How long can an American stay in the UK without a visa?

Damon Culbert
5th December 2018

Because Americans are known as non-visa nationals in the UK, American citizens are able to visit for up to six months without a visa.

American citizens can visit:

  • As tourists;
  • to see their families;
  • to receive private medical treatment;
  • to study; and
  • for some business or academic activities.

Each of these reasons for visiting has its own regulations which you should be aware of before you book your flights.

Tourists

Holidays make up 39% of all visits to the UK from the USA. Whether it’s to experience a traditional British pub or to travel through cities full of culture up and down the country, Americans love visiting the UK.

Almost 4 million US citizens visited last year, a 13% increase from the year before. The figures for 2018 will most likely be higher as visitors from the US flocked to Britain this year to take advantage of a weaker pound due to Brexit.

While you will not need a visa before you visit the UK for less than six months, it is highly advised that you bring documentation similar to that which you would provide for a visa application. This can include evidence of your flight home and the amount of savings you have to support yourself.

Americans are very common travellers to the UK, but sometimes UK border staff may doubt your intentions in the country and detain you if they feel you pose a risk of absconding. Find out what to do if you’re refused entry to the UK in our complete guide.

Visiting family

Visiting family is the second most common reason for coming to the UK. Americans visiting family made up almost 10% of all family visits last year.

When visiting your family for six months or less, you will be able to freely enter without a visa. However, as with tourist visits you will need to prove you intend to leave before six months is up. This can be more complicated for those visiting family – the Family Visit Visa for visa nationals has one of the highest refusal rates overall.

The UK authorities will need to be sure that you intend to leave once your visit is over. This may simply be evidenced with proof of financial or family commitments back in the States. Make sure you’re prepared to answer any questions border staff might as you about your visit.

Private operations

While the UK has one of the largest national health services in the world, this is not available to visitors. If you are intending to receive medical treatment in the UK, you will need to have paid for it through a private company.

It is advised to have evidence of your treatment ready to show to the border authority and evidence such as a return flight is always useful.

Should you need to stay in the UK for longer than six months for treatment, you may need to apply for a Visit Visa. You can be granted this type of visa for up to 11 months. You will find more information on the gov website for Visitor Visas for medical treatment.

Study

As long as your study course is less than six months, you will not need to apply for a visa to come to the UK from the US.

Make sure you bring evidence that you have been accepted onto a six-month course to ensure staff at the border know when you intend to leave.

If you’re looking to study for longer than six months but less than 12 months on an English Language course, you may be able to apply for the Short-term Study Visa.

For anything longer than a year, you’ll need a Tier 4 Study Visa.

Business and academic activities

Those from the US can also visit the UK for up to six months to undertake a limited number of activities in business or academia.

Business activities you can be involved in include:

  • Attending conferences, meetings or specified training;
  • taking part at sports-related events;
  • performing as an artist, entertainer or musician; and
  • doing academic research or accompanying students on a study abroad programme.

Academic activities include:

  • Giving guest lectures at higher education institutions;
  • advocating in legal proceedings; and
  • taking part in arts, entertainment or sporting events.

You should have physical proof of these engagements for when you enter the UK so you aren’t held up at the border.

While Americans visiting the UK for less than six months are very rarely detained at the border, it is always best to make sure you are able to prove why you are coming to the country and that you don’t plan to stay any longer than you’re allowed.

If you need to come to the UK for any longer than six months, you will need to identify the relevant visa type for your travels and apply before you can enter the UK.

For more advice, or to find out more about your options, call IAS now on 0333 363 8577 or use our online contact form.