The UK tourist visa requirements are clear and easy to understand. UK tourist visa application is online but the rest of the process requires an in-person appointment for biometrics.
The UK or the United Kingdom is comprised of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. To visit any of these four countries, you would need a UK tourist visa. UK tourist visas are valid for 6 months and you can stay up to 180 days in the UK.
The UK tourist visa application process is long and there is no status tracking. Make sure to start your UK visa process at least two months from your intended date of travel to the UK.
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UK TOURIST VISA REQUIREMENTS BY NATIONALITY
Minimum passport validity required to enter the UK
- Passport must be valid for the entire stay in the UK
Visa EXEMPT nationalities
- This requirement will change from 01 Jan 2021 when UK will no longer be part of the EU
- Czech Republic
- You must carry all documents needed for a visitor visa to show at the port of entry if asked
- Visa is REQUIRED if you have a criminal record or refused entry into the UK before
- Anguilla (British territory)
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Bermuda (British territory)
- Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba (Dutch territory)
- British Virgin Islands (British territory)
- Cayman Islands (British territory)
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
- Falkland Islands (British territory)
- Hong Kong
- Marshall Islands
- Montserrat (British territory)
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- Pitcairn Island (British territory)
- San Marino
- Solomon Islands
- South Korea
- St Kitts and Nevis
- St Lucia
- St Maarten
- St Vincent and The Grenadines
- Timor Leste
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Turks and Caicos Islands (British territory)
- United States of America
- Vatican City
Visa REQUIRED nationalities
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- Congo, Dem. Rep. of
- Congo, Rep. of
- Cote d’Ivoire
- Dominican Republic
- Equatorial Guinea
- North Korea
- North Macedonia
- Palestinian Territories
- Saudi Arabia
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- South Sudan
- Sri Lanka
- São Tomé and Principe
Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW) required nationalities
- United Arab Emirates
24-hour VISA-FREE entry at Heathrow airport
- Eligible to request a 24-hour VISA-FREE entry at London’s Heathrow airport if holding a valid visa from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or any EU/Schengen country
- Must be in transit to/from the country of visa (Ex: if holding a Canada visa, you must be in transit to/from Canada only)
- Onward flight must be within 24 hours (on the same day or next day before midnight)
- Granting the 24-hour entry is at the sole discretion of the immigration officer
- Applies to all nationalities
UK TOURIST VISA APPLICATION PROCESS
First, check if you need a visitor visa to travel to the UK in the “UK tourist visa requirements by nationality” section above.
Alternatively, you can check your eligibility and requirements on the UK gov website.
Validity of UK tourist visa
UK tourist visas are valid for 6 months from the date of visa issue.
Example: If your UK visa was issued on January 15, the visa will be valid until July 15.
There have been instances where visas were issued with validity starting from the date of travel mentioned in the visa application.
When to apply for UK visa
You can apply for a UK visa up to 3 months in advance.
Example: If you plan to visit the UK on April 15, you can apply for your UK visa on or after January 16.
Also, keep in mind that you must apply for your UK visa at least 3 weeks prior to your travel, otherwise, you may not receive your visa on time. There are no refunds if you receive your visa after your travel date.
The UK visa process can take up to 3 weeks and even longer in some cases. I strongly recommend applying for your UK visa at least 2 months in advance.
How long can you stay in the UK?
The UK tourist visa allows you to stay up to 180 days in the UK. But if you stay that long continuously in the UK on a tourist visa, you will have serious trouble getting another UK visa in the future or entering the UK next time.
Here is my advice. Stick to the days you have mentioned in your UK visa application. A few days more or less is fine. But staying months on your UK tourist visa will pretty much look like you “live in the UK” rather than “vacation/holiday”.
The UK visa application is online. You must apply for the visa online at the UK Visas and Immigration website
Below are the steps you will go through for your UK tourist visa application
- Go to the UK Visas and Immigration website
- Select your preferred language, type of visa, your country, nearest visa application center, etc
- Create a login using email and password
- Complete in the application form
- Sign the declaration
- Pay visa fee
- Submit the application
- Download and print the submitted visa application form
- Make an appointment at your nearest UK visa application center
- Attend the appointment at your nearest UK visa application center
- Submit your passport, visa application and supporting documents at the visa application center
- If applying from the US, Australia or New Zealand, mail your passport, visa application and biometrics receipt to your nearest visa application center
- Pickup/receive the passport when the visa decision is made
Below are some of the information you will provide in the application form
- Your travel dates to the UK
- Your hotel address and telephone number in the UK
- Your total estimated cost for the trip
- Your present home address and how many years you’ve lived there
- Your parents’ names and their dates of birth
- Your annual income
- Your travel history for the past 10 years
- Your employer details including the address and telephone number
The following are the documents required for UK visitor visa application
- Completed online visa application form with GWF number
- A passport-size photo (optional)
- Proof of earnings
- If employed – an employment letter on company letterhead indicating your length of employment, salary, role, etc.
- If self-employed – a business registration document indicating your business name, date of business, etc.
- If student – a letter from the school/university on the letterhead indicating your enrollment, leave of absence, etc.
- Proof of funds (bank statements or payslips for the last 6 months)
- Proof of legal residence (if applying from a 3rd country. you must submit a copy of your visa or residence permit of that country)
Do you need flight tickets and hotel bookings for the UK visa application?
UKVI has stopped asking for flight tickets and hotel bookings for UK visa applications. But some nationalities are still being asked to submit flight tickets and hotel bookings.
When you complete your online UK visa application, you will see a checklist of documents to be uploaded. Check if you are asked to submit flight tickets and hotel bookings.
Even if you are asked to submit your flight tickets and hotel bookings, you should not book any flights/hotel until your UK visa is approved.
For flights, get a price quote from British Airways which can be used as a flight itinerary for your UK visa application. Visa ticket booking agencies such as DummyTicket offer flight itineraries for the UK visa for $19, valid for 2-3 weeks.
A passport-size photo is only required if are exempt from biometrics. All tourist visa applicants MUST give their biometrics. Your fingerprints and digital photos are taken during your biometrics appointment.
Since all tourist visa applicants MUST give their biometrics, a passport-size photo is not required. But, I suggest bringing one with you on the day of your biometrics appointment just in case.
Visa application fee
The UK tourist visa application fee is £95 GBP. You will pay this fee in your local currency. Due to exchange rates, you may end up paying about £2 – £5 GBP more.
You can use the UK home office visa fee wizard to find out the exact visa fee that you would need to pay in your local currency.
If you are applying for a long-term UK tourist visa, below is the visa fee for 2, 5 and 10-year tourist visas.
- 2 years: £361 GBP
- 5 years: £655 GBP
- 10 years: £822 GBP
As part of the online application process, you will be prompted to make a visa appointment at your nearest UK Visa Application Center. Visa Application Centers are run by either VFSGlobal or TLSContact in conjunction with UK Visas and Immigration.
On the day of the appointment, you will give your biometrics (fingerprints and photo) and submit your original documents. You must bring all your original documents along with one photocopy of each including your passport.
Applicants from the USA, Australia (Adelaide and Hobart only) and New Zealand
You must give your biometrics at your nearest Biometric Enrollment Center and later send/post your documents to the nearest UK Visa Application Center.
During your online UK visa application, you will be prompted to make a biometrics appointment at your nearest Biometric enrollment center.
- Biometric enrollment centers in the USA are run by the US Homeland Security.
- Biometric enrollment centers in Australia are run by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
- Biometric enrollment centers in New Zealand are run by Immigration New Zealand.
The biometrics appointment takes about 10-15 minutes. You will give your fingerprints and photo. You will receive an acknowledgment stamp on the biometric appointment confirmation.
You must then mail your original passport, visa application, biometric confirmation with the stamp, supporting documents and return postage to the UK Visa Application Center you have selected during your online visa application.
You will be notified via email when the UK Visa Application Center receives your documents.
Visa processing time
The UK tourist visa processing takes up to 3 weeks. There have been incidents where UKVI has taken over 2 months to process, especially when the visa applications are “not straightforward”.
UKVI considers a visa application “not straightforward” if additional information is required to process the visa. Additional information can be, verifying information, background check or requesting additional documents. UKVI usually notifies you in such cases and requests any additional documentation necessary.
Keeping such incidents in mind, ALWAYS apply for your UK visa at least 2 months prior to your travel.
If you have to travel sooner, you should purchase the “Priority Visa Service” while applying online. Or at least before you mail/submit your documents. This way your visa application will be processed within 5 working days.
When I applied for my UK visa, the visa processing time was about 2 weeks. I had a planned trip to Canada before my trip to the UK. My trip to Canada was in 4 weeks, so I thought I had enough time to apply for my UK visa. However after I submitted my passport, the email confirmation said the visa process would take up to 4 weeks. I panicked. I went ahead and paid for the priority visa service. I panicked again. Then I emailed a formal visa withdrawal request, so I could at least get my passport back and make my trip to Canada. However, my visa was processed within 2 days of paying the priority visa service fee. Please do not make the same mistake as I did. Apply for your UK visa at least 2 months prior to your travel.
Visa application status tracking
Online visa application tracking is NOT AVAILABLE on the UK Visas and Immigration website. To track your UK visa application status, you must use UK Visas and Immigration’s email or phone option, which unfortunately is NOT FREE.
UKVI charges for all phone and email inquiries.
Below are UK Visa and Immigration phone, email details and charges.
Telephone: +44 2034811736
Available 24 hours from Monday to Friday
Calls cost £1.37 per minute plus any international call charges
Email communication must be initiated via Email UK Visas and Immigration
Email inquiries cost £5.48. Follow-up emails after that are not charged.
You will receive a response to your email within 2 working days.
You must give out your credit card information for billing when you start the phone inquiry. For email, you must fill out the payment form and then you can submit your email inquiry.
Email inquiries generally receive a standard response saying that your application is “in process”. Phone inquiries are slightly better and cheaper.
Priority visa service
If you would need to travel to the UK urgently, you can opt for the “Priority Visa Service”. This service is expensive and may not be available in all countries. If available, you will see the option in your online UK visa application.
- Priority visa service fee: £220 GBP
- Visa processing time: Guaranteed in 5 working days
Priority visa service must be purchased during your online visa application. This will ensure your visa is processed within 5 days.
Purchasing this service after you have submitted/mailed your documents will take much longer than 5 working days. You must first pay the fee on the Visa Application Center (VAC) website and then email the receipt to the Visa Application Center where you have submitted/sent your documents. It can take more than a day for the VAC staff to locate your packet and push it into the priority queue
I purchased my priority service after I had mailed my documents. My visa application was approved within two days of buying the priority visa service.
Super priority visa service
If you would need to travel to the UK immediately, you can opt for “Super Priority Visa Service”. This service comes with a hefty price tag, so purchase this service only in super urgent, emergency cases.
- Super priority visa service fee: £956 GBP
- Visa processing time: Guaranteed in 24 hours
Cancel your UK visa application
If you haven’t given your biometrics at the visa application center yet, you can cancel your UK visa application and get a full refund of your visa fee. The procedure to cancel your UK visa application depends on at what stage your application is in.
Application not submitted and fee not paid: If you haven’t paid your fee and haven’t submitted your application, there is a “Delete Application” option that will delete your current visa application.
Application not submitted but fee already paid: If you have already paid your fee and have not yet submitted your application, you can still delete your application but you may have to send a formal refund request in writing to the visa application center.
Application submitted, fee paid but haven’t given your biometrics: If you haven’t given your biometrics at VFS/BLS, you can cancel your application and request for a refund. The refunds take 4 weeks.
Application submitted, fee paid, biometric given, and documents/passport already submitted: If you have already given your biometrics and submitted your documents/passport, you CANNOT cancel your visa application anymore. You can only WITHDRAW your visa application. You must email the visa application center a formal withdrawal request. Upon receipt of the withdrawal request, the visa application center will return/mail your passport back. Any visa fee and priority service fee paid are not refundable.
Even though UKVI says the refunds are processed in 4 weeks, it usually takes 8 weeks or even longer. There have been instances where applicants waited several weeks and some even gave up on their refunds. However, I have seen applicants having success in getting their refunds by reminding UKVI with phone calls or emails. It costs about $5 USD to email them, but it helps in getting your refund eventually.
Withdraw your UK visa application
The UK visa application center keeps the passport for the entirety of the visa process, which could be 3 weeks or more. There may be emergencies where you need to have your passport with you. The only way to request your passport back is by formally withdrawing your visa application.
If you withdraw your application, the visa fee and any priority service fee you have paid are NOT refundable.
To withdraw a visa application, you must submit a withdrawal request along with the reason for the withdrawal to the visa application center via email. It might take up to 72 hours for the consulate to locate your packet and send it back to you.
You must first call/email the UK Visas and Immigration mentioning your intention to withdraw your application. They will guide you through the process of withdrawing your application.
Usually, the UK visa application withdrawal request should be a signed document with personal information including the GWF number. This document must be printed and signed. It must be scanned and emailed to the visa application center. Below is a sample withdrawal request letter.
I hereby request to withdraw my UK visa application. I understand that the visa fee is non-refundable. I also understand that my package may not be shipped for up to 72 hours.
Full Name of the Applicant: <name>
GWF Number: <GWF number>
Date of Birth: <date of birth>
Country of Residence: <Country of residence>
Passport number: <Passport number>
Type of Visa Applied: General Visit (up to 6 months)
Biometric taken date: <biometric date>
Visa application centre’s address: <address of the visa application center where you have submitted your documents>
Contact number of the applicant: <Your phone number>
Priority Service Paid: <YES/NO>
Priority Service Paid On: <Priority service purchased date>
Reason for Withdrawal: Emergency international travel has been scheduled. I need to have my passport in order to travel. Please return my passport as soon as possible. Thank you!
<Your signature here>
Signed: <Your full name>
Cancellation or withdrawal is NOT a refusal. It WILL NOT affect your future UK visa applications. You don’t need to mention it in your future UK visa applications either.
ENTERING AND LEAVING THE UK
Entering the UK by air
At the immigration, the officers may ask you questions about your trip, how long you plan to stay, your next destination, etc. You may be asked to show your return/onward ticket and your hotel booking. If you are traveling on a one-way ticket, you can use OnwardTicket to get proof of your onward ticket.
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: The immigration officer at Heathrow Airport asked me to show my return/onward ticket. I had a print of my onward ticket, so quickly took it out and gave it to the immigration officer.
Leaving the UK by air
If you are flying out of Heathrow Airport, make sure to arrive early. The airport is huge and you may have to take a bus from the gate to the flight.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is GWF number in UK visa application?
GWF reference number is the unique visa application number that was provided to you on your visa application submission. You must provide your GWF number when calling or emailing UK Visas and Immigration. Without the GWF number, UK Visas and Immigration will not be able to provide you with a status update on your visa application.
What to do if my UK visa application is refused?
If your UK visa application is refused, the first thing is to understand the reasons for your UK visa refusal. If the reason is due to missing information, proof of funds or documentation, make sure to fix these the next time you apply for your UK visa.
Write a detailed cover letter explaining the reasons for your previous visa refusal, missing information/documentation and any additional information/documentation that you have provided in the new application. This will help the ECOs cut to the chase and focus on the new information/documentation.
There is no “appeal” for UK visa. So, re-apply for your UK visa by making sure you have the new information, proofs and documents that were lacking previously. You must pay the visa fee again as the fee paid for your previous application was non-refundable.
If you do not know the reason for your visa refusal/denial, give at least 6 months before you apply for the visa again.
Can I get my UK visa application fee refund if denied?
No. The visa fee and any priority service fee paid are non-refundable if your visa application is denied. The visa fee is also non-refundable in incidents where the visa is approved for less number of days than requested.
I’m planning to visit the UK and Schengen countries on a single trip. Should I apply for my UK visa first or Schengen visa first?
If you plan to visit the UK and Schengen countries on a single trip, ALWAYS apply for your UK visa first.
UKVI keeps the passport for the entirety of the visa process and there is no visa status tracking. Calls and emails to customer service are charged. Even if you pay and contact, you will usually get a canned response. If your UK visa is refused, there is no “appeal”. You can only re-apply, which means you have to repeat the entire process again.
On the other hand, the Schengen visa application process is much streamlined. There is application tracking, customer service and appeal.
I highly recommend applying for your UK visa first and get done with it. After that, apply for your Schengen visa.
When applying for your UK visa, show a “UK-only” itinerary for your UK visa. This eliminates the need for submitting your Schengen visa, flights in/out of the Schengen region, etc.
The UK tourist visa requirements are clear and easy to understand. But, the visa application process is long and expensive. Apply at least 2 months in advance, and follow all the proper steps and documentation. Tourist visas are usually multiple-entry with 6 months validity.