Finding Your Path to the UK: Types of UK Visas

Created: Aug 7, 2023 | Updated: Aug 10, 2023

The world of UK Visas and Immigration is filled with opportunities for those looking to travel, study, work, or settle in the United Kingdom. From short-term tourist visas to long-term residency options, understanding how UK visas work is the key to a successful journey. 

Table of Contents

In this article, we share comprehensive information on:

  1. What a UK visa is
  2. Who needs a UK visa
  3. UK visa requirements
  4. How to apply for a UK visa
  5. Types of UK visas
  6. The processing time for UK visas
  7. Points to consider as a UK visa applicant
  8. Certified translation & UK visa application and
  9. FAQs about UK visa application

So, sit tight, and enjoy the ride!

What is a UK Visa?

A UK Visa is a stamp in your passport or a document given to you by the UK Consulate/Embassy in your country that allows you to visit the UK for a stipulated period, under given conditions. Different people around the world apply for UK visas in order to visit the UK and enjoy some of its benefits. Some reasons people apply for UK visas are:

  • Tourism/Vacation
  • Work
  • Schooling
  • Medical care
  • Family visits
  • Relocation/Resettlement
  • Marriage
  • Travelling through the UK
  • Asylum/Refugee

When applying for a UK visa, you should know that there are ways you can increase your chances of approval, depending on the type of visa you are applying for. One of such ways is the points-based immigration system. PBS is an immigration system that was created by the UK government that allows foreigners, (with the exception of Irish citizens) who are coming to the UK for work to meet specific requirements, for which points are awarded to them. Visas are then awarded to applicants who rack up enough points.


Types of UK visas


Who Needs a UK Visa?

Anyone who wants a UK visa can apply for one, except for some people who do not need to apply. Those people are; citizens of the EEA, the USA, Switzerland,  & some Commonwealth countries. However, If you fall into any of these categories, and you need to stay in the UK for more than 6 months, then you must get a visa to support your stay. The no-visa rule is valid for 6 months only.

Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA)

An ETA is a new requirement for people who do not need to get a visa to visit the UK, some of whom we have mentioned in the previous section. An ETA is a travel authorization that is electronically linked to your passport & allows you to travel to the UK. Similar to a visa you would say. Well, not quite. Here are some of the reasons you might need to get an ETA.

  • If you want to visit the UK for up to 3 months on a Creative Worker visa concession.
  • If you are travelling through the UK, regardless of the fact that you will not meet the UK Border Patrol.
  • If you want to visit the UK for up to 6 months for business, work, study or family visits.

Note that, not everyone is eligible for an ETA.

On the other hand, there is another group of people who do not need to get an ETA at all. Those people are:

  • People who have visas.
  • People who hold British/Irish passports.
  • People who have permits to live, work or study in the UK.
  • Legal Ireland residents.
  • People who are entering the UK from Ireland, The Isle of Man, & Guernsey.

The ETA application process requires a few details from applicants, they are:

  • Your full name
  • Date of birth
  • Country of citizenship
  • Travel details

To apply for an ETA, you can fill an application form via the UK ETA app, or here. The ETA is not yet operational but should be fully functional by the end of 2023.

What is a Point-based System in the UK

The points-based system is a framework used by the United Kingdom to manage immigration from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland. It was first introduced in 2008 and has been adapted and updated over the years, most recently with the end of the Brexit transition period on 31st December 2020.

In PBS, points are awarded based on specific criteria, such as English language skills, having a job offer from an approved employer, and meeting a salary threshold.

Here's a brief overview of the main categories you can qualify under within the points-based system:

  1. Skilled Worker route: This visa is for individuals who have been offered a skilled job in the UK from a Home Office licensed sponsor. Points are awarded based on a job offer at the appropriate skill level, a certain level of knowledge of English, and being paid a minimum salary.
  2. Senior or Specialist Worker visa (Global Business Mobility): This visa replaced the intra-company visa. It is the route for established employees of multinational companies whose overseas employer is transferring to a UK branch of the organisation.
  3. Global Talent route: This visa is for individuals who work in a qualifying field and have been endorsed as recognized leaders (exceptional talent) or emerging leaders (exceptional promise).
  4. Start-up and Innovator route: This route is for people setting up an innovative business for the first time (Start-up), or experienced businesspeople who have funds of at least £50,000 invested in their business (Innovator). Meanwhile, people can no longer apply for the Start-up visa, but if you already have one, there is room to switch over to the Innovator founder visa. You can also apply for the Innovator Founder visa.
  5. Graduate student route: This is a visa for international students who want to work or look for work after their studies. This visa allows you to stay for 2 years after your studies & 3 years if you are a PhD student.


UK Visa Requirements 

If you want to apply for a UK visa, then you need to know what you are required to provide in order to help you prepare and inadvertently improve your chances of approval. Visa requirements may vary, depending on the type of visa you are applying for. But fundamentally, the requirements are similar. 

The document requirements for applying for a UK visa are as follows:

  • Your valid Passport.
  • Biometric details - fingerprint & 2 passport photographs taken in the last 6 months (You need to identify a visa application centre in your country to fulfil this process).
  • Proof of funds (to show you can support yourself while in the UK).
  • Proof of accommodation in the UK.
  • Your detailed travel itinerary (places you plan to visit in the UK).
  • A tuberculosis test result if you are from any of these countries or have lived there in the last 6 months.
  • An invitation letter (if you are going to join a relative or spouse in the UK).
  • Visa fee payment receipt.
  • Certified translation of any document written in another language besides English.
  • A cover letter (if requested).

For specificity, here are some additional requirements that might apply to specific types of visas:

  • Work Visas: You need a job offer from a licensed sponsor in the UK, and the job must pay a minimum salary.
  • Student Visas: You need to be registered to study a course at a licensed educational institution, along with evidence of your English language skills and enough money to support yourself and pay for your course.
  • Family Visas: You may need to prove your relationship to a family member who is in the UK, and they might need to meet specific financial requirements.
  • Visitor Visas: You may need to show that you intend to leave the UK at the end of your visit. You can prove this with a return flight ticket.

Read more: US Visa Requirements For UK Citizens

Read more: Canadian Visa Requirements For UK Citizens

How to Apply for a UK Visa

If you are travelling to the UK for a visit, the earliest time to apply for a UK visa is 3 months, and if you are travelling for a job or for school as a student, 6 months.  

Here are the steps to apply for a UK visa: 

  1. Check to determine the type of visa you need.
  2. Ensure you organize your documents for the visa application, an omission could lead to a rejection.
  3. Start your visa application online. Some visa types allow paper applications.
  4. Schedule a visa appointment at a UK VAC (Visa application centre) in your country.
  5. Pay the required visa fee.
  6. Attend the visa appointment. Be punctual and polite. You will submit your biometric information & other documents during this appointment. If not, a visa interview will be scheduled there.
  7. Wait for the Visa Decision. After your appointment, your visa application will be processed. The processing time can vary depending on the type of visa and your location. You'll be notified when a decision has been made.
  8. Receive Your Visa! If your visa application is approved, you'll receive your visa. This might involve collecting your visa or having it delivered to you.

If you want to make a change to your application after sending it in, contact UKVI (UK Visas & Immigration) for changes. The same procedure applies if you change your mind about your application and want to cancel it altogether. However, note that a refund of your application fee will only be possible if UKVI has not started processing your application.


What are the Types of UK Visas?

There are two broad categories of visas; short-term visas & long-term visas. All the types of visas fall under these two categories. 

There is a myriad of visas to choose from, depending on what your situation is. Let’s explore the types of UK visas: 


Visa TypeEligibility 
Tourism/Visitor visaFor those who wish to visit the UK for a holiday, to see family and friends, or for other short-term purposes.
Work visaFor individuals who have secured a job in the UK and need a visa to work legally. Several types of work visas are available depending on the nature of the work.
Student visaFor individuals who have been accepted into a course of study at a UK institution.
Family visaFor individuals who wish to join family members who are citizens or residents of the UK.
Business visa For individuals who are going to the UK for business-related activities, such as meetings, conferences, or negotiations.
Permanent Residency/Settlement visaFor individuals who have been in the UK for a certain period of time (usually five years or more) on a qualifying visa and wish to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).
Transit visa For individuals who need to pass through the UK en route to another country.
Marriage/Partner visaFor individuals who wish to marry or register a civil partnership in the UK, or who want to give notice of a marriage or civil partnership in the UK.
Asylum/Refugee visa For individuals who are seeking protection in the UK because they have been persecuted or fear persecution in their home country.
Ancestry visa For Commonwealth citizens applying for visas based on the fact that one of their grandparents was born in the UK.


Tourism/Visitor Visas

Standard Visitor Visa

This visa is suitable for tourists, people visiting family/friends, and business visitors. It is a short-term visa. The visa fee for standard visitor visas for a US citizen ranges from $134 - $1,119, depending on how long the visa is for.


Marriage Visitor Visa

The marriage visitor visa is suitable for people who want to get married or register a civil partnership in the UK. It costs $134 if you are located in the US.

Academic Visitor Visa

The academic visitor visa is meant for people from academic institutions overseas to take part in formal activities with their UK counterparts, and carry out research on their sabbatical. This visa costs $267 for a US citizen.

Medical Visitor Visa

The medical visitor visa allows its holder to visit the UK for up to 6 months for medical reasons. This visa costs $267.

Work Visas

Skilled Worker Visa

The skilled worker visa is suitable for people who have been offered a skilled job in the UK. This visa costs $835. Of course, the price may differ, depending on your country of citizenship. This price is for people who are legally living in the US. 

Senior or Specialist Worker visa (Global Business Mobility)

Formerly known as the intra-company transfer visa, the senior or specialist worker visa is for employees of multinational companies who are being transferred to a UK branch of their organization. The standard fee for this visa ranges from $835 to $1,650 depending on your circumstances.

Global Talent Visa

The global talent visa is for leaders or potential leaders in academia, research, arts, and digital technology. This visa costs between $223 to $833.

Innovator Founder Visa

This visa is meant for foreigners who want to set up or run a business(es) in the UK. The innovator founder visa costs between $1,336 to $1,384. For this category, it is important that you are able to demonstrate that your business idea is new, and does not already exist.

Temporary Worker Visas

This visa is for certain types of temporary work. There are about 8 visas in the temporary work visa category, they include charity work visa, creative worker visa, government authorised exchange visa, religious worker visa, youth mobility scheme visa, seasonal worker visa, & international agreement visa. These visas cost $346 for their application fee.

Health and Care Worker Visa

This visa is suitable for medical professionals who are already working in eligible health occupations. It allows them to come to the UK & work with the NHS, its suppliers or adult social care institutions. The health & care worker visa costs between $330 to $630.

Minister of Religion Visa

This visa is meant for religious Ministers or missionaries who have been offered a job in a religious organization or order in the UK. This visa costs $835 for both the main applicants & their dependents if they will be coming with anyone.

International Sportsperson Visa

The Sportsperson visa is reserved for elite sportspeople or coaches who are internationally established and have proven that taking a job in the UK will advance their sports career to the highest level. This visa costs between $346 to $835.



Student Visas

Child Student Visa

The child student visa is meant for children between the age of 4 and 17 who want to study at an independent school in the UK. The child student visa costs $485.

Short-term Study Visa

This visa is specifically for people who want to study English in the UK. The visa is meant for courses that are more than 6 months, but not more than 11 months. The cost of the short-term study visa is $267.

Family Visas

Parent of a Child Student Visa

This visa goes hand in hand with the child student visa we mentioned previously. This visa is for the parent of a child attending an independent school in the UK. It allows the parent to look after their child while in the UK. To be eligible for this visa, your child must be between the age of 4 and 11. This visa costs $710

Transit Visas

Direct Airside Transit Visa

The direct airside transit visa is for those who will be changing flights in the UK and not passing through UK border control. This visa costs $47.

Visitor in Transit Visa

The visitor in transit visa is perfect for those who will be going through UK border control but leaving the UK within 48 hours. This visa costs $86.

What is the Processing Time for UK Visas?

The processing time for the UK is not a ‘one time fits all’ situation. The time it takes to process your visa heavily relies on the type of visa you applied for, the location where you sent your application (did you apply from within the UK or outside the UK?), and how well you meet the eligibility criteria.

Generally, if there are no peculiarities with your application, your visa should be processed within 3 weeks. However, to avoid losses or frustration put off booking your flight until when you have gotten an answer on your visa application. Also, if you need your visa faster than the standard processing times accommodate, you can pay for a sped-up process.

Points to Consider as a UK Visa Applicant

It might seem like there’s a flood of information you need to keep track of as a visa applicant, but this is not really the case, as you will most likely not be applying for every single visa we have explored in this article. All you should be concerned with is the specific visa you are applying for and its requirements, and you should be good. Here are the points to consider as a UK Visa Applicant:

  1. Respect the Conditions of Your Visa: If your visa is granted, make sure you understand and respect the conditions of your visa. Overstaying your visa or working without the right permissions, for example, can result in serious consequences.
  2. Obey rules: You may be required to take an Immigration Control (examination) at any time while crossing the UK border. Your visa may also be cancelled at the border if the immigration control officials see the need to.
  3. Maintain Your Status: If your circumstances change (for example, if you switch jobs or courses), you may need to apply for a new visa or update your existing one.
  4. Plan for the Interview: For certain visa types, you may need to attend an interview as part of the application process. Be prepared to answer questions about your plans in the UK and how you meet the requirements for the visa you are requesting for.
  5. Complete the Application Correctly: Fill out the application form accurately and completely. Mistakes or omissions can lead to delays or even the rejection of your visa application.

Certified Translations & UK Visa Application

As we mentioned before, what is the point of applying for a visa when the receiver of your application cannot comprehend it? Makes no sense right? Well, the bridge between your desire to travel to the UK and the UK immigration officials is certified translations. Note, this only applies if you are from a non-English speaking country, and your documents are not issued in English or Welsh (the official languages spoken in the UK). 

The UK requires documents that will be submitted for official purposes, such as visa applications, court proceedings, or registration of services must be certified, notarized, or sworn, depending on the requirements of the body requesting the document. In this case, certified translations in the UK must be gotten for your visa application documents like your birth certificates, academic transcript, medical records, passport and police certificates amongst others.

What is a Certified Translation? 

A certified translation is where the translator or translation agency translates and certifies a document, with their signature and stamp.

The certification from the translator or agency is usually in the form of a written statement included with the translated document. The written statement contains:

  • A declaration that the translation is a ‘true and accurate translation of the original document’.
  • The date of the translation.
  • The full name and contact details of the translator or a representative of the translation company.

Due to the need for authenticity, UKVI accepts certified translations from agencies or translators that are members of the Institute of Linguists (CiOL), Institute of Translation & Interpreting (ITI) or the Association of Translation Companies (ATC).

Luckily for you, Translate has a long history of certifying translations for UK visa applications. Take advantage of our free quote and contact us for your immigration translation needs.

FAQs About UK Visa Application Process

What is The Immigration Health Surcharge?

The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) is a fee that non-EEA nationals need to pay when they apply for a visa to come to the UK for more than 6 months. The surcharge is used to fund the UK's National Health Service (NHS), and it entitles the visa holder to use the NHS while they're in the UK, similar to a UK citizen. The cost is £624 per year for most adults, and £470 per year for students, youth mobility scheme visa holders, and children under 18.

What Are The Reasons for UK Visa Denial?

There could be several reasons for a UK visa denial, including but not limited to:

  • Incomplete application or missing documents.
  • The applicant does not meet the visa eligibility requirements.
  • Failure to pass the required English language test (if applicable).
  • Insufficient funds to support the stay in the UK.
  • The applicant has overstayed a previous visit to the UK.
  • The applicant has a criminal record that makes them ineligible.
  • False or misleading information was provided on the application.

What Can I Do In Case of a Visa Denial?

If your UK visa application is denied, you may have the following options:

  • Appeal the decision: In some cases, you may have a right to appeal if you believe the decision was incorrect.
  • Administrative review: If you think a mistake was made in the decision, you can ask for the decision on your visa application to be reviewed.
  • Reapply: If your circumstances change or if you can address the reasons for the refusal, you can submit a new visa application. It's important to personally address any issues that led to your previous denial.

Can I Get a UK Visa If I Have a Criminal Record?

Having a criminal record can affect your eligibility for a UK visa. The UK government considers the type of crime, the length of the sentence, and how much time has passed since the sentence was completed. Some individuals may be refused entry on the grounds of criminality, while others may be subject to a period of exclusion.

Do I Need to Register With the Police?

Some foreign nationals are required to register with the UK police after they arrive in the UK. If this applies to you, it will be written on your visa sticker or Biometric Residence Permit.

Can I Travel Abroad While I am in the UK With a Valid Visa?

Yes, you can generally travel abroad and return to the UK if you have a valid visa. However, if your visa is close to expiring, you might face difficulties with reentering the UK. It's also important to note that time spent outside of the UK can affect applications for visa extensions or permanent residency.

How can I see my UK Visa Application Status?

You can check your UK visa application status by contacting UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) or signing in to your online account to check your status.

Read more: ENIC (NARIC) Translation & Requirements For UK University Applications

Read more: Required Documents For British Passport Application

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