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 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 15 May '19

Getting a Student Visa for Your Masters - Some Simple Tips

Trying to sort a visa for an international Masters can seem a bit overwhelming.. After all, visas are exactly the sort of things that involve lots of very specific regulations and small print. The good news is that most of this can be simplified to some fairly basic details. This post explains what they are. Think of it as a sort of 'postgraduate visa 101'.

I've used the UK for specific examples, but a lot of the advice here applies to other study abroad destinations.

#1 Make sure you understand what a visa actually is

A student visa is a travel permit that lets you enter a country to start a university course there. Once you've arrived you may also need a separate residence permit during your course (we'll come back to that).

The distinction between visas and residence permits is important because not all students need both.

#2 Check you actually need one

Following on from the above, don't just assume you'll need a visa just because you're studying abroad. Lots of countries have agreements that mean their citizens can move freely between them.

The EU is one obvious example – you don't need a visa to go from one EU country to a university in another (and yes, this still applies to the UK for now) – but there are lots of others. For example, students from Australia don't need a visa to study in New Zealand (or vice versa). The Nordic countries also allow their citizens to study abroad freely at each other's universities. These exemptions aren't always obvious, so check our international study guides to be sure.

#3 Check what else you'll need

There's usually a time limit on how long you can stay with just a visa. To extend it, you'll need to pick up a residence permit. In the UK your initial Tier 4 Visa will provide a short-term entry permit that last for 30 days whilst you collect a 'biometric residence permit' (BPP).

If you don't need a visa, you may still need to register your arrival at a local police station or similar.

#4 Do things in the right order

There are lots of regulations and requirements for student visas, but they mostly boil down to two things:

  • First, you'll need to prove that you're a genuine student. UK universities will issue you with a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS) once they've accepted you for a Masters. Other countries will have similar procedures. The key thing is that you'll need to do this first: you can't apply for a student visa until you've been accepted to be a student.
  • Second, you'll need to sort your funding and show that you have enough money to cover your accommodation and living costs. In the UK you'll need £1,015 per month, for nine months (outside London). You can prove this in a few different ways. Just make sure you know what's acceptable for the visa you're applying for.

You may also need to take a language test, but this often happens when you're applying for a course (universities shouldn't 'sponsor' students without the necessary language ability).

The key takeaway here is to give yourself enough time. The likelihood is that you'll need to complete your Masters application and sort at least some funding before you can successfully apply for a visa.

#5 Understand work and study rules

Working whilst studying a Masters is fairly common and it's normally fine to do so on a student visa, bearing the following in mind:

  • There will probably be a restriction on the number of hours you can work. In the UK this is 20 hours a week during term time (so, excluding Easter, Christmas and summer holidays). Other countries will generally set quite similar restrictions.
  • You may need to be studying full-time (regardless of whether you're working). This has actually been relaxed in the UK where postgraduate students can get a Tier 4 Visa for full-time or part-time study. Other countries may still have restrictions though.

#6 Know what you can do next

You might be hoping your Masters leads to a career in the country you've studied abroad in. There's nothing wrong with that (I certainly don't think so) and most destinations have post-study visa options that will allow you to stay on whilst you look for work.

These vary, of course. Some countries, like Canada, are famously welcoming, with post-graduation work permits of two or more years for Masters student. The UK has also moved back to a more generous post-study work visa, with a pilot scheme giving Masters graduates up to six months to find work (this will eventually be introduced across the country).

You can check the details elsewhere in our guides.

Hopefully this advice has made getting a Masters visa seem a little simpler. We'll be taking a look at other areas of international study over the next few weeks. Subscribe to our free newsletter for updates and let us know what you'd like to see via social media.

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