A Guide to the Study Visa UK System

study visa uk


To be able to study in the United Kingdom as an international student, you’ll need to have an appropriate visa. The UK does not, however, offer a one-size-fits-all “Study Visa.”

In the context of UK immigration, the term “Study visa” refers to three specific types of visas that cater to different educational purposes and age groups:


a) Student Visa: suitable for adults attending university or college;

b) Child Student Visa: designed for children attending independent schools; and

c) Short-term study visa: intended for those engaging in short English language courses.


Prospective students must apply for the relevant visa that aligns with their age, course type, and length of stay. This guide will explore each visa type in detail, helping you determine which visa best suits your educational plans, and the steps you’ll need to take to apply.

Issues or errors with your study visa application can result in delayed processing, additional costs, potential visa refusal and problems gaining entry into the UK at the border. Taking professional advice on your application is the most effective way to secure your visa, allowing you to focus on your studies and arrangements for coming to the UK. Speak to our UK immigration experts for tailored advice on your circumstances.


Section A: UK Student Visa Overview


1. What is the Student Visa?


The UK Student Visa, previously known as the Tier 4 General Student Visa, is designed for non-UK residents who wish to undertake higher education in the UK. It is applicable for individuals attending a university, college, or qualifying educational institution that offers a level of courses appropriate for international students under the UK’s points-based system.

The visa duration depends on the length of the course plus an additional short period (e.g., four months for courses longer than a year). This allows time to prepare for graduation or transition into work.

Student visa holders are allowed to work part-time during the term for up to 20 hours per week and full-time during vacations, depending on their course level and sponsor type.


2. Eligibility Criteria


Student Visa applicants must be 16 years or older and intend to study in the UK on a course offered by a licensed sponsor, such as a university, a college of higher education, or an accredited institution.

Once a place has been offered, the sponsor will issue the applicant a unique reference number called a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). The applicant will need the CAS to apply for their visa.

To be eligible, the course itself must come under one of the following:


a. Below Degree Level (RQF Level 3, 4, or 5): A full-time course leading to a qualification below a bachelor’s degree, requiring at least 15 hours of organised daytime study per week.


b. Degree Level or Above (RQF Level 6, 7, or 8): A full-time course leading to a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification.


c. Overseas Degree Equivalent (RQF Level 6, 7, or 8): A full-time degree-level or higher course delivered overseas as part of a more extended program, recognised as equivalent to a UK higher education course.


d. Part-Time Above Degree Level (RQF Level 7 or above): A part-time course leading to a qualification above a bachelor’s degree (Master’s or higher).


e. Postgraduate Medical Programmes: A recognised foundation program for students pursuing postgraduate studies in medicine or dentistry.


f. English Language Course (B2 or Above): An English language course at level B2 or higher on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).


g. Postgraduate doctors and dentists can apply for this visa if sponsored for a recognised foundation programme, and they have finished a recognised UK degree in medicine or dentistry, received that degree from a registered student sponsor, and spent their final year and at least one other year of studies leading to that degree in the UK.


Applicants must also demonstrate that they have enough money to support themselves and pay for their course. The exact amount depends on their circumstances and where they will study in the UK.


3. Application Process


In addition to completing the online application, Student Visa applicants must also provide their passport or other valid travel documentation, proof of financial means, a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) from their course provider, and proof of English language proficiency.

Those studying or researching topics at RQF level 7 or above may also need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate.

The fee for the Student Visa is currently set at £490. An additional Immigration Healthcare Surcharge of £776 per year of leave is payable to access NHS services.

The Student Visa process typically takes about three weeks to decide; however, applying up to three months before your course starts is advisable.

Please read our detailed guide to the UK Student Visa here >>


Section B: UK Child Student Visa Overview


1. What is the Child Student Visa?


The UK Child Student Visa is for international children aged between 4 and 17 years who wish to study at independent schools in the UK.

This visa category allows children to access primary and secondary education in a supportive environment while preparing them for higher education opportunities or to return to their home countries with an internationally recognised education.

The Child Student visa is typically granted for the length of the course with some additional time depending on the child’s age and course length. Visas for students under 16 are generally issued for the course length, up to 6 years, with an additional four months afterwards. Visas for students aged 16 or 17 are issued for the course length, up to 3 years, plus four months after.

The visa allows multiple entries into the UK, enabling the child to travel back and forth between school holidays. It also includes specific rights for the child to adequate accommodation, protection under UK child protection laws, and access to healthcare.


2. Eligibility Criteria


The visa is available to children aged 4 to 17. Those under 16 are considered ‘child students’, while those aged 16 or 17 are typically enrolled in further education.

Applicants aged 18 or over should apply for the Student Visa instead.

The child must have an unconditional offer to study at a private fee-paying school that holds a Student Sponsor Licence and has the consent of their parent or guardian.

They must also be able to show that they have access to enough funds to pay for their education and support themselves financially while in the UK.


3. Application Overview


Applications can be made up to 6 months before the course starts. The application is made online, and supporting documents will need to be provided, including a valid passport, proof of unconditional school offer, written consent from both parents or legal guardians detailing their relationship with the child and agreement for the child to study in the UK, and evidence of financial support.

The application fee for the Child Student Visa is £490, with the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge also payable at a rate of £776 per year of leave.

Child Student Visa applications are usually processed within three weeks.

Please read our detailed guide to the Child Student Visa here >>


Section C: UK Short-Term Study Visa Overview


1. What is the Short-Term Study Visa?


The Short-Term Study Visa is designed for individuals seeking a short English language course in the UK.

This visa suits those not qualifying for a Student Visa because their courses do not meet the required duration.

Typically, this visa allows multiple entries into the UK during its validity period, which can be helpful for tourists combining study and travel.

Holders of the Short-term Study Visa are not allowed to work, including on work placements or work experience.

Short-term Study Visa holders are only allowed to study the specific course they applied for with this visa; changing to a different course or enrolling in another program is not permitted.

Extending this visa type within the UK is also not possible.


2. Eligibility Criteria


The course must last between 6 and 11 months to qualify for the Short-Term Study Visa.

In addition, the institution delivering the course must be an accredited provider in the UK recognised by the government or relevant bodies. This visa is not valid for attending state-funded schools in the UK.


3. Application Overview


Applicants apply for the visa online by completing the form on the UK Government website and submitting supporting documents, including their valid passport, proof of acceptance on a course, evidence of financial support during the stay, and details of accommodation arrangements.

Applications should be made three months before the intended travel to the UK. A decision is usually made within three weeks.

The application fee for a Short-term Study Visa is currently £200.
In addition, the applicant is required to pay the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge, which costs £776 for student applicants.

Please read our detailed guide to the Short-Term Study Visa here.


Section D: Summary


Whether you aim to pursue a degree at one of the world-renowned universities like Oxford or Cambridge or take a short course in a modern institution, the UK offers a rich educational experience in a culturally vibrant environment.

There are three primary types of UK study visas tailored to different educational needs: the Student Visa, ideal for those engaging in full-time higher education; the Child Student Visa, designed for younger learners in preparatory and secondary schools; and the Short-term Study Visa, perfect for individuals attending short courses or language training.

Each visa type has its requirements, benefits, and restrictions, ensuring that various educational pursuits can be accommodated within the UK’s legal framework.

Choosing the correct visa is crucial for anyone planning to study in the UK. You must carefully evaluate your circumstances, including your age, the length and type of your intended study, and your financial situation.

Taking the time to choose the correct visa will not only ensure compliance with UK immigration laws but also enhance your educational experience. This will allow you to focus on achieving your academic objectives with peace of mind.


Section E: Study Visa Frequently Asked Questions


What is the difference between the Student Visa and a Short-term Study Visa?

The Student Visa is designed for those who wish to pursue longer courses at the undergraduate or graduate level, generally lasting more than a year. It allows part-time work during term time and is suitable for shorter courses not exceeding 11 months, such as English language courses or professional training. On the other hand, the short-term study visa is suitable for shorter courses that do not exceed 11 months and do not permit any work.


Can I switch from one study visa to another while in the UK?

Generally, switching between study visas (e.g., from a Short-term Study Visa to a Student Visa) is not permitted within the UK. You must return to your home country and apply for a new visa there. However, exceptions exist, so it’s advisable to take advice on your specific circumstances.


How early should I apply for my study visa?

You should apply at least three months before your course starts. This timeframe allows for any delays in processing your application. For the best chance at a timely decision, ensure your application is complete, and all supporting documents are in order.


What if my study visa application is denied?

If your visa application is denied, the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will explain the refusal. If you believe there has been an error in the decision-making process, you can apply for an administrative review. Alternatively, you can correct the issues in your application and reapply.


Is healthcare included with my study visa?

Students on a Student Visa or Child Student Visa are generally required to pay a healthcare surcharge as part of their application, which grants access to the NHS. However, Short-term Study Visa holders are not eligible for NHS services and should arrange private medical insurance during their stay.


Can I bring dependents on a study visa?

Dependents are only allowed under the Student Visa if they attend a postgraduate course at a higher education institution for more than nine months or are a government-sponsored student on a course that lasts longer than six months. Dependents cannot use the Child Student Visa or Short-term Study Visa.


Section F: Glossary of Key Study Visa Terms


Student Visa: This visa category allows non-EU/EEA nationals aged 16 and over to engage in long-term academic courses in the UK. It has replaced the Tier 4 (General) student visa.


Child Student Visa: This visa is designed for international children aged between 4 and 17 who want to study at independent schools in the UK. It requires the child to have a place at a private school and the consent of a guardian in the UK.


Short-term Study Visa: This visa is for individuals intending to study short courses in the UK lasting no longer than six months or 11 months, specifically English language courses. It does not permit any form of employment.


CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies): A document issued by a licensed study provider that a student needs to apply for a Student Visa. It confirms the student has been accepted on a course of study in the UK.


NHS (National Health Service): The UK’s public health services provider offering comprehensive healthcare services. Most visa categories require payment of the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge to gain access to NHS services during their stay.


Healthcare Surcharge: A fee visa applicants pay to access the NHS during their stay in the UK. This fee is part of the visa application for eligible categories.


Licensed Sponsor: An education provider approved by the UK government to sponsor international students. This includes universities, colleges, and schools that can issue CAS documents.


Administrative Review:  a process that allows visa applicants to have their visa applications re-evaluated if they believe an error was made during the initial decision-making process.


Dependents: Family members of a visa applicant, typically a spouse or children, who can accompany or join them in the UK under certain visa categories, subject to specific conditions.


Points-Based System: The immigration framework used by the UK to manage the flow of overseas workers and students. It requires applicants to meet specific criteria and score certain points to be eligible for a visa.


Section G: Additional Resources


This is the official government website for information on studying in the UK. It provides a comprehensive overview of the visa process, eligibility requirements, and different types of student visas available.


UK Council for International Students (UKCISA)
UKCISA is a membership organisation representing universities and colleges in the UK. Their website offers resources and guidance for international students, including information on visas and immigration.


British Council
The British Council is the UK’s organisation for international cultural relations and educational opportunities. Their website provides helpful information for international students considering studying in the UK, including visa requirements and application procedures.


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

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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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