The basics
THE UK: Essentials

Essentials: UK student visas

Read our quick guide to UK student visas if you’re an international student, including how to apply for your visa and the most important terms involved...

UK student visas

Update April 23rd 2014 – As of today, the UK no longer accepts ETS language tests such as TOEFL as part of the UK student visa application process.

Famed for it's love of tea, red telephone boxes and questionable weather, higher education in the UK is keenly sought out by students from around the world. Whilst EU students do not need a visa to enter or study in the UK, the nation’s new, points-based immigration system means that the visa application process for non-EU students has changed. The process may seem lengthy, but if you follow it step-by-step then you’ll find it’s not so tricky. Let out breakdown of the new visa application procedure for international students in the UK help make it clear.


I am an EU Student...

Students from EU countries do NOT need a visa to enter or study in the UK.

Check if you are an EU student


I am NOT an EU Student...

If you are NOT an EU student, then you WILL need a student visa to enter and study in the UK. Which visa you will need depends on the length of you study programme. The application process for both visas differs only in that they have a different online application form.

When you are accepted into a UK institution, they will send you a reference number called your Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS). You will need this document to apply for your student visa.

After you have received your CAS, there are three steps in applying for a UK student visa: completing the online application form (and paying the application fee), visiting a visa application centre to have your fingerprints and photograph taken, and posting your complete application to your nearest British embassy or consulate. If you are based in Cuba, North Korea or Zimbabwe, you will need to contact your local British embassy and submit your application form in person.

Find your nearest UK Embassy or Consulate



Your CAS form will contain details and critical information about the terms of acceptance into your study programme, your tuition fees and your personal information.

There will be a section on your CAS form that references your existing academic qualifications, i.e. high school transcript, Bachelor Degree. If you were required to sit an English language test as part of your university application, this will be mentioned on the form, too.You will need to be able to produce originals of all these documents as part of your complete visa application.

You will need the reference number on your CAS form as well as all the course, fee and institution information that will be on it to complete your online application form. You will also need to include your CAS form in the completed application you will mail to your nearest British embassy or consulate.

Student visitor visa

If your study programme is less than six months then you will need a Student Visitor visa. If you are coming to the UK to complete an English Language course shorter than 11 months then you may also apply for this visa. Non-EU students of some nationalities will NOT need a visa for a short course of study. On this visa, you may enter the UK up to one week before the start of your study programme.

You will first need to apply online for a Student Visitor visa, and can do so up to three months before you intend to land in the UK.

Check if you need a Student Visitor Visa

Tier 4 (General) Visa

All students whose study programme is longer than six months will need a Tier 4 (General) student visa. To qualify for a visa, your host institution must hold a Tier 4 (General) Sponsor licence.

The UK immigration system is points-based and in order to qualify for a Tier 4 visa you will need to score 40 out of 40 points. Both the information directly on your CAS and within the documents referenced by your CAS will be worth 30 points altogether, whilst the last 10 points are earned from proof you will be able to support yourself financially whilst you study.

You should apply for your Tier 4 visa no more than three months before the commencement date of your course, and no later than six months after you received your CAS from your host institution. You may arrive in the UK up to one month before the start of your study programme. You MUST apply for your UK student visa in your home country.

You must complete an online application form as the first part of your Tier 4 visa application.

The UK Border Agency have made a short video that walks applicants through the new Tier 4 visa application process.

Students completing some Science and Technology Undergraduate, Masters or PhD programmes may also need to apply for an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate that you will need BEFORE you complete your student visa application. To obtain an ATAS certificate you will need your letter of acceptance from your host institution as well as some personal details such as passport number, name, nationality, and work and academic history. You should apply for an ATAS certificate at least four weeks before you intend to apply for your visa.

Check if your institution holds a Tier 4 (General) Sponsor Licence

Check if you need to apply for an ATAS certificate


Online application

Before you are directed to the online form you will be asked to create an account to register with the system. You will need a valid email address to do this.  

You will need to pay the £298 (US$496) visa application fee online once you’ve completed the form. After you have paid the fee you will be lead to a summary page that you MUST print and post as part of your complete visa application. 

After you’ve completed the form and paid the fee, you should make an appointment with your nearest visa application centre.

The University of Nottingham offers a comprehensive screen-by-screen breakdown of the Tier 4 visa online application form.

Find your Nearest UK Visa Application Centre


Visa application centre

You should arrive at least ten minutes before the start of your appointment, dressed appropriately: you are not allowed to wear sunglasses, hats, scarves, temporary tattoos or any other item that covers a part of your face. You will have all ten fingerprints taken and your face will be photographed (called your ‘biometric information’), so make sure there are no cuts or sores on your fingertips or face. After you have completed this process you will receive a confirmation document that you should post with your completed application.


Which documents will I need?

When you complete the online application form you will need to have the following documents and information handy:

  • Your CAS number
  • Personal information on your CAS form such as passport details, nationality
  • Original copies and certified transcripts of academic qualifications outlined on your CAS
  • English language test scores and the name of your test provider (if applicable)
  • Financial details such as the amount of funds you will have access to for the duration of your study programme, tuition fees and the amount you’ve already paid (if applicable)
  • Full translations of any documents into English (if applicable), including the date of translation and official translator’s signature
  • Your ATAS certificate (if applicable)


You should also have a valid credit card ready to pay the application fee once you’ve completed the form.

When you are ready to post your complete visa application to your nearest British embassy or consulate, you should include the following original documents:

  • A valid passport
  • Your CAS form
  • All original academic transcripts and qualifications as mentioned by your CAS
  • Your ATAR
  • Confirmation of biometric information
  • Two passport sized colour photographs no more than a month old, with your name written on the back
  • Proof you have access to enough funds to support yourself for the duration of your study programme, defined as £800 (US$) for each month of study of your course is less than nine months, or £7,200 (US$) for your first year if your course is more than a year. It is essential that you can show that this money has been held in a bank account with your name, or your parent’s or legal guardian’s name, for at least 28 days before you apply.
  • Proof you have paid some, or all of your tuition fees (if applicable)
  • If your bank statement is in your parents or legal guardian’s name then you must supply either your original birth certificate or an official certificate of guardianship, as well as a letter from you parent/guardian that confirms the money is to be used for your studies.
  • If you are being sponsored financially then your sponsor will need to provide you with a letter stating that they will pay your tuition fees and at least £8,000 (US$) per month in living costs.
  • Full translations of any documents into English (if applicable), including the date of translation and official translator’s signature



The application fee for a Tier 4 visa is £298, whilst a Student Visitor visa for a study programme of less than six months is £80 (US$133). If you are completing an English language programme up to 11 months in length you will need to pay £144 (US$240).


Almost there...

After you have all these documents in order, you need to post them to your nearest British embassy or consulate. A decision will be made on your visa within three weeks.


Watch some more videos about getting a UK student visa:




Now that you’ve got your head around the visa application process to study in the UK, why not start browsing courses in the UK now and plan your study abroad adventure?



Useful links:

'Applying to study in the UK'

'The UK Higher Education System...Simplified'


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About Author

UK student visas

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.


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