If you are considering visiting the UK for leisure or tourism, for business purposes, to take part in sports or creative events or for private medical treatment, you will need to know how the UK’s immigration rules apply to you.
Below we look at the UK Immigration Rules for visitors, from the type of visa you will need based on the purpose and length of your visit, to the rules you will need to follow once you are in the UK.
UK Immigration Rules for visitors
The rules for international visitors coming to the UK can be found under Appendix V to the Immigration Rules. These are known as the Visitor Rules, and set out the various standard and specific eligibility requirements when applying for a visit visa, as well as the types of activities that are permissible or prohibited in the UK under the visitor routes.
The duration of your visa and what activities you will be permitted to undertake during your stay in the UK will be dependent on the intended purpose of your visit and the subcategory of visit visa that you are seeking to apply for under the Visitor Rules.
What are the different visa routes for visitors to the UK?
Under the UK’s Immigration Rules for visitors, there are four main categories of visa:
- The Standard Visitor visa: to visit the UK for tourism and leisure, for business activities, to take part in sports or creative events, or for another reason, for example, to receive private medical treatment, donate an organ or as an international academic.
- The Marriage and Civil Partnership visitor visa: to visit the UK to get married or form a civil partnership, or to give notice of a marriage or civil partnership.
- The Permitted Paid Engagements (PPE) visa: to visit the UK to do specific paid work without being sponsored under the points-based visa system, for example, giving lectures or chairing selection panels as an expert in a professional field.
- The Transit visa: to visit the UK en route to another destination country.
Each of these sub-categories under the rules allow the visa holder to undertake any activities permitted by that route. For example, under a Standard Visitor visa you can:
- Visit friends and family or come to the UK for a holiday
- Take part in any of the business-related activities mentioned in the Visitor Rules
- Study for up to 30 days, as long as this is not the main reason for your visit
- Undertake incidental volunteering for up to 30 days
- Pass through the UK in transit on your way to another country
You will not be allowed to undertake work under this category of visa, other than that permitted under the rules. You will also not be allowed to access public funds, or live in the UK for long periods of time through frequent visits.
As there are different permitted or prohibited activities for each of the different visa routes it is always worth scrutinising the Immigration Rules for visitors before submitting your application to ensure that you will be able to visit the UK for your intended purpose(s).
Do business visitors need a visa??
If you are looking to visit the UK for business purposes, in most cases you will need to apply for a Standard Visitor visa. This will allow you to undertake a number of different business-related activities including coming to the UK for any of the following:
- To attend meetings, conferences, seminars or interviews
- To give a one-off or short series of talks and speeches, provided these are not organised as commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser
- To negotiate and sign deals and contracts
- To attend trade fairs, for promotional work only, provided you are not directly selling
- To carry out site visits and inspections
- To gather information for your employment overseas
- To be briefed on the requirements of a UK-based customer, provided any work for the customer is done outside of the UK
Under a Standard Visitor visa you can also visit the UK to:
- Take part in a specific sports-related event
- Perform as an artist, entertainer or musician
- Accompany students on a study abroad programme or to undertake research as an academic
- Take a clinical attachment or observer post as a doctor or dentist
- Get funding to start, take over, join or run a business in the UK
If, on the other hand, you are looking to undertake paid work in the UK, you may be eligible for a PPE visa. This will allow you to undertake short paid engagements in the UK, such as giving guest lectures at a higher education institution, providing advocacy in legal proceedings or taking part in arts, entertainment or sporting activities. However, you must have a formal invitation from a UK-based organisation or client. The PPE visa route is also only open to applicants who are experts in their profession overseas and in very limited circumstances.
If you intend to undertake any work or activities in the UK other than those permitted by the Immigration Rules for visitors, you may instead need to apply for a work visa under the UK’s points-based system. The eligibility and evidentiary requirements for these types of visa can be complex – for example, for a Tier 2 skilled worker you will need the offer of a suitable job from a UK licensed sponsor – so it is always best to seek expert advice here.
Visitor visa requirements
To be eligible for any type of visa under the UK’s Immigration Rules for visitors, regardless of the purpose of your visit, you must show that:
- You will leave the UK at the end of your visit, and will not live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits, or make the UK your main home
- You are able to support yourself and any dependents for the duration of your trip
- You are able to pay for your return or onward journey, as well as any other costs relating to your visit to the UK, without working or accessing public funds
- You have proof of any business or other activities you want to do in the UK, as allowed by the Visitor Rules, and will not undertake any prohibited activities set out under those rules
If the cost of your travel, maintenance and accommodation in the UK is to be provided by a third party, the Home Office must be satisfied that:
- A genuine professional or personal relationship exists with that person
- They are not, or will not be, in breach of UK immigration laws at the time of decision or your entry to the UK
- They can, and will, provide you with support for the duration of your stay
There are, however, several additional eligibility requirements depending on the nature of your visit and the subcategory of visa that you are seeking, so again careful checks should be made of the Immigration Rules for visitors before submitting your visa application.
How long can you stay in the UK with a visitor visa?
You can usually stay in the UK on a Standard Visitor visa for up to 6 months. You might be able to stay for longer if you are coming to the UK for private medical treatment (up to 11 months), or as an academic on sabbatical coming to the UK for research (up to 12 months).
If you are granted a visa for any lesser period, you may be able to apply for an extension from within the UK. However, the total duration of your stay, including both the original grant and the extension of stay, must not exceed the maximum permitted time. You must also apply before your existing visa expires, and satisfy the Home Office that you continue to meet all the suitability and eligibility requirements for your subcategory of visa.
If you need to visit the UK regularly over a longer period, you can apply for what’s known as a long-term Standard Visitor visa that lasts 2, 5 or 10 years. This will allow you to stay in the UK for a maximum of 6 months on each visit. However, you must prove that you will only ever need to come to the UK to visit and that you plan to leave the UK at the end of each visit.
Visitors for permitted paid engagements may not apply for an extension of stay as a visitor. These visas are granted for a period of up to one month only.
Will a visitor visa guarantee entry to the UK?
When you apply for a visa under the Immigration Rules for visitors, you will need to provide a current passport or other valid travel identification, together with additional documentation to prove the purpose of your visit as set out under the rules.
However, being granted a visa in advance of travelling does not guarantee entry into the UK. This means that on your arrival in the UK you must be in possession of documentation to prove that you are a genuine visitor, the intended purpose of your trip, and that you are able to support yourself during your stay without undertaking work or accessing public funds.
If you are a non-visa national, and so not required to obtain a visa in advance of travel to the UK, you will need to apply for leave to enter on arrival at a UK port of entry. This again means providing sufficient documentation to satisfy immigration officers that you meet all of the standard (and any additional) requirements under the Immigration Rules for visitors.
What happens if you breach the rules as a UK visitor?
If you are in breach of the Immigration Rules for visitors during your stay in the UK you risk having your visa curtailed. This means that you could be asked to leave the UK. You also risk getting a long-term ban on visiting the UK in the future.
You will be in breach of the Immigration Rules for visitors if, for example:
- You have provided false information, whether or not material to your visa application, and whether or not to your knowledge
- You have failed to disclose a material fact relevant to your application
- You fail to comply with any conditions of your leave to enter or remain in the UK
- You cease to meet the requirements of the rules
- Your travel history shows that you are repeatedly living in the UK for extended periods
- You overstay beyond the time permitted under your visa
- You have committed an offence for which you are sentenced to a period of imprisonment, or where the offence has caused serious harm or shows a particular disregard for the law.
Travelling to the UK as a visitor generally entails a less intensive application process compared with other immigration routes. However, specific rules still apply and applicants will need to understand the limitations on travel as a tourist.
DavidsonMorris are specialist UK immigration advisers, providing guidance to employers and travellers on UK immigration routes and Home Office applications. If you have a question about UK travel visa options, contact us.
Immigration Rules for Visitors FAQs
How can I get UK visit visa?
You may need a visa to visit the UK if you are from outside the EEA or Switzerland. You can apply for a UK visit visa from outside the UK using an online application process and attending an appointment at an overseas visa application centre to enrol your biometric information.
Can visitors enter the UK?
Visitors can enter the UK, although they may need a visit visa or leave to enter before doing so. If you are required to have a visa to enter the UK you should apply before you travel. In some cases, you may be able to travel to the UK without a visa, instead applying at the UK border, although you will still need to prove you are a genuine visitor and the reason for your visit.
What documents do I need for UK visitor visa?
The type of documents you will need for a UK visitor visa will depend on the purpose of your visit and the subcategory of visa you are seeking. In all cases, however, you will need to prove that you are genuine visitor and intend to return home after your trip. You must also show that you are able to fund your travel costs, maintenance and accommodation.
How long can you stay in the UK with a standard visitor visa?
standard visitor visa is typically for 6 months, unless you are applying to come to the UK for private medical treatment (up to 11 months) or as an academic on sabbatical coming to the UK for research purposes (up to 12 months).
Last updated: 19 September 2020