How to Live Permanently in the UK


Living permanently in the UK is a goal shared by many who have made the United Kingdom their home.

To settle in the UK, you will need to apply for legal permission to stay indefinitely, which will afford you the right to live, work, and study here without any immigration time restrictions.

The main routes to settle in the UK include:


a. Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR): Grants the freedom to live and work in the UK without time restrictions to those who meet the minimum residency requirements, among other criteria. ILR is a prerequisite for those who wish to naturalise as British citizens and offers the security of permanent residency without the full responsibilities and privileges of citizenship.

b. EU Settlement Scheme: Post-Brexit, this scheme provides EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens, along with their family members, the opportunity to secure their residency status in the UK, offering either settled or pre-settled status based on the duration of their stay in the UK.

c. Right of Abode: Certain Commonwealth citizens, primarily those with a British parent, may have the Right of Abode, allowing them to live and work in the UK without immigration restrictions.

d. Statelessness Applications: A pathway for stateless individuals to apply for leave to remain, recognising their unique circumstances and providing a legal means to reside in the UK.

e. Becoming a British Citizen: Offering full participation in British society, the right to vote, and eligibility for a British passport.


Each of these routes involves specific eligibility criteria and procedural requirements.

This guide will explore the key routes available to live permanently in the UK, providing you with essential information to make informed decisions about your journey to becoming a permanent UK resident. We will also set out the key requirements for naturalisation if your ultimate aim is to attain British citizenship.


Section A: Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)


Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) grants individuals the right to live and work in the UK without any time restrictions, providing a stable foundation for those looking to make the UK their long-term home. It marks the official transition from temporary resident to permanent resident status.

To be eligible for settlement, you must apply from within the UK and provide evidence you have been living in Britain lawfully on a visa that offers a route to settlement for the relevant qualifying period of time.

Typical routes to ILR include:


a. Work Visa to ILR 

To meet the eligibility criteria for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK, applicants typically must have resided and been employed in the country for at least five continuous years. However, individuals holding certain visas, such as Tier 1 visas, may qualify for ILR after two or three years, while those with Innovator Founder or Global Talent visas may be eligible after three years.

Additionally, meeting salary or financial prerequisites may be necessary, depending on the type of visa held.


b. Family Visa to ILR 

Applicants may qualify for application if they have a family member settled in the UK, either as a British citizen or an individual with indefinite leave to remain, such as a partner, parent, child, or other relative. The application process varies depending on the type of visa held and the settlement status of the family member.

Alternative application routes are available in specific circumstances for individuals facing challenging situations, such as the death of a partner or relationship breakdown due to domestic violence.


c. 10-Year Residence to ILR 

Individuals may be eligible to apply for settlement if they have resided in the UK for a period of ten years or more.

A separate application route is available for those holding visas based on their private life circumstances.


d. Commonwealth Citizens

Eligible individuals who have resided in the UK for at least five years under a UK Ancestry visa may apply for settlement, although certain Commonwealth citizens will already hold the ‘right of abode’ in the UK, granting them the freedom to reside and work in the country without facing immigration restrictions.

The Windrush scheme, which offers citizenship eligibility to qualifying individuals, may also be an option to consider to remain in the UK indefinitely with lawful status.


e. Other Ways to Become Eligible for ILR

Applicants may qualify to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK under specific conditions, such as holding refugee status, having received humanitarian protection or discretionary leave, or returning to the UK after holding indefinite leave to remain in the past under the returning resident route.

Additionally, individuals who have served in the armed forces may also be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain.


1. Eligibility Requirements


The eligibility criteria for ILR vary based on the visa category the applicant currently holds in the UK.

Common requirements include:


a. Lawfully living in the UK for the relevant minimum continuous period of residence.

b. Absences from the UK not exceeding 180 days in any 12 months of the qualifying period

c. Demonstrating knowledge of the English language and life in the UK.

d. Meeting the salary thresholds, if applicable.

e. Having no criminal record or breaches of uk immigration rules.


Read our detailed guide to ILR requirements here >>


2. Application Process


The ILR application process varies based on the specific visa category.

As a general rule, you will need to complete the appropriate form (SET(O), SET(M), etc.), depending on the immigration category and submit supporting documentation.

Form SET M is typically used by those applying for settlement based on their family relationship with a settled person, such as spouses, civil partners, unmarried partners, and children of individuals settled in the UK (i.e., those holding ILR or British citizenship).

Form SET (O) is typically used for individuals who have completed five years of continuous residence in the UK under a work visa or employment-related route.

You will also need to provide a comprehensive set of supporting documents to prove your eligibility. These typically include proof of identity, such as a valid passport or travel document, as well as evidence of residence in the UK for the required period, which may include utility bills, rental agreements, or bank statements.

Additionally, applicants must demonstrate their adherence to immigration rules and requirements, such as evidence of meeting the English language proficiency criteria and passing the Life in the UK Test.

Depending on the specific circumstances of the applicant, additional documents may be necessary, such as marriage certificates for dependent spouses, employment contracts, or financial statements.

The processing time can vary, but applicants can expect a decision within six months. Premium processing services may be available for an additional fee.

Read our extensive guide to the Set M Form here >>

Read our guide to the Set O Form here >>


Section B: EU Settlement Scheme


The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was established to protect the residency rights of people from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein and their family members residing in the UK post-Brexit.

Under the scheme, applicants can be granted either settled status’ or ‘pre-settled status’.

Settled status is granted to those who have been living in the UK for a continuous five-year period (known as ‘continuous residence’), allowing them to stay indefinitely, access public funds, and apply for British citizenship after meeting all other criteria. Pre-settled status is granted to those who have not yet lived in the UK for five years. This status is valid for five years and allows individuals to stay until they accumulate the necessary five years to attain full settled status.

Holders of both settled and pre-settled status can work, study, and access public services such as healthcare and pensions in the UK.


1. Eligibility Requirements


For most individuals, the deadline to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme was 30 June 2021; however, this deadline does not apply if you already hold pre-settled status and are transferring to settled status once you reach the 5-year residency requirement.

Those from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein, along with their families, can still apply if they were residing in the UK by 31 December 2020, but these applicants must either meet the criteria for a later deadline to apply or provide ‘reasonable grounds’ for why they are applying after the deadline or since its passing. Successful applicants will receive either settled or pre-settled status, depending on their circumstances.


2. Application Process


Applications are made online or via the dedicated app. You will need to prove your identity and provide supporting documents, which will depend on your grounds for eligibility.

Individuals from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein who began residing in the UK by 31 December 2020 or are seeking to join or remain with a family member who did are required to provide evidence to support their application. This includes evidence of their identity, continuous residence in the UK (except when applying to join a family member), and proof that their residence commenced by 31 December 2020.

Additionally, applicants must demonstrate their relationship to the family member and confirm their eligibility or status under the EU Settlement Scheme if applying to join or remain with them in the UK.

Evidence also must be provided either to show that the application is being submitted before the deadline for their specific circumstances, such as applying for a child within 90 days of birth or adoption in the UK, or to provide ‘reasonable grounds’ for why the application is being made after the deadline or after its expiration for their circumstances.


Section C: Right of Abode


The Right of Abode is a legal status granting an individual the unrestricted right to enter, live, work, and study in the United Kingdom without being subject to uk immigration control.


1. Eligibility Criteria


The Right of Abode is granted to two main categories of people:


a. British Citizens: All British citizens automatically have the Right of Abode in the UK.

b. Commonwealth Citizens: Some Commonwealth citizens may have the Right of Abode if they meet specific criteria. This typically includes those who had a parent who was born in the UK or a parent who was married to someone born in the UK before 1983. The laws around this have changed over time, so the eligibility criteria can be complex and depend heavily on the individual’s and their parents’ circumstances at the time of their birth.


2. How to Prove Your Right of Abode


Commonwealth Citizens may wish to apply for proof of the Right to Abode, known as a Certificate of Entitlement.

To apply, you will need to submit the relevant completed form (UKF or UKM, depending on the situation), your current passport and the necessary supporting documents, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and other relevant documents tracing your lineage to a UK-born parent or grandparent.

Read our comprehensive guide to the Right of Abode here.


Section D: Applying as a Stateless Person


A stateless person is someone who does not have a nationality of any country. Some people are born stateless, while others become stateless because of various factors, such as changes in borders, laws, and administrative practices. This situation often results in significant hardships due to the lack of legal recognition and rights that citizenship typically confers.

The UK offers a route for stateless individuals to apply for leave to remain, recognising their position and providing a legal means to reside and eventually settle in the UK.


1. Eligibility Requirements


To be eligible to stay in the UK as a stateless person, applicants must demonstrate that they are not recognised as a national by any country. This involves providing evidence that they have attempted to obtain nationality or citizenship from the countries with which they have a connection and have been formally denied or received no response.

If the application is successful, the applicant will be granted limited leave to remain for a period, usually 30 months. During this time, they have the right to work, access public funds, and receive healthcare in the UK.

This leave can be extended and may eventually lead to Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after a period of living in the UK under this status.

Children of stateless persons born in the UK may also have a path to British citizenship.


2. Application Process


To apply for leave to remain as a stateless person, you will need to complete the online application form. There is no cost to apply.
You will also be required to attend an appointment at a Service and Support Centre to submit your biometric information and have your supporting documents reviewed.

These documents should include evidence of your efforts to establish nationality, birth certificates, identity documents (if accessible), travel documents, and any correspondence indicating refusals from national authorities.


Section E: Becoming a British Citizen


With UK ILR or settled status, you may become eligible to apply for British citizenship.

British citizenship offers numerous benefits, including the right to participate in all UK elections and referendums, eligibility for a British passport, and enhanced security in legal and residential status.

If you intend to apply to naturalise as a British citizen, you will first need to hold settled status or ILR for a minimum of 12 months unless you are married to a UK-settled person, in which case you can naturalise as soon as you are granted settlement.

Becoming a British citizen is a significant milestone for those who have chosen to make the UK their permanent home. Citizenship offers a sense of belonging and provides full participation in all aspects of British life, from the right to vote to the ability to travel freely. The process, known as naturalisation, involves meeting specific legal requirements and demonstrating a commitment to the UK community.


1. Eligibility Requirements


Applicants must meet several criteria to qualify for naturalisation, as stated under section 6(1) of the BNA:


a. be aged 18 or over when you apply

b. be of sound mind so that you understand the step you are taking (although there is some discretion here, where someone else can apply on your behalf)

c. be of good character, where any criminality, fraudulent behaviour, or other behaviour to suggest that you are unfit to be naturalised may result in a refusal

d. have sufficient knowledge of English (or Welsh or Scottish Gaelic)

e. have sufficient knowledge of life in the UK

f. intend to continue living in the UK as your principal home

g. have lived in the UK for at least 5 years (or 3 years if married to a UK-settled person)

h. prove you were in the UK exactly 5 years before the date your application is received (or 3 years if married to a UK-settled person)

i. be free from any immigration time restrictions when you apply and have been free from such restrictions for the 12-month period prior to applying (i.e. have held ILR or settled status for at least 12 months prior to applying, unless married to a UK settled person)

j. meet the other residence requirements.


2. Application Process


The application process for British citizenship requires you to complete the relevant naturalisation application form – typically Form AN for adults and Form MN1 for children – and to provide evidence that you meet all of the criteria, including proof of identity, evidence of residency status, and language proficiency.

You will also need to provide details for two referees who can support your application.

Naturalisation applications can take around 6 months to be processed.

If approved, you will be invited to attend a new citizens are invited to participate in a citizenship ceremony, a formal event that marks the conclusion of the naturalisation process.

Read our comprehensive guide to applying for British Citizenship.


Section F: Proving Your Knowledge of the English Language


When applying for citizenship or indefinite leave to remain in the UK and you’re 18 years or older, demonstrating proficiency in English might be necessary.

Exceptions to this requirement may apply in certain circumstances.


1. Requirements for Demonstrating English Proficiency


You can prove your English language ability by providing evidence of having an acceptable degree that was taught or researched in English or providing evidence of an acceptable English qualification. For citizenship and most permanent residencies, the required level for speaking and listening is usually B1, B2, C1, or C2 level, according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

You must ensure the accuracy of the qualifications you submit, as providing incorrect documentation may lead to your citizenship or settlement application being refused.

You can only rely on qualifications from certain approved test providers for your application. You should check the Home Office website for the most up-to-date list of recognised test providers in the UK or overseas.

Alternatively, you can meet the English language requirement if you have a degree that was taught or researched in English.

If your degree is from a UK university, you can provide your degree certificate as evidence.

If your degree is from a non-UK university, additional documentation is necessary, such as a copy of your degree certificate and an Academic Qualification Level Statement (AQUALS) from Ecctis (previously known as UK NARIC), confirming the equivalency of your degree to a UK qualification.

If your degree is from a non-majority English-speaking country, you must also provide an English Language Proficiency Statement (ELPS) from Ecctis, certifying that the degree was taught in English.


2. Exceptions


Certain individuals may be exempt from the English language requirement, such as those aged 65 or over or those with long-term physical or mental conditions.


Section G: Life in the UK Test


The Life in the UK Test is a mandatory requirement for most people applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or naturalisation as a British citizen. It is designed to ensure that applicants have a sufficient understanding of British values, history, and traditions to participate fully in life here.

The test is computer-based and must be taken at an approved test centre. You have to pre-book the test, at least 3 days in advance. You have 45 minutes to answer 24 questions. You need to answer 18 correctly to pass. It costs £50 to sit.


1. Topics Covered


The test covers a range of topics taken from the official handbook for the Life in the UK Test, including:


a. History of the UK: From early history, through the Roman period, the Middle Ages, and into modern times.

b. Society: The structure of the UK’s government, legal system, and economy.

c. Values and Culture: Important principles such as the rule of law, tolerance, freedom of speech, and the responsibilities and privileges of being a resident.

d. Everyday Life: Information on how to access services like healthcare, education, housing, and banking.


2. Resources for Preparation


A variety of resources are available to help prepare for the Life in the UK Test, including:


a. Official Handbook: The most important resource is the official handbook, which covers all the information needed for the test. It is available in various formats, including paperback, eBook, and audiobook.

b. Practice Tests: Several online platforms offer free and paid practice tests that simulate the format of the actual exam. These can help familiarise applicants with the types of questions asked.

c. Study Guides: Apart from the official handbook, there are study guides and revision books that summarise the key points and offer tips on passing the test.

d. Mobile Apps: There are apps available that offer practice questions and quizzes that can be used for studying on-the-go.

e. Courses: Some educational centres and community organisations offer courses specifically designed to prepare for the Life in the UK Test.


Section H: Summary


The paths to achieving settlement in the UK are designed to accommodate a range of backgrounds, from family ties and work experiences to humanitarian protections. The most recognised route is obtaining Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), which grants the freedom to live and work in the UK without time restrictions. However, other routes also exist, each with its own set of criteria and benefits.

In the journey to live permanently in the United Kingdom, individuals encounter a variety of pathways, each offering unique opportunities and challenges. From obtaining Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) to securing British citizenship, the options are diverse and tailored to meet different circumstances and aspirations.

By navigating the pathways to permanent residency with diligence and determination, you can lay the foundation for a fulfilling and prosperous future in the United Kingdom.


Section I: FAQs


What is the difference between settled and pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme?

Settled status is granted to those who have lived continuously in the UK for five years or more, granting them indefinite leave to remain. Pre-settled status is granted to those who have lived in the UK for less than five years, allowing them to stay until they reach the five-year threshold and can transfer to settled status.


How long does it take to obtain Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)?

The time it takes to obtain ILR can vary depending on individual circumstances and the type of visa held. Typically, individuals must reside in the UK lawfully for a continuous period, usually five years, before becoming eligible to apply for ILR.


Can I apply for British citizenship immediately after obtaining ILR?

In most cases, individuals must hold ILR for at least 12 months before they can apply for British citizenship, although spouses of UK-settled persons can apply for citizenship as soon as they attain ILR. During this time, they must also meet other naturalisation criteria, including passing the Life in the UK Test and proving their knowledge of English.


Do I need to take the Life in the UK Test if I am applying for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme? 

No, the Life in the UK Test is not required for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. However, applicants must demonstrate their identity and provide evidence of their residence in the UK.


What happens if my application for stateless leave to remain is refused?

If your application for stateless leave to remain is refused, you may be able to bring an Administrative Review to challenge the decision.


Are there any exceptions to the English language requirement for naturalisation?

Yes, certain individuals may be exempt from the English language requirement, such as those who are aged 65 or over at the time of application or have a long-term physical or mental condition that prevents them from meeting the requirement.


Section J: Glossary


1. Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR): A status granted to individuals who have the right to live and work in the UK without any time restrictions. It is often a prerequisite for applying for British citizenship.

2. EU Settlement Scheme: A scheme designed to protect the residency rights of EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens and their family members living in the UK post-Brexit, ensuring their rights to live, work, and access services in the UK.

3. Right of Abode: The unrestricted right to enter, live, and work in the UK without being subject to immigration control. It is typically granted to British citizens or individuals with specific ties to the UK.

4. Stateless Person: An individual who is not considered a national by any country under its law. Stateless persons may face legal and practical challenges in accessing rights and services.

5. British Citizenship: The legal status that confers full participation in British society, including the right to vote, the ability to travel freely on a British passport, and access to certain public benefits and entitlements.

6. Life in the UK Test: A test designed to assess an applicant’s knowledge of British life, values, history, and traditions. It is a requirement for those applying for British citizenship or settlement in the UK.

7. English Language Requirement: A requirement for applicants seeking settlement or British citizenship in the UK to demonstrate proficiency in the English language through approved tests or qualifications.

8. Settlement: The process of establishing permanent residency in the UK, typically through obtaining Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

9. Naturalisation: The process of becoming a citizen of a country through application and meeting specific eligibility criteria, such as residency requirements and language proficiency tests.

10. Citizenship Ceremony: A formal event where individuals who have been granted British citizenship take an oath or affirmation of allegiance to the United Kingdom and receive their certificate of citizenship.


Section K: Additional Links


UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
Official government website providing comprehensive information on visas, immigration, and settlement in the UK.


Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB)
Provides free, confidential, and impartial advice on a wide range of immigration and citizenship issues.


Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA)
Professional association for immigration law practitioners, offering resources, training, and guidance on immigration matters.


Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI)
Campaigning charity organisation working to promote justice, fairness, and equality in immigration and asylum law.


The Law Society – Immigration Law Section
Section of the Law Society of England and Wales dedicated to immigration law, providing guidance, updates, and resources for legal practitioners.


The Refugee Council
Provides support, advice, and advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.



Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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