Student Visa for the UK: An Overview


Boasting some of the best universities in the world, the UK has long been a popular choice for people looking to further their education abroad with either a full university degree, a short course or language immersion, or a period of academic research. It’s also a big draw for school aged students going to learn in some of the country’s well known and respected independent and boarding schools.

Whatever your reason for going to the UK, you’ll need to check whether you need a visa to study there. Each country has its own policies regarding student visas, which can be confusing. This simple guide gives an overview of everything you need to know about the UK’s approach to issuing visas for students.

Visa Types for the UK

There are a range of different visa options for people coming to the UK, depending on the purpose of their visit. These different visa categories are sometimes called visa tiers, and come with different conditions and eligibility requirements. Some of the most commonly used visa types are as follows:

  • Visitor visas for tourists, and transit visas for people passing through the UK
  • Work and business visas
  • Study visas for school or university
  • Family visas for those coming to the UK to visit or join their family
  • Humanitarian visas, issued for refugees and others who require a settlement visa

This guide will focus on the visas issued to people coming to the UK to study. For more on the different types of visa available - and how to apply - check out the UK government website, which has a dedicated section for immigration and visas.

Which countries are eligible for a student visa in the UK?

UK student visas in the main are not issued on the basis of nationality, but on a range of other eligibility criteria including your ability to speak English, having the means to pay for your living costs, and acceptance onto a study programme.

The only exceptions are if you are from the EU or EEA, or hold dual nationality.

EU and EEA students

Students from the EU or EEA do not need to apply for a study visa at present. However, this could change due to Brexit. If you arrive to study in the UK after 29 March 2019, during the planned transition phase which runs to 31 December 2020, you may need to register, but you should not require a permit to study. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on this, as the situation may change over time.

Joint nationality

If you hold, or are eligible for joint nationality including UK nationality, you may not be able to apply for some types of study visa. Instead, you’re advised to register for British citizenship, in which case, a student visa is not necessary.

Student visa requirements

There are 3 different types of student visas, which come with some slightly different eligibility requirements.

Eligibility requirements for a short term study visa which usually covers 6 or 11 months in the UK:

  • Be accepted onto a course at an approved institution - you’ll be asked for proof of your course place, and supporting documents such as English language proficiency tests if relevant
  • Hold a valid passport or travel document
  • Be able to pay for your tuition and living costs while in the UK, with documents to show how you’ll do this
  • Be able to pay for a return trip home after your course finishes
  • You may also need to take a TB test if you are coming from certain countries

Eligibility requirements for a general student visa (Tier 4)

  • Hold a valid passport or travel document
  • Unconditional offer of a place at a qualifying institution - this visa only covers certain courses and providers, which generally means you must be studying a university level course, full time, to apply
  • You’ll need to show you have enough money to pay for your course fees, plus living costs. These are set at £1,265 for study in London, and £1,015 a month for study anywhere else in the UK
  • You may also need to take a TB test if you are coming from certain countries

Eligibility requirements for a child student visa (Tier 4)

  • This visa is open to people aged between 4 and 17, looking to study in an independent school
  • You must have an offer of a place at the school of your choice
  • Consent of a parent or guardian is needed, and you’ll need to hold a valid passport or travel document
  • You’ll need documents showing you can pay course costs and living expenses, which are set according to your school location and programme type
  • You may also need to take a TB test if you are coming from certain countries


How to apply for a study permit

If you’re in the UK already, you may be able to apply to convert your current visa to a study permit under certain circumstances. However, in most cases, you’ll be applying for your student visa from outside of the UK.

To get started you will need to apply online, completing the form required for the visa you want, and uploading the necessary documents. You’ll also have to pay the fee attached to your visa type.

You may then need to supply further documents, or attend an interview, depending on your circumstances, and the visa you’re applying for. You’ll also need to give biometric data which can usually be done at a visa centre in your home country.

Once your application has been filed, you need to wait for a few weeks for a decision - there’s a tool available on the UK government website to help you calculate the time it will take to process your application. In some visa centres it is possible to pay extra to fast track your application if this is needed.

Can I work and study at the same time?

Your visa will detail exactly what you can - and can not - do while you are in the UK. Some visas allow holders to work, but this depends on the course type you’re taking, and the institution you’re studying with.

Student Visa fees

The cost of your visa application depends on the visa type. Don’t forget, you might also have to pay extra costs, for some paperwork or medical checks, or to have documents translated if they are not in English or Welsh to start with. Here are the upfront visa fees you’ll have to pay when you apply:

Short term study visa:

  • £97 for a 6 month visa
  • £186 for a visa covering an 11 month stay

General student visa (Tier 4)

  • £348 plus healthcare surcharge

Child student visa (Tier 4)

  • £348 plus healthcare surcharge

Paying for your studies. The best ways

Although many international students in the UK can also work to support themselves, it’s tough to earn enough to get by while also continuing a full time study course. That means you’ll most likely need to rely on your savings, a scholarship, or the support of family members, to pay your tuition fees and much of your cost of living while you study.

This is likely to involve making international payments - either directly to cover tuition fees, rent or other lump sums, or to move your funds from your home account to a UK account for day to day spending. International transfers like these can be expensive, with upfront fees and hidden costs such as exchange rate markups to consider. Doing a bit of research in advance can help you get a better deal, and find an international transfer service which has clear and simple pricing, and low fees.

When you’re choosing an international payment provider, you should check the upfront fees, but also the exchange rate used for your currency pairing. This is important, because some providers charge a low upfront fee - or even claim to offer free international payments - but then make their profit by using a poor exchange rate for the payment. This makes it hard to see the real cost of the transfer - and can often mean you’re paying more than you have to.

Choosing an international payment service which has transparent fees, and uses the real exchange rate can get you a better deal. Try Wise, for quick, safe and convenient payments all over the world, with fair upfront fees and the mid-market exchange rate every time. You might also find that the Wise borderless account is a handy way to hold your money in both dollars and pounds as you study abroad. In fact, you can keep your money in 40+ different currencies in the one account, and convert from one to another with a small flat fee whenever you need to. It’s convenient to operate the account using an app - saving you both time and money.

Embarking on a period of study abroad is exciting. The practicalities of getting a visa and arranging your money might not be the most enjoyable part of the process, but they are essential to make sure your journey is smooth and you hit the ground running in the UK. With a little advance planning, you’ll be able to get everything sorted so all you need to do is look forward to your new adventure.

All sources correct as of 22 January 2018

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