The UK has a historic and cosmopolitan culture and great professional opportunities. So if you’ve landed a job or internship there – congratulations! But before packing your bags you’ll need to consider work visa requirements.

Student Visa
Perhaps you’ll be studying in the UK and plan on working during your course. For courses of less than six months you don’t normally need a visa but can’t work in the UK. If you are doing a longer course you’ll need to apply for a Tier 4 student Visa before coming to the UK.  

The Tier 4 student visa gives you some work rights provided you are studying at a UK university or public further education college, or doing a short-term study abroad degree program at a US university. You can do work placements that are part of your course, and work for 10 hours per week during term time (20 if you’re doing a bachelors degree or higher) or full time during vacations.

Sponsored Worker Visa (Tier 2)
To take up paid employment (not including internships) in the UK, you normally need to apply for a sponsored worker (Tier 2) visa before starting work. 

Your employer must be licensed by the UK government to sponsor foreign workers. The job is subject to a skill and salary requirement and, unless it’s in a shortage area, the employer has to show they couldn’t find a suitable local recruit. This last requirement can be waived if you have recently completed a student course in the UK or the job pays £150,000 (at time of writing around $225,000) or more.

Intern (Tier 5)
To do an internship in the UK you normally need a Tier 5 visa. The internship must be approved by a body authorized by the UK government, who will check that it is a genuine internship (rather than you filling a job vacancy or just doing menial work).

When the visa expires you’ll need to leave the country. However, if the internship goes well and you’re offered a permanent job you might be able to get a Tier 2 Sponsored Worker visa (see above) allowing you to come back and work in the UK.

Other options
There are some lucky people who don’t need a working visa for the UK. If you (or your partner) have citizenship of any country in the European Union you can live and work in the UK without any restrictions. If your partner is British you might be able to apply for a spouse visa, which gives you the right to work in the UK.

Two final pieces of advice: Firstly, start preparing for your visa application well in advance. It’s really sad to see someone lose a job opportunity because they couldn’t get the visa sorted in time, but this does happen. Secondly, it really helps to get professional assistance on the process. Always use a UK solicitor (attorney) or an adviser registered with the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner. 

Dominic Higgins received his law degree from University College London in 2005. Dominic currently works as a contributing writer for Contact Law. Before working for Contact Law Dominic pursued a career working as a legal adviser in the South Africa and the United Kingdom; he has particular expertise in Employment and International Law. If you are looking to move from the US to work in the UK, Contact Law’s employment lawyers can help guide you through the process.