The rules and regulations around entry to the United Kingdom for foreign nationals (including America citizens) are governed by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). Unlike the United States of America, the United Kingdom does not operate a ‘visa waiver programme’ and as such everyone who enters the UK (and who doesn’t have right of abode in the UK) will require a visa in order to stay in the UK.

The United States however is included as one of the UK’s ‘designated countries’ and as such in many instances American citizens coming to the UK in a tourist or business visitor capacity will simply be able to apply for a visa upon arrival in the UK.

The UK has very precise definitions of tourism and business. American citizens seeking to enter the UK in any other capacity such as an intern (paid or unpaid), student, prospective student, spouse/fiancé/partner, parent, charity worker/religious worker, or American citizens coming to the United Kingdom to work (either paid or unpaid) or to marry, and all dependents in the preceding categories, are required to obtain UK entry clearance prior to entering the UK regardless of the duration of their stay.

Entry to the UK as a Tourist

UK Tourist Visas allow American citizens to enter the UK without the need for some of the more formal routes of immigration. Tourist visas are valid for any period of time up to a maximum of 6 months. To visit the UK in a tourist capacity you must be able to show that:

  • you intend to visit the UK for no more than six months; and
  • you have enough money to support yourself and live in the UK without working or needing any help from public 1funds.

Entry to the UK as Business Visitor

American business people seeking to come to the UK for short periods of time in order to carry out business related activities may be eligible to enter the UK as a Business Visitor. American citizens seeking to visit the UK as a Business Visitor should:

  • be based abroad and not intend to transfer their base to the UK, even temporarily; and
  • receive their salary from abroad, although it is acceptable for them to receive reasonable travel and subsistence expenses whilst in the UK; and
  • not be involved in selling goods or services direct to members of the public; and
  • not be replacing someone in the UK, including for temporary leave periods; and
  • not be coming to the UK to do work placements or internships.

Entry to the UK for the Purpose of Marriage/Civil Partnership

If you are entering the UK for the purpose of marriage or forming a civil partnership, please see the section of our site titled ‘UK Marriage and Civil Partnerships for American citizens’.

Entry to the UK for the Purpose of Employment and Work

If you are entering the UK for the purpose of seeking employment or taking up work in the UK, you can find out more by visiting the section of our site titled ‘Working in the UK as an American citizen’.

Entry to the UK for the purpose of study

If you are entering the UK for the purpose of study please see the section of our site titled ‘Studying in the UK as an American citizen’.

Routes for Settlement in the UK as a US Citizen

There are several UK visa categories that can lead to settlement in the UK for an American citizen. These include:

  • Unmarried partner visa
  • Spouse visa
  • Tier 1 highly skilled migrant visa
  • Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa
  • Tier 1 Investor visa
  • Tier 2 UK work permit
  • Tier 2 intra-company transfer

All of the above visa categories can lead towards Indefinite Leave to Remain - an immigration status that is granted to a person who does not hold right of abode in the UK, but who has been admitted to the UK without any time limit on their stay and who is free to seek and take up employment or study in the UK without any restrictions.

Identify Cards for American citizens

Under the provisions of the Immigration (Biometric Registration) Regulations 2008, the UKBA also has begun mandatory issuance of identity cards to American citizens who apply for an extension of their stay in the United Kingdom as students or as the husbands, wives, or partners of permanent residents. Detailed information regarding UK identity cards for foreign nationals is available here.