Visas for the United Kingdom

Whether one plans to travel, take up a short-term job offer or make a more permanent move to the UK, it's best that expats familiarise themselves with the types of visas available to them and apply accordingly.

General visitor visa for the United Kingdom

Foreigners visiting the UK on holiday may need a visa depending on their nationality. Those from a country outside the European Union and Switzerland will need a general visitor visa, which is usually valid for six months.

To get a general visitor visa for the UK, applicants will need to show that they intend to leave the UK at the end of their visit by providing proof of onward travel, a return ticket, or a letter from an employer stating that the applicant has a job in their home country and is expected to return by a given date. Applicants will also need proof of sufficient funds to support their travels without working or proof that they will be staying with friends or relatives in the UK. 

Foreign nationals who enter the UK on a tourist visa aren't able to take up any paid employment, enrol in any course of study, get married, register a civil partnership or receive private medical treatment. Tourist visas are strictly for those who wish to visit friends and family or travel the country.

Work visas for the United Kingdom

People moving to the UK from outside the EU will need some sort of work visa to be legally employed in Britain. There are a number of work visas to choose from and expats should take the time to investigate exactly which type applies to their circumstances.

Tier 2 Work Visas

These visas are granted to non-EU nationals who have a job offer in the UK from a licenced sponsor and a certificate of sponsorship. Applicants must meet the necessary criteria to be granted this type of visa. This visa is only granted to those with specialist skills and a confirmed job offer.

There are four different categories of skilled worker visas: General, Minister of Religion, Sports Person and Intra-company Transfer. The last category is designed for those employed by multinational companies who are being transferred by their employer to a United Kingdom branch of an overseas organisation.

Tier 5 Temporary Worker Visas

Expats who are interested in moving to the UK to work for a short period might be able to apply for a Tier 5 Temporary Worker Visa. 

The Youth Mobility Scheme working holiday visa is available for nationals of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Monaco, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea and Japan. Applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 30 to apply. Those who qualify can enter the UK without a job offer and use this working holiday visa to work and travel. The scheme is designed to give young people the opportunity to live and work in the country for up to two years, and is a great way to see what living and working in the UK is actually like.

Expats who are not citizens of one of the countries in the Youth Mobility Scheme will need to have a job offer from a licenced sponsor in order to get a Tier 5 Temporary Worker Visa in one of several categories: Creative and Sporting, Charity, Government Authorised Exchange Programs, or International Agreement.

Applying for a visa for the United Kingdom

Before moving to the UK, one must determine the appropriate visa for their situation and undergo the relevant application process. Application forms can be obtained from any UK embassy or online, but many people use a professional visa processing agency to ensure everything is handled properly.

It is best to apply for a UK visa well before the intended date of travel, as it's difficult to predict processing times and whether delays might arise along the way. The visa application process is also likely to be different in each expat's home country, so it is important for applicants to research the appropriate process for their country of origin. 

Application forms are only available in English and must be completed in English. Certified translations of any supporting documents in another language must also be submitted.  

It is also important to note that while a third party can assist an individual in completing the visa application, the expat must apply for the visa themselves rather than have someone do it on their behalf.

Those applying for work visa for the UK will also need to provide biometric information (fingerprints and facial image). This will be collected at the visa application centre. Depending on an individual’s country of origin, they may also need to provide proof that they have been screened for TB. 

Permanent residence in the United Kingdom 

Expats who want to remain in the United Kingdom in the longer term may be eligible to apply for permanent residence. Those who have lived legally in the UK for a certain length of time – usually five years – can apply, depending on the category of visa they currently possess.

Being a permanent resident means an individual has indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK and is free from immigration control. These expats also have the freedom 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. 

There are a number of ways an expat can qualify for ILR, including:

  • Living in the UK for five years continuously as a work visa holder

  • Living in the UK for five years as the spouse of a British citizen or a person with settled status

  • Being the holder of a British ancestral visa and having lived within the UK for five years

  • Living in the UK lawfully for 10 years

  • Living in the UK unlawfully for 14 years

Those who apply for ILR status cannot have been outside the UK for longer than six months at any time during the relevant period. It is also beneficial for applicants to demonstrate that they have strong ties to the UK and consider it home –for example, owning a property or business in the country.

Permanent residents who only spend short periods of time in the UK may risk losing their ILR status. In cases such as this, expats should consider applying for British citizenship as soon as they can, which is usually a year after being granted ILR status.

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

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