UK visa applications for South Africans: Step-by-step guide
Our step-by-step guide to UK visa applications for South Africans contains all the information you need to know about applying for a UK visa if you're from South Africa. From choosing your visa, to getting your documents, to waiting periods and visa fees, learn all the UK visa application requirements.
This guide will help you choose the right UK visa for your circumstances and detail the next steps to start your application.
UK visa application guide contents
- Step 1: Choose your visa
- Step 2: Passport
- Step 3: Documents
- Step 4: Check visa fees
- Step 5: Apply
- Step 6: Appointments
- Step 7: Waiting period
- Step 8: Before you leave
- Step 9: Enjoy the UK
Step 1: Choose your visa
There are a host of UK visas that you can apply for. Make sure you choose the right one for your intent. Whether you want to visit, work or study in the UK, there’s a visa for you.
Visas that let you visit the UK
Standard Visitor visa
This visa is for visiting the UK temporarily. Reasons for visiting include:
- Leisure – going on holiday or visiting friends and family
- Business – conferences, research or training*
- Other – private medical treatment or other specific reason
*There’s a difference between coming to the UK on business and working in the UK. Business activities which qualify for a Standard Visitor visa include:
- Attending conferences or meetings
- Business-related training or courses
- Conducting academic research
- Accompanying students on a study programme
- Performing as an artist, musician or entertainer
- Negotiating or signing contracts and agreements
- Participating in a sporting event
- Promotional activities related to a business
- Applying for business funding
- If you’re a doctor or dentist, a clinical attachment or observer post
- Taking the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE)
You’re also allowed to study for up to 30 days (if it isn’t the main reason you’re visiting), change a civil partnership to marriage, pass through the UK on your journey to another country, or take part in an exchange programme or educational visit (provided you’re under 18).
What you can’t do on a General Visitor visa
When you’re visiting the UK on this visa, you are not allowed to do any paid or unpaid work, marry anyone, or live in the UK through frequent visitation. The General Visitor visa is for someone visiting the UK temporarily. You must intend to leave the country after your visit.
You can apply for a General Visitor visa up to three months before you go to the UK and it can take up to three weeks to grant.
You can stay in the UK for up to six months. If you’re coming for private medical treatment or you’re doing academic research, you can visit for longer – up to 11 and 12 months respectively.
Extend your stay
While you can only stay for six months per visit, you can apply for a long-term Standard Visitor visa. This lets you visit the UK for up to six months at a time, over a period of two, five, or 10 years.
Who can apply
To be eligible for a General Visitor visa, you must have enough money to support yourself and your family for the duration of your stay, pay for your return trip, and have proof of any business activities you want to do while you’re there.
Private medical treatment: You must prove you have a medical condition that needs treatment in the UK and that you have enough money to pay for your treatment. In addition, you need to prove you’re not a danger to public health.
Organ donor: You can only donate organs to genetic family members or close friends that are legally allowed to be in the UK.
When you don’t need a visa
You may be able to visit the UK without a visa for up to 6 months, depending on what passport you hold. If you’re from Australia, you can visit the UK without a visa. People with South African passports will need to get a visa before they visit.
If you are passing through the UK while en route to another country, you might need to apply for a transit visa. To get one, you need to prove that you’re going to another country and you have enough money to do so. You also need to prove that you’re only in the UK for transit.
There are two types of transit visas:
- Direct Airside Transit visa (DATV) – not going through border control
- Visitor in Transit visa – going through border control but leaving within 48 hours
If you don’t fall into one of these categories, you’ll need to apply for a Standard Visitor visa.
Marriage Visitor visa
If you want to get married in the UK and aren’t planning to live there, you can apply for a Marriage Visitor visa. This visa is valid for six months and allows you to come to the UK and get married or enter into a civil partnership. Your marriage or civil partnership needs to take place at a licensed venue.
Parent of Tier 4 child visa
This visa is for parents visiting their child who is (or will be) studying at a UK school. Your child needs to be attending an independent fee-paying day school, and you’re allowed to visit them for either six or 12 months at a time.
Visas that let you work in the UK
Tier 5 visas – Temporary worker
This visa is for short-term work in the UK and covers a variety of categories:
- Charity worker
- Creative and sporting
- Government authorised exchange
- International agreement
- Religious worker
- Youth Mobility Scheme
Charity Worker visa
This Tier 5 visa category is for unpaid work on a volunteer basis for a charity. You need a certificate of sponsorship from your employer before you go to the UK. You’re allowed to stay for up to 12 months.
Creative and Sporting visa
If you’re coming to the UK as a creative worker or sportsperson, this visa might be for you. A creative worker is well-known internationally and can make a unique contribution to the UK labour market. A sportsperson will need to be at the highest level of their sport.
You’ll need a certificate of sponsorship from your employer before you can apply. This visa will allow you to stay for up to 12 months.
Government Authorised Exchange visa
If you want to do training, take part in a government language programme, do work experience, conduct research or fulfil an approved fellowship, then this visa could be your category. The common thread is that your work sponsor needs to be a government department or agency, a higher education institution or an approved exchange scheme organisation.
Depending on what you’re applying for, you can stay in the UK for 12 or 24 months.
International Agreement visa
This visa is for work surrounding international law, such as working for a foreign government or in a diplomatic house.
Religious Worker visa
This visa covers religious work, such as working in a religious order or preaching. Your visa will be valid for up to 24 months.
Youth Mobility visa
If you’re aged 18 to 30 and want to live and work in the UK for up to two years, this might be the right visa for you. You’ll need to have a form of British nationality or be from one of these countries: Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea or Taiwan.
Tier 2 visas – Long-term work
This visa is for longer periods of time spent working in the UK. There are four broad categories of Tier 2 visas:
- General work visa
- Intra-company transfer visa
- Minister of Religion visa
- Sportsperson visa
General work visa
If you want to work in the UK for a long time, you’ll need to apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa. You’re eligible if you’ve been offered a skilled job in the UK and you’re from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland. Your UK employer needs to be a licensed sponsor that can prove you’ve got the skills for the job.
The maximum time this visa is valid for is five years and 14 days.
Intra-company Transfer visa
The Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) visa allows employees to transfer from a company’s overseas branch to its UK branch. As with the general work visa, you need to have a certificate of sponsorship from a licensed sponsor to prove you can do the job. This visa further branches into two sub-types:
- Long-term staff – previous experience working for the company at a non-UK branch
- Graduate trainee – recent graduate training programmes for specialist roles
As a graduate trainee, the maximum time you can stay in the UK on this visa is 12 months. Long-term staff fall into two earning brackets which dictate the length of your visa – it’s possible to stay in the UK for up to nine years.
Minister of Religion visa
If you’re a minister, missionary or member of a religious order, you can apply for a Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) visa. You need to be offered a position in your field by a licensed sponsor, and you can stay on this visa for up to three years and one month.
There are quite a few requirements for this visa which all need to be fulfilled. You must be an elite sportsperson or qualified coach who is at the highest international level of your profession. The governing body of your sport (that is also your sponsor) must endorse your application. Your employment in the UK will develop your sport in the country at the highest level.
On a Tier 2 (Sportsperson) visa, you can stay in the UK for up to three years.
All Tier 2 visas, except the Intra-company Transfer visa, have an English language requirement. You need to prove your knowledge of English by passing an approved language test or having a qualification that was taught in English from a recognised institution. Some countries (where English is the official language) are exempt from this requirement.
Tier 1 visas – Innovators, start-ups and talent
The Tier 1 visa is specifically for innovators, start-ups, investors and exceptional talent.
If you’ve got a business idea and you want to set up in the UK, the Innovator visa could be for you. You must get your business or idea endorsed by one of the specific approved organisations to qualify. You’ll be allowed to set up and work for a business and bring your family members with you.
If you’re setting up a new business, you’ll need £50,000, but if your business has already been started on another visa you won’t need these funds. In addition, you will have to prove your knowledge of English.
You’re allowed to come to the UK for up to three years and extend for three years at a time thereafter.
The Start-up visa is similar to an Innovator visa but has a wider eligibility. The endorsement organisation list extends to UK higher education institutions, and you don’t have to have any start-up funds.
You can stay in the UK for two years with this visa, and you won’t be able to extend it.
As with the Innovator visa, you’ll have to prove your knowledge of English.
Applicants for a Tier 1 (Investor) visa must invest at least £2,000,000 in the UK. This can be done through UK government bonds, share capital or loan capital. You aren’t allowed to use the money to invest in property investment, management or development companies. You also can’t work as a sports coach or professional sportsman.
This visa lets you come to the UK for a maximum of three years and four months, but you can extend it for another two years.
Exceptional talent visa
The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa is for people who are endorsed as either a recognised leader (with exceptional talent) or an emerging leader (with exceptional promise). There is also a requirement that you fall into one of the following fields:
- Digital technology
- The arts
- Film and television
There are two stages to the application – application for endorsement from the Home Office, and application for the visa.
If granted, you can stay in the UK for five years and four months if you apply from outside the UK, and five years if you apply from within the UK.
Visas to study in the UK
Short-term study visa
You can apply for this visa if you’re doing a short course or training in the UK. You’re also allowed to conduct research as part of your degree course if you are studying overseas. You cannot study at a state-funded school with this visa.
If you’re 16 or over, you can stay in the UK for up to six months for any short course or research. If you take an English language course, you can stay up to 11 months.
Tier 4 visas
There are two types of Tier 4 visas for children under 18 who are going to be studying in the UK.
General student visa
If you’re 16 years or older and you’ve been offered a place to study at a university or college, you can apply for a Tier 4 (General) student visa. You’ll need to be able to speak, read, write and understand English, as well as have enough money to pay for your course and support yourself.
The time you’re allowed to stay in the UK depends on the length of your course.
Child student visa
The Tier 4 (Child) student visa is for children aged four to 17 going to study at an independent UK school. The child must have a place at the school, have parental or guardian consent and enough money to pay for the course fees and living costs.
As with the general student visa, the length of stay depends on the duration of your course.
If you’re on a points-based system (PBS) visa, your family can apply to join you as dependants. This would apply when you’re working or studying in the UK under a Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 4 or Tier 5 visa.
You’ll need to provide proof that you will support them while in the UK, unless your sponsor is licensed and fully approved or provides financial support for your dependants themselves.
PBS dependants’ time in the UK is linked to your own visa duration. They will be allowed to work – subject to a few exceptions.
Family visas for the UK
To live with a family member already in the UK, you’ll need to apply for a family visa (sometimes referred to as “family of a settled person visa”). This covers a broad range of categories:
- Spouse or partner
- Fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner
- Relative who will give you long-term care
In all these cases, your relative in the UK needs to be any of following:
- A British citizen
- Permanently settled in the UK (indefinite leave to remain or proof of permanent residence)
- A refugee or under humanitarian protection
You won’t be able to get a family visa if your relative is in the UK on a work or student visa. You’ll have to apply as a dependant instead. If you’re in the UK on a visitor visa, you’ll first have to leave the country and only then apply for your family visa.
Once approved, family visas let you live, work and study in the UK.
Spouse visa or partner visa
To apply for a family visa as someone’s spouse or partner, you both need to be over 18 and intend to live together permanently in the UK. You must prove you’re already in a marriage or civil partnership that’s recognised in the UK, or you’ve been in a relationship for at least two years when you apply. This visa is valid for two and a half years, after which you need to apply to extend it.
If you’re not married yet, you can apply for a six-month family visa as a fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner. You must then get married or enter into a civil partnership within those six months.
Other requirements are a good English knowledge and enough finances to support yourself and any dependants.
UK visas for children
Children born in the UK get the same status as their parent.
For those born outside the UK, two different categories apply.
You must not be married or in a civil partnership, you must be financially supported, and you can’t be living an independent life*. Your parent who is also applying or has applied for a visa needs to be solely responsible for you or be the partner to your other parent who is responsible.
You can either apply by yourself or be included as a dependant on your parent’s application. You can only apply if you had permission to stay in the UK on a family visa before you were 18, and you aren’t living an independent life*.
*An independent life is someone who has left home and is supporting themselves, is married or has children.
If your child is under 18 on the date you apply for a family visa, you can come to live with them in the UK. They’ll need to be a British citizen, settled in the UK or have lived there for a continuous seven years. You will need to be the one responsible for your child, and if you share responsibility, the other parent must not be your partner and must be settled in the UK or a British citizen.
You must give proof that you’re caring for your child and plan to continue looking after them. This visa is valid for two and a half years, after which you’ll need to apply to extend it.
If you need long-term care from a relative living in the UK, you can apply for a family visa. You have to prove you need the care, and that you can’t get it or it’s too expensive in your country. Your parent, child, sibling or grandparent will need to support and accommodate you for at least five years. You must also be over 18.
This visa is valid indefinitely if you’re joining an already-settled family member.
Private life application
If you’re already living in the UK and have been there for at least seven years, you may qualify for a visa based on your private life.
- Under 18 – lived in the UK for seven years and it’s unreasonable for you to leave
- 18-24 – lived in the UK for over half your life
- Over 18 – spent less than 20 years in the UK and couldn’t move due to living difficulties e.g. language
- Over 25 – been in the UK for 30 continuous years
English language requirement
Partners, spouses and parents applying for family visas need knowledge of the English language. You can either take an approved English test or hold an academic qualification that was completed in English and equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree.
There are certain exclusions to this requirement. For example, if you’re over 65 or have a physical or mental condition that prevents you satisfying the requirement. There’s also a list of countries that don’t have to prove their knowledge.
Visas through ancestry
A UK Ancestry visa is highly sought-after. If you’re eligible for one, you can live, work, study and bring family over for five years, after which you can apply to settle in the UK forever. To get an Ancestry visa, you need to be:
- A Commonwealth citizen
- Applying from outside the UK
- Able to prove one of your grandparents was born in the UK
- Planning to work in the UK
There are other eligibility requirements, including being 17 years or older and having enough money to support and accommodate yourself.
You’ll need to provide several documents to support your application such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, evidence of a plan to work in the UK, passport and bank statements. The requirements change depending on your circumstances.
Routes to British citizenship
If you think you might be British, we can help you with your application. British nationality law is complex and there are many ways to complete an application successfully. Here are some of the ways you can become a British citizen.
Citizenship by naturalisation
If you’ve been living in the UK for five years or more, you can apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR). After that, you’ll need to hold the status for 12 months before you can apply to become a citizen.
If you’re married to a British citizen, you need to have lived in the UK for three years. You’ll then be able to apply for ILR and won’t have to wait the further 12 months – you can attain citizenship immediately.
Citizenship by descent
If you were born in or outside the UK to a British parent, you’re either automatically a British citizen, or you can register as one. There are a few different processes depending on when you were born.
Citizenship by double descent
This route is through your grandparent. The process starts to get a bit more complex here as there are specific requirements to be eligible. In some cases, it’s even possible to claim citizenship through a great grandparent, although this is rare. Every citizenship case is unique, so we highly recommend speaking to one of our immigration consultants.
Other routes to citizenship
There are numerous other ways to claim British citizenship. Some people of Indian, African and Arabian ancestry may have ties to Britain that allow a claim. You can also claim through crown service, through an unmarried father and if you’re stateless.
Step 2: Get your passport in order
If you’ve already got a passport, you’ll need to check a couple of things:
- It needs to be valid for the duration of your stay in the UK
- You need at least two blank facing pages for your visa and stamps
If your passport is expired (or about to expire), you’ll need to either renew it or apply for a new one, depending on your nationality.
When you apply for a new passport, you’ll have to do it in person so your identity can be verified. Processing times can vary – expect to wait around seven to 21 working days. Passports are generally valid for 10 years.
When can’t you apply for a UK visa?
If you’re already in the UK, you won’t be able to apply for a visa. You may be able to switch to a different visa or extend your stay while in the UK.
Step 3: Get all your documents
The documents you need depend on the visa you apply for. Research your specific application to check you've got everything in order.
For assistance obtaining any documents you may need for your application, visit our British passport services page.
TB test results
If you're applying for a UK visa valid for longer than six months, you may required to provide tuberculosis (TB) results depending on your country of residence.
Why it’s so important to be tested at a UKVI-approved clinic
If you get tested at a clinic that has not been approved by the UKVI, your application will be denied and you will not be allowed to enter the country on a valid UK visa. It is vital that you contact one of the three clinics below and make them aware that you are undergoing the TB test for a UK visa application.
Before the screening, make sure you bring your passport, two passport sized photos and proof of payment of your test fee (printed).
Are there any exceptions to this rule?
If you’re planning to stay in the UK for less than six months on a UK visitor visa, you don’t need to get tested for TB.
If you are applying on behalf of a child/children under the age of eleven, they still need to attend the appointment but will most likely not have to undergo a chest x-ray.
Approved clinics in South Africa
- INTERCARE Medical and Dental Centre
- 1st Floor, Parow Shopping Centre, Corner of Voortrekker and De La Rey Roads, Parow, 7500, Cape Town
- Tel: +27(0)21 929 5500 or +27(0)71 6070 783 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Life Entabeni Hospital
- Ear, Nose and Throat Centre
- 25 Glenwood Drive , Glenwood, Durban, 4001
- Tel: +27 31 261 8291 Fax: +27 31 261 4644 Email: email@example.com
- IOM Office
- Hatfield Corner of Arcadia and Festival Street
- The Hatmed Clinic (Dr Leonie Sholtz & Partners) – x-rays
- 454 Hilda Street, Hatfield, 0083, Pretoria
- Tel: +27(0)12 342 2789 or +27(0)12 423 9612 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Please note, if you live in Swaziland and Lesotho, you can do your screenings at the clinics above for your UK visa application.
Step 5: Apply
We always recommend letting an experienced immigration consultant help with your visa application. From start to finish, they will be with you at every step. No visa application process is the same, and your requirements will vary according your circumstances.
Once they know what you’re looking for, they will talk you through the process and provide you with all the information you need to ensure a smooth application.
They will also help you get all your documents in order and submit the application on your behalf.
We offer a no visa, no fee service. Contact us today to get started.
Step 6: Attend appointments
As part of your application, you may be required to attend an appointment to capture your biometric information – photos and fingerprints. You’ll need to check what the process is in your country or speak to an advisor if you’re unsure. If we handle your visa application, we’ll let you know well in advance about any appointments you’ll need to attend.
Step 7: The waiting period
After you’ve made your application, all that’s left is to wait for a decision. There are no definite waiting periods, but it’s generally a couple of weeks. Here’s how long it can take per visa category:
Length (working days)
Long-term visit (more than six months)
General visit (less than six months)
Business visit (less than six months)
Family visit (less than six months)
Transit (less than six months)
Tier 2 visas
Other non-settlement visas
Step 8: Before you leave
Aside from your visa, there are a few other things you need to consider before you set off to the UK. Of course, you’re going to need to book flights to get there. You’ll also need to plan for any costs associated with staying there, such as accommodation, food and transport. If you’re moving to the UK, we’ve put together a useful guide on all the costs associated with your trip.
Step 9: Enjoy the UK
Whatever your reason for going to the UK, we know you’ll have a great time. We’ve been helping people move there for over 20 years. Our clients have had some amazing experiences and success stories. Let us help you get settled in the UK. From opening a UK bank account and getting your NI number, to all-in-one relocation packages - we’re there for you at every step.
Get started on the right foot with your new life in the UK.
Get in touch with us to start your visa application process. Email email@example.com or call +27 (0) 21 657 2180 to get started.
We are a professional services company that specialises in cross-border financial and immigration advice and solutions.
Our teams in the UK, South Africa and Australia can ensure that when you decide to move overseas, invest offshore or expand your business internationally, you'll do so with the backing of experienced local experts.
Step 4: Check your visa fees
Different visas have different fees. Make sure you’re prepared by checking how much yours will set you back. Here are some common visas and their respective government application fees*:
Direct Airside Transit (DATV)
Standard Visitor visa
Valid for six months
Valid for two years
Valid for five year
Valid for 10 years
Short-term study visa
Up to six months
Up to 11 months
Tier 4 (General) student visa
Tier 1 (exceptional talent)
Stage 1 (endorsement)
Stage 2 (visa application)
Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer)
Three years or less
Over three years
*These fees are charged by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and exclude any fees charged by us.