Is your visa in order? Sam Pope helps you make sure you land on the right side of UK immigration law

Visa nationals must apply for entry clearance (basically, a "visa") before leaving their home country to come to the UK. Even though specified nationals do not have to do this if they are coming for six months or less, it makes more sense to do so, as there are many advantages to this route. Entry Clearance Officers, working for the British Diplomatic Service, have more time specifically devoted to processing visas than their colleagues based in the United Kingdom (Immigration Officers). Also, they are more likely to look favourably on requests to work while in the UK than Immigration Officers are. However, make sure you check how quickly the Entry Clearance Officers are processing requests in your country, and don't leave it too late. A £36 fee is charged for this service.

Are you legal?

In order to be granted permission to enter and stay in the UK, you will need to convince and prove to the immigration authorities that:

* You have been accepted unconditionally on to a course.

* Your institution is on the Department for Education and Skills' Register of Education and Training Providers.

* You will be studying either full-time or for at least 15 hours per week during the day.

* You have the academic ability for your chosen course (e.g. through exam results and certificates).

Your institution will be able to help you with this by providing you with a suitable letter of acceptance. They will also need to state:

* The final qualification you will achieve.

* Term dates.

* Language tuition provision.

* The fees you will have to pay, whether you can pay by installments and when these are expected.

You will also need to show immigration authorities that you are capable of surviving in the UK without working during your studies. If you are self-funded, you will need to have at least three recent original bank statements. If someone else is paying for your course, you will need a letter from them explaining their connection to you, how much they will give you, how often and where this money will come from. They'll also need evidence in the form of bank statements, wage slips or a letter from their employer confirming their salary.

If you're being sponsored by, or are in receipt of a scholarship from your government or school, get a letter from them confirming how long they will pay your scholarship, and detailing the costs it will cover.

Finally, you need to show that you intend to return to your country on completion of your studies. If you know of an employer in your home country who would like to employ you after you graduate, ask them for a letter of confirmation. If not, try to find any other evidence that people with the sort of qualification you're hoping to get will be in demand in your country, e.g. job adverts.

Registering with the police

Don't worry - it's not as ominous as it sounds. If your passport has a stamp saying, "The holder is required to register at once with the police", or words to that effect, make sure you pay a visit to the local police within seven days of arriving in the UK and take enough money with you in order to pay the £34 fee. If you are studying in London, go to the Overseas Visitors Records Office between 9am and 4.30pm Monday to Friday.

Once you have registered you will receive a small, green booklet called a "Police Registration Certificate", which you should keep in a safe place, along with your passport and valuables. If you move, you must inform them of your change of address immediately.

The welcome wagon

Starting university in itself can be daunting, never mind doing so in a different country! Universities know how tough it can be at first, which is why help is at hand to make you feel more at home, says Sam Pope

Airport meet 'n' greet

Many colleges and universities run a special "meet 'n' greet" service for international students. Ask the international office at your university. Let them know your date and time of arrival and which airport you are flying into. They will then arrange for a current student to welcome you and help you with your onward journey. If you're worried about how you will identify them, don't be; they will either be holding a sign or wearing a jumper or shirt with the university's name on it.


Many UK universities have high numbers of overseas students and organise parties to welcome them. These are in addition to the other parties arranged by the Student Union. Trips to local tourist spots are often arranged, so you'll have some fun finding out about the local attractions.

Freshers' Week

Freshers' Week takes place in all UK universities and colleges and lasts from a few days to a week. The aim is to help everyone make friends, before the hard work starts. You will be able to find out about all the clubs and societies you can join, be given information on the help and support available to students, and have plenty of opportunities to make friends.

Don't leave home without ....

Your passport: and a photocopy in case yours is lost or stolen.

Visa: to confirm that you are eligible to study in the UK and the conditions under which you have been accepted.

Bank statements: Three months' worth if you're paying for your studies through savings.

Letter of acceptance: from your college or university.

Cash: approx. £200-£250 to get you through the first few days for food and drink, phone calls, travel expenses and accommodation.

Travellers' cheques: the safest way to carry large amounts of money. Keep them in a separate place to your passport.

Travel insurance: At least a week's worth to cover any initial, unforeseen emergencies.

TIP! Make sure the documentation is easy to get at - you don't want to have to empty everything onto the floor as you try to find it!

Immigration information

The Council for International Education (UKCOSA) has lots of information and advice for overseas students.

UKCOSA, 9-17 St Albans Place, London N1 0NX. E-mail:

To register with the police in London, visit: Overseas Visitors Records Office, 180 Borough High Street, Borough, London SE1 1LH. Tel: 020-7230 1208 (for recorded information) OR you can telephone their Application Forms Unit on 0870 241 0645

For immigration enquiries, contact: Immigration & Nationality Directorate, Lunar House, 40, Wellesley Road, Croydon, CR9 2BY. Tel: 0870 606 7766.