Visiting the UK
If you are coming to the UK for a visit – as a tourist, to see friends and family, for academic research or a business meeting, or to receive medical treatment – you may need a UK visitor visa.
All visa nationals are required to obtain a visa prior to travelling. A list of visa nationals is in Appendix 2 to Appendix V of the Immigration Rules.
Non-visa nationals do not normally need a visa for a short visit of up to six months unless they are coming to the UK to marry or form a civil partnership. Marriage visitors are an exception to this rule – they need a visa even if coming from non-visa countries.
There is no limit on the frequency of visits or specified maximum period visitors are allowed to spend in the UK in any 12-month period. However, if you spend more time in the UK that in your country of residence the Immigration Officer may have grounds to believe that you live in the UK. You may be questioned at the border about the purpose of the visit, your source of income and activities you are planning in the UK. As a recommendation, spending less than six months in any 12-month period may be the safest option.
For those who had previously been denied entry as a visitor or who feel that the immigration officer may have reasons not to admit them to the UK, it is advisable to apply for a visitor’s visa before travelling.
ON THIS PAGE
Permitted paid engagements
Artists, entertainers & musicians
Most common grounds for refusal
Visitor visa FAQs
Inviting your family to visit you in the UK
Whether you have indefinite leave to remain in the UK or have a temporary status as a student or worker, you may invite your family members to visit you.
You will have to be as precise as possible about the proposed duration of their visit and show how the trip will be funded. If you are providing accommodation and maintenance for your family members, it is recommended that you provide bank statements covering not less than three months to show the funds and confirm in a letter of invitation what kind of accommodation you will offer your visitors.
It is good practice to provide evidence of relationship such as birth certificates if you are closely related.
Your visitors will also need to provide evidence of their social and economic ties to the country of origin and prove as far as possible intention to return home. Due to hostile environment, this may be particularly burdensome for visitors from the so called “high risk” countries or for retired and single people who have stronger family ties with the UK than the country where they live.
It is important that your family visitors are not invited for any specific household chore such as looking after a child or domestic work.
Normally, good immigration history is indicative of intention to comply with the rules and it is very important that your first application for a visitor visa is successful. It will clear the way for the subsequent applications as long as you do not stay in the UK longer than indicated in the application form and fully comply with the conditions of stay.
There is no requirement for family visitors to have travel insurance but it is highly recommended as visitors are not allowed to use the NHS and private treatment in the UK may be very expensive.
Marriage visitor visa
Non-UK residents need a visitor visa if they wish to get married in the UK but will not be living in the UK after marriage. This requirement applies to non-visa nationals who normally get leave to enter at the border, without prior application, if visiting the UK for up to six months.
Marriage visitor visa should not be confused with a fiancé visa which is for those who are planning to get married in the UK and stay with their British partner.
Marriage visitor visa is also required if you are travelling to the UK to give notice of intention to get married. The visa is granted for six months and would be suitable both for filing notice of intention to marry and for the marriage ceremony and reception.
Ironically, fiancés of British citizens may find it more difficult to get a marriage visitor visa to the UK than people who do not have this connection with the UK. This is because their intention to leave the UK after the wedding may be subjected to more intensive scrutiny than otherwise. The rigidity and hostility of the immigration rules towards foreign spouses also contributes as a negative factor.
A visitor who is coming to the UK for private medical treatment have to provide a letter from the UK based consultant detailing the medical condition, estimated costs and likely duration of any treatment and where the consultation or treatment will take place. Treatment has to have an end date and should not be expected to take more than 11 months.
Permitted activities for business visitors
Business visitors do not need special permission for the following activities:
- Attend meetings, conferences, seminars or interviews;
- Negotiate or sign business contracts;
- Carry out site visits and inspections;
- Be briefed on the requirements of their UK customers provided the work for the customer is carried out outside the UK;
- Give a one off or a short series of talks provided they are not organised as commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser;
- An employee of a foreign manufacturer or supplier may install, dismantle, repair, service or advise on equipment or software supplied to the UK;
- A client of a UK export company may be seconded to the UK to oversee the requirements for goods and services that are provided under the contract by the UK company, provided that the UK company and the overseas client are not part of the same group of companies.
Employees of international corporations may visit the UK branch of the business but are not allowed to work directly with or for the clients. If the purpose of the trip to the UK is to provide services or fill a role within the company, the employee should apply for a Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer visa.
Permitted paid engagements for visitors
A professional artist, entertainer or musician may give performances individually or as part of a group; take part in competitions or auditions and take part in promotional activities.
They can receive remuneration for activities relating to their profession when invited by a creative organisation, agent or broadcaster based in the UK or if they are taking part in one of the approved permit free festivals in the UK.
A qualified lawyer may provide advocacy for a court or tribunal hearing, arbitration or other form of dispute resolution for legal proceedings within the UK, if they have been invited by a client.
Pilot examiners may visit the UK to assess UK based pilots to ensure they meet the national aviation requirements for other countries.
Artists, entertainers and musicians
The statute gives the Secretary of State very wide discretionary powers to register any child under the age of 18 wherever they deem appropriate.
These powers are exercised restrictively but there are certain factors that are relevant in the context of intercountry adoptions and cannot be waived or ignored. The relevant considerations include whether the adoption is recognised in the UK and whether it was authorised by a competent authority in accordance with the procedures set out in the Hague convention.
Sports persons may visit the UK for the following purposes:
- take part in a sports tournament or sports event as an individual or part of a team;
- take part in promotional activities;
- take part in trials provided they are not in front of a paying audience;
- take part in short periods of training provided they are not being paid by a UK sporting body;
- join an amateur team or club to gain experience in a particular sport if they are an amateur in that sport.
Sports persons may bring with them their personal or technical staff to support their activities in the UK.
Permitted duration and frequency of visits to the UK and period of grant of visitor visa
Visitor visa normally permits travelling to the UK on more than one occasion. It can be issued for six months or for a period of two, five or ten years.
Single entry visa may be issued for specific occasions, such as to conduct a specific business activity, attend a one-off event, visit at the request of the police or a witness for court proceedings.
Long-term visa does not allow to visit the UK for a period longer than six months. There is no specific maximum period a visitor can spend in the UK in any 12 months but the visa may be curtailed if the visitor’s travel history suggests that they live in the UK rather than visit. If the visitor is spending more time in the UK than in their home country, it may be taken as an indication of their home being in the UK.
Most common grounds for uk visitor visa refusals
By far the most frequent reason for refusal is genuineness of the intention to visit the UK. In assessing the applicant’s intention, the Entry Clearance Officer takes into account the following factors:
- previous immigration history of the applicant and duration of previous visits to the UK;
- financial circumstances and social and economic background of the applicant;
- social and economic ties with the country of residence;
- political, economic and security situation in the applicant’s country of nationality;
- information on immigration non-compliance by individuals from the same geographical area as the applicant.
Challenging visitor visa refusals
There is no right of appeal against refusal of a visitor visa and there is no administrative review. The applicant can make a complaint to the Home Office if the decision-maker failed to consider the documents provided or made a mistake in applying the immigration rules or standard policy. The only legal remedy is judicial review.
There are two possible approaches: one is to demonstrate that the decision is unreasonable or irrational. Given the official guidance, which allows the decision maker to make inferences from the socio-economic situation in the geographic region of the applicant’s country of origin, it is not an easy argument to win. The other approach is by challenging the legality of the policy which is not easy either but may push the Home Office to reconsider their position in order not to risk a challenge in court.
Visitors who are coming to the UK for private medical treatment may be granted a visa for up to 11 months.
Academic visitors and their dependants may be granted a visit visa for up to 12 months.
Visitors are allowed to study for a maximum of 30 days during their visit provided that the main purpose of the visit is not to study and the course is not state funded. The permitted courses include recreational courses undertaken purely for leisure purposes or short English language courses taught an accredited institution.
Volunteering is allowed provided it is not the main purpose of the visit, it is for a registered charity and will be for no longer than 30 days in total. It should not be a contractual position.
There is a legal difference between volunteering and doing voluntary work. Voluntary worker is under a contractual obligation to the charity. This is not allowed for visitors. There is a special visa for this type of work – see Tier 5 voluntary worker.
Guide to supporting documents for visitor visa applications
Visit Visa – Home Office policy guidance
on this page
How immigration solicitors can help with visitor visa applications
Consultation on the best strategy
We recommend a 30-minute consultation if the visitor does not have any adverse immigration history, but will be travelling to the UK for the first time and wants to make sure that there are no factors that may hinder approval of the application. We will also give you recommendations on the type of documents that will help your application.
If you were previously refused a visa to the UK, we would recommend a 1-hour consultation. Ideally, we would want to read the refusal letter. This will allow us to confirm that the refusal does not debar you from applying again. We would recommend to you the best tactics for the application and the documents that would present your case at its strongest.
Full representation in visitor visa applications
We take instructions for visitor visa applications where there is a high risk of refusal or where the success of the application is very important and the applicant cannot afford to risk being refused.
We also assist corporate clients and universities with organising attendance at conferences and business meetings, particularly where visitors are invited from “high risk” countries, such as African and Middle East countries or Latin America.