Can I enter the UK without a visa?

| December 22, 2022
Entering the UK without a visa

Since Britain left the European Union and it will soon become necessary for British passport holders to obtain an ETIAS (Electronic Travel and Information Authorisation System) before embarking on any venture to the remaining EU countries, it was only a matter of time before the British government sought to introduce its own electronic visa system for visiting Europeans.

The new British system is designated the UK ETA, standing for United Kingdom Electronic Travel Authorisation as it pertains to all four United Kingdom countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Similar to the European ETIAS and the American ESTA, the UK ETA is a method of pre-screening intending visitors to determine if they pose a security, criminal or health risk. Applying for the ETA is an online process and does not require personal attendance at an embassy as is the case for those seeking a visa.

In the meantime, the question remains as to what form of documentation is currently required from visiting European Union citizens and do non-Europeans require a British visa to enter the United Kingdom?

Who needs a visa or not to enter the UK?

Due to a close relationship between the two countries, and as has been the case for decades, citizens of the Republic of Ireland are permitted to enter, live and work in any of the United Kingdom countries. This one exception aside, there are different rules and requirements in place for citizens of all other countries across the globe.

As things stand, citizens of the EU, EEA (Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein) and Switzerland require no visa or other documentation apart from a current valid passport. The passport should be valid for the entire duration of any stay in the UK and this is sufficient for short visits covering holidays or business trips.
Students from these countries wishing to enrol in a licensed course will require either a Student Visa, or a Child Student Visa for those aged seventeen or under. National ID cards issued by EU, EEA or Swiss authorities are not valid for entering the United Kingdom except in certain circumstances. An exception to this rule is British citizens holding a Gibraltar ID card.

What are the UK visa exemptions?

Many countries still enjoy visa-free travel to the European Union and also to the United Kingdom, at least for the present. The list of visa-free countries is long but basically consists of the following:

  • All European Union member states
  • EEA countries Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein
  • Switzerland
  • Mini-states Andorra, Vatican City and Monaco
  • Major countries including Australia, United States, Canada, Brazil, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Chile, Israel, Mexico, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea.

Although citizens of these countries will require a UK ETA in the not too distant future, this is not currently the situation and a valid passport is sufficient.
It should be noted, however, that any visa-free entry to the United Kingdom only covers a period of up to ninety days. Stays longer than this, for whatever reason, will require a visa relevant to the purpose of the time spent in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

What are the different UK visa types?

There are over twenty different types of UK visa and which one is relevant will depend on each individual case. Anybody wishing to enter the United Kingdom who does not qualify for visa-free entry will require the correct form of visa as well as a valid, current passport.

Some UK visa types will only apply in a small number of cases while the vast majority of intending visitors will require one of four visas.

These are for tourism, study, employment and business.

Visitor Visa

This is the most commonly issued type of visa and covers short stays of up to six months for reasons such as:

  • Tourism and sightseeing
  • Visiting family members or friends
  • Receiving medical care

Citizens of Pakistan, India, China, America and a few other countries can avail of extended long-term visas which are valid for periods of two, five and ten years but holders of these visas are still limited to a maximum continuous stay of six months before having to leave and re-enter at a later date.

Student Visa

The United Kingdom is a very popular destination for overseas students, many of whom will require a Student Visa to attend UK schools, colleges and universities.
Previously called the Tier 4 Visa, a Student Visa allows foreign nationals to remain in the United Kingdom for the duration of their studies but the course must be at a recognised and registered educational facility. Applicants for a Student Visa must also have a basic level of English and show sufficient financial funds to support themselves while in the United Kingdom.

Employment Visas

There are a range of UK visas pertaining to employment and working while in the United Kingdom. These cover everything from temporary employment to skilled labour, company transfers and more. The range of most commonly sought visas includes:

Skilled Worker

The Skilled Worker Visa grants the holder permission work in the UK for up to five years with a possible extension if required. This visa is issued under a qualifying points system to international workers who score 70 points or more. This can be achieved by the applicant:

  • Having a definite offer of employment
  • Showing a Certificate of Sponsorship from a registered and verified UK company
  • Demonstrating a working knowledge of basic English
  • Applicants for a Skilled Worker Visa must also meet pre-determined salary requirements.

Temporary Worker

This is limited to a period of up to one year and applicants must have a confirmed offer of employment from a licensed UK company before receiving a Temporary Worker Visa.

Intra-Company Transfer

As the name implies, an Intra-Company Transfer Visa is only for workers transferring to a UK based company for employment or training purposes.

Youth Mobility Scheme Visa

Similar to the Temporary Worker Visa, the Youth Mobility Scheme Visa is aimed specifically at younger workers who wish to reside, travel and work in the United Kingdom for up to two years.

Although these four types of visa cover a multitude of employment areas there are also a number of other visas available, some of which are very specific. These include a Sportsperson Visa and a Minister of Religion Visa among others.

Business Visas

While European business people continue to enjoy visa-free entry to the United Kingdom, this is not the case for citizens of countries outside the visa-exempt circle. Many of these will only wish to visit the UK for a matter of days on a quick business trip or for a conference. Nonetheless, a visa is required and the vast majority of cases this will require a Business Visitor Visa.

Business Visitor Visa

Holders of a Business Visitor Visa may conduct business and business-related matters while in the United Kingdom. It is very similar to the standard Visitor Visa but is specific to visitors employed by a foreign company or self-employed who attend regular meetings or conferences in the UK.

Foreign investors who wish to enter the UK and start up a business also need a visa to do so and there are three types of business visa covering this possibility.
These are:

  • Innovator Visa
  • Investor Visa
  • Start-up Visa

These three visa types are designed for foreign business people and entrepreneurs who wish to invest in, or start, a company in the United Kingdom.