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Short-term study: Applying at the airport

This option is only available to ‘non-visa nationals’ whose nationalities are not listed on the Appendix 2: Visa Nationals list. If your nationality is on that list, you must apply for your visa in advance. 

Non-visa nationals do still need a visa for the UK, it can just be requested at the border if your stay in the UK will be for less than 6 months. Most non-visa nationals opt for the convenience of applying for Short-term study visas on entry to the UK, but there are some disadvantages to this route which are explained below. Non-visa nationals can apply in advance instead and you may wish to do so. 

Before you travel 

If you are opting to apply at the airport, you do not need to make any sort of application in advance. You will need the following documents in your hand luggage: 

  • University of Exeter Short-term study visa letter: This will be provided by the Study Abroad team, the Doctoral College, or the Admissions Office, depending on what course you will be studying. 

  • ATAS certificate: Only required for certain science-related postgraduate subject areas – it will be stated on your offer letter. You must apply for your ATAS certificate at least 4-6 weeks before you plan to apply for your visa. The certificate will be emailed to you and must be printed and included with your visa application. Further information about the scheme is available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.  

  • Bank statement (optional): We recommend that you pack a recent bank statement or other proof of funding (for example a letter confirming that your expenses are covered) in case the Border Force Officer wishes to see it, but it is rare that this is requested.


  • 'Request for a passport stamp' form (optional): You can show this ‘request for a passport stamp’ form on your phone or print it to help ensure you get sent to the correct queue (see below about entering the UK via the correct queue).

Entering the UK 

Join the queue at passport control to speak to a UK Border Force officer.  You may see signs stating your nationality can use the eGate queue. You must not do this as these are only suitable for people entering as visitors or with visas that have already been granted. If you accidentally go through the eGate, you must immediately go back and speak to a UK Border Force Officer, requesting entry as a Short-term student. 

On reaching the UK Border Force Officer, you will need to present your passport, Short-term study visa letter and ATAS certificate (if required, see above).  If they wish to see proof of your finances, they will request it now as well. 

You should explain clearly that you wish to enter as a Short-term study student rather than a standard visitor.   

Your passport will be stamped with a date stamp and the UK Border Force Officer may add in pen ‘Study/Student or STS’ to indicate the type of permission. If you do not receive this stamp (for example because you have entered through the eGate), you will only be allowed to register at the University for 30 days and will then have to leave the UK and re-enter, seeing a UK Border Force Officer to stamp you in. 

Travelling via the Republic of Ireland e.g. Dublin 

If you are travelling via the Republic of Ireland, you may want to consider applying for a Short-term study visa in advance. The Republic of Ireland is part of the Common Travel Area with the UK (note that Northern Ireland is separate and is a part of the UK).  If you enter the UK via Ireland, you will receive an Irish immigration entry stamp and you are unlikely to go through immigration control again between Ireland and the UK.  

Your Irish entry stamp is valid only for 3 months, and you may need to leave the UK and re-enter at a UK port if you need more time for your studies. 

At the University 

On arrival at the University, you will need to present your passport and visa stamp to International Student Clearance before you can register. You will receive instructions on where to go for this before you arrive. 

Travelling during your studies 

The Short-term study stamp is your visa and it is considered to be for single entry. If you leave the UK and then return, you will need to request a new Short-term study stamp from the UK Border Force Officer as above. You must not enter via the eGate at any point and you will need your documents ready to show each time. You may also be questioned about your departure plans. 

The Immigration Rules state that you cannot make 'frequent or successive' visits to the UK. Multiple entries with entry stamp visas risk refusal if considered too frequent. In a worst-case scenario, you could be denied entry to the UK and sent back to the country you have travelled from immediately. Student experience suggests that it is acceptable to have a weekend or short holiday home, or to Europe, if you leave and return before the end date of your course.  

Our recommendation is that you obtain a Short-term study visa in advance of travelling, or a Tier 4 visa, if you intend to travel in and out frequently, or wish to minimise the risk of refusal. 

After your studies 

Regardless of the end date of your Short-term study stamp, you must leave the UK within 30 days of the end date of your course. If you wish to re-enter the UK for any reason after your course has finished, you will need to do so as a Standard Visitor, and must meet all of the requirements for that category. 


Navigating the Short-term study rules can be complicated. If you have any questions, contact the trained immigration advisers in International Student Support.