Visa Requirements for the UK

Types of Visas for the UK

TripSavvy 

There are more than 100 countries (called "visa nationals") whose residents require visas to enter the UK even as tourists, but the U.S. is not one of them. Americans may enter the region's four countries—England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales—visa-free and stay for up to six months at a time.

Whereas mainland Europeans have historically been able to stay in the UK for as long as they please—to live, work, and study for a lifetime, even—Brexit has changed things. The UK's departure from the European Union (EU) means that UK residents may require visas to visit EU countries for longer than a month and vice versa. This is slated to take effect after December 31, 2020.

Although Brexit put a halt to freedom of movement between Great Britain and Europe's Schengen Area, these changes have little impact on American travelers. Unlike people from some countries, Americans, Canadians, and Australians do not need tourist visas to travel in the UK for up to six months, given they have a passport that's valid for the length of stay (or to be safe, six full months).

The UK offers 48-hour transit visas for long layovers, six-month visitor visas for visa nationals, student visas, work visas, and family visas for parents, prospective partners, and spouses of UK citizens, all of which are laid out in detail on Gov.UK. You can typically apply and pay for your visa online, but you must do so from outside the UK. Alternatively, you can apply for a visa at a UK visa application center in your own country.

Visa Requirements for the UK
Visa Type How Long Is It Valid? Required Documents Application Fees
Standard Visitor Visa Up to 10 years, for six-month stays or less Valid passport $120 to $1,032, depending on length of stay
Work Visa One to five years Job offer from a licensed sponsor $300 to $1,535, depending on length of stay
Short-Term Study Visa Six or 11 months Valid passport, proof of financial stability, acceptance letter, tuberculosis test results $122 for six months, $234 for 11 months
Tier 4 General Student Visa As long as the course lasts Valid passport, proof of financial stability, acceptance letter, tuberculosis test results $438, plus another $438 per dependent
Tier 4 Child Student Visa Three to six years, depending on age Parental consent, valid passport, proof of financial stability, acceptance letter, tuberculosis test results $438
Family Visa Two and a half years to unlimited, depending on the visa Proof of income, proof of relationship, knowledge of English (varies by visa) $1,916 from outside the UK or $1,299 from within the UK
Transit Visa 48 hours Proof of flight $44 if you're not going through border control, $80 if you are

Standard Visitor Visa

If you are a national of the U.S., Canada, or Australia, or live legally in any of those countries, you don't need to apply for a tourist visa before you enter the UK. Free entry, usually of up to six months, is granted when you show a valid passport to a UK immigration officer at the airport. You may be asked questions about the nature of your visit to ensure that you meet the country's immigration rules. This applies to citizens of most (not all) South American and Caribbean countries as well as Japan. 

Visa Fees and Applications

If you are from any of the 100-plus visa-requiring nations, have a criminal record, or have been refused entry to the UK before, you'll likely need to obtain a standard visitor visa before you go. This visa can be used not just for leisure but also for short-term business or to receive medical treatment.

  • The UK visitor visa lasts six months and costs $120 (£95).
  • To apply, you'll need a passport that's valid for the duration of your stay, travel dates and details, an estimate of how much your trip will cost, proof of income, contact details, and your parents' names and birthdays.
  • You can't work on a visitor visa, but you can study for up to 30 days so long as it's not your primary reason for visiting.
  • The earliest you can apply is three months in advance of travel. It takes about three weeks to process.
  • If you're traveling to receive medical treatment, you can extend the visa to 11 months for a $239 (£190) fee.
  • You can extend the standard visitor visa to a long-term visitor visa for $453 for two years, $823 for five years, or $1,032 for 10 years.
  • Keep in mind that the UK's tourist visa does not grant entry into the EU. Only within the Schengen Area (which doesn't include the UK) can visitors travel freely without border controls.

Work Visa

The UK's work visas fall into two categories: short-term (Tier 5) and long-term (Tier 2). In order to obtain a work visa for the UK, you must be a skilled worker and already have a job offer from a licensed sponsor. You will generally apply for any long-term visa through your employer, which must assign you a certificate of sponsorship in order for you to start work.

The Tier 2 general work visa generally allows for a stay of up to five years and 14 days and costs $768 for up to three years and $1,535 for more than three years. You must apply from outside the UK. You can also bring family members with you for an additional charge. Temporary worker visas (Tier 5), on the contrary, are sometimes granted to charity workers, religious workers, creatives, and seasonal workers. They cost about $300 and allow for a year-long stay. Other special visas may be granted to entrepreneurs and innovators. For more information about employment in the UK, visit the work visa page of the immigration website.

Study Visas

If your primary reason for visiting the UK is to study, you can do so via a short-term study visa (six to 11 months, not applicable for public-funded study), a Tier 4 general student visa for longer university schooling, or a Tier 4 child student visa for kids between the ages of 4 and 17. All students except children must also pay a health care surcharge (about $200 per year of study) when you apply. More details about eligibility and applications can be found on the UK immigration website.

Visa Type Required Documents Fees When to Apply How Long Does the Visa Take to Process?  How Long Can You Stay?
Short-Term Study Visa Proof of financial stability and the course you’re studying $122 for six months, $234 for 11 months

Up to three months in advance

Up to three weeks Six or 11 months
Tier 4 General Student Visa Proof of financial stability and the course you’re studying

$438, plus another $438 per dependent

Up to three months in advance Up to three weeks As long as the course lasts
Tier 4 Child Student Visa Proof of financial stability and the course you’re studying $438 Up to three months in advance Up to three weeks Up to six years for children under 16 or up to three years for students aged 16 and 17

Family Visa

If you're interested in joining a family member, whether it be a parent, a child, a civil parter, spouse, or potential spouse, in the UK, you may be able to obtain a family visa. Joining a family member costs $1,916 if you're applying from outside the UK or $1,299 if you're applying from within the UK. Partners and spouses must be married or prove that they've lived together for two years. All partners and spouses must provide proof of the relationship through photos and other documents. The details vary based on whether you're a parent, child, or partner, but you can find specific eligibility requirements and information on the family visa page of Gov.UK. It takes up to 12 weeks to receive a decision when you apply from outside the UK, or up to eight weeks if you apply within the UK.

Transit Visa

Visa nationals must obtain a transit visa when staying in the UK for less than 48 hours. You must show travel details such as airline bookings when applying.

Visa Overstays

Overstaying a visa in the UK can be considered a criminal offense that could warrant deportation and prison time, although the latter consequence is not very common. You have a 14-day grace period after your visa expires to leave the region, but if you overstay for 90 days or longer, you can wind up being barred from the UK for at least a year.

Extending Your Visa

It is possible to extend most UK visas for a variety of reasons, but it may cost an additional fee and should be done within the UK. Family visas, for instance, typically need to be extended every two and a half years. After living in the UK full-time for five years, the visa recipient may be eligible for indefinite leave to remain (ILR). You can apply for a family visa extension online for around $1,300, but you must continue to meet the original requirements for the visa. If your home country is in the European Union and you would like to remain in the UK post-Brexit, you may be eligible for the EU Settlement Scheme, the deadline for which is June 30, 2021.

Student and work visas can normally only be extended on the basis that you will continue or begin a new course of work or study with a certified sponsor in the UK. In the case of a tourist visa, you can only apply for an extension if your total time in the UK does not exceed six months (if, for example, your original visa was valid for only three months, then you may apply for permission to stay for another three). It costs about $500 to do so and the visa extension must be obtained before your original visa expires.

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