Getting a visa to study in the UK is not difficult but requires care. The rules vary by country of origin and there are many minor provisions to handle different circumstances.
The procedures are broadly similar to other countries but make sure:
- you are applying for the right visa and
- have the specific documents required.
You will probably need to visit the UK.GOV website often to find specific requirements and complete online forms.
Note that you do not need a visa if your passport is issued by a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland.
Step 1: Enrol in a UK education institution
Start the student visa application process by enrolling at a UK university or college.
To obtain a student visa for the UK, you should first apply and be accepted to study at one or more UK education institutions.
- Education institutions include colleges, universities, institutes, schools and academies.
- They must be on the current Register of Sponsors if you seek a Tier 4 Student Visa or at least accredited if you only require a Student Visitor Visa for a short course.
- Don’t just use institution information to choose a university or college, also consider the city environment as a place to live and study.
Once an education institution accepts your enrolment application and offers you a place unconditionally, they will issue you with a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS).
- The CAS is created by the institution submitting information about the offer to the UK Border Agency.
- You will be given your CAS reference number and some other details. The name and date-of-birth details need to match your passport.
If you have not been issued with a CAS, you may still be able to enter the UK on a six-month Prospective Student Visa.
- You need to demonstrate that you intend to begin a course of study and switch to a Tier 4 Student Visa, such as by producing evidence of a provisional placement offer by a registered education institution.
Step 2: Apply for a UK student visa
There are four main types of UK student visas for which you may apply. Most students enter the UK on a General Tier 4 Student Visa. Other categories are available for those under 18, students doing short courses, and prospective students.
UK student visa categories
Tier 4 (General) – You can apply as an adult student under Tier 4 (General) if coming to the UK for post-16 education.
Tier 4 (Child) – You can apply as a child student under Tier 4 if you are under 18 years old. You can apply as a child visitor if you are under 18 years and want to study for up to 6 months. You cannot extend your stay as a Tier 4 (Child) student.
Student visitor – You can apply as a student visitor if you are at least 18, want to study for up to 6 months (or up to 11 months to take an English Language course), and do not want to work while studying. You cannot ‘switch’ and apply for an extended stay as a Tier 4 (General) student.
Prospective student – You can apply as a prospective student if you want to come to the UK to finalise arrangements for a Tier 4 course of study (for example, by attending an interview at a university which has made you a conditional offer). You can switch to Tier 4 (General) or Tier 4 (Child) while in the UK.
Visa application process
Visa application arrangements vary by country. That means you will need to navigate the UK.GOV website to determine the specific requirements for you.
Typically, visa applications must be initially done online. Information you will be asked to provide online or submit later includes:
- identity documents and photographs,
- enrolment evidence used to obtain a Confirmation and Acceptance for Studies, and
- financial evidence that you have adequate funds to cover course fees and living expenses for the life of the visa.
Living expenses are calculated as £1,015 a month. If you do not have an established UK presence, costs are calculated for 9 months or the duration of the course if it is less than 9 months.
Step 3: Schedule a visa appointment and pay the fee
After initially applying for a student visa, you can schedule an appointment at a local visa enrolment centre. The needs to be done promptly as visa applications typically have a maximum life of 30 days. A list of centres for each country is available on the GOV.UK website.
Visa processing times are guided by service targets of UK Border Security, which aims to process 90 per cent of non-settlement applications within 3 weeks, 98 per cent within 6 weeks and 100 per cent within 12 weeks of the application date.
You may be required to pay the visa student fee of £322 before the appointment and bring evidence of payment with you. Any dependants that are travelling with you will also have to pay the fee. Visa fees are higher if you apply from within the UK, such as when applying for a visa extension.
Step 4: Submit application at local enrolment centre
You need to attend a local visa enrolment centre to progress your initial application.
In some countries, enrolment centres just collect biometric information (fingerprints and facial image) and they are called biometric centres. When attending these centres, you only need to bring identity and application documents, including evidence of visa fee payment. You will have to post other required information, including your passport, after the appointment and enclose a return mail envelope.
In other countries, enrolment centres are also places where you can submit and later collect supporting documents. You need to be well organised and bring all relevant documents to the appointment. The list of application documents varies by country and applicant.
Step 5: Travel to the UK with your student visa
Stick the visa stamp (also called a vignette or sticker) inside your passport to gain entry to the United Kingdom. You must show your visa stamp in your passport or your identity card at port when you arrive. Bring other official documents (e.g. confirmation of acceptance for studies) to help get through immigration control.
You can arrive up to a month earlier than the course start date in your Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies for courses longer than 6 months; otherwise, you can arrive up to 7 days earlier.
You can stay in the UK on your visa for up to 4 months after finishing for courses of a year or more. The stay-on period is shorter for short courses.