If you're an expat planning to travel, take up a short-term job offer, or make a more permanent move to the UK, you’ll likely need to apply for a visa. The process and availability of certain types of visas vary according to nationality.

The UK makes use of a points-based immigration system that treats EU and non-EU nationals equally. Irish nationals can still freely visit, live, and work in the UK. EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens can enter the UK for up to six months without a visa. However, if you're a European or non-European expat and you plan to stay for longer durations or for other reasons (such as work or study), you will need a visa. There are several work visas to choose from, and it's important to investigate exactly which type applies to your circumstances.

The official GOV.UK website provides up-to-date information on visas and immigration. Additionally, all prospective expats are encouraged to contact their local embassy or consulate for the latest requirements.

Below is a summary of some of the most commonly used visas for the UK.

Useful links

Standard visitor visas for the United Kingdom

The standard visitor visa allows for tourism, medical purposes, short courses of study, certain business activities, and academic research. It is valid for six months.

If you're visiting the UK on holiday, you may need a standard visitor visa, depending on your nationality. Irish citizens can continue to enter and live in the UK, and EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens can travel to the UK for holidays or short trips without requiring a visa. EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens can continue to use the automatic ePassport gates to pass through the border on arrival. All visitors will need a valid passport to cross the UK border. 

You cannot use an EU, EEA, or Swiss national ID card to enter the UK unless you:

  • have settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, or Jersey, Guernsey, or the Isle of Man’s settlement schemes
  • have an EU Settlement Scheme family permit or the equivalent from Jersey, Guernsey, or the Isle of Man
  • have a frontier worker permit
  • are an S2 Healthcare Visitor
  • are a Swiss national and have a Service Provider from Switzerland visa

In these cases, you can continue to use your national ID card to enter the UK until at least 31 December 2025.

Non-European nationals must apply for a standard visitor visa.

To get a standard visitor visa for the UK, applicants must show that they intend to leave the UK at the end of their visit. This may be in the form of proof of onward travel or a return ticket. You will generally need proof of sufficient funds to support your travels without working and may be asked for evidence of planned accommodation.

If you enter the UK on a visitor visa, you cannot take up any paid or unpaid employment, cannot obtain public funds, nor can you get married or enter into a civil partnership.

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Student visas for the United Kingdom

If you want to take short-term courses, you may be able to apply for a standard visitor visa. Longer-term courses will require a student visa.

If you're 16 or over and have been accepted into an academic program by a licensed student sponsor, you can apply for a student visa. You will also need enough money to support yourself and be fluent in English. Parental consent is required if you're under 18.

The validity of student visas depends on the course. Degree-level courses typically allow for five years in the UK; below that, validity is up to two years.

If you're on a student visa, you may be able to work, depending on what you are studying and whether the work would take place during or outside of semester time. Generally, the student visa limits the number of hours that can be worked weekly.

Family visas for the United Kingdom

Family visas allow you to move to the UK to live with a family member for more than six months. Family members can include a spouse or partner, child, parent, or relative. Note that the fees for a family visa vary based on how and where you apply. Generally, costs are lower when applying from within the UK.

Applying for a visa for the United Kingdom

Before moving to the UK, you will need to determine the appropriate visa for your situation and undergo the relevant application process.

It is best to apply for a UK visa well before the intended date of travel, as it’s challenging to predict processing times and whether delays might arise along the way. The visa application process will also likely differ in each expat’s home country, so you must research the appropriate process for your country of origin.

If you're applying for certain visas for the UK, you will also need to provide biometric information (fingerprints and facial images). This will be collected at the visa application centre.

You may have additional requirements depending on your nationality and the type of visa for which you are applying. For example, work visa applications may also require proof of tuberculosis screening and proof of your knowledge of English.

Permanent residence in the United Kingdom

If you want to remain in the United Kingdom for the long term, you will need to apply for permanent residence. To do so, you must have lived legally in the UK for a certain length of time (usually five years) before you can apply, depending on the category of visa you currently possess.

Being a permanent resident means you have indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK and are free from immigration control. You are also free to live and work in the UK without restrictions. Those with indefinite leave to remain have a visa status known as ‘settled status’, which is a step towards naturalisation as a British citizen.

Generally, you must have lived in the UK continuously for five years to qualify for ILR, but spouses of British citizens can apply for ILR after three years. You cannot have been outside the UK for longer than six months at any time during the relevant period.

It is also beneficial to demonstrate that you have strong ties to the UK and consider it home – for example, owning property or business in the country.

Permanent residents who only spend short periods in the UK may risk losing their ILR status. To avoid this, it's best to consider applying for British citizenship as soon as possible, usually a year after being granted ILR status.

EU Settlement Scheme

In the wake of Brexit, if you're an EU, EEA, or Swiss national living in or moving to the UK, you must check whether you need a visa or work permit. The GOV.UK website has a ‘Brexit checker’ where you can get immigration information personalised to your needs.

The EU Settlement Scheme allows EU, EEA, and Swiss nationals and their family to continue living in the UK and receive the same rights as they had pre-Brexit. Generally, this scheme applies if you were already living in the UK by 31 December 2020. As such, you must check the latest regulations for the EU Settlement Scheme and whether you are eligible to apply.

Useful links

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice, and you should contact your respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

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