A complete guide to UK visas for South Africans

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London and Big Ben

Guide to UK visas for South Africans

The UK offers many visas for those wanting to make the move. Knowing which visa to apply for is the first step in ensuring that your application will be successful.

Why move to the UK

The UK has always been a popular destination for South Africans. It offers amazing work opportunities and boasts some of the world’s best schools and universities, healthcare facilities and an all-round high quality of life. 

Types of UK visas

The UK offers visas that allow you to visit, work, join a partner or spouse in the UK, conduct business and study. As a former Commonwealth country, many South Africans may have an ancestral connection to the UK, which means that they may be eligible for an Ancestry visa. Each visa has its own requirements that must be met before the visa can be granted.

Working in the UK

Tier 2 visa

While there are many UK visas that allow you to work in the UK, most people will apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa. Before applying for this visa, you’ll need to have received an offer for a skilled job in the UK from a UK-based employer. Your employer needs to be a licensed sponsor who must show that there isn’t a suitably qualified British citizen who can fill the role.

The Tier 2 visa is valid for five years and 14 days. You may also apply to extend this visa for another five years, as long as your total stay is not more than six years.

Intra-company transfer

The Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) visa lets you transfer to your employer’s UK-based branch. Your employer must be a licensed sponsor and have offered you a job at the UK branch. They will also need to show that you can do the job they’re hiring you for.

Joining a family member in the UK

To join a family member, spouse or partner in the UK, you’ll need to apply for a family visa, also referred to as a “family of a settled person” visa. You require this visa to live with your:

  • Spouse, partner, fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner
  • Child
  • Parent
  • Relative who’ll provide long-term care for you

Spouse visa or partner visa

To apply for a family visa as a spouse or partner, you and your partner must be over 18 and intend to live together permanently in the UK. You will need to prove that you are already in a marriage or civil partnership that is recognised in the UK, or in a relationship of at least two years when you apply.

A spouse visa is valid for two and half years and can be extended for a further two and a half years.

Dependant visa for children

You can bring your child (under 18 years) to the UK if you are a British citizen, an EU national or have the right to live and work in the UK.

Children born in the UK get the same status as their parents. If your child was born outside the UK, two categories apply:

Under 18

To qualify for a visa, your child must not be married or in a civil partnership. They must be financially supported; they cannot be living an independent life*. As the parent applying on behalf of their child, you either need to be solely responsible for your child or be the partner of the parent who is responsible.

Over 18

A person who is over the age of 18 can only apply if they had permission to stay in the UK on a family visa prior to turning 18. They can either apply on their own or be included as a dependant on their parent’s application.

*An independent life refers to someone who has left home and is supporting themselves, is married or has children.

Ancestry visa

This is a highly sought-after visa that is available to those with a family connection to the UK. An ancestral visa allows you to live and work in the UK for up to five years. Once you’ve completed your five years on this visa, you may be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain, which can lead to British citizenship.

Who’s eligible for the Ancestry visa?

You can apply for this visa if all the following apply:

  • One of your grandparents was born in the UK
  • You are a Commonwealth citizen
  • You intend to work in the UK

Studying in the UK

There are two types of student visas that allow you to get an education in the UK.

Tier 4 (General) student visa

This visa allows international students to study at a UK university or college. The Tier 4 student visa is points-based –  you will need at least 40 points to be eligible to apply. Points are given for the following:

  • Confirmation of study
  • Proof of sufficient funds to pay for the course and support yourself

Tier 4 (Child) student visa

This visa allows a child to study full-time at any school in the UK. Before you can apply, you must:

  • Have a place on a course
  • Have the consent of your parent or guardian
  • Have enough money to cover your course fees and to support yourself

The Tier 4 (Child) visa has strict stipulations regarding what you can and cannot do. It’s best to consult an experienced UK immigration advisor before applying.

UK visa costs and processing times 


Processing time


Tier 2 visa

15 days


Family visa

 15 days


Ancestry visa

15 days


Tier 4 visa

 15 days


The English language test

If you are a partner, spouse or parent applying for a visa to join a family member in the UK, you’re going to need to take the English language test. Those applying for ILR also need to take the test.


The test serves as proof that you’re able to adequately understand and communicate in English. If you hold an academic qualification that was completed in English and is equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree, you do not have to take the test.

Get tested for TB

South Africans applying for a visa that’s valid for longer than six months are required to take a tuberculosis test. You must be tested at a UKVI-approved clinic or your visa will be denied. There are clinics in Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria.

Indefinite leave to remain

Indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or UK permanent residency lets you live and work in the UK for an indefinite period. You can apply for this status if one of the following circumstances apply:


  • After living in the UK for five continuous years on a spouse visa
  • After spending five years in the UK on an Ancestry visa
  • After being in the UK on a work visa for five years
  • After legally staying 10 continuous years in the UK
  • After spending five continuous years in the UK as an investor
  • After spending five continuous years in the UK as a dependant (married partner, unmarried partner, child under 18 or under 18 when first applied) under the points-based system

Citizenship through naturalisation

After obtaining ILR and having spent the required amount of time in the UK, you may be eligible to apply for British citizenship. The process of becoming a UK citizen through residency is called naturalisation. To be eligible you must:

  • Be over 18 years old
  • Be of good character
  • Have passed the English language test
  • Have passed the Life in the UK test
  • Intend to continue to live in the UK
  • Have lived in the UK for five years before you apply to naturalise
  • Have spent enough time in the UK over those five years
  • Have held indefinite leave to remain or permanent residence for 12 months before you apply to naturalise

Whether you’re heading to the UK to study, work, join a family member or with the intention of becoming a British citizen – there isn’t a better destination to start a new life.

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