There are various UK business visa options available to entrepreneurs, company owners and senior executives looking to come to the UK to do business. From the UK Visitor visa that can be used for general business purposes, such as attending meetings and conferences, to the UK Expansion Worker visa to establish a UK branch or subsidiary of an established overseas business, we look at the different types of UK business visa and what the requirements are for each.
The visas open to you will depend on your specific circumstances; taking professional advice from UK business immigration specialists will ensure you select and apply for the most appropriate route for your needs.
What are the different types of UK business visa?
If you are an overseas national coming to the UK for business purposes, even just to attend a meeting or conference, and you do not otherwise have immigration permission to be in the UK, you will need permission to do so by way of a visit visa. Equally, to be able to set up a business in the UK, even though you will be working for yourself rather than for someone else, you will still need permission to undertake self-employed work. In most cases, this means that you will need to apply for a suitable work visa from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), the division of the Home Office responsible for the UK’s visa system.
There are various options available from UKVI, although finding the right visa to establish a commercial presence or set up operations in the UK can be tricky. This is because the UK’s Immigration Rules can be complex, and the criteria often strict, where expert advice should always be sought from an immigration specialist to ensure that you select the right visa.
However, some of the main business visa options when it comes to either conducting business or setting up a brand new enterprise in the UK include the following:
- the UK Visitor visa (short and long-term)
- the Innovator Founder visa
- the UK Expansion Worker visa.
In this guide, we discuss the key requirements of each of these UK business visas.
The UK Visitor visa (short and long-term)
You can visit the UK for the purposes of business under a Standard Visitor visa for a period of up to 6 months. Provided you do not engage in paid employment, this visa will enable you to undertake a number of different business activities while in the UK, including:
- attending interviews, meetings, conferences and/or seminars
- negotiating and signing business deals and contracts
- attending trade fairs to promote your business, although you cannot sell things
- getting work-related training if you are employed overseas and the training is not otherwise available in your home country
- giving a one-off talk or short series of talks, provided these are not-for-profit or for a commercial event, where you must not be paid
- carrying out site visits and inspections
- overseeing the delivery of goods and/or services provided by a UK company to your overseas company or organisation
- delivering training or sharing knowledge on internal projects with UK employees of the company that you work for overseas
- installing, dismantling, repairing, servicing or advising on equipment, computer software or hardware, if your overseas company has a contract with a UK-based company or organisation.
However, to be eligible for a Standard Visitor visa, you must be able to show that:
- you will be leaving the UK at the end of your business trip
- you are able to support yourself during your UK trip
- you are able to cover the cost of your return or onward journey
- you will not live in the UK for extended lengths of time through either frequent and/or successive visits, or make the UK your main home.
In some cases, depending on your nationality, you may not need to apply for a Visitor visa in advance to visit the UK. However, even as a non-visa national, you will still need to apply for entry clearance on arrival in the UK, where it is at the discretion of immigration officials whether or not to grant you entry. This means that you must still be able to show that you meet the relevant requirements for entry as a business visitor. You may be asked various questions at the UK border about the activities that you plan to do during your stay. You may also need to produce relevant documentation to prove the purpose of your trip.
If you have previously been refused entry into the UK or you have a criminal history, you may want to apply for a Visitor visa, even if you do not need one. Equally, if you are looking to visit the UK on a number of occasions for business purposes over a protracted period of time, you may want to apply for a long-term Visitor visa. This will not permit you to stay for more than 6 months in the UK at any one time, but it will enable you to undertake frequent business trips over a period of either 2, 5 or even 10 years, without having to re-apply for a new visa each time. Importantly, however, the long-term Visitor visa is not designed for those looking to undertake paid or unpaid work in the UK, including starting your own business, where you will instead need to apply to UKVI for a suitable work visa.
The cost of applying for a Standard Visitor visa is £100, while the cost of applying for a long-term Visitor visa is £376 for 2 years, £670 for 5 years and £837 for 10 years.
The Innovator Founder visa
The new Innovator Founder visa, which recently opened to applicants on 13 April 2023, will allow overseas entrepreneurs to apply for permission to set up and run a business in the UK, provided this is something that is different from anything else on the market. This new route combines the best aspects of the former Start-Up and Innovator routes, where there is no longer any requirement to show a minimum capital investment and individuals can undertake additional work alongside running their business.
To be eligible for the new Innovator Founder visa, your business or business idea will need to have been endorsed by a Home Office approved body, also known as an endorsing body, and you must also meet the other eligibility requirements. You must be able to show that your business idea is:
- new, where you cannot join a business in the UK that is already trading
- innovative, where you must have an original business idea which is clearly different from anything else on the UK market
- viable, with potential for growth in the UK
- scalable, where you must provide proof of planning that includes both creating jobs and growing into national and/or international markets.
To be eligible, you must also meet both an English language and financial requirement. This means that you must be able to show that you can speak, read, write and understand English to Level B2 on the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) scale. You must also have sufficient personal savings to be able to support yourself while in the UK. To satisfy the financial requirement, you will need to show savings of at least £1,270 up for 28 consecutive days. Additionally, however, you will also need to prove to your endorsing body that you have sufficient funding to start your proposed business, where you cannot use money from your investment funds to support yourself.
Provided you are able to meet all the relevant requirements, you will be granted a visa for a period of 3 years. However, you will need to meet up with your endorsing body after 12 months, and again after 24 months, to show that you are making progress with your business. You will also have the option to stay longer in the UK, although you must re-apply with a new endorsement prior to expiry of your current visa. There is no limit on the number of times that you can apply to extend your stay on this route, and you can apply for settlement once you have lived in the UK for a period of 3 years. Unlike the former Start-up route, time spent in the UK under the Innovator Founder route will counts towards qualifying for settlement, otherwise known as indefinite leave to remain.
The cost of applying for an Innovator Founder visa is £1,036 from outside the UK, or £1,292 if you apply to switch to this visa or extend your stay from inside the UK. As part of your visa application you will also be required to pay the healthcare surcharge. This is an annual fee of £624 to grant you access to the UK’s NHS during your stay.
The UK Expansion Worker visa
A UK Expansion Worker visa will allow you to come to the UK to set up a brand new branch of an overseas business that has not yet started trading in the UK, although you must already work for an established overseas business as either a senior manager or a specialist employee. To be eligible for this type of UK business visa you must:
- have a valid sponsorship certificate from your overseas employer
- have worked for your employer outside of the UK for a period of at least 12 months, unless you earn over £73,900 or are a Japanese national doing work for a Japanese company that is looking to expand to the UK
- do a job that is on the list of eligible occupations under the UK’s Immigration Rules
- be paid at least £45,800 per year or the minimum eligible salary required for your job, whichever is the higher
- prove you have enough personal savings (£1,270) to support yourself on arrival in the UK, unless you are exempt.
You can live in the UK under a UK Expansion Worker visa for either 12 months after the start date of the job on your sponsorship certificate or the time given on your sponsorship certificate plus 14 days, whichever is the shorter. If you would like to stay longer in the UK, you can apply to extend your visa by a period of 12 months, although the maximum time that you can stay in the UK on this type of UK business visa is 2 years.
You can also only stay in the UK for a maximum period of 5 years in any 6-year period if you have already spent time in the UK on any one of the other visas under the Global Business Mobility (GBM) umbrella, such as the Senior or Specialist Worker visa, the Graduate Trainee visa, the Secondment Worker visa or the Service Supplier visa.
The cost to apply for a UK Expansion Worker visa is £259. You will also be required to pay the healthcare surcharge as part of your application at a rate of £624 per year of stay.
How to apply for a UK business visa
To apply for a UK business visa, you will need to submit an online application at GOV.UK and pay the relevant visa fee. You will also need to enrol your biometric information, where required, and provide documentary proof of your identity and nationality, together with any additional documentation in support, depending on the type of visa sought.
When applying for a visa from overseas, for example, for a Visitor visa, you should get a decision from UKVI within 3 weeks of submitting your application or attending an overseas visa application centre. In contrast, if you have applied switch to a UK business visa from within the UK, a decision will usually take up to 8 weeks. During this time, you will not be permitted to travel outside of the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or Isle of Man until you get a decision, where your application will be withdrawn if you do. However, you may be able to pay to get a faster decision and will be told if you can when you apply.
Importantly, you cannot switch to either the Innovator Founder visa nor the UK Expansion Worker visa if you are currently in the UK on a Visitor visa. In these circumstances, you would need to leave the UK and make an application for one of these visas from overseas. There are also other types of visas that may be available to you, depending on your circumstances, so expert advice should always be sought before making an application.
DavidsonMorris are UK business immigration specialists. Our dedicated team provide expert guidance to businesses, entrepreneurs and investors on the immigration options to come to the UK for business and work. For advice on the best UK business visa for your circumstances, contact us.
UK business visa FAQs
How do I get a business visa for the UK?
To obtain a visa to visit the UK for the purpose of permitted business activities, such as attending meetings or conferences, you will need to apply online from overseas and pay the relevant application fee.
How much money is needed for UK business visa?
If you are applying for a visa to visit the UK for the purpose of permitted business activities, such as attending conferences or meetings, the cost is just £100, although the cost will be higher for a long-term visit visa.
How long can you stay in the UK on a business visa?
The length of time that you can stay in the UK on a UK business visa will all depend on which visa you have. For a business visitor visa, you can typically stay for up to 6 months.
Can I live in UK for business visa?
The UK Founder and UK Expansion Worker visa will allow you to temporarily live in the UK, although only for 2 years under the UK Expansion Worker route. You cannot live in the UK on a business Visitor visa.
Last updated: 30 April 2023