Making a Tier 4 (General) application outside the UK

Last modified: 18 September 2020

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.

Please see our news item for further information on how the Tier 4 (General) route will be changing from 5 October 2020.  This page still refers to 'Tier 4' and also signposts to the 'Tier 4 policy guidance' but includes changes that will result from the introduction of the 'Student' route. 

Do I need a visa?

Last modified: 18 September 2020

If you are a EEA or Swiss national then see our information here for guidance on your immigration.

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 so you should therefore seek advice from an adviser at the institution where you intend to study.

If you have been accepted onto a course of study there are two types of visa for studying in the UK: 'short-term student' and 'Tier 4' student visas. From 5 October 2020, 'Tier 4' will be replaced by the new 'Student' route.  See our news on this here.

If you are coming to the UK to study for a maximum of six months (or 11 months if you will be studying an English language course), you may be able to enter as a 'short-term student'. If your course is less than 6 months long, whether you need to apply for your visa in advance from outside of the UK (entry clearance) depends on your nationality. For some nationalities, it is not compulsory to apply for entry clearance before travelling to the UK if the course is less than six months long (these applicants are referred to as 'non-visa nationals').

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 work and 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 apply for entry clearance as a Tier 4 student in advance and before travelling to the UK, regardless of your nationality.

Where can I study with a Tier 4 visa?

Last modified: 18 September 2020

If you need to apply for a Tier 4 (General) visa to study in the UK, you should check whether the school, college, university or other educational provider you intend to study at has been granted a Tier 4 (General) sponsor licence by the Home Office. This is because institutions with a Tier 4 sponsor licence can issue international students with a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS) which you will need for your immigration application as a Tier 4 (General) student.

Each institution granted a Tier 4 sponsor licence will be given a sponsor rating, either as a 'Tier 4 Sponsor', 'Tier 4 Sponsor - track record' 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. Furthermore, Tier 4 sponsors with a 'track record' have greater privileges that also extend to the students they sponsor. For example, to be eligible for the Graduate route which is expected to launch by summer 2021, students must have been sponsored by a Tier 4 sponsor who is a Higher Education Provider with a 'track record' of compliance (amongst other requirements). You can check what kind of licence your institution or your prospective institution holds, and how they are rated, on the Register of Tier 4 Sponsors (approved education providers).

I already have a Tier 4 visa that is still valid. Do I really need to apply again?

Last modified: 10 July 2019

Yes. You will need to make a new Tier 4 application in order to join a new course or new sponsor, but you may be able to use an existing Tier 4 visa to enter the UK in order to make that new Tier 4 application. 

Your Tier 4 visa is valid for studying a specific course at the instution whose sponsor license number is printed on your visa vignette and biometric residence permit (BRP). You can use this visa to re-enter the UK at any time before the formal end date of the course, to continue your sponsored studies.

If you have now finished the course, but the visa itself is still valid, and you wish to travel to the UK to make a new Tier 4 application for a new course, you can usually use your existing visa to enter the UK. This is confirmed in paragraphs 273-275 of the Tier 4 Policy Guidance. However we advise that you make three checks before travelling to the UK on what the UK Home Office calls "extant leave".

First, check that you are eligible to apply for your new Tier 4 visa from within the UK anyway (see Making a Tier 4 (General) application in UK for more information). If not, you will need to apply from your home country and you can use the Home Office's visa processing times tool to check current processing times in your home country.

Second, check that you meet all these requirements:

  • the institution you are returning to study at has a Tier 4 sponsor licence, and they have agreed to sponsor you (or continue to sponsor you) under Tier 4; and
  • you have not been reported to the Home Office as having finished your most recent course early, interrupted your studies, or having not enrolled.  If the institution that sponsored your current Tier 4 visa has reported one of these matters, it is likely that your visa might already have been 'curtailed' and is no longer valid; and
  • you are eligible and can meet the requirements to make a further Tier 4 application from within the UK

Third, carry in your hand luggage evidence to show the Border Force Officer that you will be making a new Tier 4 application before your current Tier 4 leave expires. At the mimmum, this would be evidence that you have already been issued a CAS from your new sponsor institution, and that they have Tier 4 Sponsor status on the Home Office's Register of Tier 4 Sponsors. If you have other evidence, for example some of the documents you will be providing as part of your upcoming Tier 4 application, keep them in your hand luggage for possible checking.  The Border Force Officer cannot extend your Tier 4 visa on arrival, but they can allow you to enter the UK in order to make the application.

Under eighteens

Last modified: 18 September 2020

If you are less than 16 years old, you can apply for a visa to study at an Independent fee-paying school, but you must apply as a Tier 4 (Child) student, not as a Tier 4 (General) student. 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 you intend to study at (school, college or university). Only Independent Schools can sponsor students to apply as Tier 4 (Child) students
  • 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.

We recommend you speak to your (independent) school directly if you are applying as a Tier 4 (Child).

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 16 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.

Preparing your application

Last modified: 18 September 2020

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). Applications made from 9am on 5 October 2020 will be considered under the new 'Student' route. You must meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules which are in force on the date that you submit your immigration application. 

If you want to make a successful application, it is extremely important that you:

  • read and understand the Home Office's Tier 4 policy guidance
  • check that you meet all the requirements
  • allow plenty of time to obtain the documents required to make your application
  • provide your supporting documents in the exact format required by the Home Office, as explained in the policy guidance and on the application form
  • complete all sections of the form, fully and accurately
  • check your application will not risk being refused under the general grounds for refusal
  • 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 or Student visa before you book any non-refundable tickets for travel.

The following checklist is designed to help you with the application process and includes links to external websites where appropriate.  Please note this checklist by itself does not contain enough information to make a successful Tier 4 application. It is only a summary of the steps involved in applying for a Tier 4 visa, and does not contain detailed information about the Tier 4 requirements.

  1. Choose institution and course, apply for admission on the course, receive an unconditional offer and accept your offer
  2. Apply for ATAS clearance (if applicable)
  3. Request a ‘Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies’ (CAS) number from your institution and check the information on your CAS is correct when you receive it. The CAS issuing process varies from institution to institution, so enquire with your institution whether you need to provide further information or documents to support your request for a CAS. A CAS is only valid for six months and you must make your visa application within this time. You can only use your CAS for a visa application once.
  4. 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
  5. Book and take a TB test (if applicable)
  6. Check that you meet the requirements
  7. Make sure that you have all of the necessary supporting documents, including:
    • Valid passport
    • ATAS clearance certificate (if required)
    • Valid TB test certificate showing you do not have 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, you will need a 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. You will also need evidence of your relationship with your parent/legal guardian (e.g. birth certificate, certificate of adoption)
    • 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 (*)
    • 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 do not need to submit them with your application. You might be asked to provide them at a later date. From 5 October 2020, you will not be required to submit evidence of your qualifications or references if you are applying to study at degree level or above with a sponsor who is a Higher Education Provider with a 'track record' of compliance.

  8. Complete the application form and pay the immigration health surcharge (if applicable). See Where, when and how to apply for more information
  9. Book an appointment at the VAC (if an appointment is required)
  10. 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). Many visa application centres will scan your supporting documents for you and give these back to you on the day (but your passport might be retained).
  11. Attend an interview, if you are asked to do so. You may also be contacted to have a further interview which you must attend.
  12. Wait for the outcome of your visa application. Your passport (and supporting documents, if these were retained at your appointment) will be returned to you by post, or you will be instructed to collect them.

Where, when and how to apply

Last modified: 18 September 2020

Where and how do I apply?

When should I apply?

Application fee

Immigration health charge



Medical check

When your visa is issued

Last modified: 06 November 2018

Your visa will usually be issued as a vignette (sticker) in your passport. Make a copy, scan or photo of the vignette and of the pages of your passport that contain your personal information.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. 

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. See our information on 30-day vignette lost/stolen/damaged outside the UK for guidance on applying for a new 30-day vignette.

Your institution should tell you the latest date that you will be allowed to enrol on your course. This date might have been included in your CAS statement. Do not travel to the UK if you will not be able to arrive at your institution before the last date of enrolment. Instead, contact your institution immediately if you will not be able to arrive in time for the start of your course for further advice. 

Start and end dates

Is your visa correct?

Collecting your BRP


Last modified: 10 December 2018

If your application has been refused it is advisable that you contact your Tier 4 Sponsor to seek further advice. The immigration adviser or international student adviser at your institution will be able to advise as to what extent they can assist you with your options following a refusal. 

If you think the refusal was incorrect, based on the evidence you submitted with your application, you can ask the Home Office 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. Your refusal letter should detail why you are refused and give instructions for requesting an administrative review. The administrative review request notice and accompanying guidance can be accessed on the website.

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
  • your application was refused on the grounds that it was submitted outside of the permitted time limits; 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 necessary documents but:
    • a document did not contain all of the specified information
    • a document was in the wrong format (for example, if a letter was not on letterhead paper as specified); or
    • evidence was missing.

    There are 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 adviser 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.

If you make a further application for immigration permission you are likely to be asked whether you have ever been refused immigration permission in the past. It is very important that you do declare any refusals, as requested.

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.

Students' experiences: video stories

Last modified: 15 March 2018

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.

Applying in China

Applying in India