Do I need a Visitor Visa for the UK?
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+44 (0) 20 4551 4897
+44 (0) 7894 790890
18 October 2023
UPDATE: On 31 January 2024, the category of Permitted Paid Engagement visa will cease to exist, with activities allowed within the first month of a Standard Visitor visa. See update here.
What is a visitor?
The UK Visitor route is for people who “want to visit the UK for a temporary period, (usually for up to six months), for purposes such as tourism, visiting friends or family, carrying out a business activity, or undertaking a short course of study.”
This category may be suitable for people who intend to stay in the UK for up to six months and will not be engaging in any unpermitted type of paid work or study.
Some visitors will require a visa – or entry clearance for the UK, below we detail who needs a visa and what type.
Who needs a Visitor visa for the UK?
If you are a British or Irish citizen you may enjoy free movement into the UK without the need of a visa. If you have permission on the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) or another type of UK visa relevant to the purpose of your trip, you do not need to apply for a visit visa either.
For everyone else, the UK Government has an occasionally updated list of countries whose citizens are “Visa nationals.” Visa nationals must apply for a visitor visa and obtain entry clearance before their arrival in the UK. There are exceptions such as emergency travel documents and diplomatic passports.
If you are not on the list of Visa Nationals below, then you generally do not need a Visitor visa to come to the UK, so long as you stick to permitted activities and are not coming to the UK to marry or form a civil partnership or give notice of impending marriage or civil partnership (unless you are British, Irish or EUSS). However, if you have a criminal record or a poor immigration history, you may wish to consider applying for a visit visa anyway so that your circumstances can be considered before arrival at the border.
Stateless people and people travelling with any document other than a national passport or national identity card should also apply for entry clearance before travelling to the UK.
The UK Government’s list of Visa Nationals
The following nationalities require entry clearance (a visa) prior to travel to the UK as a Visitor, or for any other purpose for less than six months:
Bahrain (except nationals or citizens who hold a diplomatic or special passport issued by Bahrain, or those who have obtained an Electronic Visa Waiver)
Central African Republic
People’s Republic of China (except nationals or citizens of the People’s Republic of China who hold a passport issued by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, or one issued by the Macao Special Administrative Region)
Côte d’Ivoire (formerly Ivory Coast)
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)
Indonesia (except for nationals or citizens of Indonesia who hold a diplomatic passport issued by Indonesia)
Kuwait (except nationals or citizens who hold a diplomatic or special passport issued by Kuwait, or those who have obtained an Electronic Visa Waiver)
Myanmar (formerly Burma)
North Macedonia (formerly Macedonia)
Oman (except nationals or citizens who hold a diplomatic or special passport issued by Oman, or those who have obtained an Electronic Visa Waiver)
Qatar (except nationals or citizens who hold a diplomatic or special passport issued by Qatar, or those who have obtained an Electronic Visa Waiver)
São Tomé and Principe
South Africa (except for nationals or citizens of South Africa who hold a diplomatic passport issued by South Africa)
Taiwan (except for nationals or citizens of Taiwan who hold a passport issued by Taiwan that includes in it the id card number of the identification card issued by the competent authority in Taiwan)
Turkey (except for nationals or citizens of Turkey who hold a diplomatic passport issued by Turkey)
United Arab Emirates (except nationals or citizens who hold a diplomatic or special passport issued by the UAE, or those who have obtained an Electronic Visa Waiver)
Vietnam (except nationals or citizens of Vietnam who hold a diplomatic passport issued by Vietnam)
What are non-visa nationals travelling to the UK permitted to do?
Non-visa nationals such as Australian, US, Mexican or EU/EEA/Swiss nationals do not need to apply for a Standard Visitor visa (up to six months), Permitted Paid Engagements (up to one month) or a Transit Visitor visa (up to 48 hours) before entering the UK.
Instead, they can make an application on arrival in the UK. If you are a national of an EU country, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland or the USA, you may be able to use an ePassport gate on arrival to be granted entry as a visitor, although you may still need to see a border force official instead.
For nationalities other than those listed above, the border force will issue a visa stamped into your passport which will be valid for six months.
Please note that a marriage/civil partnership visit visa is required for all nationalities seeking entry in this capacity.
If seeking entry as a non-visa national for permitted paid engagements it is important that you do not use the eGates and see a border force official – otherwise you may be granted entry as a standard visitor and not be permitted to undertake your planned paid engagement in the UK. (More details about this common mistake an be found in this article we wrote for Personnel Today).
Which nationals can enter the UK as non-visa nationals?
British Overseas Territories citizens
British Nationals (Overseas)
British Overseas citizens
British protected persons
British subjects without the right of abode in the United Kingdom
European Union European Union citizens (Ireland enjoys free movement)
Antigua and Barbuda
Hong Kong (SAR and BNO passport holders)
Macau (Macau SAR passport holders)
Papua New Guinea
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Taiwan (passports with personal ID numbers only)
Trinidad and Tobago
United States of America
Who can use an Electronic Visa Waiver to come to the UK instead of a Visitor Visa?
The UK electronic visa waiver is a travel authorisation document that allows you to visit the UK for up to six months. It is used by citizens from Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman (who are all visa nationals and normally require a visa to come to the UK as a visitor) and allows these citizens faster and easier access into the UK as they do not have to attend a visa application centre.
NB: however, unlike a visit visa, the Electronic Waiver only allows entry to the UK once and not on multiple occasions during the validity.
These countries (along with Jordan) will be the first to enjoy visa-free travel to the UK with the new ETA (see below).
Which countries will be able to use the UK’s new Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA)?
The UK is set to launch an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) much like the ESTA visa waiver for the United States or the European Union’s ETIAS.
This is an online security vetting scheme which the UK Government says will let them know who is arriving in the UK before they come. Non-visa nationals who could previously apply for entry on arrival will instead need to apply for an ETA before arriving in the UK.
Visa nationals, and people seeking entry as a marriage/civil partnership visitor, will still need to apply for a visa before travelling.
Those with a poor immigration history – such as a previous immigration law breach or a criminal offence in the past year or with a custodial sentence of 12 months or more will not be able to use the ETA, they will need to apply for a visa instead.
Qatari visitors will be the first to be able to apply for an ETA with applications opening on 25 October 2023 for travel from 15 November onwards. From 1 February 2024, nationals of the following countries should apply for an online ETA for permission to travel to the UK from 22 February onwards as a visitor:
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
The new ETA will allow nationals from these countries to come to the UK multiple times for up to six months at a time for tourism, visiting family and friends, business or study; for up to three months on the Creative Worker visa concession; or to transit through the UK repeatedly within the two years it is valid for (unless you replace your passport in that time).
More countries are to be added to the scheme over the course of 2024. The scheme is being rolled out to Jordan and these Gulf states first partly because there is a similar system for visiting the UK from the Gulf states called the Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW).
Are there different types of Visitor visa?
There are four types of visitors: standard visitor, marriage/civil partnership visitor, permitted paid engagement visitor and transit visitor.
What does the Standard Visitor route to the UK allow?
A standard visitor route allows you to visit the UK for up to six months for tourism, business, study (courses up to six months) and many other permitted activities. These permitted activities include visiting the UK:
- to volunteer for up to 30 days with a registered charity
- to take part in a school exchange programme
- to do a recreational course for up to 30 days
- to study (on certain courses, up to six months)
- to do a clinical attachment, elective or take an exam as a nurse, doctor or dentist
- for personal research on sabbatical as an academic, or research, temporary teaching or temporary clinical practice as a senior doctor or dentist
- for medical reasons
Visitors must not carry out paid or unpaid work for a UK company or as a self-employed person. That would entail applying for a work visa or, in some cases, using the permitted paid engagement visitor route (see below).
However certain business activities and roles are permitted. These include:
- attending a meeting, interview, conference or seminar
- negotiating and signing deals and contracts
- promoting your business at trade fairs (though you cannot sell things)
- carrying out site visits or inspections
- certain activities if employed overseas in particular roles, including (but not limited to): journalist, archaeologist, entertainer, sports person, lawyer, translator
Visitors must not intend to study unless on a permitted course under six months. If the course is longer, you should consider one of the UK’s Student visa routes.
It is also a breach of the Visitor conditions to intend to access medical treatment (other than private medical treatment or to donate an organ) or to marry or form a civil partnership (unless you are apply for the Marriage/Civil Partnership Visitor visa – see below). If you access NHS hospital treatment while in the UK as a visitor, you will be charged at 150% of the national NHS rate (with some exceptions).
What does a Marriage / Civil Partnership Visitor visa allow?
A visa is always required to enter the UK as a marriage/civil partnership visitor, regardless of your nationality.
You may apply for a Marriage Visitor visa if:
- you want to get married or register a civil partnership in the UK
- you want to give notice of a marriage or civil partnership in UK
- you’re not planning to stay or settle in the UK after your marriage or civil partnership
- you meet the other eligibility requirements
A Marriage/Civil Partnership Visitor visa will allow you to marry or enter into a civil partnership in the UK within six months of your arrival. However, you must use a venue licensed for this purpose.
This visa route will also allow you to do similar permitted activities to the Standard Visitor visa above, apart from studying.
If you plan to stay in the UK and make your home here after the marriage/civil partnership and your partner is a British/Irish citizen or settled person, you may be able to apply as a fiancé(e)/proposed civil partner or as an unmarried partner instead.
What does the Permitted Paid Engagements (PPE) Visitor route allow?
PPE visitors have permission to be in the UK for a maximum stay of one month on a paid engagement if invited as an expert in a qualifying profession by a UK-based organisation or client. You are allowed to do any of the activities that a standard visitor can do, but you must also meet some additional requirements. These include ensuring the permitted paid engagement relates to the applicant’s area of expertise and occupation and that it is arranged before the visitor travels to the UK, declaring the permitted engagement as part of the application to enter or entry clearance application and evidencing the engagement by a formal invitation.
PPE visitors can include academics, lecturers, lawyers, experts, artists, sportspersons, and pilot examiners. A child cannot be a PPE visitor.
Unlike Standard Visitors, on this route you can be paid for qualifying work but you may not carry out paid work unrelated to your main overseas job or area of expertise, claim public funds, study, transit, marry or apply to marry or have a civil partnership.
If seeking entry as a non-visa national for permitted paid engagements it is important that you not use the eGates and must see a border force official – otherwise you may be granted entry as a standard visitor and not be permitted to undertake your planned paid engagement in the UK.
What is a Transit Visitor?
A transit visitor has permission to be in the UK for up to 48 hours. You may need this visa if you are passing through the UK on your way to another country/destination.
You can transit the UK if you have permission as a standard visitor or marriage/civil partnership visitor, or if you meet the requirements of the Transit Without Visa Scheme. Otherwise, you will need permission as a transit visitor. There are two types of transit visitors:
- Direct Airside Transit visitor (if you are changing flights in the UK and are not passing through UK border control)
- Visitor transit visitor (if you are going through UK border control but leaving the UK within 48 hours).
If you are staying in the UK for more than 48 hours, you will need permission as a Standard Visitor.
Is there a visa exemption for Ukraine nationals visiting the UK?
Ukrainians are visa nationals and normally require a visa to travel to the UK. Ukrainian nationals who have a family member or sponsor in the UK may apply online for permission to enter and remain in the UK and if granted permission, you may travel to the UK with such permission letter instead of a visa. More details on the UK immigration options from Ukraine can be found here.
If you are in the UK as a visitor and are unable to return to Ukraine, you may be able to switch from your existing Visitor visa to a work immigration route (such as Skilled Worker) or a sponsored student or family visa route.
Can I extend a UK Visitor visa?
You can apply to extend your UK Visitor Visa under certain specific circumstances.
If granted a Standard or Marriage/Civil Partnership Visitor visa for less than six months you may be granted permission to stay for longer, so long as the total time you spend in the UK does not exceed six months.
If you are in the UK for private medical treatment, it is also possible to extend your stay by a further six months if further treatment is needed.
Academics and their accompanying wife or child in the UK to undertake permitted activities in formal exchanges, carrying out research, teaching or clinical practice may apply for further permission to stay as long as the total period does not exceed 12 months.
Standard Visitors may be granted permission to stay as a Visitor for up to 6 months in order to resit the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board Test.
Overseas graduates from medical, dental or nursing schools who successfully sit the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board Test may be granted permission to stay (so long as their total period in the UK does not exceed 18 months) to undertake unpaid clinical attachments or dental observer posts which does not include treatment of patients.
Can I apply for a multiple entry Visitor visa?
If you travel to the UK regularly, you can also apply for a long-term multiple entry visa which can be valid for two, five or 10 years. However, the time spent in the UK cannot exceed the maximum of six months on a single trip and visitors are not permitted to seek to live in the UK by making frequent and successive trips. A common rule-of-thumb is not to spend more than six months in the UK during any 12-month period.
For assistance with any of these immigration options, please feel free to contact our friendly team of immigration experts. You can call us on +44(0) 207 033 9527 or email us to discuss any aspects of UK immigration at email@example.com
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