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A Step-by-Step Visa Guide for UK-Bound Students

Summer is here! And that means students who have decided to study in the UK will likely be on to one of the last steps in the process -- applying for the visa.

This week I'm delighted to share a guest post written by Ashley Monaghan, the International Student Recruitment Manager for the Americas at King's College London.

Applying for any type of visa may seem like a daunting process, but Ashley's step by step visa guide shows that it's not that difficult at all.


By Ashley Monaghan

You’ve done it: achieved the coveted unconditional offer from your dream university across the pond.

You are ready to study your undergraduate or postgraduate degree in the UK. All that is standing in your way is a visa to get you there.

Formerly known as the Tier 4 Visa, the Student Visa is eligible to students 16 years old and over who have been offered an unconditional place on a full-degree course.

If you will be on a Study Abroad program (a short-term course for less than six months), if you hold a British passport, or if you are studying an English Language program, you will not need a student visa (but may need another type), so it’s important to first check if you need a visa with the UK government.

Bridge in London city centre

Visa Guide - Step 1

First thing’s first—you need a CAS number to book your visa appointment. What is this number and how do you get it?

CAS is short for Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies and will come to you as a letter from your university in the form of an email or through your university’s Admissions portal.

This CAS letter contains your CAS number and basically states that the university will sponsor you during your studies.

You cannot book your visa appointment without your CAS number and passport. Once you have them, don’t delay!

Visa processing times take about three weeks typically, but we all understand the compounded delays that come with the pandemic, so be prepared to wait longer. You can also pay for premium expedited services.

The visa application is an online process and costs £348 ($492) at the time of publishing. If you are under 18 at the time of application, you will need written consent from your parents/guardians along with a copy of your birth certificate.

Although UK universities have the option to issue CAS numbers six months prior to the start of a program, most universities start issuing them three months prior.

King’s College London, for example, issues CAS numbers at the end of June to unconditional offer holders and most students receive theirs in July and August.

Step 2

This is a good time to mention proof of funds, which is the most common cause of visa denials if not followed correctly.

As part of your visa application, you must be able to prove that you have sufficient funds to cover your program cost for the year (9 months) as stated in your CAS letter.

You must also show you have £1,023/month ($1,448/month) in living costs for each month of your course that year (9 months) if you’re studying outside of London or $£1,334/month ($1,888/month) in living costs if you’re studying in London.

If you are using your own or your parent's/guardian's funds, you will be required to have held the required amount for at least 28 consecutive days and your bank statement must not be more than 31 days old on the date you submit your visa application.

Student Visa applicants will also pay for an Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) along with their visa application, which covers healthcare from the National Health Service (NHS) for the duration of the visa.

The IHS costs £470 and must be paid online by credit or debit card.

Step 3

Next, you will be notified to book your biometrics appointment, which will take your fingerprints at a local immigration centre as part of the application.

You'll then send your passport to a UK visa application hub after attending the appointment.

The address to where you send your passport will be provided as part of the online application.

Alternatively, you can book an appointment at a Premium Application Centre to submit biometrics and your passport together, but there is an additional cost for this.

When you are approved for your visa, you will receive an email or letter notifying you.

You will be mailed a sticker (vignette) that goes in your passport or will need to visit the Visa Application Centre to collect your vignette (if you did not mail in your passport).

The vignette will show the start and end dates your visa is valid along with the conditions of your visa, such as police registration or work authorization.

On the Student Visa, you are authorized to work up to 20 hours per week during term time and up to 40 hours per week on holidays and breaks.

You will be able to enter the UK up to one month prior to the start of your program, but the vignette will detail the earliest date you can arrive in the UK.

Step 4

When you cross the UK border in the airport, a UK Border Control agent will scan your passport and check your details and documentation.

The agent will need to see your passport, CAS letter and number, details of where you are staying (your residence hall name and address), and recent bank statements, so make sure to pack them in your carry-on luggage.

It is normal for a border agent to then ask you basic questions about your studies, but each agent is different and may not ask for all of this information. Better to be prepared!

Step 5

Finally, be sure to pick up your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) from your university after you arrive in the UK.

This is a form of identification, and you have 90 days to retrieve it. At King’s, you pick this up from the Visa Team, and they complete visa registration with you.

Now that you’ve taken this all in—along with a deep breath—here are my top tips to keep calm and carry on through the process:

  1. Be patient. There are quite a few wheels in motion, but trust in the timing. Try not to compare your timeline to those of your peers attending U.S. universities.

  2. Adhere to the timeline and deadlines to prompt you for the next step to stay on track all the way up to landing in the UK.

  3. Keep the UK Home Office (the UK government department responsible for immigration and security) and the U.S. Embassy informed of any changes to your student status or circumstances during your studies, including an address change.

The most important thing to remember is that you will receive your CAS number and then your visa and will be able to make it to the UK to begin your university studies.

UK universities have a longer application cycle than their U.S. counterparts, so don’t compare yourself to peers who have had everything signed, sealed, delivered since May.

As an international student enrolled at a UK uni, you will likely have boxes to tick right up to the point of boarding the plane to Heathrow, but the academic experiences you will gain are well worth the extra steps.

You will likely not want to leave, and even though one or three or five years will go by fast, you may apply for other visas to stay overseas in the UK and relish as much as you can out of the UK life you’ve learned to love.

The Graduate Immigration Route, for example, will allow you to stay and work in the UK up to two years after finishing your undergraduate or Master’s degree or three years after finishing a PhD.

By then, you’ll be a visa pro and writing your own visa advice to share with future UK university students.

In the meantime, do rely on all the expert advice available to you as an intrepid student venturing to the UK.


Do you need assistance with your UK student visa?

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G'day! My name is Sara, and I'm the founder of College Apps Abroad and a Certified Educational Planner (CEP), one of only 40 CEP's in California and 300 worldwide. I have more than 10 years of experience working in international recruitment and admissions, and I've studied and lived overseas myself in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Brazil for almost a decade. I've also worked for some of the world's top institutions, including The University of Edinburgh, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and The University of Western Australia (UWA)!

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