The travel documents required for travelling to the UK depend on the individual’s nationality, their reason for entering, and which country they are coming from. Generally speaking, foreign nationals arriving in the United Kingdom need a passport (or national identity card for citizens of EU countries) and a UK visa (unless the visitor is from a visa-exempt country).
The UK is currently an EU member but is not a member of the Schengen Area. This means there is a hard border between the UK and other EU countries, except for Ireland.
There is a range of different UK visas and travel authorisations for different purposes. The UK EVW is the quickest to apply for as the application is completed online. At the moment, only citizens of the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman can apply but more countries will probably be added to the list.
Do I need a passport to go to the UK?
International travellers need a valid passport to visit the UK. However, there are a couple of exceptions:
1) When travelling within the ‘Common Travel Area’
The UK is in the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man. It is not necessary to bring a passport to travel to other parts of the zone but passengers will need to show a form of ID.
2) If holding a valid national identity card from an EU country
EU citizens can enter the UK by either presenting their national identity card or their passport. There is a separate queue marked ‘EEA/EU’ for EU citizens. This may change in the future after the UK leaves the EU but this is unlikely to happen before 2021.
How long should your passport be valid for when travelling to the UK?
A visitor’s passport needs to be valid for the length of their stay.
Can I travel to the UK with an ID card?
Yes, as long as it is valid and has been issued by an EU country.
What do I need to enter the UK?
The necessary travel documents to travel to the UK include a passport to enter the country (unless you fall into one of the categories outlined above) and possibly a visa. There are many nationalities who can enter for periods of up to 6 months without a visa (or up to 3 months if entering from Ireland).
- Europe: All EU countries, Andorra, Monaco, Vatican City.
- North America: The US, Canada, Mexico, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago.
- South America: Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay.
- Africa: Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles.
- Asia: South Korea, Malaysia, Israel, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Brunei, Macau, Maldives, East Timor.
- Oceana: Australia, New Zealand, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu.
Types of UK visas
Travellers who are not from one of the visa-exempt countries listed above need to obtain a visa to enter the UK. Here are some of the most common types of visas:
A visitor visa allows foreign nationals to visit for a range of purposes including tourism, business, and short-term private medical treatment.
The UK has a points-based system which controls the flow of workers entering the country. There are different tiers of visa depending on the type of work.
There are various categories of student visas for different purposes and for different age groups. Short-term and long-term options are possible.
The UK EVW is an electronic United Kingdom tourist visa waiver which is currently available to citizens of the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman. The UK Electronic Visa Waiver application form only takes a few minutes to complete.
Applicants must meet the UK visa waiver requirements to obtain their EVW.
Individuals who are travelling to the UK for the first time and are not sure which visa they need should read this guide on UK visa types for more information.
Documents required for EU/EEA citizens to enter the UK
Until the end of 2020, the United Kingdom is in a transition period as it leaves the EU, and previous rules on travel, immigration, and visas still apply until the end of the year. This means that citizens of the EU and Economic European Area (EEA) only need their passport or national ID in order to enter the UK.
Both electronic chip passports and traditional passports are accepted.
EU member countries are:
- Republic of Cyprus
- Czech Republic
EEA countries that are not in the EU include:
Switzerland is not part of the EU nor the EEA. However, it is part of the single market — this means that Swiss citizens have the same rights to travel to and work in the UK as EEA nationals.
Documents required for non-EU citizens to enter the UK
Non-EU citizens are likely to need a travel permit as well as their passport in order to enter the UK. This may be a visa or visa waiver, depending on the traveller’s nationality and travel circumstances. The UK issues a variety of visa types including visitor visas, points-regulated work visas, student visas, and more.
Some visas require foreign nationals to visit a UK diplomatic mission in order to apply, others can be requested online. Either way, the traveller will need to bring a printed copy of their visa with them as they approach the UK border.
Citizens of the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman can apply for an Electronic Visa Waiver for the UK online. The application only takes minutes and once approved, will grant the applicant an electronic travel authorisation that can be simply printed out and shown to the British authorities upon arrival.
In order to obtain a UK electronic travel authorisation, applicants will need to provide:
- A valid passport issued by an eligible country
- A debit or credit card in order to pay the application fee
Beside EU citizens, a number of nationalities are also visa-exempt thanks to diplomatic agreements (see the list above).
As mentioned before, unless they are from a visa-exempt country, all foreign nationals entering the UK will need a visa. This means that even if an individual is spending a very limited amount of time on UK soil (for example, transiting to another country) it is important to check whether they will need a visa to do so before travelling.
Travelling to the UK with children: what you need to bring
Once they arrive at the border, international travellers may be asked to provide evidence of their relationship with any children travelling with them. This is especially the case if the children and accompanying adult do not share the same surname.
Documents considered as proof of relationship when travelling with children to the UK include:
- A birth or adoption certificate
- A divorce or marriage certificate if the adult and children do not share the same surname
- A letter from the child’s parent if the accompanying adult is not their parent. The letter must state permission for the child to travel with the accompanying adult and include the parent’s contact information