Who needs a visa? How do you apply for one?

The UK has very tough immigration laws, which are enforced. Before travelling, make sure you have all the required visas and documentation or you will be refused entry. This section is intended to give you an overview of what documentation you may need.

Who needs a UK visa?

If you are not a British citizen you might need entry clearance (that is permission) to enter the UK. The Home Office has three categories based on entry requirements:

  • European Economic Area Citizens: Do not need entry clearance to enter the UK. The European Economic Area (EEA) includes all EU countries plus Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. Swiss nationals also fall under this category.
  • Non-Visa Nationals: Only require an entry certificate when going to the UK to work or to settle. This category primarily consists of Commonwealth citizens.
  • Visa Nationals: Need a visa to enter the UK for any reason.

You will also need a visa if you:

  • are stateless (you do not have a nationality)
  • hold a non-national travel document (a travel document which does not give you the nationality or citizenship of the country that issued it)
  • hold a passport issued by an authority unrecognised in the UK.

Nationals of the following 10 countries now need a visa when staying in the UK longer than six months: Australia, Canada, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea and the USA.

You can find out what type of entry clearance you need based on your nationality, purpose of the visit and country location, by going to the Foreign Office page, click here.

Visas are issued for a maximum stay of six months. If you require a visa and wish to remain in the UK longer than six months, you must leave the country and apply for a new visa. If you wish to leave and return to the UK within the duration of your visa, it will save you a lot of trouble if you apply for a multiple-entry visa. If you only have a single-entry visa you will have to apply for a new visa each time you leave the country.

Where to apply for a United Kingdom visa?

Visas and other forms of entry clearance (such as an entry certificate) for England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland need to be obtained prior to your arrival in Great Britain. If you require a visa there is no way to make an application on arrival and the likelihood is that you will be refused entry to the United Kingdom.

Applications for entry into the UK should be made at any British Diplomatic Post in your country of residence (to find the address and phone number of the one nearest to you click here).

How to apply for a UK visa?

You will always need at least the following documents:

  • a visa application form (you can obtain it for free at your nearest British mission overseas or you can download it from
  • a valid passport or travel document
  • two (sometimes three) recent passport-sized (45mm x 35mm), colour photographs
  • the visa fee (which will be paid for in local currency)
  • the supporting documents required for the visa category you are applying for.

Supporting documents may include:

  • a work permit
  • a letter of acceptance from a university
  • evidence of your qualifications: i.e. diplomas, certificates, references
  • evidence that you will be able to support yourself and your dependants during your stay in the UK, i.e. bank statements, a letter from your bank

Although straightforward visa applications can be processed within 24 hours, this is not always the case. It is recommended that you allow ample time for you application to be processed, if you are concerned about arriving in the UK for a specific date.

If you are denied a visa you will be notified in writing of the refusal and the reasons for it. In certain cases you will have the right to appeal the decision and as such will be given advice on how to do so. Instead of appealing you can simply apply again, but if the reasons for the initial refusal still apply, your application will probably be turned down again.

Further reading

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