Traveling between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland reveals both the shared culture and distinct local flavors that contribute to the UK. Save for the occasional inconvenience of long lines at passport control and security, entering and leaving the UK was fairly straightforward in the past. Now, due to Brexit, information on visa requirements has changed for EU citizens and immigration restrictions are often on the news in the UK. It's essential to check with your local British embassy, high commission or consulate before leaving home.

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What you need to know about visas in the UK

The UK government has a handy online guide to help you check if you need a UK visa. Britain is not a member of the Schengen Zone, so you will need to show your passport when arriving and leaving from a UK border point.

Visas are generally not needed for stays of up to six months for tourism or visiting friends and family. This applies to citizens of the EEA (European Economic Area) nations, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, and the USA.

Following Brexit, the EU Settlement Scheme is the system that EU citizens who are already living in the UK need to follow, but there is also a family permit you can apply for if you’re a family member of someone from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein. ​​It lets you come to the UK for up to 6 months. You can work and study, and come and go as many times as you want before the permit expires.

Anyone wishing to work, do business or academic research in the UK will need to apply for a visa, as will students wishing to study for longer than six months. The Youth Mobility Scheme, for Australian, Canadian, Japanese, Hong Kong, Monégasque, New Zealand, Sammarinese and Icelandic citizens aged 18 to 30, allows working visits of up to two years, but must be applied for in advance. Those coming from Hong Kong (if you have a SAR passport), Japan, South Korea and Taiwan must be selected in the Youth Mobility Scheme ballot before they can apply.

Tourists from China, India, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and many other destinations, will need to apply for the Standard Visitor visa. It lasts six months, costs £100 and must be applied for online in advance of travel. A decision is usually provided within three weeks. Applications to extend your stay must be made before your visa runs out, but there are strict limitations. If you know you want to be in the UK beyond six months, it's best to apply for the more costly long-term Standard Visitor visa, which lasts for two (£376), five (£670) or ten (£837) years.

Commonwealth citizens with a UK-born parent may be eligible for Right of Abode, which entitles them to live and work in the UK. You can only get the right to abode through marriage if you’re a female Commonwealth citizen. Commonwealth citizens with a UK-born grandparent could qualify for a UK Ancestry visa, allowing them to work full-time for up to five years in the UK. You should get a decision on your visa within three weeks when applying from outside the UK and the fee is £531.

British immigration authorities have always been tough; you may be required to demonstrate proof of onward travel or an outbound departure date (for example, a flight booking home), and possibly evidence that you have sufficient funds to support yourself while in Britain.

This article was first published March 2021 and updated June 2022

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