If you’re planning on studying in the UK as an international student, you’ll need to apply for a visa before you arrive. There are different types of visas you can apply for when studying in the UK, but you usually won’t need to apply until you’ve been accepted on your course.
If you’re undertaking a course at a college or university, and you’re over the age of 16, you’ll normally need to apply for a Student Visa. This used to be called the ‘Tier 4 Visa’ and some of the rules have recently changed.
To help you apply, here’s everything you need to know about which visa you need to apply for, including a step-by-step guide on how to apply for a Student Visa.
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Types of Study-Related Visas
Several types of visas let you study in the UK. This includes a:
- Standard Visitor Visa – which lets you undertake a short study course up to six months long
- Short-Term Study Visa – which lets you study an English language course that lasts between 6-11 months
- Child Student Visa – which is for students aged 4-17 that want to study at an independent school
- Student Visa – which is for students studying at college or university for a longer period
If you are looking to study at a UK university as an international student, you’ll usually need to apply for a Student Visa. This visa will normally let you study in the UK and work a paid or unpaid job at the same time.
If you’re not sure which visa you need to apply for, you can take the free online eligibility checker on the GOV.UK website. This will tell you which visa is right for you.
Step-by-Step Guide on How to Apply for a Student Visa
If you need to apply for a Student Visa, here’s everything you need to know about how to apply as an international student.
Step 1: Make sure you are eligible
Before you apply for a Student Visa, make sure it is the right visa for your situation and that you have everything you need in place.
You can apply for a Student Visa to study in the UK if you:
- Are over the age of 16 (and have consent from your parents if you’re aged 16 or 17)
- Have been offered a place on an eligible course, which is usually a college or university
- Have enough money to support yourself and pay for your course
- Can speak, read, write and understand English
What is an eligible course?
An eligible course has been approved by the UK government and is delivered by a licensed student sponsor.
Most colleges and universities are recognised as licensed sponsors, but make sure you check whether your place of education is approved on the GOV.UK website here before applying for a Student Visa.
An eligible course will either be a:
- Full-time course that’s below degree level
- Full-time course that’s degree level or above
- Full-time course that’s degree level or above and delivered as part of a longer course overseas
- Part-time course that’s above degree level
- Recognised foundation course for postgraduate doctors or dentists
- B2 or above level English language course
You can check the full details on the GOV.UK website about eligible courses.
How much money do I need?
To apply for a Student Visa, you need to have enough money to pay for two things:
- Your course
- Supporting yourself day-to-day
The amount of money you need depends on your circumstance and the course you are planning on studying.
You can check how much money you need to pay for your course on your Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (referred to as CAS).
To support yourself, you’ll need either:
- £1,334 per month, for up to 9 months, if you’re studying in London
- £1,023 per month, for up to 9 months, if you’re studying outside of London
What do I need to do to prove I understand English?
To prove you can understand English, you’ll usually need to have undertaken an English test. Normally, you will have already completed this test before you apply to your chosen university.
Learn more about why you need to undertake an English test.
Step 2: Check when you need to apply
You can only apply for a Student Visa within a certain timeframe and should only apply once you’ve been accepted into the university on your chosen course. You’ll know if you’ve been offered a place if you’ve received your CAS.
Once you’ve received your CAS, you can apply for a Student Visa either:
- 6 months before your course start date – if you are applying for a Student Visa while you are living outside the UK
- 3 months before your course start date – if you are applying for a Student Visa while you are living inside the UK. Make sure you apply before your current visa expires and that your new course begins within 28 days of your current visa expiring.
It’s better to apply as soon as possible, in case there are complexities with your application, or your application is refused and you need to submit an appeal.
Step 3: Prepare your documents
You’ll usually need to provide various paperwork and evidence as part of the application process.
Before you apply, it’s a good idea to prepare all the documents that you need so you have everything ready when completing the application form.
If you’re over the age of 18, you’ll need the following documents:
- A valid passport or other valid travel documentation
- Your CAS from your university
- Proof that you have enough money to support yourself and pay for your course
- A valid ATAS certificate (if your course and nationality require it)
- Your tuberculosis test result
- Written consent for your application from your financial sponsor if you’ve received sponsorship for your course fees and living costs in the last 12 months
If you are under the age of 18, you’ll also need the following:
- A copy of your birth certificate that shows the name of your parents
- Written consent from both parents or legal guardians, or one parent if they have sole responsibility
Step 4: Fill out the online application form
Once you have all your documents ready, you can apply for your Student Visa online using the GOV.UK website.
This should take around 30 minutes to 1 hour to complete, depending on how much information you have to provide.
Once you’ve started the online application form, you can save it without submitting it, which will allow you to come back and finish it later, if you need to.
Step 5: Provide proof of your identity
At the end of your application form, you’ll need to provide proof of your identity. You can do this in one of two ways, depending on what country you live in and what type of passport you have.
You will either need to:
- Use the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app – this is where you will create a UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) account and scan your identity document in
- Visit a visa application centre in your country and give your fingerprints and a photograph of yourself – this is referred to as ‘biometric information’
If you have to visit a visa application centre, you may need to leave your passport with them while your application is being assessed. You can pick up your passport once you’ve received your decision.
You’ll be informed which process you need to follow to prove your identity when you’re completing your online application form.
Step 6: Wait for a decision
Once you’ve completed your online application form and you’ve submitted your biometric information, you’ll need to wait for a decision.
You’ll usually get a decision within 3 weeks of applying.
If you visited a visa application centre to prove your identity, you can opt to pay for a faster decision. You can pay extra to receive your decision:
- Within 5 working days via the priority service
- The next day via the super-priority service
If you need a quicker decision, check with your local visa application centre to see if they offer one of the above services. The price will vary depending on the country you live in.
It’s possible that, after you’ve applied, you’ll be asked to provide additional documentation or attend an interview to discuss your application. If you need to do this, you’ll be contacted. You may need to wait longer for a decision if this happens.
If your application is refused, you’ll get a letter or email explaining why. You can appeal the decision by requesting one of the following:
Step 7: Receive your official documents
If your application has been accepted and you’ve had an official email or letter confirming your acceptance, you’ll now have access to your official documents.
This includes either:
- A sticker (called a vignette) – You’ll need to put this sticker in your passport on a blank page. You’ll get a vignette if you had to prove your identity by attending a visa application centre. You may need to pick this up or you’ll be sent your vignette in the post.
- Access to view your immigration status online – If you used the smartphone app to prove your identity, you’ll be able to access your immigration status online via the app
You’ll also receive information about your visa conditions. This includes whether you are able to:
- Claim benefits – this will show as ‘No access to public funds’ if you are not able to do this
- Take paid or unpaid work in the UK – this will show as ‘No work’ if you are not able to do this
- Work for your sponsor – this will show as ‘Restricted work’ if you are able to do this
Step 8: Follow the instructions
When you receive your letter or an email confirming that your Student Visa has been accepted, you may be given specific instructions to follow.
This could be things like registering your details with the UK police.
Make sure you follow the instructions within your letter or email of acceptance.
Step 9: Prepare for your move to the UK!
Now that your Student Visa has been accepted, you are ready to start this new journey and can begin preparing to move to the UK.
It’s a good idea to get as organised as possible before you move. That includes:
- Arranging your accommodation
- Checking what you can bring into the UK
- Arranging your transfer from the airport
- Getting a health check
- Making sure you have the right clothes (English weather can be unpredictable!)
- Researching the area (so you know where the best places to eat and drink are)
- Joining social groups, like the UWS Facebook group, so you can get to know your fellow classmates before you move
For more information, check out our top tips on preparing for your move to London, or read your survival guide for living in London as an international student.