Do EU Citizens Need to Apply for a Tourist Visa before Travelling to the UK?


No, they don’t!

If EU citizens don’t need to apply for a tourist visa before travelling to the UK, why were there over  30 cases involving German, Greek, Italian, Romanian and Spanish nationals being detained after landing at the UK airports?

To answer this question and make sure you are NEVER DETAINED at the UK border, let us analyse the law together.

IMPORTANT: To be clear, the law, which we’ll be analysing below, relates to EU citizens who entered the UK after 31 December 2020. The law below relates to EEA citizens without settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.


Who Needs to Apply for UK Visitor’s Visa?

There are three main rules. First of all, you’ll need to apply for UK Visitor entry clearance (visa application outside the UK) to travel to the UK if your country is on the Visa National list. You can access the list HERE.

Secondly, you’ll need to apply even if your country is not on this list, but you would like to:

  1. get married or give notice of marriage or civil partnership in the UK. This rule does not apply to ‘relevant nationals’. According to section 62 of the Immigration Act 2014 , a “relevant national” means—
    1. British citizen
    2. a national of an EEA State other than the United Kingdom, or
    3. a national of Switzerland

Thirdly, in the majority of cases, you’ll need to apply for UK Visitors visa even if you are a national of an EEA State or Switzerland if you intend to come to the UK as a visitor for more than 6 months.

Does this mean that the UK authorities can never detain you and send you back to your EU country of origin if you intend to stay in the UK for less than 6 months?


It All Depends on Your Intentions

The answer will depend on what you intend to do in the UK. At the UK border, if you are not a British citizen and don’t have the right of abode in the UK, you need to demonstrate that your intentions are aligned with the UK Visitor rules.  In other words, you need to prove to an immigration officer that you’ll only be doing what UK standard visitors are allowed to do by the Rules.


Do EU Citizens Need to Apply for a Tourist Visa before Travelling to the UK?

Prohibited Activities for UK Visitors

As a visitor, you cannot




get medical treatment

receive payments in the UK.

There are some exceptions to these general rules. You’ll find a lengthy list of these exceptions at Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities. You are welcome to explore. However, I’ll give you a summary below.


What is Work?


Working in the UK 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.


Receiving Payments

Visitors cannot receive payments from a UK source for any activities undertaken in the UK, except for the following:

(a) reasonable expenses to cover the cost of their travel and subsistence, including fees for directors attending board-level meetings; or

(b) international drivers undertaking activities permitted by the rules; or

(c) prize money; or

(d) billing a UK client for their time in the UK, where your overseas employer is contracted to provide services to a UK company, and the majority of the contract work is carried out overseas. In this case, your payment will need to be lower than your salary; or

(e) multi-national companies who, for administrative reasons, handle payment of their employees’ salaries from the UK; or

(f) paid performances at a permit-free festival as listed in Appendix Visitor: Permit Free Festivals, if you are an artist, entertainer or musician.


When Can Problems Occur when Entering the UK?

If EU citizens can travel to the UK for up to 6 months, why were some EU citizens detained and held in immigration removal centres after trying to enter the UK?

According to this article ‘ EU citizens are being detained and held in immigration removal centres after trying to enter the UK for work without visas or residence status.

When trying to enter the UK for work without a visa, the EU Citizens acted against the UK Immigration Rules.


Why Were EU citizens Detained?

The UK immigration authorities detained and held EU citizens in immigration removal centres because of their ‘intention to work’. When entering the UK as a visitor, the intention to work in the UK goes against the Standard UK Visitor rules.


What is the Solution?


If you would like to work in the UK, before travelling to the UK, you’ll need to apply for entry clearance (visa), allowing you to do so.

There are a number of work-related UK Immigration routes, which will allow you to do so. For example, you can apply to enter the UK as a start-up or an innovator migrant.

Also, if a Home-Office registered UK employer offered you a job, you can enter the UK as a Skilled Worker.

If you can prove that you have exceptional talent or exceptional promise in a field of science, engineering, humanities, medicine, digital technology or arts and culture – you can apply under the Global Talent route.

If you are a senior employee of an overseas business and would like to establish a branch or subsidiary in the UK, you can apply as a Representative of an Overseas Business. You can also use this route if you are an employee of an overseas media organisation posted to the UK on a long-term assignment.

If you have over £2,000,000 investment funds, you can apply for a Tier 1 (Investor) visa.


How to Explore Your Options

What if you do not have any definite plans at this stage? What if you are not even sure if you would like to live and work in the UK and simply would like to explore your options? Can you do this without the risk of being detained? Yes, you can.  However, when you travel to the UK as a visitor, you need to clearly understand what you can and what you cannot do when in the UK without a visa.

In addition to all other very specific work-related activities, which you can find at Immigration Rules Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities, you can:

  • attend meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews; and
  • give a one-off, or short series of talks and speeches provided these are not organised as commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser; and
  • negotiate and sign deals and contracts; and
  • attend trade fairs, for promotional work only, provided you are not directly selling; and
  • carry out site visits and inspections; and
  • gather information for your employment overseas; and
  • be briefed on the requirements of a UK based customer. However, you need to do all work for the customer outside of the UK.

When travelling to the UK for any of the above purposes, ideally, you’ll need to have clear proof in writing. This will unambiguously confirm your intentions.

You can look for a job and attend job interviews. However, when you find a job you like – you’ll need to go back to your country and reapply to enter the UK under the appropriate work-related immigration category.


How to Answer the Questions at the UK Border?


Even if you intend to travel to the UK for a short period of time, UK Immigration Officers may ask you a series of questions at the border. It is to check your intentions. All these questions will have only one aim: to make sure that you are a genuine visitor.

According to the rules, this means that you:

  1. will leave the UK at the end of your visit (intention to return); and
  2. will not live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits, or make the UK your main home (intention to return); and
  3. you are genuinely seeking entry or stay for a purpose that is permitted under the visitor route as set out in Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities (non-involvement in prohibited activities); and
  4. you will not undertake any of the prohibited activities (non-involvement in prohibited activities); and
  5. there are sufficient funds to cover all reasonable costs in relation to your visit. In other words, you will not be working or accessing public funds. You’ll have enough money to pay for your trip, including the cost of the return or onward journey, any costs relating to your dependents, and the cost of planned activities in the UK (no recourse to public funds).


Therefore, the questions they may ask may include (but not limited to):

  • Why are you travelling to the UK? (intention to return)
  • How long do you intend to stay in the UK? (intention to return)
  • Who is paying for this trip? (no recourse to public funds)
  • How much money do you have in your bank account? (no recourse to public funds)
  • Do you have any savings? (no recourse to public funds)
  • Do you have a regular income? (no recourse to public funds)
  • Where do you intend to live in the UK? (no recourse to public funds)
  • What do you intend to do in the UK? (non-involvement in prohibited activities)
  • Do you plan to work in the UK? (non-involvement in prohibited activities)
  • Do you plan to study in the UK? (non-involvement in prohibited activities)
  • When do you plan to travel back to your country? (intention to return)
  • Did you book a return flight? (intention to return)
  • Do you have any close relatives living in the UK? (intention to return)
  • Are you employed (outside the UK)? (no recourse to public funds)
  • Do you have medical insurance? (non-involvement in prohibited activities)
  • What do you intend to do if you get ill in the UK? (no recourse to public funds)
  • Are you married? (intention to return)
  • Do you have any children? (intention to return)


To conclude, when the Immigration Officer asks you any of the above questions, don’t panic. They ask you these questions to check if you meet the rules. So, all you need to do is give clear answers to help you prove your genuine intentions.

Further Help

Finally, if you consider making your UK visa application yourself, you’ll greatly benefit by attending one of online courses guiding you through the process. You can get more information and instant access HERE.

Do EU Citizens Need to Apply for a Tourist Visa before Travelling to the UK?