By Laura Harrison |

With June just around the corner, most of the new crop of PhD students have received their acceptances, funding (hopefully) and are starting to make plans for September.  For international students, this means applying for your Tier 4 Student Visa.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but applying for the visa is one of the most tiresome, frustrating and expensive things you will ever do.  As someone who has had to go through the process twice, once from Canada and once from within the UK, I can hopefully offer some tips and tricks that will make your experience a little easier.  I am a Canadian citizen, so I can only speak to my experience as such, but I know it is a similar process in America and most other countries as well.

In terms of the actual process, the best bit of advice I can give you is to give yourself lots of time.  Though it differs with a few countries, you generally begin with an online application form, which I believe took me about 10 hours.  You will then need to scrounge up all the appropriate documentation (which depends on your application) and make an appointment to go to the visa application centre to give your documents and biometric information.  You can apply for the visa from three months prior to your start date- and for your own ease of mind I recommend starting as early as possible within this time frame.

Another important thing to bear in mind is the sheer amount of help available to you- use it.  The visa website itself has a document that further explains many of the questions on the application.  Also check with the international office of whichever university you will be attending.  The University of Edinburgh, for example, has videos that take you through the process step-by-step.

By far the most painful aspect of the entire process is the cost.  Currently, it is £322 (approximately $500 USD) to apply for the visa.  There are also incidental fees involving ordering documents, paying for postage, and travelling to the application centre.  Since I last applied there is a new surcharge of £150/year for healthcare coverage.  Think of all of this money going out the door as your inauguration into being an international student cash cow.  It is the price we pay for all of the wonderful things, like gaining a funny accent and a lifelong appreciation of tea.  Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it except complain loudly to your family, significant other, strangers on the street, etc.



Here are some further random bits of advice:

  • Read all the instructions more carefully than you have ever read anything in your entire life. My application nearly got denied because I had the wrong type of birth certificate.  Luckily, if you do get denied you are able to apply again- but you have to pay again as well.
  • They take your actual passport for several weeks- plan all cross-border trips accordingly.
  • Keep EVERYTHING- when you first come into the UK, Border Patrol can ask to see any of the documentation from your application, and it is a lot easier if it is all already in a convenient folder in your carry-on luggage.
  • The visa is usually good for the length of your course, plus a few months after (often six). If you start a new course, as I did with the PhD, you need to apply again.  And it costs more money.

While the entire process is stressful, annoying and expensive, in the end you get to live and study in the UK- and I promise it is worth it.  If you have any further questions about the process please comment!


Laura Harrison is the Editor-in-chief of Pubs and Publications.  For more info on the organizing committee please click here.


(Image 1 ⓒ, Image 2 ⓒ