How to Apply for UK Student Visas

by Katie Pietras

After you’ve chosen to study abroad in England, applied for a program, and been accepted, there is still more work to be done. In order to enjoy a successful study abroad program in England, students must first take care of the most important piece of legal documentation required of international students, a student visa. With a couple of types available, the visa application process can be slightly overwhelming for students who plan to study abroad in England, but the most important things to keep in mind are the purpose and duration of the trip.

If you are studying abroad for six months or less, and don’t plan to work…

Your best option is applying for a Student Visitor Visa, which is significantly easier and quicker to obtain than the Tier 4 General Student Visa. With a Student Visitor Visa you will have permission to study in the UK for a maximum of six months, a period which cannot be extended from inside the UK, but working with this type of visa will be strictly prohibited.

Students entering the UK as non-visa nationals, such as those from the USA and other select nations, do not need any sort of prior entry clearance and can simply request entry a Student Visitor Visa upon arrival in a UK airport.

If you are a visa national, (visit the UK Immigration Website for a full list of applicable nationalities), you will need entry clearance to obtain a visa to study in England, which can be gained by visiting a British Embassy or High Commission with a visa department (Search for an Embassy in your home country in GoAbroad’s UK Embassy Directory). All countries within the United Kingdom prefer that you submit your application for a Student Visitor Visa online before traveling to the UK.

Once you’ve arrived in the UK, there are some documents that are essential for you to have in order for your request for a Student Visitor Visa to be granted. Visa officials may not ask for all of the documents, listed below, when you apply for your visa, but you should have them with you regardless.

  • A current passport
  • Two passport sized color photos
  • The VAF1A Application Form
  • £83 in cash to pay for the application fee (as of 2014)
  • Evidence that you are able to support yourself financially while abroad, such as a bank statement. You should be able to prove that you have around £820 for every month that you will be staying in England.
  • Information about where you plan to stay while in the UK and your travel plans (ex. flight itinerary or reservation)
  • Any travel insurance documents or information you may have
  • Proof of your course of study (ex. a letter of acceptance from the UK-based university you will be attending)

One last important note about the Student Visitor Visa is that you will need to bring your application materials with you when you leave the British Isles, because you will need to reapply for the visa each time you re-enter the UK, although you only have to pay the application fee once. When traveling during your study abroad program within the country, the only documents that are essential for you to carry are your passport and the proof of your course of study.

If you are studying abroad for longer than six months or you plan to work…

In the case that you’d like to study and work in the UK, you will need to apply for a Tier 4 General Student Visa, for which the application can take up to three months to process depending upon what country you are from.

The length of time covered by your visa, in this case, will depend upon your course of study and program, but with a Tier 4 General Student Visa you will be able to extend the amount of time covered if necessary.

The first thing you will need to apply for, in order to obtain the Tier 4 Visa, is a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS) from your exchange university. Students must apply for their visas no more than six months after receiving the CAS requirement.

The documents necessary for the Tier 4 Student Visa application are similar to those needed for the Student Visitor Visa:

  • A current passport
  • Two passport sized, color photos
  • A completed VAF1A Application form 
  • £310 for Application fees, if you are applying for the visa from outside the UK. However, if you are applying online or by mail to extend your length of stay—or at a later date if you need to switch from another visa to this type of student visa—the application fee will be an additional £422.
  • Evidence that you are able to support yourself financially for the duration of your time abroad, such as a bank statement. You should be able to prove that you have about £820 in spending money for every month that you will be abroad.
  • Information about where you plan to stay while in the UK and your travel plans
  • Any travel insurance documents (if applicable)
  • Proof of your course of study, such as the letter of acceptance from your exchange university or a CAS
  • Proof that you are qualified for your selected course of study, such as a transcript from your home university

When attempting to acquire the Tier 4 Student Visa, you must apply online and before your application can be processed there are several things you must do:

  • Register for an account on the Visa4UK website
  • Fill out the application form (in English)
  • Pay all visa fees, which is usually completed online
  • Print out your application form
  • Book and attend an appointment at a Visa Application Center to have your biometric information (i.e. fingerprints and photograph) collected
  • Have all supporting documents needed for your visa completed

Once your entire application package is complete you will need to mail it to the appropriate address, generally a British Consulate (Find one nearest you through GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory). For American students the address where you should send mail for non-settlement application is (as of July 2014):

UK Visas and Immigration

British Consulate General

845 Third Avenue

New York

10022

Once your Visa process is completed…

You can arrive in the United Kingdom up to a week before your course begins, if you are studying abroad in England for six months or less, or up to one month prior to the start of classes if your study abroad program is longer than six months.