Student Visa UK

Student visas are a visa category for foreign nationals to come to the UK to study on an eligible course. The UK is among the top rated countries in the world for its education system, so each year many people from all over the world apply to study in UK universities, colleges and other educational institutions. 

The Student visa is required for any international student over 16 to come to the UK to study. Those under 18 can apply for the Child Student visa instead. 

Here, we’ll discuss each aspect of the UK Student visa in detail, as well as address some frequently asked questions.

About Student Visas

The UK has several visa categories for foreign nationals to reside temporarily in the UK depending on what activities they plan on doing. For non-British or Irish citizens to study in the UK, they need to obtain a Student visa. There are two Student visas in the UK:

  • The Child Student visa
  • The Student visa

Each has stringent eligibility requirements and applicants must have an offer of a place on a course in the UK before applying for the visa. Foreign nationals planning to study in the UK for less than 6 months can sometimes apply for a Standard Visitor visa instead, so check which visa you may need before applying, as the application fee and eligibility requirements can change significantly for each.

The UK Student Visa: an Overview

The UK Student visa, formerly the Tier 4 (General) Student visa, is the main option for foreign nationals looking to study in the UK at a university, college or equivalent educational level institute. Each candidate needs to have an offer from an eligible sponsoring institution to be able to apply for the visa in order to study full-time in the UK at RQF (Regulated Qualifications Framework) level 3 and above. RQF level 3 qualifications include:

  • A level
  • AS level
  • Higher education diplomas
  • Advanced apprenticeships
  • International Baccalaureate diploma
  • Level 3 NVQ
  • Music grades 6, 7 and 8

Levels 6, 7 and 8 include Bachelor’s degrees, Master’s degrees and doctorates respectively. 

Who Can Apply for a Student Visa

To be able to apply for a Student visa, you need to meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Be 16 or over
  • Have an offer from an eligible sponsor to study on an eligible course
  • Have enough money to cover your tuition fees and living costs
  • Be proficient in English

If you’re 16 or 17, you’ll also need permission from your parents to come to study in the UK. They will not be able to join you when you travel to the UK, so arrangements will need to be made for your accommodation and taking care of yourself. 

How Long You Can Stay on a Student Visa

Student visas can be issued for up to 5 years, however, they’ll usually only be given for the length of your course plus a few months, to ensure you have time to make arrangements to resit any exams, leave or extend or switch your visa while you’re still in the UK. 

Students studying courses at RQF level 3, 4 and 5, i.e. below degree level are usually given visas for up to 2 years, while those at degree level or above (RQF level 6, 7, 8) are usually permitted to stay up to 5 years, depending on the length of the course. 

If the course lasts less than 6 months, you can only enter the UK up to 1 week before the beginning of the course, while if your course lasts longer than 6 months, you can arrive in the UK up to 1 month before the start of your course, although you cannot enter before the start date on your Student visa. 

You may be able to extend your visa or switch to a different visa towards the expiry date on your Student visa if you wish to remain in the UK.

student visa uk

What You Can and Can’t Do on a Student Visa

Student visas are primarily issued for people to study, and there are strict rules regarding what other activities you may engage in. While in the UK on a Student visa, you can work and travel in and out of the UK, although there are limits in place on each.

As a Student visa holder, you cannot:

  • Study at a government-funded school
  • Claim benefits
  • Be self-employed
  • Be a professional sportsperson or sports coach

There are also limits on the number of hours you can work, and when you are allowed to travel.

Working on a Student Visa

International students can work alongside their studies. However, as the primary reason for being in the UK is to study, their work cannot take a precedent over their course, so strict rules are in place concerning what jobs students can do, how many hours they can do them for, and what contracts they can have at work. When students receive their visas, there will be details explaining the permitted working hours of each individual. 

Generally, however, students can:

  • Only work on fixed term contracts (with an end date)
  • Only work up to 10 hours per week during term-time if studying below degree level
  • Only work up to 20 hours per week during term-time if studying at degree-level and above
  • Work full-time outside of term time
  • Complete work placements if they’re assessed and integral to the course
  • Work as a sabbatical officer at a Students’ Union for up to 2 years

Definitions

Term time: Term time refers to the period of the educational year where the student is expected to attend classes. Outside of term time, therefore, refers to official vacation periods and the breaks between the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Each course and institution has different term times, so it’s important to check yours before starting work. 

Full-time: Full-time work for those under 18 is up to 8 hours a day and no more than 40 hours a week. For 18 year olds and older, full-time is up to 48 hours per week, although you can opt out of the 48-hour week with your employer.

Paying Tax as an International Student

If you’re working in the UK, regardless of your nationality, you will have to pay Income Tax and National Insurance if your earnings are over a specific threshold, unless your home country has a double taxation agreement with the UK. 

These taxes will automatically be taken from your wages, as indicated on your pay slips. You will only pay Income Tax if you earn more than £1,042 per month, and National Insurance if you earn more than £190 per week. However, you may be entitled to a tax rebate at the end of the year, so it’s worth completing a P85 form and sending it to your tax office when you leave the UK.

Travelling on a Student Visa

You may travel to and from the UK while holding a Student visa, as long as you have the appropriate travel documents for the country you’re entering. Despite having a visa for the UK, your own passport is the most important travel document, so if you require a visa for the country you wish to enter, but British citizens don’t, you will not have permission to enter just because you are coming from the UK. 

Students are also only allowed to travel outside of term time, as they must show their dedication to their studies by attending all of their classes. If there is a family emergency or urgent situation that requires the student to travel during term time, they must obtain written consent from the educational institution that they can be absent from classes, for example, to attend a funeral. 

This document, along with details of course timetables, should be kept on the student travelling at all times to avoid difficulties re-entering the country at UK border control. 

Student Visa Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible, applicants for the Student visa must:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Have a Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) from a licenced sponsoring institution
  • Be able to prove they have sufficient funds for course fees and living costs for the duration of the course
  • Have sufficient ability to communicate in English

The Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) is an essential document to apply for the Student visa. Once you have received an unconditional offer to study on an eligible course from an educational institution with a sponsorship licence, you will receive a CAS document.

What Is Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS)?

The Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) is an electronic document that details your official offer for studying in the UK. The document will contain a reference number which you will put on your Student visa application form so the Home Office can assess your eligibility for the visa by seeing what course you intend to study, where the course is, what level of education it is, and whether the institution has a valid sponsorship licence. 

When you have received an unconditional offer from an eligible educational institution, they will send you the CAS reference number for your visa application.

Applying for the Student Visa

Most Student visa applications will be completed from outside of the UK, however, if you’re already in the UK on a valid visa (not a short-term visa) you may apply to switch to a Student visa from within the UK. 

All visa applications must be done online, and you will be required to provide your biometric information (profile photograph and fingerprints) in either a visa application centre outside of the UK, or a UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) within the UK, depending on your location. You may also use the UKVI app when in the UK to submit a scan of your passport instead. 

You must apply for your Student visa within 6 months of receiving your CAS, and no more than 6 months before the start date of your course when applying from outside of the UK, and no more than 3 months before the start date when applying from inside the UK. 

When applying from outside the UK, you will normally receive notice of a decision on your application within 3 weeks, and it can take up to 8 weeks when applying from inside the UK. 

The application process can be time consuming, so you can save your progress and continue the application form at a later date. However, as you will need to meet numerous requirements and provide sufficient evidence that you meet the eligibility requirements, it’s essential to have all of your documentation ready before you start the application process. 

Enlisting the help of a visa agency can be extremely useful to ensure you’re ready for the application process. 

Supporting Documents

As the Student visa application form must be completed online, you must have electronic documents or scanned documents of your evidence supporting your eligibility for the visa ready to submit with your application form. 

To prove your eligibility for the Student visa, you will need to submit:

  • Your current valid passport or travel document
  • Your CAS reference number

In some cases you will also have to provide: 

  • Bank statements evidencing sufficient funds to cover living costs (or evidence of financial sponsorship or loans)
  • Evidence of your proficiency in the English language
  • A recent negative tuberculosis test result from an approved testing centre
  • Proof of your relationship to any dependents joining you
  • Permission from your legal guardian to study in the UK, if you’re under 18
  • Proof of your relationship with your legal guardians such as your birth certificates

All documentation must be from official, reliable sources to serve as valid evidence. Any documents not in English should also be accompanied by a certified translation, including details of the credentials of the translator. 

Who Requires a Tuberculosis Test?

If you have lived in any of the following countries or states for more than 6 months, or been to one of these countries within the last 6 months before your UK visa application, you will need to present a negative tuberculosis (TB) test result:

  • Afghanistan
  • Algeria
  • Angola
  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Bangladesh
  • Belarus
  • Benin *
  • Bhutan
  • Bolivia
  • Botswana
  • Brunei
  • Burkina Faso *
  • Burundi
  • Cambodia
  • Cape Verde *
  • Central African Republic *
  • Chad
  • Cameroon
  • China
  • Congo (Republic of) *
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Djibouti *
  • Dominican Republic
  • East Timor *
  • Ecuador
  • Equatorial Guinea *
  • Eritrea *
  • Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) *
  • Ethiopia
  • Gabon *
  • Gambia
  • Georgia
  • Ghana
  • Guatemala
  • Guinea *
  • Guinea Bissau *
  • Guyana
  • Haiti
  • Hong Kong
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Iraq
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kenya
  • Kiribati *
  • Kyrgyzstan *
  • Laos
  • Lesotho *
  • Liberia *
  • Macau (autonomous region in south China) *
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Malaysia
  • Mali *
  • Marshall Islands *
  • Mauritania *
  • Micronesia, Federated States of *
  • Moldova
  • Mongolia
  • Morocco
  • Mozambique
  • Myanmar (formerly Burma)
  • Namibia
  • Nepal
  • Niger *
  • Nigeria
  • North Korea
  • Pakistan
  • Palau *
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Russia
  • Rwanda
  • São Tomé and Príncipe *
  • Senegal
  • Sierra Leone
  • Solomon Islands
  • Somalia *
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • South Sudan *
  • Sri Lanka
  • Sudan
  • Suriname *
  • Tajikistan
  • Tanzania
  • Togo *
  • Thailand
  • Turkmenistan
  • Tuvalu *
  • Uganda
  • Ukraine
  • Uzbekistan
  • Vanuatu
  • Vietnam
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Not every country on the list has approved testing centres, so you will need to receive your TB test in another country if marked above with an asterisk (*).

Financial Requirements

As international students won’t be permitted to access public funds (benefits) when staying in the UK, they will need to have sufficient funds to cover the cost of tuition, as well as living costs. When applying for a Student visa, they will need to be able to demonstrate they have access to sufficient funds. 

Different courses in the UK have different tuition fees, so how much money you will need to show in your bank accounts will depend on your level and location of study. When submitting bank statements as evidence, the money must be in your account for at least 28 consecutive days before your application. 

The exact amount necessary for the tuition fees will be stated on the CAS. However, average costs for international students are estimated at:

  • £22,200 per year for undergraduate courses (usually 3 - 4 years)
  • £17,109 per year for postgraduate courses (usually 1 - 2 years)

You will also need to prove that you can support yourself financially while in the UK, e.g. cover accommodation, food, travel and other expenses. For this, you will need to show you have:

  • £1,334 per month (for up to 9 months) if studying in London
  • £1,023 per month (for up to 9 months) if studying outside London

London is the capital of the UK and includes 32 boroughs as well as the City of London. 

16 and 17 year olds may be attending a residential independent school, in which case they will have accommodation and food included. They will then need to show they have sufficient funds to cover their boarding costs, as stated on their CAS. 

Some Student visa holders may bring certain family members to the UK with them. They must then also prove they have sufficient funds to cover the living costs of their family.

Who Doesn’t Need to Meet the Financial Requirement?

Some international students have sponsorship from prospective employers or other educational institutions in their home countries, or are able to access student loans to cover the costs of UK tuition fees. If this is the case, you will not need to show sufficient funds in your accounts, but you will need to provide evidence of your sponsorship or loan, such as a contract or official letter. 

You are also exempt from needing to meet the financial requirement if:

  • You’ve already been in the UK for at least 12 months on a valid visa before your Student visa application
  • You’re applying to be a postgraduate doctor or dentist on a recognised course
  • You’re applying to be a student union sabbatical officer
  • You’re from one of the ‘differential evidence requirement’ listed countries

Applicants from the following countries are usually exempt from the financial requirement:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Bahrain
  • Barbados
  • Belgium
  • Botswana
  • Brazil
  • Brunei
  • Bulgaria
  • Cambodia
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • China
  • Croatia
  • Republic of Cyprus
  • Czechis
  • Denmark
  • The Dominican Republic
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hong Kong
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Indonesia
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kuwait
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Macao
  • Malaysia
  • Malta
  • Mauritius
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Oman
  • Peru
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Qatar
  • Romania
  • Serbia
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Tunisia
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United States of America

In most cases you won’t need to show sufficient funds to cover your living costs, but if you do need to, you will be contacted by UKVI after you’ve submitted your application to provide the necessary evidence. Therefore, you should ensure you have sufficient funds before you apply for your Student visa, as you may be asked for the relevant documentation, and you will still need to support yourself while studying in the UK, and cannot guarantee you will find appropriate work to support yourself. 

English Language Proficiency Requirement

In order to study in the UK, you need to have a certain level of English fluency to be able to thrive in your classes. The scale is set by the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages), going from A1 at the lowest levels, through A2, B1, B2 and C1 to C2 at the highest level of proficiency. 

International students studying courses below degree level i.e. RQF levels 3, 4 and 5, will need to show they have B1 English fluency, while those studying at degree level or above will require B2 fluency according to the CEFR scale. 

Applicants from English-speaking countries such as Canada or Australia do not have to prove their English fluency, but all other applicants who are applying for the first time for a UK Student visa will need to provide evidence of their English capabilities. 

Evidence usually comes in the form of a certificate of passing a Secure English Language Test (SELT) from an approved exam provider, however, if you have previously completed a degree in an English language, or have completed a GCSE or A Level in English in the UK, certificates of these qualifications are valid proof of your level of English. 

English-speaking countries and territories that do not need to prove their English proficiency are:

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • The Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • British Overseas Territories
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Ireland
  • Jamaica
  • Malta
  • New Zealand
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • UK
  • USA

If you have completed a degree-level qualification in any of these countries, you will also not need to take a SELT.

How Long it Takes to Get a Decision

How long it takes to get a decision on your visa application depends on where you apply from. You’ll normally receive notice from the Home Office within 3 weeks of completing your application if you apply from outside the UK, while you can expect to hear within 8 weeks if you have applied from within the UK. 

Sometimes there are delays in processing, but if the Home Office requires more information from you, they will contact you to inform you of the additional requirements and keep you updated with the processing delay. They may contact you about your application if:

  • Your supporting documents are insufficient or need verification
  • They wish to interview you to assess your character or English proficiency
  • You have a criminal conviction or other personal circumstance that needs discussing

If you have a previous criminal conviction, it’s best to be upfront about it in the application process and provide a police certificate with the online application. Specialised visa agencies can advise you on whether your circumstances will affect your chances of success with your visa application, and help you navigate the process. 

What to Do if Your Application is Refused

In some cases, the Home Office will reject your application. This is usually due to an incomplete application, fraudulent documents, ineligibility, or a previous criminal conviction that leads them to believe it is unsafe for you to enter the UK. Whatever the reason for your visa rejection, you will receive a letter explaining their decision and whether you have the right to appeal or to an administrative review. 

Immigration services can help you understand what the next best steps to take are if your application is denied.

Paying the Application Fee

To apply for the Student visa for the first time, or switch or extend your Student visa from the UK, it costs £490. Any person who accompanies you i.e. your dependents, must also pay this fee. 

You will also have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge with your application. This allows you to access NHS services whilst in the UK, including hospitals, doctors and subsidised dental care and prescriptions. The standard cost of the IHS is £1,035 a year, however, it may be less if your course is less than 6 months, or if you’re under 18. 

For courses over one year, you will need to pay £1,035 upfront for each year of your course.

Extending Your Student Visa

Student visas are usually given for a few months longer than a course to allow for any necessary resits, however, if you require additional time, you can apply to extend your Student visa. You can also apply to extend your visa if you will continue to study in the UK on a course that is at a higher academic level than your current course, or the same level but relevant to your area of study and career aspirations. 

You will need to provide evidence that you have a new CAS (from a licenced sponsor with an unconditional offer for a place on an eligible course).

You will not need to meet the English proficiency requirements if you are extending your visa, and you will not need to meet the financial requirements if you have been in the UK for at least 12 months when extending your visa. 

If your dependants are in the UK with you, they will also need to apply to extend their visas, they will not automatically be extended when you apply for yours. 

If you wish to stay in the UK to study a short course or start work in the UK, you can also apply to switch to a Graduate visa. Any visa extension or application for a new visa must be submitted before your current visa expires so you don’t overstay your visa as you will be asked to leave the UK. You cannot extend a visa from outside of the UK. 

Switching from a Student Visa

Two of the most popular visa options for graduates who wish to remain in the UK are the Graduate visa and the Skilled Worker visa. To switch to either visa, you must have completed your course and meet the terms of the new visa. 

For a Graduate visa, you must:

  • Have completed a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree or doctorate in the UK
  • Be in the UK at the time of your application

Your educational institution must also inform the Home Office that you have completed your course before you can apply for the Graduate visa. You do not have to wait for your graduation ceremony. 

To switch to a Skilled Worker visa, you must:

The proposed start date on the contract for your new job must also be after your course ends. 

You will need a job offer and your certificate of sponsorship (similar to a CAS but with details of your employment contract rather than your educational course) before applying for the Skilled Worker visa, so make sure you have time to get your job offer and complete your application before your Student visa expires. Otherwise, a Graduate visa may be a more appropriate application to give you time to find a suitable job and employer.

Bringing Family on a Student Visa

Rules regarding international students bringing their families to the UK changed on 1 January 2024, so it’s important to be aware of the new visa rules. If you are already in the UK with your dependants i.e. your partner or children, they may remain in the UK until their visas expire, and may apply to extend their visas with you if you wish. 

As of 1 January, however, your dependants can only accompany you to the UK if:

  • You are a government-sponsored student on a course lasting more than 6 months
  • You are a full-time postgraduate student (RQF 8) studying a research-based doctorate for 9 months or more

Your dependants are only:

  • Your spouse, civil partner or unmarried partner
  • Your child under 18 years old who is not living independently (i.e. working or married)

You will need to provide evidence of relationship with your dependants such as a birth certificate, marriage certificate or civil partnership certificate. To prove your relationship with your unmarried partner, you will need to provide joint bank statements, utility bills or other official documents that prove you have been living together long-term, or evidence that you stay in communication and support each other financially if you are unable to live together due to cultural or practical reasons. 

You will also need to provide evidence that you can financially support your dependants while in the UK, either via your bank statements or sufficient funds via your loan or financial sponsorship if this will cover their living costs. 

Money needed to support dependants is at least:

  • £845 a month per person (for up to 9 months) if studying in London
  • £680 a month per person (for up to 9 months) if studying outside London

You will not need to provide this information if you are extending your visas after more than 12 months in the UK. 

Conclusion

As one of the top locations in the world for education, with some of the oldest and best established universities, studying in the UK is a fantastic opportunity for anyone, and well worth investing in a Student visa for. 

Preparing for your visa application can be difficult, so it’s important to make sure you’re fully ready with each of your necessary documents and valid evidence. The crucial first step is obtaining your unconditional offer and receiving your CAS from a sponsoring institution. 

But if you need any help along the way, to understand each step of the visa application process, make sure you have appropriate documents, or talk about your particular personal circumstances, getting the help of a visa agency can be an excellent move. 

Fortunately, Synergy Immigration Solutions are here to help!

About Synergy Immigration Solutions

Synergy Immigration Solutions are an OISC-registered business with expertise in the UK immigration system. If you need help attending a UK university, joining family in the UK, getting a specific work visa or getting a sponsorship licence, our team of experts are on hand and ready to help. 

Contact Synergy Immigration Solutions today to learn more about how we can help you with your visa or sponsorship application, or read on to find the answers to some frequently asked questions about Student visas.

Student Visa FAQs

Our comprehensive guide has covered everything you need to know about UK Student visas, from the application process to what you can do with your visa and how to extend it to get a new one. But there’s always one or two questions that get missed. Here are the UK Student visa FAQs.

Can You Get Married on a Student Visa?

If your Student visa is valid for more than 6 months, you can get married in the UK on a Student visa! You must be in the UK for at least 7 days before you can give notice of your proposal to get married at your local registry office. This notice must come at least 29 days and no more than 1 year before your wedding date. 

Your bride or groom-to-be, or proposed civil partner can also be a foreign national or a British citizen. You simply have to provide the following documents to the registry office to receive your marriage licence:

  • Details of the venue
  • Each person’s valid passport
  • Proof of each person’s home address
  • Proof of any previous name changes
  • A passport-sized photo for both individuals
  • Proof of the immigration status of both individuals if both are not British citizens (as shown on the passports)

Once you have your marriage licence you may get married in the UK. However, getting married in the UK does not affect your residency or visa status, you will still have to leave the UK or apply to extend or switch your visa before your Student visa expires.

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