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UK life  Coming to the UK  Student visas

Student visas for entry to the UK


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UK life

Entry to the UK for students is relatively straightforward so long as you meet the requirements of the UK Immigration Rules.

If you want to come and study in the UK, you will have to apply in your home country to UK immigration authorities for permission to come to the UK as a student. This permission is called ‘entry clearance’. It is compulsory for anyone wanting to come to the UK for more than six months, whatever your nationality. It is also compulsory for anyone who is a ‘visa national’, even if they are coming for six months or less. You should wait until you have obtained entry clearance before making any travel plans.

Fast facts

Top tip – student visas

Submit original copies of documents with your application (faxed and e-mailed copies are not acceptable).

Include all relevant documentation, such as your CAS and bank statement or letter confirming you have enough money to support yourself, as the British High Commission will not contact third parties for confirmation of your circumstances.


A visa is a certificate of entry clearance that is put into your passport or travel document by an Entry Clearance Officer at a British mission overseas that offers a visa service (in some countries, there are visa application centres, run in partnership between the UK government and commercial companies, which also provide visa services). The visa gives you permission to enter the UK.

If you have a valid UK visa, you will not normally be refused entry to the UK unless your circumstances have changed, or you gave false information or did not reveal important facts when you applied for your visa. When you arrive in the UK, an Immigration Officer may ask you questions, so take all relevant documents in your hand luggage.

Recent changes to UK student visa rules

The UK Government has also announced new visa regulations with the aim of preventing bogus institutions from recruiting international students. Since April 2012, you can only be accepted for a UK student visa if you are applying to a university or college rated ‘Highly Trusted’ by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). You can download a PDF of the Register of Tier 4 sponsors (approved education providers) from the UKBA website (you'll find the download under 'related documents on the right-hand side of the page).

Do I need a visa to study in the UK?

You will if you are a visa national. As the name implies, a visa national will need a visa for every time they enter the UK, whatever the length of stay. You will be a visa national if you:

  • are a citizen of a country on the Visa Nationals List in Appendix 1 of the UK Immigration Rules,
  • are stateless (you don’t have a nationality),
  • hold a non-national document, or
  • hold a passport or travel document issued by the former Soviet Union or by the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The UK Border Agency website has a ‘Do you need a visa?’ section to help you find out if you need a visa to come to the UK.

Even if you are not a visa national, it is compulsory to get entry clearance to enter the UK as a student. However, non-visa nationals will not need a visa if they are intending to come for six months or less. Also, you can avoid the need to obtain entry clearance in advance of travelling if you choose to come as a Student Visitor (see below).

If you have any doubts about whether you qualify for entry, you should apply for a visa before you travel to the UK.

To extend your stay, you will need to apply for a residence permit at the UK Border Agency (now in the form of ID cards rather than stickers in your passport)

More information is available on the UK Border Agency Visa Services website or from your nearest visa application centre or British mission overseas that offers a visa service.

If you are from a member country of the European Economic Area (the European Union plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), see the article about entry requirements and working in the UK for European students for more on how the UK Immigration Rules will affect you.

Categories of visa

The UK has a points-based system for visas, and international students come under the category ‘Tier 4 Immigrants’ in the new system. There are two types of student category in Tier 4:

  • Adult Student (or General Student) – if you are coming to the UK for your post-16 education.
  • Child Student – for those aged between 4 and 17 coming to the UK for their education, including studying at independent fee-paying schools.

The following other options remain outside the points-based system:

  • Student Visitor (or Child Visitor if 17 or under) – if you are only studying in the UK for six months or less. However, this is a more restrictive category in that you will not be allowed to work at all during your studies or extend your leave to remain in the UK beyond the six months. It is also not possible to change this to an Adult Student visa while in the UK.
  • Prospective Student – if you want to come to the UK to find a course of study or if you plan to start a course of study within six months. It will be possible to switch from this category and apply for an Adult or Child Student visa while you are in the UK.

Special arrangements apply for 16- and 17-year-old students coming to the UK for more than six months’ study.

The UKBA website explains this further.

Requirements for a visa

To be able to apply for a student visa, you have to accumulate 40 points, scored as follows:

  • Studying a course at an acceptable level with an approved education provider (also known as sponsorship) (30 points).
  • Being able to cover your course fees and monthly living costs, and able to support yourself for the entire duration of your stay without use of public funds (10 points).

You will have to provide proof and documents for these with your application form. A fuller explanation of the requirements can be found on the UKBA website.

You must be able to show that you have been accepted on a course of study at an approved education provider (also known as a ’Tier 4 sponsor’). This will be in the form of a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS) – a number given to you by your institution.

The application process

You can apply in a number of ways, for example, by post, by courier, in person or online. (Some visa application centres or British missions overseas that offer a visa service will only accept online applications.) For more information, visit the UKBA website.

If you cannot apply online, you will need to fill in application form VAF9. You will be able to get these, free of charge, from your nearest visa application centre or British mission overseas that offers a visa service, or you will be able to download the form you need from the UKBA website.

You will only need to fill in one application form, according to the type of application you will make, but one form should be filled in for every person accompanying you. Your application form will also be accompanied by documentation proving that you fulfil the requirements for a student visa.

In some countries, if you are applying for a visa to stay in the UK for more than six months, you may need to be tested for active tuberculosis before your application is accepted. You can find out more from the UKBA website or by contacting your nearest British mission overseas that offers a visa service or visa application centre.

Also, in all countries, you will need to provide biometric information (scans of all ten of your fingers and a full-face digital photograph), except in a very small number of exemptions, as part of the visa application process.

The procedure for applying for a student visa varies between countries. Detailed information about procedures in each country can be found on the UKBA website.

Get answers to some frequently asked questions about visas for studying in the UK.


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