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European and Swiss Citizen Visitors to the UK

It is important for all visitors to the UK to know which activities are permitted for visitors – and which are not.  Visitors, including EU and Swiss national visitors now that the UK has left the EU, may be questioned about the purpose of their visit at the UK border.  Visitors who know what they must demonstrate to border officials about the circumstances of their visit should not have difficulties entering the UK. In this post we look at what activities European and Swiss nationals who wish to visit the UK can (and cannot) undertake in the UK.

Visiting the UK as a European or Swiss Citizen

European and Swiss citizens will have become accustomed to entering the UK without much thought about the activities they will be undertaking in the UK.  However, now that the UK has left the EU, the permitted activities for a visitor to the UK are a consideration for all EU or Swiss citizens who wish to visit the UK. 

EU or Swiss nationals generally do not need to arrange visit visas before arriving in the UK; in this regard they join the non-visa national countries not on the ‘visa national’ list.  An exception is the marriage visit visa, which needs to be applied for before coming to the UK.  However this does not mean an EU or Swiss national should not be prepared to answer questions about their visit to the UK when arriving at border control.  The Home Office guidance to its decision-makers specifically says this: 

“At the border, you should expect the applicant to be able to answer questions on what they plan to do in the UK.”

All visitors to the UK need to meet the ‘genuine’ visitor criteria when visiting the UK.    At border control EU or Swiss national visitors may be asked to demonstrate that they are genuine visitors, and may need to prove that they:-

  1. Will leave the UK at the end of their visit;
  2. Are not coming back and forth to the UK so often that they are living in the UK for extended periods/are making the UK their home (although note, there is no number of ‘set’ days within a year that a visitor can spend in the UK, such as only 6 months in a 12 month period; the assessment is more of a balanced judgment of the circumstances which have led to the frequent visits);
  3. Will only undertake activities permitted for visitors (see below);
  4. Will not undertake activities prohibited for visitors (see below);
  5. Can meet their expenses both in the UK and to return to their home country without working or accessing public funds.

EU or Swiss national  ‘standard’ visitors (see below) will generally be granted a 6 month visit visa when they arrive at border control to enter the UK. Here also is a link to the Visit Guidance, and to our website where we give information about short-stay visas.

Permitted Activities for European and Swiss Visitors to the UK

The activities which are permitted for ‘standard’ visitors to the UK are set out with precision in the Immigration Rules, here and here.  The Home Office website also gives information about ‘standard’ visits to the UK. 

Where a visitor is not coming to the UK for tourism and leisure, the Rules should be looked at closely to see if the planned activity in the UK is a permitted activity. The following is a summary of these activities:-

List of permitted activities

  1. Tourism and leisure activities;
  2. Volunteering for no more than 30 days with a registered charity;
  3. General business activities – but see prohibited activities below – such as attend meetings, seminars, interviews, conferences, trade fairs (but no direct sales);
  4. Intra-corporate activities – meetings, attend or give training, but no direct work with clients;
  5. Manufacture and supply of goods to the UK – where equipment has been supplied to a UK customer and requires installation, etc;
  6. Clients of UK export companies may come to oversee the provision of goods under the contract;
  7. Roles specifically requiring activities in the UK – examples given are interpreters, personal assistants and bodyguards, tour group couriers, journalists, archaeologists, guest lecturers, market researchers, drivers collecting or delivering goods for companies registered outside the UK;
  8. Work related training – this is quite specific and the rules should be looked at to avoid activities which would normally require student visas;
  9. Science and Academia – gathering information, sharing knowledge and research;
  10. Legal – expert witnesses, witnesses summoned by a UK court, and overseas lawyers advising on international matters;
  11. Religion – religious workers may visit to preach or do pastoral work;
  12. Creatives – creative artists may, in general, attend auditions and give unpaid performances, accompanied by technical staff or crew.  Location shoots for overseas produced productions, see also a previous blogpost which sets out the criteria for visiting creatives in detail;
  13. Sports – unpaid sporting activity or activity not paid by a UK sporting body, along with accompanying technical staff employed by entities outside the UK;
  14. Medical treatment and organ donation – the requirements are set out in detail in the visit visa rules here at V.7.1. to V.7.3, note that this can be granted for up to 11 months;
  15. Study as a visitor – for up to six months but see the strict criteria here at V.9.1 to V.9.3; and
  16. Transit.

Prohibited Activities for European and Swiss Visitors to the UK

What you cannot do as a visitor in the UK is set out quite precisely in the Immigration Rules, as follows:-

(a) work in the UK, which includes:

(i) taking employment in the UK; and

(ii) doing work for an organisation or business in the UK; and

(iii) establishing or running a business as a self-employed person; and

(iv) doing a work placement or internship; and

(v) direct selling to the public; and

(vi) providing goods and services,

unless expressly allowed by the permitted activities in Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities, Appendix Visitor: Permit Free Festivals or the Permitted Paid Engagements in V 13.3; or

(b) study in the UK, except as permitted by Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities (and provided they meet the relevant additional requirements for study); or

(c) access medical treatment, other than private medical treatment or to donate an organ (for either of these activities they must meet the relevant additional eligibility requirements); or

(d) get married or form a civil partnership, or give notice of intention to marry or form a civil partnership, unless they are applying for entry clearance endorsed for a marriage or civil partnership visit or are a relevant national as defined in section 62 of the Immigration Act 2014.

Other Types of Visit Visas

In addition to ‘standard’ visit visa, there are three other types of visit visa, some of which need to be applied for prior to entry into the UK. They are as follows (from the Immigration Rules):-

  • Marriage and Civil Partnership visitor: for those seeking to come to the UK to marry or form a civil partnership, or give notice of marriage or civil partnership.
  • Permitted Paid Engagement visitor: for experts in their field coming to the UK to undertake specific paid engagements for up to one month.
  • Transit Visitor: entering the UK en route to another country, issued for up to 48 hours.

Marriage visit visas need to be applied for online before coming to the UK.

Permitted paid engagement (or ‘PPE’) visas can be granted to those who wish to come to the UK for a paid engagement as an ‘expert’ in their profession. The eligibility and requirements for PPE visas are again quite specific, and particular documentation needs to be produced. EU or Swiss nationals do not need to apply beforehand to enter the UK for a PPE.

Here also is a link to a previous post which discusses the requirements for EU or Swiss nationals who are Creative Artists who wish to enter the UK for a PPE.

Documents That EU or Swiss Visitors May Need to Show at the UK Border

If it is concluded from the intended activities during the visit that it falls within the ‘standard’ visit category (see above), an EU or Swiss national should nevertheless be prepared to provide evidence if questioned at border control that they are a ‘genuine’ visitor (will leave at the end of the visit and can meet the expenses, etc) and that the intended activities are permitted, see above.  The Home Office guidance gives further information about what specific documentation you may be requested to produce when entering the UK as a visitor.

Proper preparation of the relevant documentation should prevent any difficulties when entering the UK as a visitor, and it is therefore important to have an understanding about the different kinds of visit visas, what is permitted and what is not, and what you may need to prove to the immigration officer on entry.

Contact Our Immigration Barristers

EU or Swiss nationals who wish to visit the UK and wish to discuss their visit with one of our immigration barristers should contact us on 0203 617 9173 or complete our enquiry form below.


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