Do You Need a Visa for the UK?

UK Entry Visa: Close Up
••• UK Entry Visa. Classix / Getty Images

I'm planning a visit to England. Do I need a visa on my passport to enter the UK?

Whether you need a visa  for the United Kingdom depends upon where you come from and why you are coming. 

Tourist Visas

If you are a national of the United States, Canada or Australia, or live legally in those countries, you don't need to apply for a tourist visa before you enter the United Kingdom. Visas, usually for visits of up to six months, are granted on entry, when you present your passport, as long as you satisfy the immigration officer that the purpose of your visit meets UK Immigration Rules.

There is no charge for this kind of visa granted on entry.

The same rules apply to citizens of most, but not all, South American and Caribbean countries as well as Japan. 

If you have a criminal record or you've been refused entry to the UK before, it's probably a good idea to apply for a visa before you show up an an airport or port of entry, just to be safe.

Student Visas

If you plan to study at a university for more than six months (or more than 11 months if you are taking an English language course), you need to apply in advance for a study visa. This visa costs £170 (in 2016). You will also have to pay the Healthcare Surcharge  (£150 per year of study) when you apply (more about that below). Different rules apply for short term study visas and child study visas.

Find out more about eligibility and rules for student visas.

Work Visas

The rules that apply for work visas depend upon what kind of work you will be doing, your role in your organization and how long you will be working in the UK.

If you come from a Commonwealth country and at least one of your grandparents was a UK citizen, you may be eliglible for a UK Ancestry Visa that is good for five years. The Healthcare Surcharge is charged to people coming to the UK to work.

Find out more about work visas.

Other Special Visas

You will need a special visa if:

People Who Don't Need UK Visas

If you are a citizen of a country that is a member of the European Union (EU), The European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland, you don't need a visa to visit, live in or work in the UK. But you will need to carry a passport or European identity document. If you arrive in the UK as a diplomat or on official government business for your country you won't need a visa. Family members joining you or traveling with you probably will need one though.

Impact of Brexit 

As of December 2016, the visa rules that apply to EU and EEA citizens have not changed and are unlikely to change in the near future. The UK is not expected to trigger the process (Article 50) of removing itself from the EU until March 2017. And once it does, the negotiation period will take two years. So, at least, until March 2019, things will probably remain the same. This is, of course, a fluid situation so it is a good idea to check the UK Immigration website just to be sure. 

What is the Healthcare Surcharge?

In April 2015, the UK government implemented new rules to prevent health tourists coming to the UK to use the free National Health Service (NHS).

If you are coming for long term study or to work, part of your visa application process is payment of a health surcharge. The fee covers every year of your stay in the UK. Although it may seem expensive, it is far cheaper than private health insurance for the same period and it allows you to use the NHS in the same way as British citizens and residents can use it.

Does a UK Visa Give Me Access to the Rest of Europe?

No, it does not.  Most of the EU, along with countries outside the EU that are members of the EEA, are members of a treaty that establishes the Schengen Area. (Schengen is the town in Luxembourg where the treaty was signed.)

Within the Schengen borders, visitors with a Schengen Visa, can travel freely, from one country to another, without border controls. The UK and Ireland opted out of this part of the Schengen treaty.

So if you are visiting either, you will need a separate Schengen visa to travel in Europe and Iceland as well as a UK visa.

Check here for a full list of countries currently in the Schengen area.

How Can I Find Out More

If you're still not sure whether you need a visa, you should visit the UK's very handy online questionnaire Do I Need a UK Visa. It's a step by step questionnaire that will lead you to definitive answers on the visa conditions for citizens of your country and the kinds of visas that are available.

If it does turn out that you need one, you should allow at least three months for your application to be processed. You can apply for, and usually pay for, a visa online at Visa4UK. You must be outside the UK when you apply. Alternatively, you can apply for a visa at a UK visa application center in your own country.

Find a full list of visa application centers here.