How to apply for a visa to come to the UK

Choose a visa

You may need a visa to come to the UK to study, work, visit or join family.

There are different visas depending on:

  • where you come from
  • why you want to come to the UK
  • how long you want to stay for
  • your personal circumstances and skills

Before you apply, you must check if you need a visa and what type you need. Depending on your nationality, you might not need a visa to visit or transit through the UK.

Your application must be approved before you travel.

You do not need to apply for a visa if you’re an Irish citizen.

If you want to visit the UK

Apply for a Standard Visitor visa to visit the UK for up to 6 months. For example:

  • for a holiday or to see family and friends
  • for a business trip or meeting
  • to do a short course of study

You must apply for a Marriage Visitor visa if you want to visit the UK to get married or register a civil partnership.

If you have a visitor visa you cannot take a job in the UK.

If you’re travelling through the UK

You might need a visa if you’re travelling through the UK on your way to another country, for example if you have a layover between flights.

Apply for a visa to travel through the UK.

If you want to study in the UK

Your course length, type and place of study affect which visa to apply for.

Standard Visitor visa lets you do a short course of study that lasts no longer than 6 months.

Short-term study visa lets you come to the UK to study an English language course that is over 6 months and up to 11 months.

Student visa is usually for a longer course. You must be sponsored by a licensed college or university and have a confirmed place. On this visa, you may be able to do some work.

Child Student visa is for 4 to 17 year olds who want to study at an independent school. If you’re 16 or over, this visa lets you do some work.

If you want to work in the UK

You can work in the UK on a short or long-term basis with a work visa. There are many types of work visa.

The visa you need depends upon:

  • your skills and qualifications
  • if you have a job offer and sponsorship
  • if you want to bring your family with you
  • what you’ll be doing – for example sporting, charitable or religious work

You can set up a business with an Innovator Founder visa.

If you want to join family in the UK

If you’re a spouse, partner or family member of someone who has British citizenship or settlement in the UK, you can apply for a family visa to join them. They may need to show that they can support you financially.

You may be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) after a set amount of time living in the UK.

If your family member is in the UK on a visa

You may be able to apply for a visa to join a family member who’s in the UK on a visa. They must be either:

  • your spouse or partner
  • your parent if you’re 18 or under

Check what visa you’ll need to join them.

Family reunion visas for refugees

If you were separated from your partner or child when you were forced to leave your country, they can apply to join you in the UK.

Your family members can apply if you have been given asylum or 5 years’ humanitarian protection, and not have British citizenship.

If your family member is from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein

You can apply for a free EU Settlement Scheme family permit to come to the UK if you have a close family member who:

  • was living in the UK by 31 December 2020
  • has pre-settled or settled status
  • you had a relationship with by 31 December 2020 (unless you’re applying for a child who was born or adopted after this date)

Close family members include your spouse or civil partner, child, grandchild, parent or grandparent.

A family permit lets you live, work and study in the UK for up to 6 months. You can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to stay in the UK after your family permit expires. You usually need to apply within 3 months of arriving in the UK.

Other ways to get permission to live in the UK

If you’re from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein

If you started living in the UK by 31 December 2020, you may be able to apply to the free EU Settlement Scheme instead of applying for a visa. The deadline to apply was 30 June 2021, but you can still apply if you can show reasonable grounds for the delay in applying.

Check if you can still apply to the EU Settlement Scheme.

You can only apply from outside the UK if you have a valid passport or national identity card with a biometric chip.

Commonwealth citizens

You can apply for an Ancestry visa to work in the UK if you have a British grandparent and meet other eligibility criteria.

You may have right of abode to live in the UK.

If you’re a Commonwealth citizen and cannot prove your right to be in the UK, read about the Windrush scheme.

Returning residents

You’ll need to apply for a returning resident visa to come back to the UK if one of the following is true:

  • you had indefinite leave to remain under the EU Settlement Scheme (‘settled status’) and left the UK for more than 5 continuous years (or 4 continuous years if you’re a Swiss citizen or their family member)
  • you had permanent permission to stay in the UK (‘indefinite leave to remain’) but it was not under the EU Settlement Scheme and you left the UK for more than 2 years

Other visas

There may be another visa that’s right for you based on your circumstances. Check if you need a visa and what other visas you’re eligible for.

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