England is connected to France by the Channel Tunnel. Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland.
UK, does not fully implement the Schengen Agreement, which means that travel to and from other EU countries (except Ireland) requires systematic checks of passports/ID cards at the border and separate visa requirements for several countries. Similarly, a Schengen visa does not entitle you to enter the UK, so you will need to apply for a separate UK visa. If you enter the UK from a Schengen country, a one-off Schengen visa will become invalid and you will need to apply for a new visa to re-enter the Schengen area.
Almost all passengers travelling to the UK from outside Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are subject to systematic passport/ID checks and selective customs checks by the United Kingdom Border Force (UKBF) on arrival in the UK. However, persons travelling by Eurostar from Paris Gare du Nord, Lille-Europe, Calais-Fréthun and Brussels Zuid-Midi stations and by ferry from Calais and Dunkirk are subject to passport/identity checks in France and Belgium prior to boarding and selective customs checks on arrival in the UK. Those entering the UK from France via the Eurotunnel are subject to both a UK passport and ID check at Coquelles and a UK customs check before boarding the train.
Entry and visa requirements
Common travel zone
If you enter the UK via Ireland, you will have to pass through passport control on entry to Ireland, but you are not required to undergo UK passport control. However, your stay in the UK and Ireland is limited to three months only (or such other period for which you are granted permission to stay by the passport control officer in Ireland) if you are exempt from the visa requirement, rather than the usual six-month stay in the UK for nationals without a visa requirement. Therefore, especially if you are trying to enter the UK as a student visitor (i.e. a visitor studying for up to six months), you should not travel through Ireland unless you have a valid UK visa or entry clearance allowing you to stay for more than three months, or you intend to stay in the UK for less than three months.
However, if you require a visa for Ireland or the UK, you must have a visa from each country that requires a visa if you intend to travel to both countries – the only exceptions are citizens of countries that qualify for Ireland’s short-stay visa waiver programme, which is valid until October 2016 but can be extended; citizens of Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina &. Herzegovina, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, India, Kazakhstan, PRC and Uzbekistan who hold a UK ‘C’ tourist visa and have already entered the UK can then travel to Ireland for a maximum of 90 days or until the expiry date of their UK visa, whichever is shorter. If you do not go through passport control, you are not exempt from having a visa if it is required and you can be fined and deported if you are discovered without a visa.
There are also no passport controls from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man into the UK.
- EU, EEA and Swiss citizens do not need a visa and can enter with a valid identity card or passport. They have the right to reside and work in the UK (although some work restrictions apply to Croatian citizens). Irish, Cypriot and Maltese citizens have additional rights, including the right to vote and stand in UK general elections.
- Citizens of Anguilla, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Botswana, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, East Timor, El Salvador, Falkland Islands, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Montserrat, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Pitcairn Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. St Lucia, St Helena, Taiwan, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tristan da Cunha, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Uruguay, United States, Vanuatu, Vatican City and Venezuela (only for holders of Venezuelan biometric passports). A passport is required for entry, but no visa is required for visits of up to 6 months. Once in the UK, they are not allowed to work or access public funds (e.g. to claim state benefits). If citizens of these countries/territories wish to stay in the UK for purposes other than tourism, business or study (i.e. a visitor studying for up to 6 months) or stay in the UK for longer than 6 months, they must apply for entry clearance (i.e. a visa) before travelling to the UK. Nationals of these countries/territories who intend to stay in the UK as a student visitor must ensure that their passport is stamped with the code “VST” or “STV” at passport control, otherwise the education provider with whom they intend to study may refuse their enrolment.
- A visa is required for citizens of most other countries to enter the UK and for a number of countries to pass through UK airside. It is available from the British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate where the applicant is legally resident. Unless they are 6 years old or under, or travelling directly to the Channel Islands rather than via the UK or Isle of Man, applicants for a UK visa must provide biometric data (10-digit fingerprints and a digital photograph) as part of the application process. As part of the visa application process, it is necessary to go in person to a UK visa application centre to provide your biometric data.
- The UK has changed the old visa categories (with the exception of the visitor and transit categories) to a five-tier points-based system (PBS), which means that you must meet certain non-negotiable criteria before the visa is granted. The visa fee for the points-based system is very high, so it may be advisable to check whether the purpose of your visit can be fulfilled by another visa under the points-based system. For example, if you want to stay in the UK for 11 months to do an English language course, it would be cheaper to apply for a student visitor visa (£140) than a Level 4 student visa (£255).
- Commonwealth citizens who are 17 years old or older and have a British grandparent (or an Irish grandparent before April 1922) can apply for an ancestry visa. This visa allows you to live and work in the UK for five years. After five years it is possible to apply for permanent residence (indefinite leave to remain); after 12 months of continuous permanent residence and five years of continuous residence in the UK, descent visa holders can apply for naturalisation as British citizens. All Commonwealth citizens living in the UK (regardless of what type of visa they hold and whether they have a British grandparent) can vote in all elections.
- Nationals of Australia, Canada, Hong Kong (UK [overseas] passport holders only), Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan can apply for a Tier 5 visa under the Youth Mobility Scheme (the former Working Holiday Visa for all young Commonwealth citizens has been abolished). The Tier 5 YMS visa allows the holder to work in the UK for two years from the date of issue. Only a limited number of visas are issued for each nationality – for Japan and Taiwan in particular, demand far exceeds supply.
- There is usually no immigration control when entering the UK from Ireland. However, visitors who are not Irish or British citizens must still comply with the entry requirements and carry their passport (with appropriate visa stamps, if applicable).
- All visitors aged 16 and over who are not citizens of the EU, EEA or Switzerland (or their family members who hold a residence permit/card granting them freedom of movement within the EU, EEA and Switzerland) or Commonwealth citizens entitled to stay in the UK must complete a disembarkation card and present it at passport control unless they are in direct transit to a destination outside the common travel area (i.e. not the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man or Ireland).
- Travellers subject to immigration control should expect that on arrival the immigration officer will ask them to prove that they (a) have a return ticket to leave the UK or sufficient funds to cover the cost of an additional air ticket, (b) have a valid address where they will be staying in the UK, and (c) have sufficient means to support themselves during their stay. If these three basic elements are not demonstrated, entry may be refused or limited leave granted.
Registered Traveller Service
Citizens of Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and the USA can apply to join the Traveller Registration Service, which allows you to use the automated ePassport gates when entering the country, speeding up the entry process.
Like many other countries, the UK requires good character from foreign visitors. Until recently, decisions about good character were made on a case-by-case basis, although under new rules that came into force in 2012, a potential visitor can be refused a settlement permit or visa/entry permit on grounds of good character if he or she does not have good character:
- You have unserved criminal convictions that resulted in a total sentence of more than 12 months in prison.
- Regardless of criminal history, questionable connections (e.g. organised crime, terrorism or hate groups) or underlying behavioural issues.
If any of these situations apply to you, contact your local British Embassy or British High Commission before making travel arrangements – you may need to apply for a visa even if you are from a country that does not normally require one. The UK Border Force also lists some other grounds for exclusion, although most of these (e.g. owing more than £1,000 to the NHS or not undergoing a medical examination) apply to people applying for a residence visa or other long-term visa and do not normally apply to tourists. Note that character requirements also apply to non-UK nationals of the EU, EEA or Switzerland and they may be refused entry on the grounds of serious criminal convictions or other public safety concerns.
Customs duties and goods
The UK has relatively strict laws controlling what goods can and cannot be brought into the country. Selective customs checks are carried out by the UKBF at ports of arrival. Particularly strict laws apply to the movement of animals, except within the EU, where an animal passport system is in place that allows proof of rabies vaccination. The British Isles are rabies-free, and the government (and the people) want to keep it that way. Signs in several languages are prominently displayed at the moorings of even the smallest boats all along the coast.
Since the abolition of customs duties on goods for personal use when travelling across EU borders in 1993, it has become commonplace for Britons to bring large quantities of alcohol and tobacco, purchased at reduced rates, into continental Europe. However, this practice is prone to abuse: organised criminals attempt to import large quantities of alcohol and tobacco illegally in order to resell them for profit. Customs laws are therefore strict on the importation of alcohol and tobacco for non-personal use, and if a customs officer believes that the quantity you wish to bring into the country from the EU is excessive, especially if you are travelling in a commercial vehicle rather than a private car, you may be questioned further or asked to prove that it is for your own consumption, even though an EU citizen is ultimately supported by EU free trade laws and allowed to import unlimited personal quantities. Fines can be high and you also risk having the goods (and the vehicle in which they are transported) seized. Importing excessive amounts of alcohol into a private vehicle is more likely to result in congestion charges, which are the responsibility of the police rather than customs.
Most entry points receiving traffic from third countries use the EU’s red/green/blue channel system. EU ports of entry are still manned by customs officers who are more interested in controlled substances (e.g. illegal drugs) than alcohol or tobacco.
You must make a declaration if you are bringing more than €10,000 in cash or other negotiable instruments into or out of the EU. If you are carrying more than £1,000 in cash, you may have to prove that you can legally dispose of this cash when questioned by a customs officer.
The UK has also tightened regulations on food that can be imported in recent years (partly in response to increased European biosecurity measures); Defra maintains official guidance on this (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/personal-food-plant-and-animal-product-imports).