Explore the UK: Your Guide to UK Visit Visa

uk visit visa

IN THIS SECTION

There is no specific ‘visit visa’ for the UK; it’s a general term used colloquially to refer to a number of routes, each designed to accommodate the diverse needs and circumstances of international visitors.

Whether you’re planning to visit the UK for a holiday, sampling UK culture or exploring business opportunities, you’ll need to have secured the correct type of UK visit visa to avoid issues at the border, and to start your time in the UK in the best way.

In this comprehensive guide, we explore the various pathways to visit the UK to help you choose the most appropriate route for your needs.

 

Section A: Standard Visitor Visa

 

The UK Standard Visitor Visa is a versatile route catering to visa-nationals who wish to enter the United Kingdom for short stays for tourism, business engagements, or short-term study.

 

1. What is the Standard Visitor Visa

 

Travellers from designated visa-national countries need a visa to visit the UK for up to six months.

The Standard Visitor Visa accommodates several purposes:

 

a. Tourism: For those visiting the UK for leisure, sightseeing, or to see family and friends.

 

b. Business: Business-related activities include attending meetings, conferences, seminars, or interviews.

 

c. Short-term Study: This visa allows for short educational courses lasting up to 6 months.

 

d. Medical Treatment: Visitors may come to the UK to receive certain types of medical treatment.

 

e. Academic Visitors: Scientists, researchers, academics, senior doctors, and dentists can participate in specific work-related activities as visitors.

 

f. Paid Engagements: Visitors who are experts in their field can carry out specific paid engagements or events at the invitation of a UK-based client.

 

The Standard Visitor visa allows stays of up to 6 months, with multiple visits permissible within the visa’s validity period.

 

2. Eligibility and Application Process

 

To be eligible for a Standard Visitor Visa, applicants must prove that they:

 

a. Plan to leave the UK at the end of their visit.

 

b. Can support themselves and any dependents for the duration of the trip.

 

c. Can pay for their return or onward journey and any other costs related to their visit.

 

d. Have a genuine reason for their visit and will not undertake any prohibited activities, such as receiving public funds, marrying, or entering into a civil partnership.

 

3. Application Process

 

Step 1: Determine Eligibility

Ensure your trip falls under the activities permitted by the Standard Visitor Visa. Familiarise yourself with the eligibility criteria, such as proving you’ll leave the UK at the end of your visit and can support yourself during your stay.

 

Step 2: Complete the Online Application

Visit the official UK government website to complete the visa application form (VAF) for the Standard Visitor Visa.

The application fee must be paid online as part of your application process. Ensure you receive a confirmation of payment.

 

Step 3: Book and Attend Your Biometric Appointment

After submitting your online application, you must book an appointment at a Visa Application Centre (VAC) to provide your biometric information (fingerprints and a photograph).

Bring your passport, a printout of your appointment confirmation, and all the required supporting documents to your appointment.

 

Step 4: Wait for a Decision

Once your application is processed, you will be informed about the decision. Depending on the service options available in your country, your passport will either be returned to you by mail, or you’ll need to pick it up from the VAC.

 

Step 5: Prepare for Your Trip

If your visa is approved, check the visa vignette in your passport for any errors and understand the conditions of your visa.

Once you have your visa, you can travel to the UK.

 

4. Required Documents

 

Applicants must provide several documents, including:

 

a. A valid travel document or passport.

b. Evidence of the purpose of the visit (e.g., letter of invitation, travel itinerary).

c. Proof of accommodation and return travel.

d. Financial evidence showing enough funds to cover all expenses during the stay.

 

The specific documents will depend on the nature of your planned activities. For example, as an academic visitor, you may need to provide evidence from your employer outlining the research.

 

5. Processing Times

 

Visa processing times can vary, but applicants should generally receive a decision within three weeks of the visa application centre appointment. However, this timeframe may extend during peak travel seasons or due to individual circumstances requiring further scrutiny.

 

Section B: Transit Visa

 

When your travel plans require you to pass through the UK en route to another destination, you might need a Transit Visa.

 

1. What is the Transit Visa

 

The UK transit routes are designed for certain travellers who do not intend to stay in the UK but need to pass through its borders.

A Transit Visa is required if you are passing through the UK to another country, will not go through UK border control, and are from a country that does not have a visa exemption for transit.

You will also need a Transit Visa if you are going through UK border control but leaving the UK within 48 hours, even if you are from a country that normally does not require a visa for short stays. This includes changing airports or leaving the airport for any reason.

 

2. Types of Transit Visa

 

There are two types of Transit Visa, catering for different types of transiters: the Direct Airside Transit Visa (DATV) and the Visitor in Transit Visa.

 

a. Direct Airside Transit Visa (DATV) 
This visa is for those who don’t pass through UK border control and only need to change planes. The DATV is suitable for travellers whose layover does not involve leaving the airport’s international transit area. It’s valid for up to 24 hours.

 

b. Visitor in Transit Visa
If your layover requires you to pass through UK border control—for example, to change airports or if you’re arriving and departing by different means (plane to train)—you’ll need this visa. It allows a stay of up to 48 hours and is the right choice if you need to enter the UK briefly.

 

3. Application and Required Documentation

 

For both types of Transit Visas, the application process involves:

 

a. Completing an online application
Start this process well before your travel dates. Ensure you select the correct visa type based on your transit needs.

 

b. Scheduling an appointment
You must book an appointment at a visa application centre to provide your biometric information.

 

c. Preparing your documents
Essential documents include a current passport or other valid travel identification and proof of your onward journey. This could be a confirmed flight ticket showing your final destination after transiting through the UK.

 

d. Proof of visa for your onward destination
If the country you are travelling to after your UK transit requires a visa, you must provide evidence that you have this visa.

 

Please read our detailed guide to UK Transit Visas here >>

 

Section C: Marriage Visitor Visa

 

If you plan to come to the UK to get married or enter into a civil partnership without intending to stay or settle afterwards, you’ll need a Marriage visitor Visa.

 

1. What is the Marriage Visitor Visa

 

The Marriage Visitor Visa is designed for those who wish to celebrate their marriage or civil partnership in the UK without intending to stay long-term.

The Marriage Visitor Visa is valid for 6 months, and you must leave the UK at the end of this period or before the visa expires.

This visa is for couples seeking to celebrate their union in the UK’s picturesque locales or historic venues.

This could include getting married or registering a civil partnership in the UK, holding a symbolic wedding ceremony in the UK, even if legally married elsewhere.

You cannot switch to another visa category from within the UK on this visa, and employment and access to public funds are not permitted during your stay.

The visa is also suitable for individuals attending a marriage or civil partnership as guests if they come from a country that requires a visa to enter the UK and do not plan to stay beyond six months.

 

2. Application Process

 

To apply for a Marriage Visitor Visa, you will need to follow these steps:

 

a. Online Application
Start by filling out the visa application form on the UK government website. This form will ask about your travel plans, personal information, and details of your wedding or civil partnership.

 

b. Fee Payment
The application fee for the Marriage Visitor Visa must be paid online during the application process.

 

c. Book and Attend an Appointment
After submitting your online application, you must book an appointment at a visa application centre. Here, you’ll provide your fingerprints and photograph (biometric information) and submit your supporting documents.

 

3. Supporting Documents

You’ll need to provide several documents with your application, including:

 

a. A valid passport or travel document.

b. Provide proof of your relationship with your partner, such as communication records or photos.

c. Details of your wedding or civil partnership plans, including dates and venues.

d. Evidence of your financial ability to cover the trip and wedding expenses, such as bank statements.

e. information about where you will stay in the UK.

f. Proof that you intend to leave the UK after your visit, such as a letter from your employer or education institution.

 

Please read our detailed guide to the Marriage Visitor Visa here >>

 

 

Section D: Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA)

 

The UK is implementing an ETA scheme for travellers from countries that previously did not require a visa for short stays or transits through the UK.

 

1. What is Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) for the UK

 

The Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) is a digital authorisation for visa-exempt visitors, allowing them to travel to and enter the UK. It’s designed to pre-screen travellers for security purposes before they arrive at the UK border.

The ETA is required for visiting and transiting passengers, ensuring that individuals without a visa can still be checked before travelling.

Travellers in the UK under the Creative Worker concession will also need an ETA.

The ETA represents a significant shift in the UK’s approach to managing the entry of visa-exempt visitors, aiming to simplify the entry process while maintaining high security and immigration standards akin to other global electronic travel authorisation systems such as the USA’s ESTA programme.

The rollout is expected to be completed by the end of 2024, when it will include all non-visa nationals, including US, EU, and EEA nationals.

 

2. Who needs an ETA?

 

The ETA requirement will apply to nationals from countries that do not need a visa for short visits to the UK or transiting. This includes tourists, business visitors, and individuals in transit to other destinations.

The list of nationalities requiring an ETA is constantly evolving. Travellers are advised to check if their country has been included on the UK’s ETA list.

As of April 2024, the ETA applies to nationals of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

All relevant travellers, including children and babies, will need an ETA.

In addition, those coming to the UK under the Creative Worker concession will also require an ETA.

Certain groups, such as diplomats or those with other types of official status, may be exempt from the ETA requirement. It’s important to check the latest guidance to confirm whether you need an ETA based on your specific circumstances.

 

3. How to Apply for an ETA

 

Applying for an ETA is intended to be a straightforward, user-friendly process:

 

a. Application form
Travellers must complete the application form, which is available on the official UK government website or through the official app.

The form will require basic personal and contact information and answers to questions related to security and immigration history.

 

b. Application Fee
It costs £10 to apply for the ETA, payable online during submission.

 

c. Documentation
Applicants must have their valid passports on hand when completing the form, and a photograph must be uploaded.

 

d. Approval and Notification
After applying, travellers will receive their ETA approval electronically, typically within three days.

Authorisation is linked to the passport used during the application process. While no physical document is required at the border, it is advisable to save an image of the confirmation to your phone or print out a copy to avoid issues when travelling.

 

Please read our detailed guide to the UK ETA here >>

 

Section E: ADS Agreement for Chinese Tour Groups

 

Chinese citizens planning to come to the UK as part of a tourist group should look at the Chinese tour group visa for streamlined visa application processing.

 

1. What is the ADS Agreement for Chinese Tour Groups

 

The Approved Destination Status (ADS) Agreement is a bilateral tourism arrangement between the United Kingdom and China. Established to encourage and simplify the process for Chinese tourists wishing to visit the UK in groups, the ADS Agreement plays a crucial role in boosting cultural exchange and tourism between the two nations. It facilitates streamlined visa application processes for Chinese citizens touring the UK as part of organised groups.

The ADS Agreement allows Chinese tour groups to apply for UK visas faster and more efficiently than the standard visitor visa application procedure through an accredited process. The visa allows visits of up to 30 days.

This agreement is designed for tour groups with at least five people and is organised by travel agencies approved and recognised under the ADS scheme.

These travel agencies are vetted and authorised by both the Chinese and UK governments, ensuring a high standard of service and reliability.

 

2. Benefits for Chinese Citizens Touring the UK in Groups

 

The ADS scheme encourages cultural exchange by facilitating group tours to the UK, allowing Chinese citizens to explore British culture, history, and landmarks.

One of the primary benefits of the ADS Agreement is the simplified and expedited visa application process for group members, making it easier for Chinese tourists to plan and book their UK tours.

The cost of visas and processing fees are also typically lower for ADS tour groups compared to individual applications.

Compared with travelling as an individual, ADS-accredited tour groups provide safety and convenience, with arrangements for accommodation, transport, and itineraries handled by experienced travel agencies.

 

3. How to Apply through an ADS-Licensed Travel Agent

 

a. Find an ADS-Licensed Travel Agent
Under the ADS Agreement, Chinese tourists interested in travelling to the UK should start by identifying a travel agency in China with an ADS license. These agencies are authorised to organise tour groups to the UK under this specific agreement.

 

b. Choose a Tour Package
Select a tour package that fits your interests and schedule. ADS-licensed travel agents offer packages covering different attractions, cities, and durations.

 

c. Application Process
The travel agency will handle the visa application process on behalf of the group. This typically includes collecting necessary documentation from each traveller, filling out application forms, and submitting the applications to the UK visa authorities.

 

d. Prepare Required Documents
Travellers will need to provide personal and travel documents to the travel agency, which may include a valid passport, completed visa application forms, and possibly additional information depending on the specific requirements of the tour package.

 

e. Wait for Approval
Once the travel agency submits the visa applications, the group must wait for approval from the UK visa authorities. The travel agency will keep the group informed about the status of their application and any further steps needed.

 

Section F: Summary

 

Embarking on a journey to the United Kingdom, a land steeped in history and bursting with cultural diversity, requires careful planning—especially when navigating the complexities of visa requirements. The correct visa grants you entry and ensures your trip aligns with your intentions, whether you’re soaking in the sights, diving into business ventures, or celebrating love.

The diverse range of visa options, from the Standard Visitor Visa to the specific provisions under the ADS Agreement for Chinese tour groups, caters to international visitors’ varied needs and purposes.

Understanding the nuances of each visa type can significantly impact your travel experience, ensuring compliance with UK immigration laws and avoiding unnecessary complications.

As regulations and requirements are subject to ongoing changes, staying informed about the latest visa policies and procedures is paramount.

For expert advice and assistance in navigating the complex landscape of UK immigration and visas, DavidsonMorris can help. As recognised specialists in UK immigration, we provide guidance, support, and the most current information to ensure your visit to the UK is planned with confidence and peace of mind. Contact our experts today.

 

Section G: FAQs about Visiting the UK

 

Do I need a visa to visit the UK?
It depends on your nationality and the purpose of your visit. Many countries are visa-exempt for short stays, but you may still need to apply for a visa if you plan to work, study, or stay longer than the allowed period.

 

How long can I stay in the UK with a Standard Visitor Visa?
The Standard Visitor Visa allows you to stay in the UK for up to 6 months per visit. For certain activities, like academic research or accompanying a child studying in the UK, you may be able to stay longer.

 

Can I extend my visa while in the UK?
Most visitor visas, including the Standard Visitor Visa, cannot be extended. You must leave the UK before your visa expires. However, in exceptional circumstances, such as for medical reasons, you may be able to apply for an extension.

 

What is the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA), and do I need one?
The ETA is a new requirement for visa-exempt visitors to the UK designed to enhance border security. The scheme is being rolled out in phases, and visitors from certain countries will need to obtain an ETA before their travel.

 

How do I apply for a Marriage Visitor Visa?
You can apply online through the UK government’s official website. You’ll need to provide evidence of your wedding plans in the UK, prove that you intend to leave after your visit, and show that you have enough money to support yourself during your stay without working.

 

What documents do I need for a Transit Visa?
For a Transit Visa, you’ll typically need your current passport, proof of your onward journey (such as flight tickets), and sometimes a visa for your next destination if required.

 

Can I work in the UK with a Visitor Visa?
No, you cannot take up employment, produce goods, provide services, or do business in the UK if you have entered on a visitor visa. This includes voluntary work and internships.

 

How can I find an ADS-licensed travel agent for a trip from China to the UK?
Both the Chinese and UK governments approve ADS-licensed travel agents. A list of licensed agents is usually available through the Chinese National Tourism Administration or the UK Embassy’s website in China.

 

What if my visa application is denied?
If your visa application is denied, you will receive a letter explaining the reasons for the refusal. You can apply again, but it’s essential to address the reasons for the refusal in your new application.

 

Where can I get current information and assistance with my UK visa application?
For the most accurate and up-to-date information, always refer to the UK government’s official immigration website. DavidsonMorris can guide you through the application process for personalised assistance and legal advice.

 

Section H: Glossary of Terms Related to Visiting the UK

 

Approved Destination Status (ADS) Agreement: A bilateral agreement between the UK and China that facilitates group tours from China to the UK through accredited travel agencies.

 

Biometric Information: Unique physical characteristics, such as fingerprints and photographs, are used for identification during the visa application process.

 

Direct Airside Transit Visa (DATV): A type of UK visa required by certain nationals who are transiting through the UK without passing through border control, valid for up to 24 hours.

 

Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA): A new entry requirement for visa-exempt nationals traveling to the UK, involving a pre-travel authorisation process to enhance border security.

 

Marriage Visitor Visa: A visa that allows individuals to get married or register a civil partnership in the UK during a short stay without the intention of settling in the UK afterwards.

 

Standard Visitor Visa: A visa for tourists, people visiting family and friends, business visitors, and short-term students, allowing a stay of up to 6 months in the UK.

 

Transit Visa: A visa required for those passing through the UK en route to another country, available as either a Direct Airside Transit Visa (DATV) or a Visitor in Transit Visa.

 

Visitor in Transit Visa: A visa for travelers who need to pass through UK border control while on their way to another country, allowing a stay of up to 48 hours.

 

Visa Application Center (VAC): Authorised centres where visa applicants can submit their biometric information and supporting documents as part of the visa application process.

 

Visa Exemption: A policy that allows citizens of certain countries to enter the UK without a visa for short stays or specific purposes, subject to conditions.

 

Section I: Additional Resources

 

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-visas-and-immigration
The official government site for visa applications, immigration rules, and detailed guides on different visa types.

 

VisitBritain
https://www.visitbritain.com/en
The national tourism agency provides travel advice, highlights top attractions, and offers planning tools for visitors.

 

NHS Choices
https://www.nhs.uk/nhs-services/visiting-or-moving-to-england/how-to-access-nhs-services-in-england-if-you-are-visiting-from-abroad/
Information on healthcare services for visitors in the UK, including how to access medical treatment and emergency services.

 

UK Border Control
https://www.gov.uk/uk-border-control
Guidance on what to expect when arriving in or leaving the UK, including customs regulations.

 

Author

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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