The process of applying for a UK visa can be stressful to say the least, so it’s important to get it right the first time. We break down the most common UK visas to ensure you apply for the correct one.


How the UK visa application system works

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) uses an application system referred to as Entry Clearance (EC). Under the EC system, people who want to come to the UK to live and work must apply for a UK visa. Citizens from certain countries who want to come to the UK for a short period may not need a visa. 

You must apply for your visa in your home country or a country where you are a permanent resident or have the right to reside temporarily. The application process includes a biometric interview, where digital fingerprints and photographs are taken and recorded against the applicant’s profile.

Before you apply for a UK visa

You should always apply for the visa category most appropriate for your particular circumstances. If you don’t, you could find your visa being refused at the EC stage, after you have already spent significant time and money. It may also cause complications at a later date if you’re trying to extend your stay or switch into another visa category in the UK. If you’re unsure of where to start or are having trouble understanding the process, it’s a good idea to get advice from a UK immigration expert who can help you assess which visa is right for you.

Types of UK visas

Visitng the UK

You can come to the UK for a short period to travel, do business or even get married.

Standard Visitor visa

You can apply for a UK visitor visa if you plan on doing one or more of the following:

  • Leisure – going on holiday or visiting friends and family
  • Business – conferences, research or training
  • Other – private medical treatment or other specific reason

There are strict rules on what qualifies as business as you are not allowed to work in the UK on a Standard Visitor visa. The type of business activities you can partake in include:

  • Attending conferences or meetings
  • Business-related training or courses
  • Conducting academic research
  • Accompanying students on a study programme
  • Performing as an artist, musician or entertainer
  • Negotiating or signing contracts and agreements
  • Participating in a sporting event
  • Promotional activities related to a business
  • Applying for business funding
  • If you’re a doctor or dentist, a clinical attachment or observer post
  • Taking the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE)

You may study on a visitor visa for up to 30 days. However, this can’t be the main reason you’re coming to the UK.

Transit visa

You may need to apply for a UK Transit visa if you’re passing through the UK en route to another country. You will need to show that you are only in the UK for transit and that you have sufficient funds to continue your journey.

There are two types of transit visas:

  • Direct Airside Transit visa (DATV) – you’re only changing flights and not going through border control
  • Visitor in Transit visa – going through border control but leaving within 48 hours

If you don’t fall into one of these categories, you’ll need to apply for a Standard Visitor visa.

Marriage Visitor visa

You can apply for a UK Marriage Visitor visa if you want to get married in the UK and aren’t planning to live there. This visa is valid for six months and your marriage or civil partnership needs to take place at a licenced venue.

Types of UK work visas

Temporary worker visas (T5)

There are seven visas in this category. These visas only allow you to live and work in the UK for a short period.

  • Charity Worker visa
  • Creative and Sporting visa
  • Government Authorised Exchange
  • International Agreement Worker visa
  • Religious Worker visa

Youth Mobility Scheme visa (T5)

If you’re aged 18 to 30 and from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, San Marino or Taiwan, you can apply for a Youth Mobility Scheme visa or UK working holiday visa as it is also known. This visa lets you live and work in the UK for up to two years and cannot be renewed.

Skilled Worker visa

The Skilled Worker visa replaced the Tier 2 (General) visa. You must apply for this visa if you want to work in the UK for a long period of time, including if you’re from the EU. This is a points-based visa, and you must obtain a total of 70 points to be eligible. Points are awarded as follows:




Job offer by approved sponsor



Job at appropriate skill level



Speaks English at required level



Salary of GBP 20,480 (minimum) – GBP 23,039 or at least 80% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher)



Salary of GBP 23,040 – GBP 25,599 or at least 90% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher)



Salary of GBP 25,600 or above or at least the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher)



Job in shortage occupation as designated by the Migration Advisory Committee



Qualification: PhD in subject relevant to the job



Qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job



You must have a minimum NQF Level 3 and earn a minimum salary of £25,600 or the going rate for the job, whichever is higher. You must also have a job offer from a UK employer that’s been approved by the Home Office as a sponsor and meet the English language requirement.

This visa will allow you to stay in the UK for up to five years.

Intra-company visas

These visas allow you to move to the UK to work at your company’s UK branch.

The Intra-company Transfer visa

To be eligible for an Intra-company Transfer visa, you’ll need to have worked at your company for at least 12 months, be paid at least £41,500 and prove that you are employed by a company that has been approved by the Home Office as a sponsor.

Intra-company Graduate Trainee visa

You’ll need to have worked for your employer for at least three months before you can apply, and be paid at least £23,000.

Tier 1 visas

You can start a new business or make an investment in the UK with the following visas.

Innovator visa

You can apply for this visa if you have a business idea that’s different from any else on the market. An endorsing body needs to approve your idea and you must have access to £50,000. You’ll also need to prove your knowledge of English. You can bring your family with you on this visa and stay in the UK for up to three years.

Start-up visa

The requirements of the Start-up visa are similar to the Innovator visa, with the exception that the endorsing body extends to UK higher education institutions and you don’t have to have any start-up funds.

You can stay for up to two years in the UK with this visa, with no option of an extension.

Investor visa

To qualify for the Investor visa, you must invest at least £2,000,000 in the UK. This can be done through UK government bonds, share capital or loan capital. You aren’t allowed to use the money to invest in property investment, management or development companies. This visa lets you come to the UK for a maximum of three years and four months, but you can extend it for another two years.

Studying in the UK

Student visa

The Student visa was previously known as the Tier 4 (General) visa. You need to be 16 years or older and have an offer to study at a university or college. You’ll need to be able to speak, read, write and understand English, as well as have enough money to pay for your course and support yourself. This visa is valid for the length of your course and can be extended.

Child student visa

Children aged four to 17 who want to study at an independent UK school must apply for a Child Student visa. The child must have a place at the school, have parental or guardian consent and enough money to pay for the course fees and living costs. This visa is valid for the duration of the course.

UK family visas

To join a family member living in the UK, you’ll need to apply for a family visa (sometimes referred to as “family of a settled person visa”). This category comprises the following visas:

  • Spouse or partner
  • Fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner
  • Child
  • Parent

To apply for this visa, your relative in the UK needs to be any one of the following:

  • British citizen
  • Permanently settled in the UK (indefinite leave to remain or proof of permanent residence)
  • A refugee or under humanitarian protection

If your relative is in the UK on a work or student visa, you cannot apply for a family visa, you’ll need to apply as a dependant instead. A family visa lets you live, work and study in the UK.

Spouse visa or partner visa

To apply for spouse or partner visa, both you and your partner need to be over 18 and intend to live together permanently in the UK. You must prove you’re already in a marriage or civil partnership that’s recognised in the UK, or you’ve been in a relationship for at least two years when you apply. This visa is valid for two and a half years, with the possibility of extension.

If you’re not married yet, you can apply for a six-month family visa as a fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner. You must then get married or enter into a civil partnership within those six months.

Other requirements are good English knowledge and enough finances to support yourself and any dependants.

Visas for children

To bring a child to the UK, generally both parents need to either be settled in the UK or have a qualifying visa. Otherwise, you will need to provide evidence that you have sole responsibility for your child. To get this visa, a child must be under 18, unmarried and not living an independent life.

Apply as a parent

You can apply for a visa if you need to take care of your child who’s living in the UK. Your child must be under 18 and must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Be a British or Irish citizen
  • Be settled in the UK
  • Have pre-settled status if from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein
  • Must have lived in the UK for seven years continuously and it would not be reasonable for them to leave

There are additional financial and English language requirements that must be met. You will also need to prove that you’ll be taking an active role in your child’s upbringing.

Dependant visa

You can bring your family with you to the UK as your dependants if you’re on one of the following visas: Tier 1 visaSkilled Worker visaStudent visa or Ancestry visa.

You’ll need to show that you can support them while in the UK. Your dependants’ time in the UK is linked to your own visa duration, and generally they will be allowed to work and study in the UK – subject to a few exceptions.

The UK Ancestry visa

UK Ancestry visa is one of the most highly sought-after visas. It allows you to live, work, study and bring your family over for five years, after which you can apply to settle permanently in the UK. To get an Ancestry visa, you need to be:

  • A Commonwealth citizen
  • Applying from outside the UK
  • Able to prove one of your grandparents was born in the UK
  • Planning to work in the UK

There are other eligibility requirements, including being 17 years or older and having enough money to support and accommodate yourself.

Don’t be afraid to get some help with your UK visa application

No visa application process is the same and the UK’s immigration laws can be strict and complex. That’s why we always recommend letting an experienced immigration consultant help with your visa application.

They can guide you towards the right visa route that will ensure a smooth application process and a successful outcome. From start to finish, they will assist you at every step and help you get all your documents in order and submit the application on your behalf.

Our team has extensive experience in all UK visa categories and can help you determine the best potential visa option and route. We can also manage your application for you and liaise with the UK authorities on your behalf. Our “no visa, no fee” guarantee means that there is no risk for you. Get in touch with us at or on+44 (0) 20 7759 5330 (UK) or +27 (0) 21 657 2180 (SA).

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