The visa terms and conditions for entry into the UK depend on:
- the traveller’s country of origin; and,
- the purpose of their visit to the UK.
People travelling on a UK, a European Union, a European Economic Area or a Swiss passport do not require a visa to enter the UK. Citizens of some other countries who would ordinarily require a visa may be exempt from the visa requirements for some other reason. For diplomats do not require a visa. However, they would still need to provide a formal document which shows that they are exempt from the UK visa rules.
Under the immigration rules which govern entry into the UK by foreign citizens, people from some countries always need a visa to enter the UK. They will need a visa regardless of the length or purpose of their stay. Citizens of these countries are known as visa nationals for the purpose of entry into the UK.
Appendix 1 of the immigration rules lists all the countries whose citizens require a visa to enter the UK. The full list can be found on the UK Border Agency website. People who are “stateless” will also require a visa and are classed as visa nationals.
Nationals of countries not listed in Appendix 1 of the immigration rules may not need a visa to enter the UK if their visit will last less than six months. For immigration purposes citizens of these countries are known as non-visa nationals. However, some non-visa nationals will still need a visa to enter the UK due to the purpose of their visit.
Where and When to Apply for a UK Visa
Foreign citizens who require a visa to enter the UK must apply for the visa before they travel to the UK. Even though the Channel Islands and the Isle of Mann are not part of the UK for immigration purposes, foreign citizens cannot travel to either of these territories and apply for a UK visa from there.
Foreign citizens applying for a visitor visa for a stay of less than six months can apply from any British embassy or consulate which offers visa services. However, those applying for other types of visas must apply in the country where they live. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office website contains a list of all British embassies and consulates which provide visa services.
UK Entry Clearance Requirements for Non-Visa Nationals
Depending on the purpose of their visit, non-visa nationals can often enter the UK without a visa. However, if a non-visa national intends to stay in the UK for longer than six months they will have to obtain entry clearance before they travel to the UK.
Advance Passenger Information
The UK Border Agency is introducing a system which requires airlines and other carriers to collect information from all passengers, including crew, who are travelling to the UK. The information is passed on to the UK Border Agency before the travellers arrive. The information is used to detect those travellers who could pose a security risk to the UK, who may then be questioned or even arrested upon their arrival.
This advanced screening system is known as e-Borders and its formal implementation is due to begin in October 2008. Any traveller who refuses to provide the requested information is unlikely to be allowed to travel to the UK.
Transit Through the UK
It should be noted that visa nationals may need a visa even if they only intend to transit through the UK as part of their journey to another country. Visa nationals in transit to another country may not need a visa to travel through the UK if they will be in the country for less than 24 hours and have all the necessary paperwork to guarantee them entry to their final destination. However, the nationals of some countries will always require a visa, even for transit. Therefore it is vital to check the UK Border Agency website before making any travel arrangements.