Travelling to the UK on Business

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business travel uk

If you’re planning to travel to the UK on business, or to send an employee for the purposes of carrying out a business activity, the following guidance will help you to establish whether or not a visa should be obtained in advance and, where applicable, the type of visa needed for business travel to the UK. We also look at what the relevant types of visit visa will allow the holder to do while in the UK.

 

Do you need a visa for business travel to the UK?

Depending on your nationality, you might be able to visit the UK without applying for a visa in advance, either to carry out certain unpaid business activities or, if you’ve been invited as an expert in your profession, for a permitted paid engagement.

You can check online if you need a visa to visit the UK for business purposes at GOV.UK. However, even as a non-visa national, you’ll still need to meet the eligibility requirements for a visit visa, where you may be asked a number of questions at the UK border about your eligibility and the business activities you plan to do during your stay.

If you have a criminal record or have previously been refused entry into the UK, you may want to apply for either a standard visitor visa or a permitted paid engagement visa prior to travelling, regardless of whether you’re eligible to apply for entry clearance at the UK border.

 

UK visas for business travel

Where an overseas national is not entitled to visa-free travel, and they’re visiting the UK for unpaid business activity, they’ll need to apply for a standard visitor visa. To be eligible for a visit visa for business purposes — or to be admitted at the UK border as a non-visa national under this route — you must be able to show that:

  • you’re aged 18 or over
  • you’re coming to the UK to do a permitted business activity, for example, attending a conference or meeting, or giving a one-off or short series of non-profit talks
  • you’ll be visiting the UK for no more than 6 months
  • you have enough money to support and accommodate yourself during your stay, or you have funding from someone else to support you
  • you can pay for your return or onward journey, or you have funding from someone else to pay for the journey
  • you’ll leave the UK at the end of your stay
  • you’ll not live in the UK for extended periods through either frequent or successive visits, nor will you make the UK your main home.

 

It’s inherent within these requirements that you’re genuinely seeking entry for a purpose that’s permitted under the visitor route, namely unpaid business-related activities, and that you’ll not undertake any prohibited activities. If you’re an expert in your profession being paid by a UK-based organisation or client to attend an event or engagement in the UK, the rules are different. In these cases, you’ll need to apply for a permitted paid engagement visa.

To qualify for a permitted paid engagement visa — or to be admitted to the UK without a visa to undertake a paid engagement as a non-visa national — you must be able to show that:

  • you’re aged 18 or over
  • you’ve been formally invited to attend a pre-arranged event or other permitted engagement, for example, to deliver a guest lecture at a higher education institution, and you have a written invitation from a UK-based organisation or client
  • you can show that you’re an expert in your profession, where the event or engagement directly relates to your expertise, qualifications and primary job in your home country
  • you’ll be visiting the UK for no more than 1 month
  • you have enough money to support and accommodate yourself during your stay, or you have funding from someone else to support you
  • you can pay for your return or onward journey, or you have funding from a third party
  • you’ll leave the UK at the end of your stay
  • you’ll not live in the UK for extended periods through either frequent or successive visits, nor will you make the UK your main home.

 

How to apply for a visa for business travel

You should check if you need a visa before you apply as, depending on where you’re from, you may be able to visit the UK without needing to apply in advance. However, where a visa is required, you must obtain an appropriate visa before you travel to the UK.

An application for a standard visitor visa or permitted paid engagement visa must be made from outside the UK. You’ll need to submit an online application and pay a £100 fee. You’ll also need to provide a valid travel document, supporting documentation to show that you meet the relevant requirements and your biometric information (scan of your fingerprints and a photo of your face). You’ll need to attend an appointment at a visa application centre to do this.

The earliest you can apply for a visit visa is 3 months before you travel, and you should get a decision within a period of approximately 3 weeks, although you should check the guide processing times for the country you’re applying from. You may be able to secure a faster decision, subject to paying an additional fee for premium processing.

If your visa application is successful, you can usually stay in the UK for up to 6 months on a standard visitor visa and up to 1 month on a permitted paid engagement visa. If you regularly visit the UK, you can choose to apply for a long-term standard visitor visa.

 

What will a standard visitor visa allow and prohibit?

You can apply for a standard visitor visa if you want to visit the UK for unpaid business-related activities, including:

  • attending meetings, conferences, seminars or interviews
  • giving either a one-off or short series of talks, provided these are not commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser
  • negotiating and signing deals and contracts
  • attending trade fairs, for promotional work, provided you’re not directly selling anything
  • conducting site visits and inspections
  • gathering information for your business or employment overseas
  • being briefed on the requirements of a UK-based customer, provided any work for that customer is done outside of the UK.

 

There are also various sector and role-specific activities that may be undertaken, where anyone applying for a visit visa for business purposes must ensure that their proposed activity is expressly permitted under the rules before travelling.

You can also use a business visitor visa for various other reasons, including to see family and friends, take a holiday, undertake a short course of study, volunteer with a registered charity or pass through the UK to another country. However, you cannot use this visa to do either paid or unpaid work for a UK company or as a self-employed person. Equally, you cannot claim UK benefits, live in the UK for long periods of time through frequent or successive visits, or get married or enter into a civil partnership in the UK.

 

What will a permitted paid engagement visa allow and prohibit?

Under a permitted paid engagement visa you can be invited and paid by a UK-based organisation or client:

  • as a highly qualified academic, to be a student examiner or assessor, or to chair or take part in selection panels, where you’re invited by an education, arts or research organisation
  • as a speaker to deliver either a guest lecture or series of lectures about your area of expertise at a higher education institution, or a research or arts organisation, although you cannot take a full or part-time teaching post for the host organisation
  • as a qualified lawyer, to represent a client at a court or tribunal hearing, arbitration or other form of legal dispute resolution within the UK, or to visit the UK to prepare for the hearing
  • as a professional artist, entertainer or musician, where you’ve been invited to perform in the UK by a creative organisation, or by an agent or broadcaster based in the UK
  • as a professional sportsperson, where you’ve been invited by a UK-based sports organisation, or by an agent or broadcaster, to undertake an activity relating directly to your profession, for example, participating in a sporting event
  • as a model taking part in fashion modelling assignments
  • as an air pilot examiner, where you’ve been invited by an approved UK training organisation that’s regulated by the UK Civil Aviation Authority to examine UK-based pilots so that they meet the national aviation regulatory requirements of your country.

 

You can also undertake all the activities allowed under a standard visitor visa, except for studying or transiting to another country. You cannot undertake specific paid work unrelated to your main job or area of expertise at home, or sell merchandise. Equally, you cannot claim benefits, live in the UK for extended periods, or get married or enter into a civil partnership.

 

Documents to bring when you travel

If you’re travelling to the UK without a visa, you must get a stamp in your passport from a border control officer. You cannot use the ePassport gates. In addition to a valid passport or other travel document, you may also need documentation to prove that:

  • you’re eligible for the activities you want to do in the UK, and those activities are permitted under the rules
  • you’ve arranged accommodation for your stay the UK
  • you’re able to support yourself during your UK stay, or have funding from someone else
  • you’ll leave the UK at the end of your stay.

 

If you’re seeking entry as an expert in your profession being paid to attend an event or engagement in the UK, you’ll also need an invitation from a relevant UK-based organisation or client for your permitted paid engagement — together with evidence that this relates to your expertise, qualifications and primary job in your home country.

Even if you’ve been granted a visa in advance, you should still ensure that you have a number of documents on your possession to be able to justify the nature of your trip and that you meet the eligibility criteria. This is because the grant of either a visitor visa or permitted paid engagement visa doesn’t guarantee entry to the UK, where you may be refused entry by border officials if they’re not satisfied that you meet the requirements under the rules.

 

What happens if I breach the conditions of my business visa?

Having been admitted to the UK under a visit visa, you must ensure that you comply with the conditions of that visa and do not undertake any prohibited activities. The consequences of breach can be very serious, including having your leave curtailed and being ordered to leave the country, and having an entry ban imposed, preventing you from returning.

If you’re found to be working illegally in the UK, this could also result in a fine and imprisonment, both for you and your employer.

 

Business travel to the UK FAQs

Do you need a visa for a business trip?

Depending on your nationality, you may be eligible to apply for entry clearance at the UK border without a visa, provided you can prove you’ll be coming to the UK to do a permitted business activity.

What is the business visa for UK?

The business visa is a short-term visit visa to allow qualifying applicants to come to the UK for up to 6 months for the purposes of carrying out permitted business activities, such as attending meetings or conferences.

Do I need a visa when travelling to UK?

Whether or not you will need a visa when travelling to the UK depends on your nationality. As a non-visa national, you don’t need to apply for a standard visitor visa before you travel.

How can I go to UK for business?

You can travel to the UK for business under either a standard visitor visa or a permitted paid engagement visa. In some cases, you may be able to apply for entry clearance at the UK border without a visa.

 

Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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