Sometimes when you travel, you stop off in other countries along the way. This is known as ‘transiting’. Transiting is broken down into two different types; transiting airside, i.e. not leaving the airport lounge before you travel on, and transiting landside, which is any journey where you actually pass through immigration control and onto UK ‘soil’. Generally speaking, so long as you leave the UK within 48 hours you will be considered to be remaining ‘in transit’. However, you may st6ill need to apply for a visitor’s visa.
If you are travelling airside, i.e. remaining in the arrivals lounge and then leaving from the same airport, you will need to apply for a Direct Airside Transit Visa (DATV) if you are from a country which is not listed by the UK Border Agency as being covered by the DATV system, such as China, India, Pakistan and most African states (if you are not an EU or US national, it is best to check the list on the UK Border Agency’s website).
If you are travelling landside, i.e. passing through immigration, you will automatically need a visa if you are a ‘visa national’, for which the list is similar to the non-DATV list above.
In either case, you will not need a visa if;
- You have a specified ‘travel document’, such as a one-way document or certificate of travel, which you can apply for through the Home Office. In order to obtain one of these documents, you must be legally resident in the UK and have permission to stay here for at least six months after the application date; or
- You qualify under the DATV exemption for the ‘transit without visa’ concession. This is applicable if a) you are travelling by air, b) you will be leaving within 24 hours and your onward flight is already confirmed, c) you have all documentation required for the country you are travelling to (including a visa for that country if required) and one of the following applies; you are travelling to the USA, Australia, New Zealand or Canada, you have a residence card from one of those countries or the UK, or you have a diplomatic passport from a country such as India, Vietnam or China.
Should none of the exemptions apply, you will need to apply for a visitor’s visa. This allows you to stay in the UK for up to six months in most cases. The application process usually takes around four weeks, so be sure to apply well in advance of your journey.
In addition, you may need a visa if you are travelling through the ‘Common Travel Area’ made up of the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. If you are travelling onto or from one of these places, you do not legally travel airside and therefore may need a visa because you will effectively be travelling landside. The exceptions above will apply, so if you are a visa national you need to ensure you have a visitor’s visa before you travel.