Do Academic Visitors Need a Visa for the UK?

academic visitors to uk


To visit the UK for academic purposes as an overseas national, you may need an academic visitor visa.

Not all visitors to the UK need to apply for a visa, but travelling to Britain without the relevant permission can result in you being refused entry at the border. This makes is critical to understand what kind of permission you need while planning your visit and to have this in place for when you travel.

Changes to the UK visitor rules take effect on 31 January 2024 which will relax the restrictions on permissible activities for academics and scientists, among others.

In this guide, we explain the UK visitor visa rules for foreign academics and what you’ll need to do before you travel to avoid issues at the border.


Is there an Academic Visitor visa for the UK?

Overseas nationals are permitted to visit the UK for a temporary period, typically for either 6 or 12 months, for the purpose of engaging in academic activities.

While some overseas nationals are allowed to enter as visitors without a visa, others will need to have secured a visit visa, even if only applying for a stay of 6 months. Additionally, all academic visits lasting longer than 6 months will require a visitor visa, regardless of their nationality.

Under the UK’s Immigration Rules for visitors, a visit visa for academic purposes is a subcategory of the Standard Visitor visa, but is also known as an Academic Visitor visa. This visa will allow those from overseas academic institutions to take part in formal exchange arrangements with UK counterparts or to carry out their own research during a sabbatical from their home institution.

If you are either a senior doctor or dentist, you can also take part in research under an Academic Visitor visa. Additionally, as a doctor or dentist, you can teach and/or undertake clinical practice in the UK, provided this is not a permanent post or position.



Academic visitor visa permissible activities

If you are travelling to the UK under an Academic Visitor visa, or visa-free but for academic purposes, or with an EVW or ETA, you must be coming to the UK to engage in activities permitted under the visitor rules. The different academic activities permissible include:

  • taking part in a formal exchange arrangement with a UK counterpart
  • carrying out research in the UK for your own purposes while on sabbatical leave from your home institution overseas
  • if you are an eminent doctor or dentist, taking part in either research, teaching and/or clinical practice, provided this does not amount to you filling a permanent teaching post or a clinical position in the UK
  • from 31 January 2024, engage in broader research projects during UK visits.

As a visiting academic, in addition to those activities which form the main purpose of your visit, you can also undertake other activities on the Academic Visitor visa route. This includes activities relating to your overseas job under the business sub-category of the Standard Visitor Visa, such as attending meetings, conferences, seminars and interviews. It could even include giving a one-off or short series of talks or speeches, as long as these are not organised as commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser.

You will also be able to enjoy tourism-related activities, such as sightseeing, visiting friends and family, or attending a short recreational course in the UK for a maximum of 30 days.


Do you need an Academic Visitor visa?

The requirement to apply in advance for an Academic Visitor visa will depend on your nationality.

So-called ‘visa nationals’ need to have entry clearance prior to travel to the UK as a visitor, or for any other reason for less than six months. A visa national refers to citizens of countries which appear on the UK’s visa national list. This means visa nationals will usually need to apply for an Academic Visitor visa to be able to engage in academic activities while in the UK.

Nationals of certain countries are required to have permission under the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) system to travel to the UK as a visitor. This replaces the electronic visa waiver (EVW) for nationals of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) visiting the UK.

In the case of non-visa nationals, which refer to those citizens whose nationality does not appear on the visa national list, an application will only be needed for a 12-month visa. However, when looking to come to the UK as a visiting academic for up to 6 months, non-visa nationals must still apply for entry clearance on arrival in the UK.


Academic visitors & ETA

The electronic travel authorisation (ETA) system is a new security measure to electronically screen travellers prior to visiting the UK. This means that once this system is fully in force, all foreign nationals subject to immigration control and who enter the UK for academic purposes will either require an Academic Visitor visa or an ETA.

The ETA system is now in effect for nationals of Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who now need to apply for an ETA instead of an EVW.

Over the course of 2024, all non-visa nationalities who are currently eligible to travel visa-free will need an ETA.

The cost to apply for an ETA online is £10. Decisions typically take no more than 3 working days.

On approval, an ETA will be valid for 2 years, where you can use this to visit the UK on a number of separate occasions. However, as authorisation will be electronically linked to the passport you applied with, if your passport is valid for less than 2 years, you will be required to re-apply prior to the ETA’s expiry date.



UK academic visitor visa requirements

To be eligible for an Academic Visitor visa, you must meet the basic eligibility requirements for a standard visitor visa. There are also additional eligibility requirements as a visiting academic planning to come to the UK for a period of more than 6 months.

The eligibility requirements for visitors include:

  • genuinely seeking to come to the UK for academic purposes permitted under the rules
  • being able to support yourself financially for the duration of your UK stay
  • being able to pay any reasonable costs relating to your stay, including the cost of your return or onward journey, without undertaking any paid work or accessing public funds
  • not intending to undertake any prohibited activities during your stay
  • intending to leave the UK once your authorised stay comes to an end
  • not trying to live in the UK for extended periods by way of frequent or successive visits
  • not intending to make the UK your main home.

You must meet these requirements, even if eligible for visa-free travel, an EVW or ETA.

Additional eligibility requirements apply to academics seeking to come to the UK for more than 6 months. You must also be able to prove that you:

  • intend to undertake one or more of the permitted activities under the visitor rules as a visiting academic for a period of up to 12 months
  • are highly qualified within your own field of expertise, usually by way of a PhD or higher
  • you are currently working in that field at an academic institution or at an institution of higher education overseas.


How to apply for an academic visitor visa

To apply for an Academic Visitor visa, you must complete an online application with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), pay the relevant fee and submit a valid passport or other travel document to prove your identity. If you are applying for a visa for more than 6 months, you may also need to schedule an appointment at an overseas visa application centre to enrol your biometrics, including a scan of your fingerprints and facial photo.

You will need to submit a number of supporting documents to prove that you meet the eligibility requirements as a visiting academic. This could include, for example, a letter from your employer outlining the start and end dates of your exchange or sabbatical, or details of the research to be undertaken. This could also include a letter from the UK host-organisation confirming the arrangements for your research, exchange or clinical practice.

If you are applying to come to the UK as a visiting academic for more than 6 months, you will need documentary proof that you are highly qualified in your field of expertise and currently working within that field at an academic or higher education institution overseas.

To research certain subjects at postgraduate level or above, you may need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) clearance certificate before you start your research. Depending on where you are from, you may also need a tuberculosis (TB) test certificate to prove that you do not have TB if you are coming to the UK for more than 6 months.


How much does an academic visitor visa cost?

The cost to apply for an Academic Visitor visa for between 6 and 12 months is £200.

A standard 6-month visitor visa costs of £115 . If you apply to stay longer once in the UK, permissible for up to 12 months in total, you will be required to pay an extension fee of £1000.


How long does an academic visitor visa take to process?

When applying for an Academic Visitor visa from overseas, having paid the relevant fee, proved your identity and attended any appointment, it will usually take up to 3 weeks for your application to be processed.

In some cases, depending on where you are applying from, you may be able to pay for a faster decision. For a priority decision within 5 working days, the cost is £250, while for a super priority decision by the end of the next working day, the cost is £1000. You will need to check the availability of priority services with the visa application centre in the country where you are applying.

Prior to booking any travel, it is advisable to await the outcome of your visa application. Even where you have paid for a faster decision, this does not guarantee a successful outcome; you must still meet the eligibility requirements as a visiting academic.

The earliest you can apply for an Academic Visitor Visa is 3 months before you travel.


Can you extend an academic visitor visa?

If you are already in the UK and have permission as a visiting academic for less than 12 months, you can apply to stay for up to 12 months in total. You must apply prior to expiry of your existing visa and continue to meet all the eligibility requirements.

When applying for an extension of stay, you will be asked to schedule an appointment at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point to provide your biometric information. You must also pay the £1000 fee, regardless of your nationality.

A decision will usually be made on an extension application within 8 weeks, unless you pay for a faster decision. During this time, you must not travel outside of the UK, Ireland, Channel Islands or Isle of Man until you have received your decision from UKVI. If you fail to comply with this requirement, you run the risk of your application being withdrawn.


Can you bring dependants with an academic visitor visa?

Under an Academic Visitor visa, your partner and any dependent children can apply to accompany or follow to join you in the UK for up to 12 months. They can either apply for a Standard Visitor visa in advance, or visit for 6 months and extend their stay once in the UK. However, they must apply separately to you and each pay the application fee.

Importantly, in respect of any dependent child in the UK with a parent who has permission as a visiting academic undertaking research for up to 12 months, that child will be permitted to attend a state-funded school or a state-funded academy. This is a specific exception made under the visitor rules for the children of visiting academics.

Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.


Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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