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UK Visa Requirements for South Africans

Get a UK Visa with a South African passport

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Considering that you have to pay R100 per email query, it's worth studying every bit of free info you can get before applying for a UK Visa.

There are no border controls between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Island, which makes it a joy to travel around the UK, as only a single UK visa is required. If you're South African you'll also be able to enter the Republic of Ireland, as their Government has granted South Africans the ability to see Ireland visa-free (within limits).

Note that even if you do get a UK visa, you can still be denied entry by border control - this is at their discretion - so make sure that you have all your paperwork with you when you travel, so you can at least argue your case.

This article assumes you are a South African citizen without dual UK citizenship or the right of abode in the UK.

You may not apply more than 3 months before your date of travel.

The information in this document shoud be looked upon as being possibly out of date or incorrect. Always cross check with the information at  the UK government visa website.

There are several steps to obtaining a UK visa:

Step 1: Check which Visa you need

Most people will apply for a "Standard Visitor Visa" - you can do if you're visiting the UK for:

  • Holiday, visiting your mates or seeing long-lost family.

  • If you're going to attend meetings, conferences, conducting academic research or sabbatical (less than 6 months). You can go to trade fairs, but not be directly involved in selling anything. You can give a speech or a short-series of speeches only if the organiser isn't doing it for profit and they are not "commercial events". Academics carrying out permitted activities may be able to stay up to 12 months (along with their partner/children/spouse).

  • Coming with students who are studying in the UK

  • You're coming to the UK to perform music, art or entertainment; whether on your own or as part of a group. Supporting staff to the artist may only accompany him/her if they're employed by the artist outside of the UK.

  • Participating in specific sports events. Sportsmen/women may do promotional work and even join an amateur team (only if they're an amateur). Support staff may accompany the sportsmen, if they are employed by the sportsmen outside of the UK.

  • Private medical treatment (may be allowed up to 11 months in the UK).

  • To take the Objective Structured Clinical Examination or the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board test.

  • To attempt to raise money to "start, take over, join or run a business in the UK".

  • Dentists & doctors who are taking a "clinical attachment or observer post".

Working:

  • A Temporary Workers Visa may be required if you're working for less than 6 months in the UK, or an international agreement visa if you're doing international law work.

  • If you're going to work for longer than 6 months, then a Skilled Worker Visa may be required, or possibly a temporary worker visa.

  • For diplomatic business, no visa is required, but you can apply for an exempt vignette. For official government business in the UK, if you are a serving government minister, no visa is required, but once again you can apply for an exempt vignette.

If you have a child who is at school in the United Kingdom, then apply for a Visa for Parents to visit him/her.

If you're going to the UK to study for less than 6 months, then apply for a Short-term Study Visa; for more than 6 months apply for a Study Visa. If you're younger than eighteen years old, you may apply for a Child Study Visa. If you're 18 years or older and want to study an English language course which is 11 months long or less, then you may apply for a Short-term Study Visa.

Click here to read about applying for a UK Transit Visa.

To visit your spouse, partner or family for less than 6 months, you need to apply for a Family Visit Visa; if you're visiting somebody who is a British citizen or from outside the EEA (European Economic Area) and settled in the UK for more than 6 months, then apply for a Family of a Settled Person Visa. If you're visiting somebody from the EEA then you may be able to apply for a Family Permit. If the person you're visiting is from outside the EEA & studying/working in the United Kingdom, you may be able to apply as a "dependant".

To come to the UK to enter a civil partnership or get married then apply for a Marriage Visitor Visa, unless one of the partners is settled in the UK, or British, and you want to live in the UK permanently, then apply for a Family of a Settled Person Visa.

NB: It's possible that rules change and the above and below information is out of date or incorrect. Double-check which visa you require by clicking here and answering the questions.

Step 2: Ensure that you have a valid South African passport

If you need to apply for a new passport, in our experience you can usually get it within 10 days from South African Home Affairs (but be prepared to queue for a long time - this can take you the better part of a day). Temporary passports are no longer issued. You can find your closest home affairs office by clicking here.

South African passports must be valid for at least 6 months after your return to South Africa. Passports require 2 valid blank pages when you leave or return to South Africa. Visa pages are invalid if damaged or stained by stamps from other pages. If your passport is damaged it's best to get it replaced before applying for visa.

Make a certified copy (A4) of your passport to take along with you to your appointment (you'll see how to book this further down).

Step 3: Make sure you're not in the UK, or on the Isle of Man or Channel Islands

You can only apply for a UK Visa if you're not in the UK! If you're there on holiday, you'll have to first leave the country, apply, and then reenter the UK.

Step 4 : Establish Where to Apply

You will be using "Access UK" if you are applying for a Standard Visitor Visa, a Permitted Paid Engagement Visa or a Marriage Visitor Visa. In all other cases you apply via Visa4UK.

In particular note that you'll have to use Visa4UK if you are applying for a visa for diplomats, transit, academic visits lasting more than 6 months and medical treatment lasting more than 6 months. In the rest of this document it is assumed that this is not the case, and that you have to follow Access UK's processes.

Step 5 : Gather thy documents

Take along both the original as well as A4 photocopies of the originals. If any documents are not in English or Welsh, then get a certified translation for them and take that along as well.

Click here to see the definitive and detailed list of which documents you must provide. Unofficial Tips:

  • You'll need your current passport as specified above, and whilst you don't have to provide previous passports, if you have them, do submit them.

  • Provide proof that you have enough money to undertake the trip, and that you can access the money. Provide a letter on your company's letterhead or other proof from your work of how much you earn, when you started working there, your job description and the contact details of your work. Provide bank statements. If you're relying on a 3rd party (whether a company or a person) to support you financially, then provide proof that they're financially able to in addition to their current responsibilities. If you're running your own business, then provide registration documents which show you're the owner and when the business starting trading.

  • If you're studying full-time, then provide a letter from the organisation where you're studying, on their letterhead, recognising that you're studying there and when you'll be finished.

  • Proof of where you live, legally (check if it's in your passport).

If you're heading to the UK to undertake business activities then collect invite letters and documents setting out why you're going and what you're going to be doing (preferably from both your company and the company in the UK you're visiting). If you're doing work in the performing arts, then the documents should specify whether you're an amateur or professional, and details of where and what you're going to be performing.

Children under 18:

  • If you're not travelling with your parents, then have (1) a copy of the biographical page of your parent/s or legal guardian's passport, which contains their passport number and is signed by them; (2) a letter signed by your parents confirming where you're staying in the UK and with whom, and who you are travelling with to the UK and onwards.

  • Take your unabridged birth certificate and other legal documents (for example, your adoption papers) along, which indicates the relationship between yourself and your parents/guardians. The birth certificate should be the unabridged birth certificate of children younger than 18 - this contains full particulars of the individual, parents, ID numbers, names in full, city/town of birth & their citizenship. (The abridged certificate, by contrast, only shows the child and mother's ID numbers, names of birth and country of birth.) A document providing consent should be provided by any of the child's parents not travelling with the child. South Africa has only been issuing unabridged birth certificates as standard since 4 March 2013.

If you are visiting for the reasons below, then you'll need to supply additional documentation:

  • 6 month or 12 month visa for private medical treatment

  • Prospective entrepreneurs

  • If you are performing at permit-free festival/s

  • 12 month visa for academics (or accompanying family) visiting the UK to conduct research.

  • Permitted paid engagements

  • Training related to work

  • Visiting to get married or enter into a civil partnership

  • Transit visitor

(Note that the above is not a complete list, but rather just a set of tips which should be read together with the definitive list mentioned)

Step 6 : Check your Application Fee

(and pray the Rand hasn't weakened against the British Pound)

Click here to see how how much you should pay if you're a South African (you'll also need to know which visa you're applying for).

Step 7 : Follow Access UK's Process

Navigate to https://visas-immigration.service.gov.uk/apply-uk-visa (assuming your visa type requires this), and select the type of visa you require (for purposes of this exercise we'll assume that you're looking for a Standard Visitor Visa, but naturally in your case it may be something different).

Options for types of visa when applying for a UK visa

Name the country you are in at the moment, from which you are making your application (to state the obvious, this is not necessarily the same as your nationality):

Selection screen for location you are in when applying for a UK visa

Confirm that you can get to one of the following locations to make your application (assuming you're applying in South Africa):

Visa pplication locations in South Africa (for UK visa)

You have now finished entering the preliminary information. Read the following page carefully, then scroll down to the bottom and click on the "Start Now" button.

Next, enter your email address and create a password (an email will be sent to the email address you give, providing a link with which you can sign in to your application):

Input fields for email address and password in applying for a UK visa

Now enter your given names (first name and middle names) and family name (surname) exactly as it is on your passport:

input fields for given names (first name and middle names) and family name (surname), when applying for a UK visa

Confirm whether or not you have ever been known by a different name.

Fill in your home address.

Fill in your telephone number (don't worry, they won't spam you), with the country code at the start (in South Africa it is "27"):

Telephone input field filled in with a South African telephone number

Enter how long you've lived at your current home, and what the ownership status is (whether you own it, rent it, live in it with your family, or something else).

Confirm your gender (male, female or unspecified - good to see they cater for all).

Confirm your relationship status (single, married/civil partnership, unmarried partner, divorced or civil partnership dissolved, separated or widowed or a surviving civil partner).

Enter your nationality, date of birth, country of birth and place of birth (exactly as it is in your passport).

Enter your passport number, its city of issue, the issue date and the expiry date.

Confirm whether you have another passport or travel document (e.g. a passport issued by a different country, or an older passport which has expired but which contains more information about your travel history).

State whether you have a national identity card. This is the identity card issued by your national government. Please select 'No' if your country does not issue national identity cards or you do not have your card. Then enter your ID number.

Confirm your employment status - employed, self-employed, a student, retired or unemployed.

State what your job is and how much you earn.

Confirm whether you have any other income or savings.

Estimate how much money you're planning on spending in the UK. Include flights, accommodation and everyday expenses.

Estimate the total amount you spend every month including living costs, money given to dependants, rent or mortgage and any other bills or costs.

State whether anybody else will be paying towards the cost of your stay; including costs borne by your employer or another company, or whether somebody else is giving you some money.

Provide your planned dates of arrival in the UK and departure from the UK.

State the language in which you'd like the visa service to communicate to yourself in.

State the main reason for your trip to the UK - tourism (including visiting family & friends), business (including sports and entertainment) or other.

Give details of tourist activities and places you will visit, friends or family you will see or stay with, plus any non-tourist activities you plan to do during your trip such as doing business, receiving private medical treatment or getting married.

Specify whether there is anybody who depends on you for financial support. This includes children under 18, children over 18 who live with you at home, children who you look after all the time and older relatives who need you for accommodation or other support.

Provide details of your parents - given name/s, family name, date of birth, nationality, and whether they've always had the same nationality.

State whether you have any family in the UK. This includes immediate family (husband, wife, parents or children), grandparents or grandchildren, your husband's or wife's family, your child's partner or spouse or your partner; if you have lived with them for 2 out of the last 3 years.

State whether you will be travelling to the UK as part of an organised group - this include travel companies or sports, work, or study groups.

State whether you will be travelling in the UK with someone who is not your partner, spouse or dependant.

State whether you have already made arrangements for where in the UK you will be staying.

State where you plan to stay in the UK, providing as much detail as possible - e.g. hotel/s, with friends or in private housing.

State the number of times you've visited the UK in the last 10 years, and what your reason was for your previous visits.

State whether you've ever been given medical treatment in the UK (if you visited a doctor or were treated at a hospital, this counts as having medical treatment).

State whether you've applied for leave to remain in the UK in the past 10 years. If you have then state the date of the application and the result. Leave to remain is an application made whilst in the UK asking permission to stay in the UK.

State the number of times in the past 10 years you've visited Australia, Canada, New Zealand, USA or the Schengen area. State whether you've visited other countries in the last 10 years. If you have visited other countries state which, when and the reason for your visit.

State whether you have you ever been refused a visa for the UK, deported from the UK, removed from the UK, required to leave the UK or refused entry at the UK border. State whether you have ever experienced the same problems with immigration to countries other than the UK.

State whether at any time have you ever had any of the following, in the UK or in another country: a criminal conviction, a penalty for a driving offence, for example disqualification for speeding or no motor insurance, an arrest or charge for which you are currently on, or awaiting trial, a caution, warning, reprimand or other penalty, a civil court judgment against you, for example for non payment of debt, bankruptcy proceedings or anti-social behaviour, or a civil penalty issued under UK immigration law. You must mention spent as well as unspent convictions

Confirm whether you've ever been involved in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.

The UK want to keep terrorists out of the country. Confirm whether you've ever encouraged, supported or been involved in terrorist activities in any country. State whether you've ever been a member of, or supported, an organisation which has been concerned with terrorism. Have you ever glorified or justified terrorist violence or encouraged others to commit terrorist or other serious criminal acts?

Mention any work you've done for the following types of organisation (include information for any paid or unpaid work for the types of organisation): Armed Forces (including compulsory national or military service), Government (including Public or Civil Administration and compulsory national service), media organisations, security organisations (including police and private security companies), or the judiciary (including work as a judge or magistrate).

You then have the opportunity to add any further information you'd like to add.

Then, you are able to check all the information you've submitted. If you've given false information your application will be refused and you may be banned from the UK and prosecuted.

Choose the length of your visit visa: a visit visa is normally issued for up to 6 months, but some visit visa types offer longer options. Long-term visit visas allow you to make multiple visits to the UK, but you can normally only stay in the UK for up to 6 months at a time, with some exceptions for academics and their dependants, and people visiting for private medical treatment.

You then choose which service you require:

Standard service (most people get a decision within 15 working days); Priority service (costs more, but your application will join the front of the queue for priority consideration. Most people get a decision within 5 working days), or Super Priority service (costs a lot more, but your application will join the front of the queue. Most people get a decision within 24 hours). UK Visas and Immigration will contact you if it will take longer to process your application. This might happen if your supporting documents need to be verified, you need to attend an interview or your application is complex. Note that working days excludes weekends as well as public holidays, in both South Africa and the UK. Also note that sometimes, for no clear reason, it takes longer than expected to process the application (e.g. if they have a backlog to clear) - click here to read an example of it taking longer than expected and leading to the need to cancel flights.

Then choose which visitor centre you'd like to go to. If you're in South Africa this will be either, Cape Town (premium lounge available), Durban, Johannesburg (premium lounge available), Port Elizabeth or Pretoria (premium lounge available). The street addresses of the application centres are:

  • The Media Quarter, Corner of Somerset & De Smidt St (opposite Sovereign Quay, and also opposite the Kentucky Fried Chicken), Green Point, 8005, Cape Town. Click here to see on Google maps.

  • 430 Peter Mokaba Ridge, 3rd Floor, Office Tower, The Atrium Centre, Overport City, Durban

  • 24 Central Office Towers, Cnr Gwen and Fredman Drive, Sandton, Johannesburg

  • 66 Ring Rd (alongside the corner of Cape Road and CJ Langenhoven Drive)Fairview Office Park, Greenacres, 6045, PE/ Port Elizabeth

  • 1st Floor, Menlyn Corner, at the traffic circle at the end of Frikkie De Beer Str (Cnr of Lois & Atterbury Rd), Menlyn, 0181, Pretoria - click to see on Google Maps.

Then choose an appointment date and time. As part of the online booking process, you'll be able to see what the availability is of dates for your appointment.

You then choose which credit card provider you are going to use to pay: Visa, MasterCard or Maestro. Continue to WorldPay, and pay in the normal manner one would for a credit card payment. Note that this amount is non-refundable, if, for example, you are refused a visa.

Step 8 : Attend your Appointment

Be early for your appointment - if you're late, you will have to book another appointment and pay an additional fee. Arrive for your appointment with all the documents required.

You will be required to submit biometric information (photographs and fingerprints). Your application will then be sent to the relevant embassy/consulate for processing.

We do not specialise in visas, and things change so it's therefore crucial to check with the relevant embassy for the definitive rules before applying, in particularly those on www.gov.uk

Impact of Brexit

Nobody knows yet what the impact of the UK leaving the EU will have, but for South Africans it's likely to impact mostly those who also have an EU passport. According to the policy paper set up by the UK Home Office:

  • "The Brexit Referendum will not unravel previous commitments".

  • EU citizens who have resided in the UK for 5 years will be able to apply for settlement in the UK. It hasn't yet been decided when the specified date is by which they have to have achieved the 5 years; but it will be somewhere from the 29th March 201 until the date of the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

  • EU citizens who arrived in the UK before the specified date, but have not yet accumulated 5 years residence in the country, may apply for temporary status and then later for settled status once they've been in the country for 5 years.

  • "No expectation of guaranteed settled status will be given to those EU citizens who came to the UK after the specified date and the possibility to obtain settled status will depend on their specific circumstances."

  • An EEA Family Permit allows the family members of an EU citizen residing in the United Kingdom, to bring along family members. Note that the EEA FAmily Permit is valid only for 6 months, so after arrival in the UK you should apply for an EU Residence Card. "Family members of EU nationals who arrive in the UK (to join their EU national) before the UK leaves the EU will be able to apply for settled status after five years (including where the five years falls after our exit), irrespective of the specified date. However, those arriving after the UK’s exit from the EU will be subject to the same rules as those joining British citizens or alternatively to the post-exit immigration arrangements for EU citizens who arrive after the specified date."

Ancestral Visa

Many South Africans have a United Kingdom heritage. You may be eligible for an ancestral visa if one of or more your grandparents (excluding step grandparents) was born in the Isle of Man, Channel Islands, Britain or a British-registered airplane or ship (and you can prove it with proper birth certificates). As a South African you are automatically a citizen of the commonwealths, so that box is ticked. You must be older than 17, and planning and capable of getting a job and working in the United Kingdom, and you must apply at most 3 months before your date of travel to the United Kingdom(you can expect to get a decision at most 3 weeks thereafter), and apply from a country outside of the United Kingdom. Click here for more detail.

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