In this article, we look at what travellers need to know about meeting the UK visa requirements and making a successful application to the Home Office.

If you are a national of a non EEA (European Economic Area) country or Switzerland and you wish to enter the UK, even if it is only to travel through the UK to reach another destination, you will usually be required to apply for a UK visa.

The different categories of UK visa have their own individual requirements which applicants must satisfy, along with the general requirements common to most UK visas.

Choose the right visa

The type of UK visa that you apply for will depend on your reasons for travelling to the UK, for instance, for a holiday, to study or to work.

The most common types of UK visa are:

  • Standard visitor visa – for a holiday in the UK, to visit family, for business purposes, for short-term medical treatment, to participate in sports or creative events, and to perform (artist, musician, entertainer).
  • Marriage visitor visa – to get married or enter into a civil partnership, or give notice of such.
  • Transit visa – to travel through the UK to another destination but not stop in the UK for more than 48 hours.
  • Student visa – short-term, both for adults and children.
  • Work visa – there are several long-term and short-term work visas depending on the details of the job, the applicant and the employment arrangements.
  • Family visa – to live with certain types of family member in the UK for longer than 6 months.

Check you meet the visa requirements

When applying for any UK visa, basic eligibility will rely on your ability to demonstrate that:

  • You will depart the UK once your visit ends
  • You can afford to support yourself and anyone dependant on you during your time in the UK, including the costs of your travel out of the UK and journey home or to another destination
  • Your reasons for visiting the UK are fitting for the type of visa and you can provide proof of those reasons, e.g. proof of confirmed place on a study course

In addition, each type of UK visa will have its own individual requirements and you must check to ensure that you meet all of these requirements before making your application.

Standard visitor visa requirements

There are several applications for this type of UK visa:

  • Take a holiday in the UK
  • Visit family members who live in the UK
  • Undergo short-term medical treatment
  • Short-term business reasons (e.g. attending a business conference or taking part in a musical performance(
  • Participating in an exchange programme or educational visit as long as you are under 18 years of age
  • Convert a civil partnership into a marriage
  • Travelling through the UK on the way to another destination

During the visa application process, you will be required to evidence your reasons for visiting the UK and provide documentation as proof.

For instance, where you wish to undertake private medical treatment in the UK that can be completed within the visa’s 6 month time limit, you must be able to demonstrate that this treatment has already been arranged prior to your arrival in the UK by providing supporting documentation such as a doctor’s letter which states the medical condition that will be treated, how much the private medical treatment will cost, how long the treatment will last, and where the medical treatment will be carried out.

Another example is where a couple wish to visit the UK to convert their civil partnership into a marriage. In this instance, for each standard visitor visa application, proof must be provided of the existing civil partnership and that arrangements have been made for the change to marriage in the UK.

Short-term study visa requirements 

Generally, a short term study visa will allow you to remain in the UK for 6 months while you attend a short study course.

When you apply for a short term study visa, you must provide evidence that you have been accepted onto a course of study with a recognised educational institution in the UK.

Should you be under 18 years old, you must also demonstrate that your parents have given you permission to travel to the UK and take part in the study course, and that travel and accommodation have been arranged prior to your arrival in the UK.

Work visa requirements

The UK operates a broad range of work and business-related visas. The most commonly used is the Tier 2 general visa for highly skilled workers. This route is suitable for persons who have been offered skilled employment in the UK by a licensed sponsor. This type of visa generally lasts for 3 years but may be extended to just over 5 years in length, and can lead to settlement in the UK.

Should you apply for a general work visa, you must be able to provide a valid certificate of sponsorship for your employment which states the job offered and your personal details in connection.

In addition, you must provide details of a salary that is appropriate for the employment offered, and demonstrate that you have sufficient savings to support yourself when you first arrive in the UK.

Transit visa

A transit visa is used when you will pass through the UK to another destination but not stay in the UK for more than 48 hours.

To apply for a transit visa, you must demonstrate that you will be ‘in transit’ to another destination by providing proof of your travel (tickets to the other destination) and proof of your ability to enter the other destination (appropriate passport or travel documents).
Where you will stop over in the UK for less than 48 hours, you must demonstrate that you can afford to do this and that you have no intention of remaining in the UK beyond that time limit.

General grounds for admissibility

While you may satisfy the requirements under the specific visa category, you will also need to be show you meet the UK’s general grounds for admission, otherwise your application will be refused by reason of:

  • Criminal record, including violation of immigration laws such as remaining in the UK past the allowed time limit and deportation
  • Not having or providing the correct travel documentation such as your passport, a relevant visa or other required travel documents
  • Deception, for instance, where your real reasons for visiting the UK are different to those fitting for the visa you hold

Rules for EU citizens

The rights and rules impacting EU citizens coming to the UK will be impacted by Brexit.

Whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal, there will be no change in the requirements for EU citizens entering the UK until 2021. EU freedom of movement will continue until the UK formally leaves the EU.

Under the latest government plans, the UK immigration system is to be reformed into a skills-based system that would see EU citizens subject to the same immigration and visa requirements as non-EEA nationals.

Should EU citizens wish to remain in the UK after Brexit, they have to register under the EU Settlement Scheme, provided they were resident in the UK prior to Brexit. This will lead to either settled or pre-settled status being granted, depending on the individual’s length of continuous residence in the UK. Either status affords the right to work in the UK, access healthcare through the NHS, education, state benefits, and the ability to travel in and out of the country free from immigration control.

For EU citizens who arrive in the UK after Brexit, under the latest government proposals, there will be a new European Temporary Leave to Remain status that must be applied for. This is a temporary immigration status which allows the holder to remain in the UK for up to 36 months and provides the same rights as settled or pre-settled status. The individual must however leave the UK after this period of leave has ended, unless they can apply for leave to remain under a different visa category.

How legal advice can help

Given the time and costs associated with applying for a visa, it is worth ensuring you meet the relevant UK visa requirements and that your application is comprehensive and complies with the Home Office guidance.

A solicitor specialising in immigration can help if you are unclear about your visa options to travel to the UK, whether you are a non-EEA national or an EU citizen concerned about the end of EU free movement and the impact of future system reform.



UK Visa Requirements (Applicant Guidance) 2
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Anne Morris is the founder and Managing Director of DavidsonMorris. A highly experienced lawyer, she is recognised by Chambers & Partners and the Legal 500 UK as a trusted adviser to multinationals, large corporates and SMEs, delivering strategic immigration and global mobility advice. Anne is also an active commentator on UK immigration and HR matters.

Anne Morris

Anne Morris is the founder and Managing Director of DavidsonMorris. A highly experienced lawyer, she is recognised by Chambers & Partners and the Legal 500 UK as a trusted adviser to multinationals, large corporates and SMEs, delivering strategic immigration and global mobility advice. Anne is also an active commentator on UK immigration and HR matters.