UK visa

UK visa

Traveling to the UK

The UK is a major destination for individuals looking to work, travel, or relocate. There are many categories of UK Visas to address the wide variety of reasons travelers may have for entering the country. Read more about the categories and types of visas below.
Not all nationalities will need to apply for a UK Visa, but for those who do, obtaining a visa to the UK is a straightforward process. For passport holders that do require a visa, there are many different types of visas depending on what the applicant intends to do while in the country. The process will differ slightly with each type of visa so it’s important to select the correct type of UK Visa before applying.
For many nationalities, it is possible to enter the UK visa-free or obtain an Electronic Visa Waiver to the UK. However, passport holders from the following countries must obtain a visa to enter the UK regardless of their purpose of travel including transit through the country (airside):

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burundi, Cameroon, China (People’s Republic of), Congo, Congo Dem. Republic, Cyprus (northern part of), Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Eswatini (Swaziland), Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India, Iran, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Kenya, Kosovo, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Moldova, Mongolia, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Palestinian Territories, Rwanda, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

UK visa types

For travelers who require a UK Visa, there are many options depending on where they come from, their purpose of traveling to the UK, how long they intend to stay, and their personal situation and skills. Depending on the type of visa, applicants may have the option of choosing a single-entry UK Visa or a multiple-entry UK Visa.

Before beginning the application process, applicants should check if they need a visa and, if so, what type they need.

The following are types of UK visas you need to apply for by submitting an official application: 

  • UK Visitor Visa
  • UK Working Visa
  • UK Student Visa
  • UK Business Visa
  • UK Transit Visa
  • UK Family Visa

Information about the visa types in each category can be found below. Each type of visa has different eligibility criteria and a unique application process. 

Visitor visas

As a popular tourist destination, UK tourist visas are sought after by many international travelers. The UK offers many different types of visas for tourists and visitors which are collectively called UK Visitor Visas. UK Visitor Visas can be obtained for short-term visits. Working on a UK Visitor Visa is prohibited, and applicants should be aware that these visas are almost always issued for six months or less. 

There are several types of UK Visitor Visas: 

  • Standard Visitor Visa
  • Permitted Paid Engagement Visa 
  • Marriage Visitor Visa
  • Transit Visa 
  • Visa for Chinese Tour Groups 

Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW): Nationals of certain countries can submit a UK eVisa application to obtain an electronic visa waiver (EVW) instead of a visa. Eligible countries for this UK eVisa include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The EVW can be issued with a validity of up to 6 months for tourism, business, study, or medical purposes.  

Work visas

Short-term Work visas:

  • Temporary Work Visas
    • Charity Worker Visa 
    • Creative Worker Visa 
    • Government Authorized Exchange Visa 
    • International Agreement Visa 
    • Religious Worker Visa 
    • Seasonal Worker Visa 
  • Global Business Mobility visas 
    • Graduate Trainee Visa 
    • UK Expansion Worker Visa 
    • Secondment Worker Visa 
    • Service Supplier Visa 
  • Other types of Short-term Work visas: 
    • Youth Mobility Scheme Visa
    • Graduate Visa
    • High Potential Individual (HPI) Visa

Long-term Work visas:

  • Skilled Worker Visa (This visa has replaced the Tier 2 General Visa UK)
  • Global Business Mobility Visa (aka Senior or Specialist Worker Visa) 
  • Scale-up Worker Visa
  • Health and Care Worker Visa
  • Tier 2 Minister of Religion Visa
  • International Sportsperson Visa

Other Work visas:

While not all the UK Work Visa types and visa schemes listed below are accepting new applicants, they may be extended for current holders.   

  • British National (Overseas) Visa
  • Overseas Domestic Worker Visa
  • Frontier Worker Permit
  • Representative of an Overseas Business Visa 
  • Swiss Service Providers Visa
  • Turkish Businessperson Visa
  • Turkish Worker Visa

Business visas

The following visa types are intended for those looking to invest, develop businesses, or bring unique talents and skills to participate in the UK economy. 

  • Innovator Visa
  • Start-up Visa
  • Global Talent Visa
  • Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa 
  • Tier 1 Investor Visa

Study visas

Study visas are intended for applicants looking to earn a university degree, takes courses, or study at another educational institution. 

There are three types of Study Visa: 

  • Student Visa (16+ years old)
  • Child Student Visa (4-17 years old) 
  • Short Term Study Visa

Family visas

UK Family Visas are intended for those looking to join family members who are living and working in the UK. Types of UK Family Visas include the UK Spouse Visa, the UK Child Visa, and the UK Parent Visa. 

Family Visas allow applicants to become dependents of their family member in the UK and join them in the country for more than six months. 

There are several different types of UK Family visas. You can apply for a UK Family Visa if you are a: 

  • Spouse or partner 
  • Fiancé, fiancée, or proposed civil partner visa 
  • Child 
  • Parent  
  • Relative who will provide long-term care for the applicant 

There are two other types of Family Visas reserved for nationals of specific countries: 

EU Settlement scheme: 

This type of long-term residence permit is intended for family members of nationals from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein living in the UK before December 31, 2020. Applicants may also be family members of eligible citizens of Northern Ireland. Applicants must be outside the UK at the time of applying. 

Ukraine Settlement scheme:

Free of charge, this visa allows applicants to join family members in the UK or extend their visas. Each family member must apply separately, even children. Approved applicants will be able to live, work, and study in the UK with access to public funds.

Other UK visas

Family Reunion visa for refugees

If you were forced to leave your country and were separated from a family member (partner or child), you may be eligible to apply for the Family Reunion Visa for Refugees. If you have been given asylum or 5 years of humanitarian protection and are not a British citizen, your family members are eligible to apply for this visa. 

Ancestry Visa for commonwealth citizens

If you have a British grandparent and meet the eligibility criteria, you can apply for an Ancestry Visa to work in the UK. 

UK Visa requirements

Depending on the purpose of your visit, there are certain documents that are required for most UK Visa types. The UK Visa requirements will depend on what category of visa you are applying for (Study, Work, Visitor, etc.) and the type of visa you need. Most visa types can be applied and paid for online.

Regardless of the category or type of visa there are looking to obtain, most applicants will need to the following list of documents:

Valid passport

All applicants are required to have a passport that is valid at the time of application. For short-term visas, the passport must be valid for the duration of the applicant’s stay. Passports should contain one blank page for the visa.

Visa application form (online)

For most UK Visas, applicants can apply directly online by filling out the provided form. Manual forms can also be completed depending on the applicant’s nationality.

Proof of payment

Applicants must pay the relevant visa fees for their application to be processed. Nearly all visas can be paid for online.

UK Visa application

The application process will vary depending on how long you intend to stay, the purpose of your visit, and other factors. However, applicants for UK Visas will generally follow these steps to acquire their visa to the UK.  

  1. Prepare and assemble your application

    Determine when you need to travel: Identify the general timeline of your travel plans so you can allow enough time to apply for and receive your visa to the UK. On average, the earliest you can apply for certain visas is: 3 months before your planned travel date for Visitor Visas, 3 months before the start date of your employment for Work Visas, and 6 months before the start of your course for Student and Child Student Visas.

    Find your application destination: While most UK Visa types can be applied for online, some may require visiting a physical location. Determine where you can officially apply for your specific visa type.

    Select your visa category: There are five main categories of UK Visas, each one intended for a specific purpose of travel. Make sure to select the correct visa type before applying. You can choose to apply for visas within the broader categories of Work Visa, Business Visa, Study Visa, Visitor Visa, or Family Visa. Other visa types include Family Reunion Visas for Refugees and Ancestry Visas.

    Select your visa type: After determining the category of visa, you will need to choose which type of visa is best for your unique situation. For example, if you are looking to join your spouse as a dependent in the UK, you will apply for a Family Visa as a spouse or partner.

    Assemble your application: Almost every visa requires basic materials like a valid passport. In addition, each visa type requires different supplemental application materials, so once you know your visa type make sure to verify and collect the required materials for your application. Once you have assembled your application materials, most applicants can fill out and submit a UK Visa application online at the official GOV.UK website. The application form will be included in the online submission process. If you are traveling with dependents, each one will need to apply for the visa separately.

  2. Pay your visa fee

    Almost all UK Visas require a visa fee which depends on the type of visa you are applying for. Your application will not be processed until this fee is paid. Almost all visa fees can be paid online. If you have dependents, each one will need to pay separately. A healthcare surcharge is also required as part of the application process for those who are applying to work, study, or join their family in the UK. It is also required for applicants planning to stay for more than 6 months or anyone not applying to live permanently in the UK.
    * For those applying for the Ukraine Settlement Scheme, the application is free.

  3. Verify your identity

    When they apply, all applicants will need to show eligibility and prove their identity with certain documents. The method applicants use to verify their identity will depend on which passport they hold, and the visa type they have selected. Proving your identity as an applicant can be done by taking an appointment at a visa application center or downloading and using the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ mobile application.

    Applying at the visa application center: Applicants who are required to take an appointment at a visa application center will be directed to the website of an external company. Through this link, applicants can book an appointment to provide biometric information including fingerprints and a photograph. Check your document checklist to confirm what you need to provide. It may be required to travel to another location or country to reach the nearest visa application center. Most visa application centers will have free appointments available, but some locations will require a fee of £55.

    Check the documents for your visa type before making your appointment at the visa application center. For most visa types, applicants can either upload documents before their appointment or bring their documents to the appointment and have them scanned for a fee. The visa application center will likely keep your passport and possibly some documents while processing your application. If you apply for someone else, they will need to attend the appointment at the visa application center. They will also need to sign a copy of their visa application form.

    Applying through the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ application: Depending on your nationality and visa type, you may be asked to submit a scan of your identity document and a digital photo of your face to the UK Immigration: ID Check mobile application. You will need to scan and upload these materials to prove eligibility as part of the application. Check your document checklist to confirm what you need to provide. If you are applying for someone else, they will need to use the application to confirm their identity. 

  4. Receive a decision

    After you have officially submitted your application, you will need to wait for it to be processed. Once your application is processed, you will receive either a letter or an email with the results. This document will include the next steps you need to take.

    If your application is successful, you will either receive a sticker (aka vignette) in your passport (if you applied at a visa application center with your biometric information), or be given access to view your immigration status information online (if you used the mobile application to confirm your identity).

    If your application is refused you will receive a letter detailing the reasons for refusal. You may have a right to either an administrative review or an immigration decision appeal if you feel your application should be reconsidered.

UK visa processing time

The processing time for a UK Visa depends on many factors including what passport you hold, and the visa type you have applied for. For example, the standard processing time for a UK Visitor Visa or a UK Study Visa is 3 weeks. A UK Family Visa, however, can take on average 24 weeks to process. 

Please note that processing times are subject to change. For example, it currently takes an average of 7 weeks to process this a UK Visitor Visa or a Study Visa. Applicants should be sure to check for any updates concerning processing times well before applying. 

Where to apply for a UK visa

Almost all UK Visa applications can be submitted online at the official GOV.UK website. For applications that need to be submitted at a physical location, there are visa application centers available in many locations around the world. 

Visa application centers are external companies. Applicants will be directed from the GOV.UK page to a link for a visa application center where they can book an appointment. 

Applicants applying through a visa application center should confirm the location and timing of their appointment before arriving.

UK visa FAQ

Is it hard to get a visa to the UK?

Obtaining a visa to the UK depends on your passport and the type of visa you are applying for. Each visa has its own required documents and application process.

However, in general, the application process for most visas is a simple and straightforward process that can be completed online. For almost all visas, the application and payment can be done electronically through the official GOV.UK website.

Most applicants will need to make an appointment at a visa application center. In that case, the process might take more time as some applicants may need to travel to submit their applications.

How do you qualify for a UK Visa?

With many different types of UK Visas available, it’s important to select the correct visa type for your situation. Before applying, you must check the eligibility criteria to determine whether or not you qualify for that specific visa type.

Can a friend sponsor me for a UK Visa?

A friend can sponsor you to come to the UK as a visitor but cannot sponsor you to immigrate or relocate permanently to the UK.

Does the UK Visa require an interview?

Some visa types, such as the Student Visa, do require you to attend an interview. If your visa type requires an interview to be conducted, you will be informed either during the online application process or during your appointment at the visa application center.

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