- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals United Kingdom Guide (PDF)
Whether expats are planning to travel, take up a short-term job offer or make a more permanent move to the UK, they'll need to apply for and obtain the necessary paperwork. The process and availability of certain types of visa vary according to nationality.
Generally speaking, expats from the EU face less stringent requirements. That said, the impending implementation of Brexit means that the future remains unclear for EU citizens looking to move to the UK. For this reason, prospective expats from the EU should make sure to double check the requirements with their local embassy or consulate.
To get a general idea of the regulations and requirements, we've put together a summary of some of the most commonly used visas for the UK.
General visitor visa for the United Kingdom
Foreigners visiting the UK on holiday may need a visa depending on their nationality. Those from a country outside the European Union and Switzerland will need a general visitor visa, which is usually valid for six months.
To get a general visitor visa for the UK, applicants will need to show that they intend to leave the UK at the end of their visit by providing proof of onward travel, a return ticket, or a letter from an employer stating that the applicant has a job in their home country and is expected to return by a given date.
Applicants will also need proof of sufficient funds to support their travels without working, as well as proof of planned accommodation, be this in the form of a hotel booking or an invitation letter from a friend or family member in the UK.
Foreign nationals who enter the UK on a visitor visa aren't able to take up any paid or unpaid employment and they cannot obtain public funds, nor can they get married or enter into a civil partnership.
Work visas for the United Kingdom
People moving to the UK from outside the EU will need some sort of work visa to be legally employed in Britain. There are a number of work visas to choose from and expats should take the time to investigate exactly which type applies to their circumstances.
General work visa (Tier 2)
These visas are granted to non-EU nationals who have a job offer in the UK from a licenced sponsor and a certificate of sponsorship. Applicants must meet the necessary criteria to be granted this type of visa. This visa is only granted to those with specialist skills and a confirmed job offer.
Intra-company transfer visa (Tier 2)
This visa has the same terms and regulations as the general work visa, the only difference being that expats are not starting a new job with a new company but are rather transferring to a UK branch of the company they already work for outside the UK.
Youth Mobility Scheme visa (Tier 5)
Expats who are interested in moving to the UK to work for a short period might be able to apply for a Tier 5 Temporary Worker Visa.
The Youth Mobility Scheme working holiday visa is available for nationals of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Monaco, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea and Japan. Applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 30 to apply.
Those who qualify can enter the UK without a job offer and use this working holiday visa to work and travel. They must be able to prove they have a specified amount of money in savings so as to financially support themselves while looking for a job, The scheme is designed to give young people the opportunity to live and work in the country for up to two years, and is a great way to see what living and working in the UK is actually like.
Applying for a visa for the United Kingdom
Before moving to the UK, expats will need to determine the appropriate visa for their situation and undergo the relevant application process.
It is best to apply for a UK visa well before the intended date of travel, as it's difficult to predict processing times and whether delays might arise along the way. The visa application process is also likely to be different in each expat's home country, so it is important for applicants to research the appropriate process for their country of origin.
Those applying for certain visas for the UK will also need to provide biometric information (fingerprints and facial image). This will be collected at the visa application centre. Depending on an individual’s country of origin and type of application, there may be additional requirements. For example, work visa applications may also need to provide proof that they have been screened for TB and proof of their knowledge of English.
Permanent residence in the United Kingdom
Expats who want to remain in the United Kingdom in the longer term may be eligible to apply for permanent residence. Those who have lived legally in the UK for a certain length of time – usually five years – can apply, depending on the category of visa they currently possess.
Being a permanent resident means an individual has indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK and is free from immigration control. These expats also have the freedom to live and work in the UK without restrictions. Those with indefinite leave to remain have a visa status known as ‘settled status’, which is a step towards naturalisation as a British citizen.
There are a number of ways an expat can qualify for ILR. Generally speaking, the applicant must have lived in the UK continuously for five years. However, spouses of British citizens can apply for ILR after three years.Those who apply for ILR status cannot have been outside the UK for longer than six months at any time during the relevant period. It is also beneficial for applicants to demonstrate that they have strong ties to the UK and consider it home –for example, owning a property or business in the country.
Permanent residents who only spend short periods of time in the UK may risk losing their ILR status. In cases such as this, expats should consider applying for British citizenship as soon as they can, which is usually a year after being granted ILR status.
*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.
►Working in the UK provides a detailed overview on Britain's job market.
Are you an expat living in The United Kingdom?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to The United Kingdom. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
With 86 million customer relationships in over 200 countries, Cigna Global has unrivalled experience in dealing with varied and unique medical situations and delivering high standards of service wherever you live in the world.
Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.