Types of UK Visa Explained
Unless you’re a UK citizen, or you have indefinite leave to remain, you’ll need a visa if you want to live, work, or study in the UK.
Most countries use the visa system to allow non-citizens to conditionally enter the country. So whether you’re planning to move to the UK permanently or temporarily — or even if you’re just visiting — you need to make sure you have a correct, valid visa.
Here are all the types of UK visa you can apply for in 2022, plus all the information you need to know:
- who each visa is for
- how long each visa lasts
- how to know if you’re eligible
- how to apply for each UK visa type.
Jump to visa type:
- Family visas
- Student visas
- Work visas
- Tourist visas
Family visas allow you to move to the UK based on your relationship with a UK citizen, or someone who has indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
Who is a Family Visa for?
You can usually apply for a family visa if you meet one of the following criteria:
- You’re the husband, wife, or civil partner of a UK citizen
- You’re engaged to a UK citizen
- You’re the child of a UK citizen
- You’re the parent of a UK citizen
- You’re coming to be cared for by a relative in the UK.
How long does a Family Visa last?
A family visa lasts for 2 years and 9 months. You can extend your visa by reapplying before your existing visa expires.
Are you eligible for a Family Visa?
There are several other requirements you must meet in addition to the criteria above. These include:
- Proof of your English language ability (if you don’t have a GCSE or equivalent in English, you can take a Secure English Language Test (SELT) to prove this)
- Proof of your finances (you must be able to provide for yourself and your dependants)
- Proof of your relationship (such as a marriage or birth certificate)
- Proof of your identity (such as a passport).
Requirements vary depending on your individual circumstances, so make sure you know all the eligibility requirements before you apply.
How to apply for a Family visa
Apply online at the gov.uk website.
Student visas allow you to study in the UK for a specified amount of time. The UK offers both a Student Visa (for those currently studying) and a Graduate Visa (for those who have completed their studies and want to extend their stay in the UK).
Who is a Student Visa for?
You can apply for a Student Visa if you:
- Have an unconditional offer of a place on a course of study in the UK
- Are being supported by a licensed student sponsor
- Have your parents’ consent (if you're 16 or 17).
Child Student Visas are also available for people aged 4-17 who want to study at a private school in the UK.
You can apply for a Graduate Visa if:
You’ve successfully completed a course of study in the UK
You’re still in the UK on a Student Visa.
How long does it last?
Student Visa duration depends on the length of your course. For those completing degree level qualifications or higher, you can usually stay for up to 5 years. For those completing courses at a lower level, you can usually stay for up to 2 years.
A Graduate Visa for those who have completed a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree lasts for 2 years. For those with a PHD or doctoral qualification, a Graduate Visa lasts for 3 years.
Are you eligible for a Student or Graduate Visa?
If you’re applying for a Student Visa, you must also be able to prove you have enough money to support yourself through your studies while you’re in the UK.
If you decide to continue your studies, you can apply to extend your Student Visa. You can also switch to a Student Visa from another visa type if you decide to start studying while in the UK.
If you want to apply for a Graduate Visa, you must apply before your Student Visa expires. You also need to apply before you leave the UK; once you’ve returned to your home country, you’ll no longer be eligible to apply for a Graduate Visa.
How to apply for a Student or Graduate visa
Apply online at the gov.uk website.
If you’re coming to the UK on business, there are several visas you can apply for. These are split into 4 different categories:
- Long-term work visas — for permanent or long-term contracts
- Short-term work visas — for temporary work or short-term contracts
- Investor and talent visas — for those who want to invest or innovate in UK business
- Other visas and exemptions — for those who fall into certain specific categories.
Who is a Work Visa for?
Each visa is designed to allow people with specific skills to work in the UK. Here’s each major visa and who it’s for:
Long-term work visas
- Skilled Worker Visa — for workers with specific skills and experience; the full list of eligible jobs is available here
- Health and Care Worker Visa — for those with skills related to health and adult social care, such as doctors, nurses, and carers
- Global Business Mobility Visa — for those with a job in another country that requires relocation to the UK
Short-term work visas
- Charity Worker Visa — for those wishing to do unpaid voluntary work at a UK charity
- Creative Worker Visa — for those working in creative industries such as actors, musicians, or TV and film crew members
- Seasonal Worker — for those who perform seasonal horticultural jobs, such as fruit or flower picking. This visa is capped annually, with 30,000 visas issued in 2021, up from 10,000 in 2020.
Investor and talent visas
- Innovator and Start-up Visas — for those who want to start an innovative business in the UK
- Global Talent Visa — for current or future leaders in academia, arts, or digital technology.
These aren’t the only types of visa available in the UK. If none of these apply to you, see a full list of UK work visas.
How long does a Work Visa last?
The length of your work visa will depend on which type of visa you have and the length of your employment contract. Temporary work visas usually allow you to stay in the UK for 6 to 12 months. Long-term work visas allow you to stay for up to 5 years, with the possibility to extend it if necessary.
Are you eligible for a Work Visa?
To apply for most work visas, you must have a contract in place with an employer. They will sponsor you throughout your stay in the UK.
Each work visa has its own eligibility criteria, so make sure you meet them before you apply. Most eligibility criteria are centred around:
- The type of work you’re planning to do
- Who your employer is — long-term employers must be approved by the Home Office
- How much you’ll earn — your employer must legally pay you a minimum amount (depending on your job)
- Your personal savings (if you’re a temporary worker)
- Approval of your business idea (if applying for an investor and talent visa)
If you change jobs, you may still be able to stay in the UK, provided your employer is approved and you still meet all the other eligibility requirements.
How to apply for a UK Work Visa
Find out which type of work visa you need, then apply online.
If you’re planning to visit the UK for a short time, you may not need a visa. The UK splits visitors into 2 categories: visa nationals and non-visa nationals. If you’re from a non-visa national country — such as an EU country or the US — you won’t need a tourist visa to visit the UK.
If you’re from a visa national country, you’ll need to apply for a Standard Visitor Visa for any length of stay.
Who is a Tourist Visa for?
If you’re from a visa national country and you want to visit the UK, you should apply for a Standard Visitor Visa. You won’t be able to work or study on this visa.
How long do Tourist Visas last?
Tourist visas usually last up to 6 months. Sometimes you can apply for an extended visa. For example, if you’re visiting to have a private medical procedure, your visa may last up to 11 months.
You can also apply for long-term tourist visas that allow you to stay in the UK for up to 6 months at a time, over a period of 2, 5, or 10 years.
If you overstay your tourist visa, you may be deported and even banned from returning to the UK for up to 10 years. So make sure you have a correct, valid visa for your stay in the UK.
Are you eligible for a UK Tourist Visa?
Most people are eligible for a UK tourist visa. You must be able to show that:
- You intend to leave the UK when your visa expires
- You can support yourself (and your family, if applicable) financially throughout your trip.
How to apply for a Tourist Visa
Apply online at the gov.uk website.
Learn more about life in the UK
If you’re planning to move to the UK in the near future, it’s important to know what to expect. Learn all about UK life for new arrivals in the Bloom Learning Hub.