UK work permit: requirements, how to apply and cost

Zorica Lončar

Furthering your career overseas can be a great opportunity. And with many companies providing sponsorship for work permits in the UK, it’s a popular destination for work, training and study.

When planning a move (or visit) to the UK for a job, you’ll first need to consider whether you’ll need a work permit. In many countries, rules around immigration and long-term visits can be complicated and subject to change. This is true of the UK right now since the country left the EU. So, it’s important to find out as much as you can about the types of UK work permits and visas available.

We’ve put together an overview of the key information to help get you prepared, whatever the purpose and length of your stay. You’ll no doubt be wondering - are you actually eligible to work in the UK? There are different pathways to obtain the right to work, and which one you’ll take will largely depend on your plans and personal circumstances.

When you’ve secured a position working abroad, you’ll want to make sure that you have an easy, cost-effective way to pay for your permit and move your earnings overseas if you need to. Later, we’ll show you a cheaper²³ way of transferring your money with a Wise multi-currency account. But first, let’s take a look at work permits in the UK.

Do you need a work permit to stay and work in the UK?

You can visit the UK for up to 6 months without a visa, and during that time you may travel, visit family and friends, undertake short-term study and attend job interviews, events and conferences¹.

For longer stays, you’ll need to apply through the UK immigration points-based system, via the website¹. To score the necessary points, you’ll need to show you meet the eligibility criteria associated with your chosen visa. This system aims to prioritise skills and talent over where someone comes from. (Irish citizens need not apply for a work permit to live and work in the UK, as free movement, rights and privileges between these countries continues to be protected by the Common Travel Area arrangements¹.)

Do you need a job offer to be eligible to stay and work in the UK?

One key question often asked is - can you get a work permit without a job offer? In most cases, to be eligible to come and work in the UK you’ll need a confirmed job offer, or to be in an existing role and transferred to your company’s UK branch. An example of an exception would be the Graduate visa, which allows those who complete certain UK courses the option to stay for a period and look for work.

Types of work visas in the UK

There are many types of work visas, for both short and long term stays. But the one you’ll need will depend on²:

  1. Your skills and qualifications
  2. If you have a job offer or sponsorship
  3. The type of work you’ll be doing
  4. Whether you wish to bring family with you to the UK.

Below, we’ve given an overview of some of the main types of work visas, to help you get an idea of which might suit your situation.

Long-term work visas in the UK

  • Skilled Worker³ - allows holders of this visa to live or stay in the UK, and work in a qualifying role with an approved employer. The visa is valid for up to 5 years before renewal is needed. To be able to get this visa you must have a confirmed job offer. The role must also be in an eligible occupation, and you’ll need to be paid a minimum salary specific to the type of work you’ll be doing.

  • Intra-company - Transfer or Graduate Trainee⁴ - these are the visas for you if you’re being transferred, as you’ll be allowed to live or stay in the UK and work at your employer’s UK branch. There’s also an intra-company visa specifically designed for graduate trainees being transferred as part of a programme for managerial or specialist roles. Like with the Skilled Worker visa, you’ll need to work in a qualifying role and be paid at least £41,500 for an Intra-company Transfer visa or at least £23,000 for an Intra-company Graduate Trainee visa. The amount of time you can stay depends on how much you’re paid and whether you’re being transferred as a graduate trainee or not. Further information can be found on this page.

  • Health and Care Worker⁵ - a long-term visa designed for medical professionals coming to the UK to do an eligible job with the NHS, an NHS supplier or in adult social care. It’s cheaper to apply for this type of visa and you don’t need to pay a healthcare surcharge, so if you work in healthcare it’s worth checking whether you meet the eligibility criteria. You’ll need a confirmed job offer and there’s a minimum salary that you need to be paid, but this depends on the type of job you’ll be doing. You can stay up to 5 years before renewing.

For all these visas you’ll need to work in an eligible role and obtain a ‘certificate of sponsorship’ from your Home Office approved employer. They all allow you to bring family (i.e. a spouse or your children) with you.

Temporary work visas in the UK

  • Seasonal Worker⁶ - a temporary visa for people wanting to come to the UK to do farm work for up to 6 months⁷. To be eligible you’ll need to be 18 or over when you apply and have a ‘Certificate of Sponsorship’ from a UK sponsor.

  • Graduate⁸ - for those wanting to stay in the UK for up to 2 years after successfully completing a course in the UK. (Or up to 3 years for PHD or other doctoral qualification). The course must have been a bachelor’s degree, postgraduate degree or other eligible course. And, you must apply before your student visa expires. What about students themselves? Well, if you want to study in the UK, you may be eligible to apply for one of the student visas.

  • Creative and Sporting⁹ - a visa for creative industry professionals (actors, dancers, musicians etc.) and elite sportspeople with offers to come and work in the UK on a temporary basis, of up to 12 months¹⁰. This visa can also potentially be renewed. You’ll need a ‘Certificate of Sponsorship’ from a licensed sponsor.

Can I get a work permit as a self-employed individual? - Other visa types

If the above visa types don’t apply to what you want to do, there are some visas more tailored to entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals. For example:

  • Innovator¹¹ - a specialist visa for those wanting to stay in the UK to set up and run an innovative business. For you to be eligible you must be at least 18 years old, the business must be different from the rest of the market offering, and endorsed by an authorised body. It allows you to stay for up to 3 years before renewal.

  • Start-up¹² - another specialist visa designed for people wanting to start an innovative business. This visa carries the same eligibility criteria as the Innovator visa and allows you to stay for up to 2 years but without the option for renewal. There is then the potential to switch to an Innovator visa after this period.

The full list of work visas is available here.

How to apply for a work permit in the UK - process and waiting times

When you’ve chosen a work permit/visa, you’ll usually be able to apply and pay for it online via the website. The earliest you’ll usually be able to do so is 3 months before your employment start date¹³. You’ll need to provide proof of identification as well as your supporting documents.

Depending on where you’re from and your passport you’ll either be instructed to go to an appointment at a visa application centre, or use the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ smartphone app to prove your identity¹⁴. For applications from outside the UK, the waiting time for a decision is usually about 3 weeks for work visas¹⁵.

How much does a UK work permit cost?

The costs associated with applying for the right to work in the UK differs depending on the visa or permit, but are usually made up of an application fee, a healthcare surcharge and money to support you when you arrive.

Here you can see some of the most popular visas and roughly how much you, and any accompanying family, can expect to pay. There are application fee discounts available to people of certain nationalities.

Visa/permit typeApplication feeHealthcare surcharge¹⁶Amount in Savings
Skilled Worker¹⁷£610 to £1,408 per person (or less if occupation is on thejob shortage list)£624 per year£1,270 per person
Intracompany Transfer¹⁸£610 to £1,408 per person£624 per year£1,270 per person
Health and Care Worker¹⁹up to 3 years - £232 per personmore than 3 years - £464 per personN/A£1,270 per person
Temporary - Seasonal Worker⁷£244£624 per year£1,270 or equivalent support from sponsor⁶
Temporary -Graduate²⁰£700£624 per yearN/A
Temporary - Creative and Sporting¹⁰£244 per person£624 per year£1,270 per person⁹
Other - Innovator¹¹£1021 - £1277 per person£624 per year£1,270²¹
Other - Start-up¹²£363 - £493 per person£624 per year£1,270²²

Save money with Wise when working in the UK

If you need to transfer money to your account in the UK - or need to move cash from the UK to another account elsewhere, you do have options other than your usual bank. In fact, you can set up a cheaper, faster international money transfer through a specialist service like Wise.

It’s quick and easy²⁴ to open a Wise multi-currency account, from which you can hold 50+ currencies at once and send money between the UK, and all over the world. You’ll only pay small, transparent fees for each transfer, and you’ll always get the real, mid-market exchange rate. There are no hidden costs, and no expensive mark-up when it comes to currency conversion.

You can also get a Wise debit card, which can help you swerve foreign transaction fees when spending and withdrawing cash in other countries. This international debit card automatically converts currency at the real, mid-market exchange rate whenever you spend, with only a small conversion fee to pay. If you already have the currency in your account, it’s free²³.

And for your peace of mind, it’s good to know that Wise is fully regulated and uses the latest security and anti-fraud measures to keep your money safe.

Join Wise today

After reading this guide, you’ll now know how to go about getting a work permit to stay and work in the UK. When selecting a visa to apply for, remember to look for any additional requirements, such as the need to have a TB test or the ability to speak, read, write and understand English.

The main thing you’ll want to do is to carefully check the eligibility criteria and make sure you’ve got everything in place before you apply. This will give you the best chance of success with your application. Good luck!

Sources used for this article:

  1. - the UK’s points-based immigration system
  2. - applying for a visa to come to the UK
  3. - skilled worker visa
  4. - intra-company visas
  5. - healthcare worker visa
  6. - seasonal worker visa
  7. - temporary worker
  8. - graduate visa
  9. - creative and sporting visa (T5)
  10. - temporary worker - creative and sporting visa
  11. - innovator visa
  12. - start-up visa UK
  13. - applying for a visa to come to the UK
  14. - prove your identity
  15. - visa decision waiting times
  16. - healthcare immigration application
  17. - skilled worker visa cost
  18. - intra-company visa cost
  19. - healthcare worker visa cost
  20. - graduate visa cost
  21. - innovator visa eligibility
  22. - start-up visa eligibility
  23. Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing: Only Pay for What You Use for the most up-to-date pricing and fee information.
  24. "Eligibility is subject to verification of customers identity"

Sources checked on 05-August-2021.

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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