Whether or not you need a visitor visa to enter the UK depends on a number of factors, including your nationality, the length of time you plan to spend in the UK and the purpose of your trip.
There are some countries whose nationals do not need a visitor visa if their stay in the UK is not longer than six months. However, the Immigration Rules do not specifically indicate these countries, but the others, whose nationals need a visa. So, by exclusion, if you are not a national of one of the countries listed in the next paragraph, you most likely do not need a visitor visa if you want to visit places or people in the UK for less than six months.
The list of countries whose nationals need to apply for and obtain a visitor visa prior to their travel to the UK is as follows: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Comoros, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt , El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, North Korea, Kosovo, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, São Tomé and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Nationals of these countries are known as “Visa nationals”.
The duration of your visit
A visitor visa is for a person who wants to visit the UK for a temporary period, usually for up to 6 months. Some visitors may stay for longer though. For example, if you apply for a visitor visa to enter the UK to receive private medical treatment, you may be eligible to remain for up to 11 months provided that you bring evidence from your doctor in the UK that the proposed treatment is likely to exceed 6 months. Or if you are a highly qualified academic in your own field of expertise and you are currently working in that field at an academic institution or institution of higher education outside the UK, you may qualify to remain in the UK as a visitor for up to 12 months in certain conditions.
To clarify, “Non-Visa Nationals” (e.g., EU Nationals, citizens of USA, Australia, Canada, etc), who do not need a visitor visa to visit the UK for less than 6 months, will need a visa if they wish to remain in the UK as visitors for more than 6 months.
The purpose of your visit
It is very important for you to understand what activities you are allowed to do in the UK as a visitor and what activities are prohibited. Depending on what you plan to do in the UK, you can apply for the correct visitor visa and avoid coming to the UK as a visitor and breaching the conditions of your visa.
If you want to come to the UK for a holiday and visit friends, family or places, or if you plan to take part in educational exchanges or visits with a state funded school or academy or independent school, or attend recreational courses (not English Language training) for a maximum of 30 days, you need a Standard Visitor Visa. Under such a visa you may also undertake volunteering provided it lasts no more than 30 days in total and is for a registered charity.
If you wish to marry or form a civil partnership in the UK, or give notice of marriage or civil partnership, you will need a Marriage/Civil Partnership Visitor Visa.
If you are a highly qualified academic coming to examine students or an expert coming to give lectures in your subject area, and you have been invited by a higher education institution in the UK, you will need a Permitted Paid Engagement Visitor Visa. The same if you are an overseas designated pilot examiner coming to assess UK-based pilots to ensure they meet the national aviation regulatory requirements of other countries, if you have been invited by an approved training organisation based in the UK that is regulated by the UK Civil Aviation Authority for that purpose. You will also need to apply for a Permitted Paid Engagement Visitor Visa if you are qualified lawyer coming to provide advocacy for a court or tribunal hearing, arbitration or other form of dispute resolution for legal proceedings within the UK, where you have been invited by a client. Other examples of professionals who need to apply for a Permitted Paid Engagement Visitor Visa are professional artists, entertainers, musicians or sportspersons that have been invited by a creative (arts or entertainment) organisation, a sports organisation, agent or broadcaster based in the UK.
What if the purpose of your visit is to undertake business activities? As a Standard Visitor, you will be permitted to attend meetings, conferences, seminars, 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 (provided you are not directly selling products), to carry out site visits and inspections, gather information for your employment overseas and to be briefed on the requirements of a UK based customer (provided any work for the customer is done outside of the UK). If you are an employee of an overseas based company, you may advise and consult, trouble-shoot, provide training and share skills and knowledge on a specific internal project with UK employees of the same corporate group, provided no work is carried out directly with clients. You may also install, dismantle, repair, service or advise on machinery, equipment, computer software or hardware (or train UK based workers to provide these services) where there is a contract of purchase, supply or lease with a UK company or organisation and either the overseas company is the manufacturer or supplier, or the overseas company is part of a contractual arrangement for after sales services agreed at the time of the sale or lease, including in a warranty or other service contract incidental to the sale or lease.
For the avoidance of doubt, while Visa Nationals will always need a visa for the above purposes, whether or not Non-Visa Nationals will need a visa depends on the activity they plan to carry out in the UK and on the duration of the visit. For the purposes of this article, which needs to be short and easy to understand, I couldn’t detail every situation. I recommend you to use a very useful tool on the UK Government website, available here, which will help you find out, depending on your nationality, the duration and purpose of your visit, whether you need to apply for a visa before you travel to the UK or not.
Of course, as a visitor, you will not be permitted to work in the UK. You will not be allowed to take employment, establish or run a business as a self-employed person, do a work placement or internship, directly sell to the public or provide goods and services.
You will also not be permitted to study in the UK or access NHS medical treatment (you can get private medical treatment instead). As mentioned above, as a Standard Visitor you will not be allowed to get married or form a civil partnership (you need a Marriage/Civil Partnership Visitor Visa for that).
Applying for a visitor visa
If you seek entry clearance as a visitor, the application must be made online, when you are outside the UK. You must convince the caseworker that you are a genuine visitor, meaning that you will leave the UK at the end of your visit, that you will not live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits, or make the UK your main home, that the purpose of your visit is permitted under this route, and that you will not undertake any of the prohibited activities set out above.
An essential aspect is to convince the caseworker that you have sufficient funds to cover all reasonable costs in relation to your visit without working or accessing public funds. You must provide evidence that you have sufficient funds to cover the cost of your return or onward journey, any costs relating to your dependants, and the cost of planned activities such as private medical treatment. You must show that any funds you rely upon are held in a financial institution (i.e., a bank) where the decision maker is able to make satisfactory verification checks, which is regulated by the appropriate regulatory body for the country in which that institution is operating and which does use electronic record keeping. Financial evidence provided with the application must be recent. The most recently dated piece of financial evidence must be dated within 31 days before the date of application. Your travel, maintenance and accommodation costs may be covered by a third party if you have a genuine professional or personal relationship with that person or organisation. Mere promises of future third-party support will not be accepted as evidence of funds.
From my own experience, I can say that visitor visa applications are quite complicated. It is not the filling out of the online form that causes problems, but the rather large amount of documents that must be collected, prepared and submitted as evidence of all the aspects explained above. I do not recommend that anyone go down this road without legal assistance from a licensed professional.
I am here to help
If you want to apply for a visa to visit the UK and need specialist advice, feel free to contact me. Please note that I am an accredited immigration adviser, not an employee of the UK Visas and Immigration. I charge fees for the advice provided.