Who needs a visa to enter the UK?

Immigration and visa systemA Quick Guide to UK Visas

  • General. Anyone coming to the UK who is not a British citizen must ensure they have the appropriate permission to be here. The rules that apply to you will depend on where you come from, how long you intend to stay, what you intend to do whilst you are here, your previous immigration history and whether your presence is likely to be regarded as undesirable.
  • EU citizens, European Economic Area and Swiss nationals. EU citizens have an absolute right to visit the UK and do not need visas to do so. Most EU citizens are also entitled to work in the UK, but work restrictions currently apply to Bulgarian and Romanian nationals and will also apply to Croatians from 1 July 2013 when Croatia becomes a member.
  • Non-European family members of EU/EEA citizens. Different rules apply to family members of this category to family members of British citizens or other settled persons. Generally they need to apply for a residence permit if they are intending to remain in the UK.
  • Visa nationals. The Home Office publishes a list of visa nationals. These are countries whose citizens will always require a visa in order to come to the UK, for whatever purpose.
  • Non-visa nationals. Citizens of those countries that don't appear on the visa nationals list are termed non-visa nationals. Citizens of these countries do not routinely require visas to visit the UK. However, this only applies to short visits (usually six months or less). Long-term visitors who are studying, working or settling here for any other reason (family) will still need to obtain a visa. Non-visa nationals also includes British overseas citizens, British overseas territories citizens, British nationals (overseas), British protected persons and British subjects.
  • Diplomats and other government officials. There is a separate, simplified process for diplomats and government officials posted to the UK, but they still need to apply for the appropriate permission to remain in the country.

  • Types of Visas

    • Short-term visas are generally granted for periods of up to six months. Categories of short-term visitor visas include general (tourist, visiting friends), child, Approved Destination Status (ADS: a special category for Chinese nationals), family, short-term study, sportsperson, entertainer, prospective entrepreneur, medical treatment, marriage/civil partnership (for those not intending to live in the UK) and transit.
    • Points-Based System visas. The Points-Based System is designed to provide visas for those coming to work, study or invest in the UK for periods in excess of six months. Applicants are awarded points against a set of fixed criteria and if they achieve the stipulated number of points they are granted a visa. There are four separate tiers of points-based visas; Tier 1 for investors, entrepreneurs and exceptional talent, Tier 2 for skilled workers (who must be sponsored by an accredited firm), Tier 4 for students and Tier 5 for the Youth Mobility Scheme. There is no Tier 3. For several of these categories there is a fixed ceiling for the number of visas that can be issued in any one year.
    • Other visas. Other types of visas include ancestry visas for those who can demonstrate the required British ancestry and wish to work, spouse and partner visas for those joining their partners in the UK and family visas for other family members who meet certain conditions. There are also special categories of visa for domestic workers and representatives of overseas businesses or media organisations (newspapers, news agency, broadcasters).


    Unclear on which visa is right for you? Call one of our specialist immigration lawyers on +44(0)20 7724 4488 or send us an enquiry.

    We use cookies to ensure that you get the best experience of our website. By continuing to use this website you agree to this use of cookies. You can, however, change the cookie settings in your browser at any time. Further details of our cookie policy can be found here Close