office. More information can be found here.
Citizens from non-EU/EFTA countries who want to stay in the UK for longer than 6 months need to apply for a UK biometric residence permit (BRP). This is an identity card that contains the following information:
- your name, date and place of birth
- your fingerprints and photograph
- your immigration status and any conditions of your stay
- your social rights (access to public funds, social services, etc.)
Non-EU/EFTA citizens do not have an automatic right to residency in the UK and the granting of a UK residence permit will be decided on your particular circumstances and reasons for staying in the UK. If you are working, studying or have other special reasons for remaining in the UK, you are likely to be eligible for a UK biometric residence permit if you can provide the necessary evidence of your situation.
You can apply for a UK biometric residence permit from inside the UK at a post office or Visa premium service centre, or from outside the UK at a UK visa application centre. A list of Visa premium service centres in the UK can be found here.
The UK biometric residence permit is valid for the duration of your stay in the UK, up to a maximum of 10 years.
The UK has a points-based immigration system for those coming from non-EU/EFTA countries for work purposes. There are various different UK work visas categorised under Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 5. In many cases you will need to have a sponsorship or an endorsement in order to apply for a UK work visa. If you are granted a work visa for longer than 6 months, you will need to apply for a UK biometric residence permit.
You can apply for a UK student visa if you have been offered a place on a course or at an independent school, have passed the school or college language requirements and can prove that you are able to cover your study and living costs. If you are studying on a UK student visa for longer than 6 months, you will need to apply for a UK biometric residence permit.
If you are living in the UK on a UK work or student visa, you may be able to apply to be joined by certain relatives. EU/EFTA citizens and those with permanent residence in the UK can be joined by family members using a UK family visa.
Non-EU/EFTA residents in the UK are eligible to apply for a permanent residence permit in the UK or for full UK citizenship after having lived in the UK for at least 5 years if they fulfil certain criteria.
Certain UK visas (work visas, study visas, family visas, some short-stay visas) allow you to apply for a UK visa extension. If you are eligible for a UK visa extension, you will need to apply before your current UK visa expires. This can be done online or at a UK visa premium service centre. You can check if you are eligible for a UK visa extension on the UK Visas and Immigration website.