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Home International Students When you arrive Immigration and customs

Immigration and customs

If you travel to the UK by air, you will probably arrive at one of London's main international airports, Heathrow or Gatwick; or one of the big regional airports, such as Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh or Glasgow. Some airports are large and have several terminals, and you will need to follow signs to find your way out. If you travel by sea you will probably arrive at one of the Channel Ports—Dover, Folkestone or Harwich are the most likely. It is also possible to arrive in London on the Eurostar train, which travels through the Channel Tunnel, or to bring a car through the Tunnel on a shuttle train. Please note that if you travel by Eurostar, you will go through UK Immigration Control in France before you board the Eurostar.

Immigration control

If you arrive at an airport, you pass through immigration control first (before collecting your baggage). There are usually two main queues: one for European Economic Area and Swiss nationals, and one for everyone else. Make sure you join the correct queue. A border force officer will look at your passport and check your visa/entry clearance.

When you enter (or re-enter) the UK with Tier 4 immigration permission, the border force officer must be satisfied that you speak English at the required level, without needing an interpreter. The Home Office's Modernised guidance for staff assessing Tier 4 applications and entry (issued 14 August 2015)confirms on page 154 that officers "must not give [Tier 4 migrants] a test of any kind but rather follow the normal line of questioning."

You should also have documents relating to:

  • your studies (letter from your university/college/school, including your Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies number if you are coming to the UK as a Tier 4 Student)
  • your finances
  • where you are going to stay

in your hand baggage, in paper form (not on an electronic tablet or mobile phone).

Before leaving Immigration Control, check that the border force officer has put a date stamp (if you had a visa or entry clearance) in your passport; or (if you are a non-visa national coming for a course of no more than six months and do not have entry clearance) check that you have been stamped in as a 'short-term student'. After immigration control, you will be  able to collect your baggage. At most airports baggage is unloaded on to one of a number of moving belts ('carousels') in the baggage collection area. Look for your flight number and the name of the place your flight departed from on the screens, or above the carousels, and wait for each item of your baggage to appear. If any item does not come through, find a representative of the airline you travelled on and fill in a lost baggage form.


When you have found all your baggage you must pass through Customs Control. Join the queue for either the green channel if you have nothing to declare, the red channel if you have goods to declare, or the blue channel if you have arrived from an airport within the European Union (EU) where you have already cleared all your baggage through Customs Control.

If you are travelling to the UK from a country outside the European Union and are carrying the equivalent of 10,000 euros or more in any currency (in cash, banker's draft or cheque of any kind) you will be required to declare this at Customs Control.

Forms on which to make the declaration will be available when you arrive and you will be able to keep a copy of the completed form, which you should keep safely as evidence that you have made a declaration. Please note that a very large fine can be imposed if you do not make this declaration, or provide incorrect or incomplete information.

Note: For the purpose of the cash declaration only, the countries of the EU are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain (including the Canary Islands), Sweden and the United Kingdom (not including the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands).

If you are carrying more than the permitted duty/tax-free allowances, or any prohibited goods (for example drugs, offensive weapons, food or plants from outside the European Union, medicines made from endangered species, and so on) you must pass through the red channel.

If you are not sure about what you can bring into the UK you should check with the British embassy or high commission in your home country before travelling to the UK. Before you contact them, you can obtain some very basic information from the leaflet Travelling to the UK: what you can bring in, what you can't bring in, what you must declare [www.gov.uk/government/publications/travelling-to-the-uk].                   

There is information about declaring cash on the UK government website:                   

Normally, you should not bring food into the UK. Many of the foods you usually eat at home can easily be found in UK shops. For more information, see the UK government information on Bringing food products into the UK [www.gov.uk/government/publications/bringing-food-products-into-the-uk]

Even if you pass through the green channel a Customs Officer can ask you to open your baggage for checking.

If you arrive at one of the Channel ports you will also have to pass through Customs Control. If you use the Channel Tunnel, Customs Control will be carried out either in France or on the train.

For more information, see the UK government information on Entering the UK [www.gov.uk/uk-border-control].

You might also want to look at the UK Border Force's 10 Top Tips for passing through Immigration and Customs control on arrival in the UK.

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