If you are coming to the UK for the purposes of business, you’ll need to ensure you have the relevant permission. Depending on your nationality, you may need to apply for a Business Visitor visa, or you may be able to travel visa-free.
The following guide for foreign nationals looking to come to the UK as business visitors looks at the various different aspects of the Business Visitor visa category, from when this type of visa is needed to how long a visa application will take to process.
Is there a Business Visitor visa for the UK?
Under the UK’s Immigration Rules for visitors, it is possible for overseas nationals to visit the UK for a temporary period, usually for up to 6 months, to carry out unpaid business activities. A visit visa for business purposes is a subcategory of the Standard Visitor visa, but is also commonly referred to as a Business Visitor visa.
Do you need a UK Business Visitor visa?
The question of whether you will need a Business Visitor visa will depend on your nationality, and whether you are deemed a ‘visa national‘ or ‘non-visa national’.
Under the rules, most visa nationals will need to apply for a Business Visitor visa to be able to undertake business activities in the UK. A visa national is any citizen from the list of countries under the Immigration Rules who need a visa to visit the UK — from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — although nationals of Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) can apply for an electronic visa waiver (EVW).
In contrast, non-visa nationals — namely, citizens whose nationality does not appear on the visa national list — will not need a visa in advance of travelling to the UK, although they must still request entry clearance at a UK port of entry. Additionally, over the course of the next few months, UK travel requirements will be changing, where non-visa nationals will soon be required to obtain electronic travel authorisation (ETA) prior to travel.
Visitor visa or ETA?
ETA is a new security system to screen foreign travellers coming to the UK and will be electronically linked to the recipient’s passport. Under the existing rules, thousands of visitors are permitted to travel to the UK without a visa. Once the ETA system is fully in force, with the exception of British or Irish citizens, everyone who enters the UK for the purposes of business, or otherwise, will either require a visa or electronic authorisation.
The ETA requirement is due to be rolled out in stages, depending on the nationality of a visitor to the UK. For Qatar nationals, the ETA system will come into force from 15 November 2023, where they will need to apply for an ETA rather than an EVW. Nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are due to be included in the scheme from 22 February 2024. The current proposal from the UK Government is that all non-visa nationalities will be required to apply for an ETA by the end of 2024.
Once in force, a mobile app will be made available to apply for an ETA at a cost of £10, with most decisions expected to be processed within 3 working days.
Where applicable, once you have been granted an ETA, this will last for up to 2 years. However, if your passport expires in less than 2 years, you will need to re-apply, as your ETA is electronically linked to the passport that you applied with. During the ETA’s validity period, you will be able to use this to make multiple visits to the UK, provided you use the same passport to travel with and that passport remains valid for the duration of your stay.
Business visitor vis permissible activities
If you are travelling to the UK under a Business Visitor visa, or visa-free but for business purposes, or with an EVW or ETA, you must be coming to the UK to engage in activities permitted under the visitor rules. The different business activities permissible include:
- attending meetings, conferences, seminars and interviews
- giving a one-off or short series of talks and speeches
- negotiating and signing deals or contracts
- attending trade fairs in the UK to promote your business
- carrying out site visits and inspections in the UK
- gathering information for your employment overseas
- being briefed on the requirements of a UK-based customer
- receiving or delivering work-related training
- advising and consulting on internal projects
- overseeing the delivery of goods and services
- installing, dismantling, repairing, servicing or advising on machinery, equipment, software and hardware.
Under the visitor rules, while a business visitor is permitted to give a one-off or short series of talks and speeches, these must not be organised as commercial events and must not be arranged to make a profit for the organiser. Equally, if a visitor is planning to attend trade fairs in the UK, this can only be for promotional work, where the visitor will be prohibited from directly selling. Additionally, when being briefed on the requirements of a UK-based customer, any work for the customer can only be undertaken outside of the UK.
UK Business Visitor visa requirements
To be eligible for a Business Visitor visa, you must meet all of the following requirements:
- be genuinely seeking to come to the UK for business purposes permitted under the rules
- be able to financially support yourself for the duration of your stay in the UK
- be able to pay the reasonable costs relating to your UK visit, without undertaking paid work or accessing public funds, including the cost of either your return or onward journey
- not be intending to undertake any prohibited activities during your stay in the UK
- be intending to leave the UK at the end of your authorised stay
- not be intending to live in the UK for extended periods of time through either frequent or successive visits on this visa-type, nor be trying to make the UK your main home.
You must meet the eligibility requirements for a Business Visitor visa, even if you do not need a visa. This includes travelling visa-free under the current rules and travelling under an ETA once the new electronic travel authorisation system comes fully into force.
How to apply for a Business Visitor visa for the UK
To apply for a UK Business Visitor visa, you must complete an online application with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), pay the relevant fee and submit a valid passport or other travel document to prove your identity. This passport or document must be valid for the whole of your stay in the UK and there must be a blank page for UKVI to include your visa.
Depending on your circumstances, you may need additional documents, including evidence of your ability to fund your trip or from any third party who has agreed to help finance this. You may also need evidence of your business itinerary and where you will be staying.
How much does a UK Business Visitor visa cost?
The cost to apply for a Business Visitor visa is £115 from 4 October 2023. However, if you are looking for a visit visa with a longer period of validity, one which will allow you to visit the UK a number of times for business purposes, the fee is much higher. For a 2-year visa the fee is £400 from 4 October 2023) or £771 for a 5-year visa from 4 October 2023.
A 10-year visa is also available, although demonstrating a need to visit the UK regularly for business purposes over such a long period of time will require specific evidence to be provided. For any initial application, it is therefore often best to apply for either a visa over 2 or 5 years, until you have been able to establish a regular pattern of business trips over an extended period.
For long-term Business Visitor visas, while these will allow multiple entries over the validity period of the visa, you will only be able to stay in the UK for up to 6 months on each visit.
How long does a Business Visitor visa take to process?
When applying for a Business Visitor visa from overseas, having paid the relevant fee and proved your identity, it will usually take up to 3 weeks for a decision to be made.
In some cases, depending on which country you are applying from, you may be able to pay for a faster decision. Where available, the cost to apply for a decision within 5 working days using the priority service will be £250, while the cost to apply for a super priority decision by the end of the next working day will be £956. The cost to pay for a faster decision will be in addition to your visa application fee and is non-refundable if your application is refused or, in exceptional cases, it takes longer to process. An application for a Business Visitor visa may be delayed for a number of different reasons, including if you:
- have been refused a visa for the UK
- have been refused leave to enter or leave to remain in the UK
- have been deported, removed or otherwise required to leave the UK
- have overstayed a period of leave in the UK
- have had leave to remain in the UK curtailed by the Home Office
- have been refused a visa for either Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States or any one of the Schengen countries, including most EU member states
- have been interviewed, detained or prosecuted for any offence in the UK or elsewhere
- have an unspent criminal conviction or committed an offence in any country.
If you fall into one or more of these categories, it can be better to avoid using a priority service. It may not possible for your application to be processed within such short timescales and paying for a faster decision does not guarantee that your application will be successful. A decision on your Business Visitor visa application may also be delayed where there is a need to check or gather further information in order for UKVI to make a decision.
Given the risk of delay, it can often be best to ensure that your application for a Business Visitor visa has been approved by UKVI before booking any travel and accommodation.
Alternative visa options for business visitors
With the exception of the permitted activities listed under the rules, a business visitor must not engage in any other employment-related activities in the UK. This means that doing paid work would be classed as a prohibited activity and in breach of the visitor rules.
If you wish to engage in paid work as a business visitor, you could look at the Permitted Paid Engagement (PPE) Visitor visa. To be eligible for this visa, you must be an expert in your profession, where you will be paid by a UK-based organisation or client to attend an engagement or event in the UK. You must also only intend to do permitted paid engagements relating to your area of expertise overseas, and any engagement must be arranged prior to travelling to the UK and evidenced by a formal invitation.
When it comes to what constitutes a permitted paid engagement, the scenarios are relatively limited. These only include examining or assessing students as a highly-qualified academic; giving a lecture or series of lectures in your specialised subject area; assessing pilots as a pilot examiner; providing advocacy for a client as a qualified lawyer in the context of legal proceedings; carrying out an activity directly relating to your profession as an artist, entertainer or musician; or carrying out an activity as a professional sportsperson.
As a PPE visitor, you cannot do work that is unrelated to your main overseas job role or area of expertise, or that otherwise falls outside the activities permitted under the rules. To do so, you would instead need to apply for a suitable work visa. This could include, for example, the Skilled Worker visa, the UK Expansion Worker visa or the Innovator Founder visa, although securing expert advice from an immigration specialist is strongly advised.
Without appropriate permission or documentation, you could be detained and refused entry at the border. To avoid issues, take specialist advice on your circumstances.
DavidsonMorris are UK immigration and visa specialists. Our experienced legal advisers provide expert guidance on UK entry and travel requirements to visitors coming to the UK for business. Contact us for advice.
Business visitor visa FAQs
How long is a Business Visitor visa UK?
Business visitors will be able to come to the UK on a Business Visitor visa for up to 6 months. However, if a visitor is looking to stay longer, or to undertake paid employment, they will need another visa-type.
Is visitor visa same as business visa?
A business visa is a type of visitor visa, where it is possible for overseas nationals to come to the UK under the UK’s visitor rules, either for the purposes of business or pleasure, for a maximum 6-month stay.
How to apply for UK Business Visitor visa?
To apply for a UK Business Visitor visa, you must complete an online application and pay the relevant fee. You must also prove your identity by way of a passport or other travel document, valid for the entire UK stay.
Can I start a business on a visitors visa?
It is not permissible to start a business in the UK on a visitor visa, although the Business Visitor visa will allow overseas nationals to come to the UK for unpaid business activities, such as attending meetings and conferences.
Last updated: 16 August 2023