An Easy Guide to: Visas and Visa Requirements For UK Citizens

Are you a bit confused by visas? I was too. Then I learnt all about them, realised they were actually pretty simple, and wrote this article to help explain them, in basic terms, to others. You're welcome.

Going abroad can be quite daunting – especially if you don’t travel often. There’s loads to remember. Passports. Packing. Plane tickets. I’ve run out of things that begin with P. Poothbrushes. One thing you might need to remember is a visa. If you aren’t sure what visas are or how they work, then boy have I got an article for you. I’m going to explain the basics of visas – assuming you know nothing – and help you get your head around what the visa requirements for UK citizens are.

You’ll definitely have heard of visas. Everyone has. Even our 19 year old digital marketer Olly has, and he’d never heard of The Goonies or Wayne’s World, the uncultured swine. But I was recently thinking, and although I’d heard of visas, I didn’t really know what they were. I had a vague notion of them being like a passport, but that was pretty much as far as my understanding went. I’d never needed a visa so I never bothered looking into them – they weren’t my problem. Then I went and got a job at a company that deals with document legalisation, and learning about visas went hand in hand with that.

So I learnt about visas and I realised they’re actually really easy to get your head around. And then I thought to myself: how many people were like me? How many people know basically nothing about visas? People might be put off going somewhere because they need a visa and they’re too intimidated by the idea. One thought led to another, I had a very strong coffee, and I decided to write a simple guide to visas for people that are as clueless as I once was.

What are visas?

Like whoever wrote the Bible, I’m going to start in the beginning. A visa is an official document that lets you legally enter a foreign country. You won’t need one every time you travel – it all depends on where you’re coming from and where you’re going to (different countries have different agreements, just to keep us on our toes), so you’ll need to check before you book.

Visa Categories

There’s a few different categories of visas that you might need to know about.

  • Short-term visas are issued for short-term visiting purposes – you might be on holiday, going for a business meeting or just travelling through. I can’t really give you a length for them because it differs for each country and visa type, but they’re for short, temporary visits to a country. As you probably guessed from the name.

  • Long-term visas are for residence purposes – if you’re moving somewhere long-term to work, study or retire.

  • Visas for people who don’t intend to stay, or work, in the country on a permanent basis. Very similar to a short-term visa – just different terminology, really.

  • A visa that allows you to move to a country permanently. They’re basically the same as long-term visas.

  • An online visa. You apply for it online and if you’ve been successful you’ll be emailed a copy. Some countries accept the digital copy, others will want a hard copy so you’re probably best just printing it off and keeping it with your passport. 

  • A ‘normal’ visa – a paper copy, not an e-Visa. They’re normally issued as a sticker in your passport. When you apply for a visa, you might need to submit certain documents. A paper visa normally needs you to submit physical copies of your documents to the embassy or Visa Application Centre.

visa requirements for uk citizens

What types of visa are there?

You know what visas are, you know about the different visa classifications. Now you need to know what type you need. There’s loads of different visas, each serving a different purpose. The following are the main types:

  • These are probably what you’ll need if you’re going on holiday. They’re used for tourist-y and leisure purposes. This is the most common visa.

  • You can use a business visa to do business deals with another company or attend a business conference, but you can’t use a business visa to make additional income. You can visit for business reasons, but you can’t join the labour market. For that, you’ll need a work visa.

  • You might need a transit visa when you’re travelling through a country that isn’t your destination.

  • These are needed if you’re going to work in the host country. There are a number of types that depend on your work and how long you’re going to stay.

  • Pretty self-explanatory – these are for students. They allow you to enrol at a college/university in the host country.

  • These are like tourist visas, but they allow you to work in the host country.

  • These are granted to refugees or asylum seekers fleeing from danger or persecution.

  • These allow partners to visit each other if they’re from different countries.

If you’re just off on holiday, you’ll probably only need to know about Transit or Tourist visas. The others are pretty niche, but they might be useful to you. I should add – this list isn’t exhaustive. This is only a beginner’s guide and a beginner doesn’t need to know every type of visa ever. Generally, for the average traveller, the above visas are the only one’s you’ll need to worry about.

Visa key terms

Hopefully you’ve got your head around visas and the different types. I’m going to throw some more key terms at you now, so get ready – these are the specifics of your visa. They’re different for every visa and depend on your application:

  • The length of time that your visa is valid to get you into the country. You must enter and exit the country within the validity period of your visa.

  • The length of time that you’re allowed the stay in the country once you’ve arrived.

  • The number of times you can enter the country on that visa.

  • The time taken for your visa to arrive after it’s been submitted to the embassy.

    Please note – we can’t guarantee this, it’s just an estimate.

Differences between visas and passports

This might be obvious to you, it might not, but I’ll explain anyway cos I can and I might as well.

A country issues passports to its own citizens to allow them to travel abroad.
A country issues visas to foreigners to allow them to visit.

You’ll pretty much always need a passport to travel to different countries but you don’t always need a visa. If you do need a visa, they’re normally stamped or glued into your passport (unless you’ve got an e-Visa). It’s all pretty simple, isn’t it?

applying z visa

Where can I get a visa?

You’ll need to apply for one. The process can be a bit tricky, but don’t let that stop you from travelling to places that need one. You can’t just buy a visa – you have to apply for one. You’ll need to supply some documents (such as your passport) but what you need to supply differs from country to country.

Say for example you fancy a trip to Mongolia. Don’t know why. Maybe you’ve got a hankering for some Mongolian food. You’d need to apply for a Mongolian tourist visa, and you’d need to supply:

  • a (fully filled in) visa application form
  • your passport
  • a passport photo
  • your accommodation booking
  • travel tickets

Some countries need more, some need less. Russia, for example, need you to have a tourist voucher before you apply. Some countries require you to visit a Visa Application Centre and submit your fingerprints as part of the process. They’re not being nosy, they’re trying to prevent crime. It’s all just hoops you have to jump through – might be a bit annoying, but that’s just what you need to do.

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Declan Ramsden
Declan Ramsden

Declan is a Content Creator at Vital Consular. He studied English Literature for 4 years before joining the company. Outside of work, he enjoys listening to retro music and reading classic novels – particularly Charles Dickens!

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