To enter the UK, you may need to apply for a visa. A visa can also be called “entry clearance”. Most visas for the UK require an application before you travel to the UK.

There are some nationalities that do not require a visa to travel to the UK. You can check if this applies to you on the government website here.

You should try and get legal advice before submitting a visa application.

All visas are time limited. This means you will need to renew your visa if you wish to stay longer. If you do not or cannot renew your visa, you will be classified as an overstayer. Overstaying is an immigration offence, and the Home Office frequently use “poor immigration history” as a reason to refuse applications for leave to remain.

Read this page for information about the different types of visas to enter the UK including student visas, work visas and family visas; information about the “immigration health surcharge”; and grounds of refusal of visas. You can also find out about whether you can come back to the UK after being removed or deported.

There is no visa for claiming asylum. To find out about entering the UK and claiming asylum, read our page on Entering the UK to claim asylum. Go to that page here.

Visitor visas

If you want to visit the UK for holiday (tourism or to visit friends/family), business or another type of short stay for less than six months, you can apply for a visitor visa.

Read more on the UK government website here.

Student visas

If you wish to study in the UK for less than six months, you can apply for a visitor visa (see section above).

If you wish to study English in the UK for more than six months but less than 11 months, you can apply for a short-term study visa. Read more here.

If you wish to study English in the UK for longer than 11 months, or if you wish to study anything else in the UK for more than 6 months, you will need to apply for a student visa.

You will need to have been offered a place on a course at a licensed institution (“student sponsor”). You will need to be able to prove you can speak, read, write and understand English, and there are specific requirements for how you can demonstrate this. You will need to have enough money to support yourself and pay for your course. You may be able to work during your time as a student in the UK, but generally this is restricted to 20 hours a week during term time.

Read more about student visas here.

Work visas

If you wish to enter the UK to work, and you do not have the right to work through another type of visa/leave to remain (for example, as a dependant on someone else’s visa), you will need to apply for a work or investor visa.

There are short-term visas for specific work such as charity work, creative and sporting work, religious work. These visas usually allow you to work in the UK for a maximum of one or two years. The seasonal worker visa only allows you to work in the UK for six months.

For longer periods of work in the UK, you will generally need to apply for a “Skilled Worker” visa, or a “Health and Care Worker” visa. The Skilled Worker visa has replaced what was the Tier 2 (General) work visa. The Health and Care Worker visa is for medical professionals to work in an eligible job with the NHS, an NHS supplier or in adult social care.

In general, you will need to be able to prove you are qualified for the job that has been offered, that the job fits the criteria of these categories, and the company offering the job is registered as an official sponsor of overseas employees.

Find out about the different rules for the different types of visas here.

Family visas

If you are applying for a visa to come and live with your spouse/partner who has British citizenship or Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK, you will usually have to meet income or savings criteria. Read more on the Family Members page of this guide.

If you cannot meet the income requirements for the spouse/partner visa, it is possible to apply for the right to enter or remain in the UK based on your human rights: your right to family and private life in the UK. Read the Human Rights page of this guide.

If you want to apply for visa as a (or for a) parent of someone in the UK, you will also need to meet strict criteria. Read more on the Family Members page of this guide.

If you wish to apply for a visa to join your child in the UK, read the If You Have Children page of this guide.

Health surcharge

In addition to an application fee, there is an extra fee called an “immigration health surcharge” (IHS) for some visas (applications for leave to enter or remain in the UK).

All applicants for a visa to enter the UK for more than six months, and people already in the UK applying for time-limited leave to remain, are required to pay the charge to cover NHS healthcare in the UK. This is regardless of whether you use the NHS during your time in the UK.

People who generally need to pay the health surcharge includes those applying to come to the UK as a worker or student, and people applying for leave to remain under the Family Migration section of the immigration rules. Applications applications based on your family/private life, family members in the UK and long residence in the UK are part of the Family Migration rules.

Who doesn’t have to pay the surcharge

You do not need to pay the surcharge if you’re applying from outside the UK for a visitor visa or any visa that lasts six months or less (as long as you are applying from outside the UK).

You do not need to pay the surcharge if you are applying for indefinite leave to remain (ILR). If you apply for indefinite leave to remain and are instead granted a form of limited leave to remain by the Home Office, you are likely to be asked to pay the surcharge.

You currently do not need to pay the surcharge if:

  • you are applying for a Health and Care visa
  • you are a child under 18 who is in local authority care
  • you are an identified victim of trafficking
  • you are applying to stay in the UK as a victim of domestic abuse
  • you are applying for asylum or humanitarian protection, or other protection under Article 3 of the ECHR.

Find a full list of exemptions to the surcharge here.

Paying the surcharge

The charge is £470 per year for students and those under 18 years old, and £624 per year for all other types of application.

The charge is payable for each dependant as well as the main applicant. You have pay the total amount for the length of visa you are applying for, upfront. For example, if you are applying for a visa that is valid for two years, you would need to pay £1248 with your application.

You pay the surcharge via the government’s surcharge website.

If you can prove you are destitute, you can apply for a fee waiver on the basis that not getting a fee waiver would mean you couldn’t exercise your human rights under the ECHR. You can apply for a fee waiver of just the Immigration Health Surcharge if you are able to pay the fee for making your immigration/human rights application. If you cannot afford to pay either the application fee or the health surcharge, you can apply for a fee waiver for both.

To apply for a fee waiver, you need to apply online here.  Read more in the Home Office’s fee waiver policy here.

If you are required to pay the surcharge as part of your application, and your application is then refused, the health surcharge is refunded.

Grounds of refusal

There are “general grounds” under which the Home Office can refuse a visa.

Some of the grounds for refusal are quite vague. For example, “An application for entry clearance, permission to enter or permission to stay must be refused where the applicant’s presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good because of their conduct, character, associations or other reasons (including convictions which do not fall within the criminality grounds)”.

Others are more specific. For example, an application may be refused if the applicant has failed to “pay a charge or charges with a total value of at least £500 in accordance with the relevant NHS regulations on charges to overseas visitors.” Non-payment of “litigation debt”, for example if you lost a challenge of a decision in a judicial review, is also a ground for refusal.

You can find the full grounds of refusal here.

Criminality grounds of refusal

There are criminality grounds under which a visa application must be refused, and grounds under which an application may be refused. This means that certain criminal convictions may mean your application is refused.

An application must be refused by the Home Office if you have been convicted of a criminal offence in the UK or overseas for which you received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more, or if you are deemed “a persistent offender who shows a particular disregard for the law” or if you have been convicted of committing a criminal offence, or offences, which caused “serious harm”. Some visas – such as family member visas – do not fall under these rules.

An application may be refused by the Home Office which if you have been convicted of a criminal offence and received a custodial sentence of less than 12 months, in the UK or overseas.

You can find the full grounds of refusal here.

If you have compelling human rights grounds to be in the UK, you may be able to challenge a refusal (see below).

Re-entry bans

In addition to the grounds of refusal mentioned above, re-entry bans can be applied by the Home Office if you have been forcibly removed or deported from the UK. They can also be applied in some other circumstances where the Home Office say immigration law was breached in a previous attempt to enter or stay in the UK.

“Forced removal” is when the Home Office removes you from the UK because you don’t have any leave to remain in the UK – if your application to stay in the UK has been refused, you had a visa/leave to remain but it expired, or you never had leave to remain/immigration papers. “Deportation” has a specific legal meaning in the UK – removal for what the UK Home Office calls “the public good”, usually after a criminal conviction. Read more on the Removal/Deportation page of this guide.

The rules for re-entry bans are contained within the immigration rules on grounds of refusal, in the section called “Previous breach of immigration laws grounds”, from section 9.8.1 onwards.

Generally, re-entry to the UK will be refused if the Home Office say that during in your time in the UK, you:

  • overstayed (beyond the period of a time-limited visa)
  • breached a condition attached to your previous leave
  • entered the UK unlawfully
  • used deception in an application while in the UK

unless:

  • you overstayed for less than 30 days and you left the UK voluntarily at your own expense where the overstaying began on or after 6 April 2017; or
  • you overstayed for less than 90 days and you left the UK voluntarily at your own expense where the overstaying began before 6 April 2017.

The period of time that a re-entry ban may be applied to you depends on your situation. See the table from the immigration rules below.

table from the Home Office guidance on re-entry banks

Note that if the Home Office decide that you used deception for an application, you could face a 10-year ban on entering or re-entering the UK.

Aside from re-entry bans, if you were deported from the UK, you will need to apply to set aside your deportation order before an application to enter the UK could be successful.

Where more than one breach of these has occurred, the breach which leads to the longest period of absence from the UK will be considered.

There are situations in which re-entry bans may not be applied, for example if you were a victim of trafficking; or if your application to enter the UK is a family migration application under the immigration rules “Appendix FM”.

If a re-entry ban is applied to you, and this would breach your human rights, you may be able to challenge it on human rights grounds.

If your visa application is refused

Most refusals of visa applications do not have a right of appeal. If you do not have the right to appeal the decision, you may be able to ask for an administrative review of the decision (except if you have applied for a visitor visa). Read more here.

If the application involves your human rights (your right to family and private life) you may be able to appeal the refusal. Read more about appeals in the Appeals page of this guide.

If you cannot appeal or ask for a review of the decision, you may wish to consider making a new application (with different, stronger evidence).

Even if your application is successful, entry clearance officers (the immigration officers who work at ports of entry) can still refuse to let you enter. For example, you may have successfully applied for a visa (“entry clearance”) but an Immigration Officer may refuse to let you enter the UK if they are “satisfied” that false representations were made in your application, or false documents or information were submitted, or you did not disclose important information, or if your circumstances have changed since you applied.