The unfortunate reality of traveling is that it's not as easy as everyone makes it out to be. Yeah, sure, planning your trip is easy and probably the best part of traveling. But getting there is a whole other story.
This is especially true for the United Kingdom (UK).
You see, if you don't enjoy visa-free travel, you need to apply for something called the UK Visitors Visa to enter the country. I bet you already knew this.
But now comes the complicated part.
The amount of information provided on the UK gov website is almost overwhelming. Well, for me, it was. I didn't know where to start and where to end.
Luckily, after hours of research and weeks of stress, I successfully applied for my UK Visitors Visa and was well on my way to enjoying a much-deserved trip in the UK.
So in this post, I'll walk you through the entire standard visitor visa application process. My goal is to ensure that you can find everything you need in one place. After this post, I'm confident that you'll be able to apply for your next UK Visitors Visa without any hassle.
Let's get right to it:
The UK Visitors Visa Basics
Before starting the visa application, there are a few things you need to know. If you're only here for the required documents and application steps, use the provided links to skip over to those sections.
I'll briefly cover the following:
What Is The UK Visitors Visa?
The UK Visitors Visa, also called the Standard Visitors Visa, is an entry permit that allows visitors to enter the UK. It allows you to enter the country for the following purposes:
- To visit family members
- Medical treatment
- For professional reasons
Quick note: For this post, I'll cover everything you need to know when visiting the UK for tourism.
With your Visitors Visa, you can visit the UK for a maximum of 6 months. I should mention that embassy authorities have the right to issue your visa for a shorter duration. It's best to check your visa before traveling. Once you have your visa, you're allowed to visit England, Wales, and Northern Island.
Many people refer to this type of visa as the UK Tourist Visa. This is because the most common purpose of the UK Visitors Visa is for tourism. So, during this guide, I'll use the term UK Tourist Visa - just to simplify things.
Who Needs A UK Tourist Visa?
One thing about the GOV website that I do like is that it tells you exactly what type of visa you need when traveling to the UK. Furthermore, the process of finding out is rather simple.
As simple as that.
For US citizens:
US nationals enjoy visa-free travel to the UK. In other words, you can visit the country for 6 months without applying for a visa. However, you can only visit the country visa-free if you do so as a tourist.
If the purpose of your travel is not for tourism, you'll need to apply for another type of visa that aligns with the purpose of your trip. Other types of visas include Student Visas, Work Visas, Residency Permits, etc. So if you don't know what visa you need, follow the steps mentioned above.
For US Green Card holders:
Your home country will determine if you need a visa or not. Let me explain:
Suppose your home country enjoys visa-free travel to the UK. In that case, you don't need to apply for a UK Visitors Visa. Nevertheless, suppose you don't enjoy such benefits, you need to apply for a visa to visit the country.
Don't worry. I'll outline the exact steps you can follow to successfully apply for your UK Tourist Visa (or use Atlys, it's much easier).
Citizens from the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA), and Switzerland:
If you reside in the EU, EEA, or Switzerland, you're not required to apply for an entry clearance (a visa) to enter the UK. You enjoy visa-free travel to the country for a maximum of 6 months.
What Are The Eligibility Requirements For The UK Tourist Visa?
Yes. There are some requirements you need to meet before starting your visa application. To be eligible for the UK Tourist Visa, you must:
- leave the UK after your trip
- be able to financially support yourself (and any dependents) for the entire duration of your trip
- be able to pay for a return flight ticket
- not live in the UK longer than your visa stipulates, or make the UK your home country
When Can I Apply For The UK Tourist Visa?
The earliest you can start your UK Tourist Visa application is 3 months before your departure date. This is also when I recommend starting your visa application.
You need to ensure that you leave enough time for the visa application process, the visa processing time, and to correct any mistakes (like an incomplete application or missing documents).
Where To Apply For The UK Tourist Visa?
First, you need to complete your visa application online. Once you've completed your application, you'll need to schedule a visa appointment and submit your documents.
Typically, you'll need to submit your application at your nearest UK Embassy or Consulate. However, most UK Embassies and Consulates outsource their visa services to authorized Visa Application Centers. Alternatively, you can apply through Atlys. Atlys already knows where you need to apply - effectively eliminating any uncertainty.
It's best to check where you need to submit your application since there are plenty of Applications Centers to choose from.
What Is The Processing Time For The UK Tourist Visa?
Once you've completed the online application, proved your identity, and submitted all the required documents, your UK Tourist Visa will be processed within 3 weeks.
I should mention this is not the fixed processing time. When I applied for my UK Visa, it took around 6 weeks to be processed. There can be many reasons for a delayed processing time:
- A sudden demand for visas
- A sudden pandemic (ugh)
- Incorrect application or documents
- Visa policy changes
There is a way to expedite the visa processing time!
Most application centers offer "priority service" and "super-priority service." However, before selecting these options, check that the application center where you apply offers these services.
- Priority service - your visa will be processed within 5 days
- Super-priority service - your visa will be processed within 1 day
Quick note: Bear in mind that you'll need to pay an additional fee for these services. Also, not all application centers/Embassies provide these services.
How Much Does The UK Tourist Visa Cost?
When applying for the UK Tourist Visa, the visa fee payable depends on the type of visa you apply for and your nationality. I'll list the different types of visas as well as their respective fees:
- 6 month UK Visa: 135.00 USD
- 2 year UK Visa: 509.00 USD
- 5 year UK Visa: 907.00 USD
- 10 year UK Visa: 1133.00 USD
Just be mindful that these amounts can change at anytime. To check the current fees for a UK Visitors Visa, follow these simple steps:
- Navigate to the official Visa Fee tool
- Select your country of origin, the visa category, and the visa type you want to see.
- After you've enter these required fields, you'll see the following:
What Are The Financial Requirements For The UK Tourist Visa?
Unfortunately, the government does not provide a specific amount you'll need to present. However, as a general rule, you should plan to have double the amount you plan to spend on your trip.
Let's say your trip will cost around $2500 (flight ticket included). In that case, you should present at least $5000 of funds.
Can I Apply For A UK e-Visa?
Unfortunately, the UK e-Visa is not available for all nations. Only citizens from the following countries qualify for the electronic visa waiver (EVW):
- the United Arab Emirates
What Are The Required Documents For The UK Tourist Visa?
OK, so now that we've covered the basics, let's talk about the required documents. As you probably guessed, your visa application will be unsuccessful if you don't submit the required documents.
Quick tip: Make a document checklist. It's by far the easiest way to ensure you have everything.
When applying for the UK Tourist Visa, you'll need to submit the following required documents:
- A Completed UK Visa Application Form: As mentioned, you'll need to start your application online. This is where you'll complete your application form. Later in this post, I'll discuss what you can expect.
- 2 passport-sized photos: The photos you need to submit must not be older than 6 months.
- Your valid passport or travel document: Your passport must be valid for 3 months after your trip.
- Proof of accommodation: You'll need to prove to authorities where you plan to stay in the UK. Documents include hotel reservations, Airbnb bookings, a rental agreement, etc. You can get a complete hotel itinerary from Atlys for free.
- A complete travel itinerary:You'll need to submit a complete travel itinerary. It must include all your travel dates, flight numbers, places you plan to visit, tours, accommodation, and so on.
- An invitation letter (if applicable): If you plan to visit relatives or friends, you'll need to submit an invitation letter from the host. It must include all their personal details, contact details, duration of your trip, their accommodation, and so on. Also, the host must be a UK national or resident and provide proof of their immigration status.
- Proof of financial sufficiency: Another requirement is that you prove you have enough money to support yourself for the entire duration of your trip. The exact financial requirements are not specified by the UK government. However, I recommend having twice the amount you plan to spend in the UK. In addition, you'll need to submit a 6-month bank statement, payslips, etc.
- A cover letter (not mandatory): During the online application form, you can add additional information about your trip and the purpose of your trip. If you choose to leave this option blank, I highly recommend writing a detailed letter about the purpose of your trip and that you plan to travel back to your home country afterward.
- A return flight ticket: This is used to prove that you'll return to your home country or leave the UK after your visit. You can get your return flight ticket free of charge from Atlys.
- Confirmation of residency (if applicable): If you don't reside in the country you're applying from, you'll need to prove you have legal residence in that country. For example, you can submit your US Green Card.
- Proof of employment: Depending on your employment status, you can submit documents such as an employment letter, a letter from an educational institution, business registration documents, or recent invoices that prove ongoing self-employment.
- Shipping labels: Once you've gathered all the required documents, you'll need to mail them to the UKVI Visa Processing Hub in New York (145 West 45th Street, Fl 5, New York, NY 10036). Furthermore, you must obtain your shipping labels through UPS
Quick note: Shipping labels are not a mandatory requirement. You can always submit your application at a VFS Global Center. However, you will need to pay extra when submitting your documents in person (around $400 excluding the visa fee).
What Are The COVID-19 Entry Requirements And Restrictions?
Even as you read through this guide, coronavirus restrictions and regulations may have changed already. Because COVID-19 regulations change often, I won't be able to provide the exact requirements you need to meet. However, I can point you in the right direction. Here are 2 options:
How To Apply For The UK Tourist Visa?
You're now ready to apply for your UK Tourist Visa. Next, I'll outline the exact steps you should take and what to expect when completing your visa application steps.
Completing the online visa application form can take some time.
Therefore, I recommend completing your application in one sitting.
Here's what you'll need to do:
1 - Gather All The Required Documents
From reading the title, you probably already know what to do. First, ensure that you collect all the required documents before starting your visa application. Next, upload your documents to your laptop/desktop, as you'll have the option to submit them online.
Remember, make copies of all your documents. Then, should you misplace something, you'll have a backup.
2 - Complete The Online Application Form
As I previously mentioned, you start your application online (on the UK visas and immigration website). First, you need to create an account by entering your email address and password. Then comes the tedious part.
The UK Visitors Visa application form:
The amount of information you need to provide is almost absurd. I understand why it's required, but this is probably the most information I've ever submitted during an application. But not to worry, I'll briefly discuss what you can expect.
The visa application has 5 main parts you need to complete:
1. The Application:
Here you need to provide details on the following:
- Personal information
- Passport details
- Other nationality details, such as your US Residence permit details (if applicable)
- Employment status
- Income and expenditure (what you plan to spend and how you plan to support yourself)
- Travel information
- Dependent details (if applicable)
- Parent(s) information
- Accommodation details travel information
- Additional information (think of this as a cover letter)
The application form provides a small checklist of the documents you must have. However, it does not provide all the required documents - I know, it's confusing. So just be sure to collect all the required documents I mentioned above.
Once your visa is approved, there are certain conditions you'll need to meet and maintain. The declaration indicates that you agree with the conditions outlined by the UK Government.
Here is where you need to pay the visa application fee. Currently, the payment methods include:
5. Further Actions:
After completing the application form and paying the visa fee, you'll move on to the next section. This is where you'll be able to schedule your visa appointment. This brings me to the next step...
3 - Schedule A Visa Appointment
Like most visa applications, you'll need to schedule a UK Visa appointment. Once you've completed your online application form, you'll have the option to book your appointment at a VFS Global Center.
Here's the important part:
You must provide all your required documents at least 24 hours before attending your appointment. So, when scheduling your appointment, be sure to leave enough time to mail your required documents to the UKVI Visa Processing Hub in New York (145 West 45th Street, Fl 5, New York, NY 10036). If you fail to do this, it will delay the visa processing time.
I recommend starting your visa application at least 2 months before your intended trip. This allows you to complete the application and ship your required documents well before your scheduled visa appointment.
"How do I schedule a UK Visa Appointment?"
- First, complete the online visa application form.
- Next, pay the visa fee (around $132).
- Finally, select an Application Center, an appointment date, and upload your documents. Remember, your documents must be uploaded before you attend your appointment.
Quick note: At the end of your online application, you'll be informed of the exact documents you'll need to upload.
"Why do I need a UK Visa Appointment?"
At the appointment, you'll need to submit your biometric information. Speaking of...
4 - Attend Your Visa Appointment
On the day of your appointment, you'll need to travel to the Visa Application Center to submit your biometric information.
Your biometric information includes:
- A digital photo of your face
- Your fingerprints
"What does it cost?"
When applying for your UK Visitors Visa from outside the UK, the biometric collection fee is included in your visa fee. On the other hand, if you apply within the UK, you'll need to pay £19.20.
'What do I need to submit at my UK Visa Appointment?"
All you need to bring is your appointment confirmation. Which looks something like this:
Authorities will not check your supporting documents at the appointment, as it's processed at the UKVI hub.
5 - Wait For Your Visa To Be Processed
Now all you can do is wait for your visa to be processed. Typically, this takes around 3 weeks. Once your visa has been processed, you'll receive a notification via email.
Quick note: At the start of the online application, you'll need to confirm your email address.
6 - Get Your UK Tourist Visa
The last step. Get your UK Tourist Visa. After your visa has been approved (congrats!), you'll receive a notification, and your passport will be mailed back to you (using the shipping labels you provided).
Once you receive your passport, you'll find your no UK Visitors Visa attached to it.
Quick note: You can track your passport using your UPS number.
You've Successfully Applied For Your UK Tourist/Visitors Visa!
A lot to remember, right? But don't worry, if you follow the steps outlined in this guide, you'll be able to successfully apply for your UK Visitors Visa in no time. Remember, there is an easier way to apply for your UK Visitors Visa.