American students applying for a UK student visa
Before you start packing up your teacups and your kilts, though, there are some things that you need to know before you go: most importantly, how and when to apply for your UK student visa.
A student visa is a document that grants a student permission to live temporarily in another country for the purposes of study. It does not allow permanent residency, and it does not require or entitle the user to obtain citizenship in that country. Similar to a work visa, it is only valid as long as the student is enrolled in a set program of coursework or work study in a foreign country.
There are several requirements for obtaining a UK student visa. The first of which is that you must be over the age of 16, and you must have enough money to support yourself (the visa is not a scholarship; you will be responsible for your own expenses during your stay in the UK). To be eligible for a UK student visa, you must also be able to speak, read, and write in English so that you can understand the forms and other important communications. You must come from a country outside of the EEA, or European Economic Area (since the primary audience for this article is American, you fit this particular requirement), and you must have been offered a spot in a university course before you apply for the visa. To read a more in-depth description of the eligibility requirements for a UK student visa, you can visit the official UK Government Visa site.
To apply for a UK student visa, you will need a current passport, one passport-sized color photo with your name written on the back, proof that you will be able to support yourself financially while you are in the country (as well as pay for the college course you are enrolled on), parental consent (if you are under 18) and your tuberculosis test results (if you are from a country in which this test is required—the US is not one of these countries). You must also have a blank space in your passport for them to stamp the visa.
If you are living outside of the UK, you can apply online at https://www.gov.uk/apply-uk-visa. You must also pay the “healthcare surcharge” at this time, which varies according to the length of your stay. In addition to the other requirements, you must also have your fingerprints and a photo taken at a visa application center to in order to obtain a biometric residence permit, which allows immigrants to enter and leave the country. You must pick up this permit from a visa application center within ten days of your arrival in the UK.
In addition to the healthcare surcharge, there is also a £322 processing fee for the application, which comes to $500.26 (USD).
It is always best to apply in advance for a student visa, to allow for the processing time, which could take around 15 days if you are applying from the US. You can apply three months before your course is scheduled to begin, and you will receive a decision within three weeks.
Once you have a valid UK student visa, you are allowed to arrive in the UK up to one week before your course starts if your course lasts less than six months, or up to one month before your course starts if it lasts longer than that. The length of time you can remain in the UK depends on how long your course lasts. If you need an extension on your student visa, you can apply online.
Keep in mind, though, that the main purpose of your UK student visa is to allow you to study in the UK, not work or vacation. You must be enrolled on a course or involved in an approved work study program for the duration of your time abroad. That said, there is still lots to learn and discover about the UK from both inside and outside the classroom, and your UK student visa is your ticket to experience it all!
Jessica Scott is a University of Louisville graduate with a degree in English and Humanities, specialising in literature, linguistics, and classical and modern languages. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where she has been writing since the age of three. Her first novel, Chase and Charlie, was published in May 2015. Her interests include reading, writing, cooking, and studying Italian.