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Visitor visas: 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. Note that EU/EEA and Swiss citizens who do not have a status under the EU Settlement Scheme are considered non-visa nationals and will need to follow the process below to enter the UK as a Visitor.

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 Visitor 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 Visitor 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 travel to the UK. You cannot start your study at Exeter without it. You should familiarise yourself with our in-depth ATAS information before you apply.

    • Bank statement: 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.

Entering the UK 

If your nationality qualifies to enter via an eGate, you can join that queue and will not see an Immigration Officer to present your documents. You will automatically be classed as entering the UK as a Visitor. Some students who go through the eGate may be asked to see a UK Border Force Officer for spot checks so you should make sure you have all of the above documents ready anyway. You should retain your boarding pass and flight ticket details as you will need to provide these to the University when you register on your programme to confirm the start date of your visa. This is because you will not receive a stamp in your passport when you enter the UK.

If your nationality does not allow you to enter via the eGate or these are not available, you will need to join the queue to see a UK Border Force Officer. On reaching the UK Border Force Officer, you will need to present your passport, University of Exeter Visitor 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. Your passport will be stamped with a date stamp. 

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 Visitor 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 Visitor 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 Visitor stamp from the UK Border Force Officer as above and you will need your documents ready to show each time. You may also be questioned about your departure plans. If you qualify to enter via an eGate, you will still be entering as a Visitor each time and will need to have documents ready in case you are questioned.

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 Visitor visa in advance of travelling, or a Student visa, if you intend to travel in and out frequently, or wish to minimise the risk of refusal. 

After your studies 

Your visa should be granted for 6 months from the date that you entered the UK. You must leave the UK by the end of the 6 months. It may be possible for you to leave and re-enter as a Visitor who is not studying if you wish to do so.


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