UK Tourist Visa Guide 2024: Requirements & Tips


The UK Standard Visitor Visa allows non-UK nationals to enter the country for short stays, encompassing tourism, family visits, certain business activities and receiving private medical treatment.

While the term “UK Tourist Visa” is commonly used, the correct and official name for the UK visa for tourists and other short-term visitors is the “Standard Visitor Visa”.

Not all visitors to the UK need a visa. The Standard Visitor Visa is designed to allow those individuals who need a visa to visit the UK to stay for up to 6 months for leisure purposes.

When introduced, it consolidated several previous visit visa categories into a single, streamlined visa to simplify the application process for visitors.

For tourists, the purpose of the Standard Visitor Visa is to provide a legal pathway to enter and experience the UK’s vast cultural heritage, iconic landmarks, and scenic beauty without the intent of long-term stay, work, or study.


Section A: Overview of the UK Standard Visitor Visa


1. What is the Standard Visitor Visa?


The Standard Visitor Visa caters to various visiting purposes, including tourism, visiting family and friends, and participating in short business activities or events. It has replaced several older, more specific visa categories to provide a more streamlined process for those visiting the UK temporarily.

For non-UK residents, obtaining a Standard Visitor Visa is essential for legal entry into the UK for tourism purposes. It is the gateway for exploring the UK’s vast cultural and historical landmarks, attending business meetings, or enjoying leisure time.

The Standard Visitor Visa is typically granted for a stay of up to 6 months. An extended visa may be granted for some instances, like academic visits, allowing visits between 6 and 12 months.


2. Who Needs a UK Standard Visitor Visa?


The requirement for a Standard Visitor Visa largely depends on the applicant’s nationality and the purpose of their visit:


a. Non-Visa National Countries
Citizens from countries that do not require a visa to enter the UK for short stays (such as the EU, EEA countries, and Switzerland) do not need to apply for a Standard Visitor Visa if their visit is for up to 6 months.


b. Visa National Countries
Nationals from countries not listed as exempt must apply for a Standard Visitor Visa before travelling to the UK unless they must apply for Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA). This includes individuals wanting to visit for tourism, business, or medical treatment.

In addition to visa-nationals, stateless individuals and people travelling on documents other than a national passport will also require a visa to visit the UK.


c. Special Cases
In some cases, individuals from non-visa national countries may still choose to apply for a visa if they wish to prove they have been checked and approved for entry into the UK in advance of travel, potentially smoothing their passage through UK immigration control.


3. Permissible Activities as a Visitor to the UK


The Standard Visitor Visa offers flexibility and covers an extensive range of tourist activities, making it the appropriate choice for those looking to explore the United Kingdom.

The visa allows for a range of activities besides tourism, including, but not limited to, short-term business responsibilities, participating in events, academic research, and receiving private medical treatment.


For a more in-depth read on the Standard Visitor Visa see here


Section B: UK Tourist Visa Application Process


When applying for what is colloquially referred to as a “UK Tourist Visa,” applicants will require a Standard Visitor Visa.

This section provides an overview of the application and eligibility requirements, necessary documentation, application fees, and considerations for applicants from different nationalities based on guidelines from UK-based resources.

Requirements can vary significantly based on individual circumstances, and the specifics of your planned visit, as well as immigration policies, may change.


1. Visa Requirements


To apply for a Standard Visitor Visa, you must prove the following:

a. That you will leave the UK at the end of your visit.

b. You can support yourself and any dependents for your trip.

c. You can pay for your return or onward journey and any other costs related to your visit.

d. You have proof of any business or other activities you want to do in the UK, as the Visitor Rules allow.


2. Step-by-step guide to applying for the Standard Visitor visa


The following steps set out the process into clear stages, from the initial online application to attending an appointment at a Visa Application Centre (VAC) and providing biometrics:


Step 1: Check Eligibility and Prepare
Before starting your application, verify your eligibility and understand the visa requirements. Gather all necessary documents, such as your passport, proof of finances, accommodation details, and travel itinerary.


Step 2: Complete the Online Application
The application process for a Standard Visitor Visa is completed on the UK government’s official visa and immigration website.

When filling out the application form, provide accurate information about your details, travel history, reasons for visiting, and financial status. Mistakes or omissions can result in delays or denial.

Once the form is complete, submit the required fee for your visa type. This fee is non-refundable, and the amount depends on the length of the visa you are applying for.


Step 3: Schedule an Appointment at a Visa Application Centre (VAC)
After completing the online application and making the payment, you must book an appointment at a VAC. These centres are located worldwide, and you should choose the one nearest to you or your country.

You’ll then receive confirmation of your appointment date and time. This confirmation will include details about the VAC location and any additional instructions.


Step 4: Prepare your Documents
You will be required to provide supporting documents regarding the purpose of the visit, evidence of sufficient funds to cover the stay in the UK and confirmation of accommodation and travel plans. You should also prove your intention to return to your home country after your visit.

When attending your appointment, you will also need your passport, a printed copy of your visa application form, appointment confirmation, and the required supporting documents.


Step 5: Attend Your Appointment at the VAC
You’ll provide your biometric information, which includes fingerprints and a digital photograph, at the VAC. This is a mandatory part of the application process for all applicants.


Step 6: Interview Process (If Applicable)
Not all applicants will need to undergo an interview. Whether you’re interviewed depends on your circumstances.

If an interview is required, be prepared to answer questions about your visit, your financial situation, and your ties to your home country. The purpose of the interview is to verify the information provided in your application and ensure you intend to leave the UK after your visit.


Step 7: Wait for the Decision and Receive Your Visa
The processing time can vary but generally takes about three weeks from the date of your appointment. However, this can be longer during peak periods or if additional information is needed.


Step 8: Visa Approved
Once your visa application is decided, you’ll be notified by the VAC. You may need to collect your passport in person, or it can be sent to you by post, depending on the service options available at your VAC.


3. Detailed List of Required Documents and Criteria


Applicants must typically provide:

a. A current passport or other valid travel identification, with at least one blank page for your visa.

b. evidence that you can support yourself during your trip, such as bank statements or payslips for the last six months.

c. proof of accommodation and travel plans.

d. Details of your travel history over the last ten years (as shown in your passport).

e. Your employment status and information about your employer, if applicable.

f. If visiting for tourism, a letter could be beneficial, stating your plans.

g. If visiting friends or family, you might need an invitation letter from them.

Additional documents may be required depending on your specific situation, such as your nationality, or for proof of the business activities or studies you will undertake in the UK.


4. Visa Application Fees


The fee for a Standard Visitor Visa is currently £115 for a 6-month visa, the most common type for tourists.

Longer-term Standard Visitor Visas are available, costing £432 for a 2-year visa, £771 for a 5-year visa, and £963 for a 10-year visa.

These fees are subject to change and variations based on application processing options and local currency fluctuations.


5. Processing Times


The standard processing time for a UK Standard Visitor Visa application is typically up to 3 weeks (15 working days) from your appointment at the VAC. However, this can vary based on the volume of applications, the need for additional information or documentation, and specific local circumstances.

In some cases, for an additional fee, you can access expedited processing services such as the Priority Visa service (an extra £500 for a decision in 5 working days) or the Super Priority Visa service (an extra £1000 for a decision on the next working day).

You will be advised if these services are available when you submit your application.


6. How to Check Your Visa Application Status


a. Email and SMS Updates
During the application process, you can opt for email and SMS updates to receive notifications about your application’s status.


b. Online Tracking
Some VACs offer an online tracking service through their websites, where you input your application reference number to receive status updates.


c. Direct Contact
If you have yet to receive any updates or your application is taking longer than the standard processing time, you can contact the VAC where you applied or use the contact details provided by UKVI for inquiries.


7. Application Tips


a. Plan Ahead: Apply for your visa well before your planned travel date to allow for any unexpected delays.

b. Accuracy is Key: Ensure all information provided during the application process is accurate and matches your submitted documentation.

c. Be Prepared: You may need to attend an interview, so ensure you can answer questions about your visit.

d. Check for Updates: Visa application processes can change, so it’s crucial to use the UK government’s official visa and immigration website for the latest information.


Section D: What to Do in Case of Visa Refusal


If your Standard Visitor Visa application is refused, consider the following next steps:

a. Understanding the Reason for Refusal
If your visa application is refused, you will receive a letter explaining the decision. Understanding these reasons is crucial, as they will inform your next steps.

Professional advice on your circumstances can help you make an informed decision about your options.


b. Right to Appeal
In the UK, not all visa refusals carry the right to appeal. For Standard Visitor Visas, the refusal letter will specify if you can request an administrative review of the decision. Note that this review only checks for case working errors on your application and does not allow you to present new evidence.


c. Re-applying
If you decide to reapply after a refusal, ensure you address the reasons for refusal in your new application. This may involve providing additional documents or information that was missing from your initial application.


Section E: Preparing for Your Trip to the UK


Preparing for a trip to the UK on a tourist visa requires careful planning to ensure a smooth and enjoyable visit.

From securing travel insurance to booking accommodations and understanding customs and entry requirements, this comprehensive guide will help you prepare for your journey.


1. Customs and Entry Requirements Upon Arriving in the UK


a. Passport, Visa and Documents

Ensure your passport is valid for your stay and have your Standard Visitor Visa ready for inspection.

Travelling with documents that prove you are a genuine visitor, such as your itinerary and accommodation booking details, is also advisable.


b. Landing Card
You may be required to fill out a landing card with your details and reasons for visiting; this practice varies and may not always be required.


c. Customs Declaration
Declare any items over your duty-free allowance or banned/prohibited goods. The UK has strict rules on bringing food products, plants, and large amounts of cash.


2. Travel Insurance


Travel insurance is crucial as it covers unexpected medical expenses, trip cancellations, lost luggage, and other unforeseen circumstances.

Ensure your travel insurance covers healthcare, preferably for emergencies and repatriation, in case you need to return to your home country for medical reasons. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is not free for tourists, so adequate health coverage is vital.


3. Accommodation


Secure your accommodation well in advance of your trip. The UK offers many options, from luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels and vacation rentals.

Choose accommodations that align with your itinerary to save on transportation costs and time. The UK has an extensive public transport network, so consider proximity to train stations or bus routes.

Remember, you may need to provide details of where you’ll be staying as part of your visa application, so keep records and booking confirmations handy.


4. Itinerary Planning


The UK is rich in cultural heritage, natural beauty, and historic landmarks. Research and prioritise sites you wish to visit, considering opening times, ticket requirements, and booking needs.

To avoid high charges, consider purchasing a local SIM card for your mobile phone or arranging a roaming package with your current provider.

Also, consider familiarising yourself with local customs and etiquette. The UK is known for its politeness, queuing etiquette, and relatively conservative dress code in formal settings.


5. Additional Tips


a. UK Weather
The UK weather can be unpredictable. Pack accordingly, with layers and waterproof clothing.


b. Money and Expenses
Notify your bank of your travel plans to avoid any issues with card usage. While the UK is largely card-friendly, having some local currency (British Pounds Sterling) is helpful for smaller transactions.


Section F: Summary


Navigating the process for obtaining what is informally known as a “UK Tourist Visa,” officially known as the Standard Visitor Visa, is a critical step for non-UK residents wishing to explore the United Kingdom’s rich cultural, historical, and scenic beauty.

From understanding the eligibility requirements and gathering the necessary documentation to successfully applying online and preparing for your trip, each step plays a vital role in ensuring a smooth and enjoyable visit.

Key Points Recap:


a. Standard Visitor Visa: This is the correct tourist visa type, replacing the informal term “UK Tourist Visa.” It is required for individuals from non-EEA countries or those not on the visa-exempt list.


b. Documentation and Application: Essential documents include a valid passport, proof of financial stability, accommodation details, and an itinerary. The application process is completed online, followed by an appointment at a Visa Application Centre for biometric information submission.


c. Processing Times and Fees: The standard processing time is up to 3 weeks, with the visa fee currently set at £115 for a 6-month stay. Expedited services are available for an additional charge.


d. Preparation for the Trip: Securing comprehensive travel insurance, planning your itinerary, and understanding UK customs and entry requirements are crucial for a hassle-free experience.


By closely adhering to the guidelines and meticulously preparing your application and trip plans, you can enhance your chances of a successful visa application and a memorable visit to the UK. Remember, the key to a smooth application process is thoroughness, accuracy, and adherence to the UK government’s official requirements.


Section G: FAQs for UK Standard Visitor Visa


Who needs to apply for a Standard Visitor Visa to enter the UK?
Visa nationals and stateless individuals must apply for a Standard Visitor Visa to enter the UK for tourism.


How long can I stay in the UK with a Standard Visitor Visa?
The Standard Visitor Visa typically allows stays of up to 6 months. However, under specific conditions, more extended stays may be permitted for specific purposes, such as academic research or medical treatment.


What documents do I need to apply for a Standard Visitor Visa?
You’ll need a valid passport, proof of your financial ability to cover your stay and return or onward journey, details of where you’ll stay, and your travel itinerary. Additional documents may be required based on your specific situation.


How much does the Standard Visitor Visa cost?
A Standard Visitor Visa for a 6-month stay costs £115. Fees for more extended visas vary; additional services such as expedited processing may incur extra charges.


How early should I apply for my visa before travelling?
It’s recommended that you apply at least three months before your intended travel date. Standard processing times are up to three weeks, but this can vary depending on several factors.


Can I extend my Standard Visitor Visa once in the UK?
Extensions are only possible in specific circumstances, such as for medical reasons or if you’re completing academic research. Generally, tourists can only extend their stay up to six months.


Can I work in the UK with a Standard Visitor Visa?
No, you cannot take up paid or unpaid employment or engage in business activities. Some permitted activities, such as attending meetings or conferences, are exceptions.


Can I study in the UK with a Standard Visitor Visa?
You can undertake short courses of study lasting up to six months. For longer courses, you need to apply for a Student Visa.


What if my Standard Visitor Visa application is refused?
If your application is refused, you’ll receive a letter explaining why. You can apply again at any time, but you should address the reasons for refusal in your new application.


Can I visit the UK multiple times on the same visa?
Yes, as long as your visa is valid and you adhere to the terms of your visa, including the total length of stay permitted.


Do I need travel insurance for my trip to the UK?
While not mandatory for the visa, travel insurance is highly recommended to cover unexpected medical expenses, trip cancellations, and other unforeseen circumstances during your visit.


Section H: Glossary for UK Standard Visitor Visa Process


Biometric Information: Personal data that includes fingerprints and a digital photograph collected as part of the visa application process to verify identity.


EEA (European Economic Area): A zone comprising all European Union (EU) member states and three European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states — Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway — that allows for the free movement of persons, goods, services, and capital.


Expedited Processing: This is an optional service offered at an additional cost to process visa applications faster than the standard processing time.


Landing Card: A form that non-EEA travellers were previously required to fill out with personal details upon arrival in the UK, although this practice has been phased out for many travellers.


National Health Service (NHS): The publicly funded healthcare system of the UK, which is not free of charge for tourists and short-term visitors on a Standard Visitor Visa.


Priority Visa Service: A service available to visa applicants that ensures a faster processing time than the standard service for an additional fee.


Standard Visitor Visa: The official visa required for tourists and other
short-term visitors to the UK, replacing terms like “UK Tourist Visa.”


Super Priority Visa Service: This is an even faster processing service than the Priority Visa Service, offering visa decision speeds within a shorter time frame for a higher additional fee.


UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration): A division of the Home Office responsible for the UK’s visa system, managing applications from those who wish to visit, work, study, or settle in the UK.


Visa Application Centre (VAC): These are authorised centres worldwide where visa applicants submit their applications, provide biometric information, and sometimes attend interviews.


Visa Exempt: This category refers to nationals from countries that do not require a visa to enter the UK for short stays or specific purposes.


Section I: Useful Links


Referencing these official sources ensures accurate and up-to-date information for successful visa applications and a smooth travel experience to the UK:

Official UK Government Visa and Immigration Website
UK Visas and Immigration

Guidance on Applying for a UK Visa
Apply for a UK Visa

Standard Visitor Visa Overview
Standard Visitor Visa

Visa Fees and Processing Times
UK Visa Fees

Find a Visa Application Centre (VAC)
Visa Application Centres Worldwide

Healthcare and NHS Guidance
Healthcare for Visitors to the UK




Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing & Content Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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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