Making a Tier 4 (General) application outside the UK

Last modified: 03 January 2016

This information is based on the Immigration Rules, and on the policy guidance and application forms issued by the Home Office for Tier 4 (General) applications. We update it as soon as possible after any changes. However, if you have printed this webpage, we advise that you check on our website that it is still the most recent version.

Do I need a visa?

Last modified: 31 August 2016

If you are a EEA or Swiss national then you do not need permission to enter the UK or to study here.

If you already have immigration permission to come to (or remain in) the UK in a non-study related category this might allow you to study. However, some immigration categories prohibit study, you should therefore seek advice from an adviser at the institution where you intend to study.

If you have already been accepted onto a course of study there are two types of visa for studying in the UK: short-term student visas and Tier 4 student visas.

If you are coming to the UK to study for a maximum of six months (or 11 months if you will be studying English language), you may be able to enter as a 'short-term student'. For some nationalities ("non-visa nationals") who come to the UK as a 'short-term student', it is not compulsory to obtain entry clearance before travelling to the UK as long as your course is less than six months long.

However, if you choose to come as a short-term student you will be much more restricted than if you come as a Tier 4 student. You will not be allowed to do any work or work placement (even if it is part of a course or unpaid work). You will also not be allowed to apply to extend your stay in the UK.

See our information about Short-term student visas for further details.

If the short-term student route is not appropriate for you then you must obtain entry clearance as a Tier 4 student before travelling to the UK, regardless of your nationality.

Where can I study with a Tier 4 visa?

Last modified: 18 July 2016

As a Tier 4 (General) student, you can study at any school, college or university which has been granted a Tier 4 (General) sponsor licence by the Home Office. Only institutions with a Tier 4 sponsor licence can issue you with a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS),which you must obtain in order to apply for immigration permission as a Tier 4 (General) student.

Each institution granted a Tier 4 sponsor licence will be given a sponsor rating, either: Tier 4 Sponsor; or Probationary Sponsor. The courses that an institution can offer to international students will depend upon their Tier 4 sponsor rating. Institutions with Tier 4 Sponsor status can offer a wider range of courses than Probationary Sponsors.

You can check which institutions have a Tier 4 (General) or (Child) sponsor licence, and how they are rated, on the Register of Tier 4 Sponsors (approved education providers).

I already have student immigration permission for the UK that is still valid. Do I really need to apply again?

Last modified: 18 July 2016

If you have a Tier 4 (General) visa that is still valid, you can use it to continue your full-time studies with the same Tier 4 sponsor if:

  • they still have a Tier 4 sponsor licence; and
  • they are happy to continue sponsoring you under Tier 4; and
  • they have not reported you to the Home Office as having finished your course, interrupted your studies, or having not enrolled. If they have reported you, it is likely that your visa has been "curtailed" and is no longer valid.

We strongly advise that you check these three issues specifically with your Tier 4 sponsor before you attempt to enter the UK using Tier 4 immigration permission issued for previous study.  You should also check with your Tier 4 sponsor if you are intending to study a different course from the one that your visa was granted for, since this may not be permitted, depending upon when you applied for your current Tier 4 visa.

Even if your existing immigration permission does allow you to enter the UK to continue your studies, it is often more straightforward to apply for a new Tier 4 visa for your new course before you travel to the UK. Your situation and intentions will be clearer to UK Border Force officials, and you will not need to make a leave to remain application to continue your course once you are back in the UK, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

If you are progressing to a new course with a new Tier 4 sponsor, and you are travelling outside the UK before you start the new course, it is safest to apply for and obtain your new Tier 4 leave before you leave the UK, or if you are visiting your home country, to apply for a new Tier 4 visa while you are there. You can use the Home Office's visa processing times tool to check current processing times in your home country.

If you cannot do either of the above, the Home Office has told us that you will be allowed to re-enter the UK using your current visa as long as you have a CAS from your new sponsor institution, and they have Tier 4 Sponsor status on the Home Office's Register of Tier 4 Sponsors. If you rely on this provision, it is important that you carry a print-out of your CAS statement in your hand luggage, so you can show it to the border force officer if they ask for evidence of your studies. You might also want to carry with you the relevant page of the Home Office's Register of Sponsors showing that your new institution has Tier 4 Sponsor status.

Under eighteens

Last modified: 18 July 2016

If you are less than 16 years old, you can apply for permission to study at an Independent fee-paying school, but you must apply as a Tier 4 (Child) student, not under Tier 4 (General). Ask your school for information about how to apply.

If you are 16 or 17 years old, you can sometimes choose to apply either as a Tier 4 (Child) student or as a Tier 4 (General) student.  This will depend on:

  • the type of institution (school, college or university) where you intend to study - for CAS assigned after 9 August 2015, Tier 4 (Child) students can only study at Independent Schools.
  • the type of Tier 4 sponsor licence the institution holds: a Tier 4 (Child) licence or a Tier 4 (General) licence, (or both)
  • the level of the course.

If you are applying as a Tier 4 (Child), speak to your institution directly.

If you want to study a short course in the UK, you may be eligible to apply to enter the UK as a 'short-term student' (or as a 'short-term student (child)' if you are under 18 years old). For immigration purposes, a short course is any course which lasts no more than six months or an English language course which lasts no more than 11 months. See Short-term student visas for more information.

Before you start

Last modified: 12 October 2016

If you want to come to the UK to study, you need to apply to the UK immigration authorities under Tier 4 of the Points Based System (PBS). Usually, you must meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules which are in force on the date that you submit your immigration application. The information in this section is based on the most recent changes to the Immigration Rules which came into force on 6 April 2016.

If you want to make a successful Tier 4 (General) application, it is extremely important that:

  • before you apply, you read and understand the Home Office's Tier 4 policy guidance - this information is based on version 07/16 of the policy guidance, to be used for all Tier 4 applications on or after 25 July 2016.
  • you check that you meet all the requirements before you apply
  • you provide evidence in the exact format required by the Home Office, as explained in the policy guidance and on the application form
  • you complete all sections of the form, fully and accurately
  • you allow plenty of time to obtain the documents required to make your application
  • your application does not come under the general grounds for refusal
  • you check with an adviser at the institution (school, college or university) where you intend to study, for any further changes that might affect your application.

You should wait until you have obtained your Tier 4 visa before you book any non-refundable tickets for travel.

We have created the following checklist to help you to complete the application process, it includes links to external websites where appropriate. 

Please note: this checklist is only a summary of the steps involved in applying for a Tier 4 visa, it does not contain detailed information about the Tier 4 requirements. It is therefore important to also read this online information about making a Tier 4 (General) application. The checklist by itself does not contain enough information to make a successful Tier 4 application.

  1. Choose institution and course
  2. Apply for a place and receive an unconditional offer
  3. Accept offer and obtain ‘Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies’ (CAS) number from institution.Note: a CAS is only valid for six months, you must make your visa application within this time.
  4. Apply for ATAS clearance if applicable (some institutions may ask that you do this before they will issue a CAS)
  5. Check the visa process in your country of residence and the visa processing times; if there is more than one Visa Application Centre in the country where you live, decide where to apply
  6. Take a TB test (if applicable)
  7. Check that you meet the Tier 4 requirements
  8. Make sure that you have all of the necessary supporting documents, including:
    • Valid passport
    • Photographs that meet the Home Office requirements
    • ATAS clearance certificate (if required)
    • Certificate showing that you are clear of TB (if required)
    • Evidence of qualifications listed on your CAS*
    • Evidence that you meet the English language requirement, or are exempt from the requirement
    • If you will be under 18 on the date that you apply for your visa: letter from your parent/legal guardian confirming their relationship to you and that they consent to your study and living arrangements in the UK and your travel arrangements
    • Original paper receipts for any tuition fees and/or accommodation costs that you have already paid to your institution, if this information is not included on your CAS*
    • Evidence that you meet the financial requirements.*Only the following documents are acceptable:
      1. bank or building society statements
      2. building society passbooks
      3. letter from your bank or regulated financial institution
      4. letter confirming a loan
      5. letter from an official financial sponsor

        Note: most Tier 4 refusals are caused by incorrect financial documents.  It is very important that to check that yours meet the requirements and that you have held the correct level of funds for the necessary period of time (in most cases this is 28 days)

    • If you are using funds held in your parent’s or legal guardian’s name: evidence of their relationship to you and a letter from them consenting to your studies and the use of their funds*
    • If you are being fully funded by a government or international scholarship agency (or you have been fully funded by such a sponsor within 12 months of this application): a letter from this sponsor confirming that they consent to this application
    • Translations of any documents that are not in English or Welsh

      *If you are a low-risk applicant then you must confirm on your Tier 4 application form that you have these documents but you should not submit them with your application. 

  9. Complete the application form online, (unless you are applying in North Korea, in which case you must print out and complete VAF9 and PBS Appendix 8), pay the application fee and the immigration health surcharge (IHS) if applicable.

    Note: you must not apply more than three months before the course start date on your CAS. Before you apply you should check that your CAS is no more than six months old and that all of the information on it is correct and up to date, for example the information about any tuition fees and/or accommodation fees you have paid to your institution

  10. Book an appointment at the VAC (if an appointment is required)
  11. Attend the VAC and pay the application fee (if you haven’t already done so), provide your biometrics and submit your supporting documents (in some countries this is done by post). Note: some countries require you to submit duplicate copies of your documents
  12. Attend an interview, if you are asked to do so
  13. Your visa application will be granted or refused – contact your institution if it is refused
  14. Your documents and passport will be returned to you by post, or you will be instructed to collect them
  15. When you receive your visa check that all of the details are correct, including the type, length and conditions of leave.If there are any errors, contact the VAC and have them corrected before you travel to the UK, if there is time to do so
  16. Travel to the UK on/after the ‘valid from date’ on your visa
  17. If you have been issued with a 30-day vignette, travel to the UK before it ends and collect your biometric residence permit (BRP) within ten days of arriving in the UK or before the end of your 30-day vignette, whichever is later
  18. If your visa (or the accompanying letter) state that you must register with the police, do this within seven days of arriving in the UK

When your visa is issued

Last modified: 18 July 2016

Your visa will be issued as a vignette (sticker) in your passport. You should take a photocopy of this vignette and of the pages of your passport that contain your personal information, and carry these pages separately from your passport when you travel to the UK (and/or scan and save these pages), in case your passport is lost or stolen.

If your application was for leave for six months or less then your vignette will be valid for your whole stay in the UK.  However, in most other instances the vignette in your passport will only be valid for 30 days.

This 30 days will start 30 days before the course start date on your CAS or seven days before the date that you specified on your application as your intended date of travel to the UK, whichever is later.

It's important to realise that if the intended date of travel that you state on your application form is less than one month before the course start date listed on your CAS then you will not be granted the maximum period of leave possible before the start of your course.  Instead your visa will start seven days before the intended travel date on your visa application; you will not be able to travel to the UK before this date.

If you do not travel to the UK during this 30 day period then your vignette will expire and you will need to apply for another 30-day vignette if you still wish to travel to the UK.  You will also need to do this if you lose your 30-day vignette before you travel to the UK.  Information about applying for a new vignette is contained within the Home Office guidance for staff ECB17.3.  You will have to pay £189 for this new application and provide your biometric information again, but you will not have to submit a new Tier 4 application. You should use the same online application form but you should select the following options:

  • Reason for Visit: Other
  • Visa Type: Others
  • Visa Sub Type: Vignette Transfer

At the end of the application form you should use the 'Any other information' field to explain that you have been granted a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK but you need a new 30-day vignette as you have not been able (or will not be able) to travel to the UK before the end of the 30-day vignette that you have been issued; or because your vignette has been lost or stolen. 

If you are applying for a new 30-day vignette because your passport has been lost or stolen then the Home Office guidance says that you should provide evidence that you have reported the loss/theft to the police if it is reasonable for you to have done so.

Your 30-day vignette will be accompanied by a letter. When you enter the UK you should show the border force officer your 30-day vignette and this letter. 


Last modified: 18 April 2016

If your Tier 4 visa is refused your application fee will not be refunded, however if you have paid the immigration health surcharge then this will be refunded.

There is no full right of appeal if you apply for a Tier 4 visa from outside of the UK and your application is refused. If you think the refusal was incorrect, based on the evidence you submitted with your application, you can ask for an 'administrative review' of the decision to refuse it. There is no fee for this but you must request the administrative review within 28 days of the date you receive your refusal notice.

The process is explained in Annex 3 of the Home Office's Tier 4 policy guidance.

You cannot produce new or different documents for an administrative review unless:

  • your application was refused on grounds of deception, breach of conditions, or overstaying your previous leave; and/or
  • the Home Office made an incorrect decision not to request additional evidence under paragraph 245AA of the Immigration Rules. This paragraph states that the Home Office can request missing documents if you submitted some of the necessary documents but:
    • some of the documents in a sequence were missing (for example, if one bank statement from a series was missing); or
    • a document was in the wrong format (for example, if a letter was not on letterhead paper as specified); or
    • a document was a copy and not an original document; or
    • a document did not contain all of the specified information.

    It also contains a list of very limited circumstances in which the Home Office can exceptionally grant an application without requesting additional documents. If you think that this paragraph of the Immigration Rules should have been applied to your application then you should seek advice from a specialist before applying for an administrative review.

You cannot submit a new entry clearance application at the same time as requesting an administrative review of an earlier entry clearance application. If you make a new visa application while you have an administrative review pending then your administrative review will automatically be withdrawn.

Students' experiences: video stories

Last modified: 02 September 2015

The University of Sheffield commissioned the following videos about students from China and India as they prepare to make their visa applications for study in the UK, and then prepare to travel here.