A guide to UK student visas

A guide to UK student visas

If you want to study in the United Kingdom (UK) and are not a UK or EU citizen, you'll have to apply for a UK student visa. Applying for a UK student visa can be a long process but is a necessary step for any student who wants to have an enriching experience studying and living in the UK. The United Kingdom has a long and prestigious history of academic study, beginning with its six ancient universities – Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh. Today’s higher education sector in the UK is world-class, sitting at the cutting edge of many disciplines in both research and teaching. Many students travel to the UK from around the world to study, and in this article we'll provide the most helpful information and tips on how to apply for your UK student visa.


To successfully apply for a UK student visa you need to consider the following 7 steps:

  1. Key Information for studying in the UK as a foreign student
  2. The Tier-4 (General) UK student visa
  3. When to apply for the Tier-4 (General) UK student visa
  4. Applying for the Tier-4 (General) UK student visa – 5 easy steps
  5. Living in the UK with your Tier-4 student visa
  6. What you can and can’t do while studying in the UK
  7. Changes of status and extending your stay in the UK


1. Key information for studying in the UK as a foreign student

study in oxford

As a foreign student you must receive a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) from an institution approved by UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) before applying for your Tier-4 student visa. Only these institutions are licensed to sponsor migrant students who need to apply for the Tier-4 student visa. You may find a list of these institutions from the UK Visa and Immigration website.


When you’ve received your CAS, you must satisfy a list of UK student visa requirements, including providing sufficient evidence of funding to pay for course tuition fees and monthly living costs while studying in the UK. You will need to have details of your passport, a recent photograph, and documents showing your academic qualifications from your previous studies. International students must also prove English language skills. This means passing a secure English language test (SELT) through UKVI-approved tests and providers. Depending on your home country, you may also need to have certain medical vaccinations before entering the UK.


Though these requirements may seem quite strict, remember that studying abroad can give you a whole range of benefits, and that it’s more than likely you’ll be meeting other students from around the world and be able to network during the course of your studies. To learn more about studying abroad in the UK, take a look at our article about studying abroad.


2. The Tier-4 (General) UK student visa

International students from outside the UK or Europe need to apply for a Tier-4 student visa in order to study in the country. There are two sub-categories depending on age and the type of institution you plan to attend. Child student visas are for children aged between 4 and 17 years old coming to the UK for their education, or to study at independent or private schools. General student visas are for those who are aged 16 and above and who are coming to the UK for education purposes. If you are a student between 16 and 17 years old, discuss with your chosen educational institution for which visa they should apply.


To study at universities in the UK, you need to apply for a Tier-4 (General) student visa. This will allow you to stay until at least you have finished your course of study, and allows you to arrive in the UK up to 1 month before your start date, depending on the length of the course. You need to have been offered a place on a course provided by a recognised Tier-4 sponsor, have a good command of spoken and written English, and have enough money to cover the cost of your course tuition fees and monthly living costs.


Students from the EU/EEA states and Switzerland do not currently need a visa to study in the UK, but all other international students are likely to need one. Though Brexit has led to some uncertainty regarding visa regulations for citizens from the EU, the UK government has stated that there will be no immediate change to visa policies.


You’ll need to fill out an application online and pass a points-based assessment to qualify for a Tier-4 UK student visa. You need to meet a minimum of 40 points, but as you are awarded 30 points for the possession of a Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies number from a host institution, and 10 points for having sufficient funding to pay for studies, this is not an issue for most applicants. There is a fee of £348 to apply for this visa, plus a further £348 for any additional dependents who will be joining you in the UK. There is also a healthcare surcharge, the cost of which varies according to your circumstances.


3. When to apply for the Tier-4 (General) UK student visa

Studying in the UK

The earliest you can apply for a UK student visa is 3 months before your program is set to begin. Usually you’ll get the decision on your visa within 3 weeks of your application, though visa processing times may vary depending on country. When you begin the application process for a UK student visa, make sure that you satisfy all the requirements for the application of a UK student visa, and that you have read and understand the admission policy for the university you want to study at.


You are allowed to arrive in the UK up to 1 month before your start date if your course lasts more than 6 months. If your course lasts for 6 months or less, you are allowed to arrive up to 1 week before.


4. Applying for the Tier-4 (General) UK student visa – 5 easy steps

Follow these 5 easy steps to apply for your Tier-4 UK student visa:

  1. Apply to an institution approved by the UKVI and receive your CAS. Remember to add your valid passport number to your application.
  2. Prove your English language skills by passing your SELT while still in your home country. Visit the UK Home Office website that lists accepted language tests and test centres.
  3. Complete the online visa application form on the UKVI website. You will also need to have your fingerprints and photograph, known as your biometric information, taken at a visa application centre in your home country. You’ll need to pay a fee of £348 to apply for this visa, plus a further £348 for any additional dependents who will be joining you in the UK. Make sure you have all of the following documents ready:
    • Valid passport
    • Proof of financial support for course payment and living costs
    • Proof of parental or other legal guardian consent if you’re under 18 years old
    • Tuberculosis test results if you’re from a country where you have to take the test. Check if your home country requires applicants to take the tuberculosis test on the UK Home Office website.
  4. Pay the Immigration Health Service Charge in order to gain access to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) if your duration of study is longer than six months. The health surcharge is £150 per year for students and is payable when you submit your visa application online.
  5. Once your Tier-4 student visa is issued, you will need to bring it with you upon arrival in the UK. When you enter the UK, a Border Agency officer will stamp your passport with information that states the duration of your stay in the UK. If your course is 12 months or more, for example, you can stay for the full duration of your course plus an additional four months.


5. Living in the UK with your Tier-4 student visa

UK Visa

Make sure while you’re studying in the UK that your Tier-4 student visa doesn’t get lost or damaged. You must remain enrolled full time at your sponsoring institution, attend classes, and maintain passing grades in order to maintain a valid status with your UK student visa.


Universities who sponsor migrant students have trained visa advisors and international offices. If you have any questions or concerns during your duration of stay in the UK, get in touch with your advisor, who will be able to answer all of your questions.


6. What you can and can’t do while studying in the UK

While studying in the UK on a Tier-4 (General) student visa, you’re allowed to study and work in most kinds of jobs, including as a student sabbatical officer. You can also apply to extend you stay. The restrictions are relatively limited - you aren’t allowed to apply for public funds, work in certain jobs, and you aren’t permitted to study at a local academy or maintained school.


7. Changes of status and extending your stay in the UK

You’re permitted to extend your stay on a Tier-4 UK student visa in order to continue your studies beyond the period of your original visa, or if you want to begin a new degree. This will require a separate application process once you’ve been offered a place by your institutional sponsor/university. You must also be in the UK and meet the eligibility requirements of this visa.


You can stay in the UK until you get your decision, but you must apply within 6 months of getting your CAS. Make sure to also apply for your current Tier-4 (General) student visa expires, but no more than 3 months before the course start date on your CAS. General students can apply to study a part-time course under their Tier-4 visa, as long as the course is studied at an academic level.


Since January 2018 there have been a few changes to UK immigration rules, some of which apply to Tier-4 students. There is flexibility for Tier-4 students switching to Tier-2 sponsorship. You’ll be able to apply for a Tier-2 (General) visa if an employer who is a licensed sponsor has offered you a skilled job in the UK. Check if you have an eligible qualification with your Tier-4 (General) student visa on the UK visa and immigration website.


If you’re thinking about studying in the US, check out our guide to US student visas.

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