Visiting the UK for more than 6 months in a year? No problem! (In theory) Let me explain…

Written by: Jane Taylor

15/12/2023

Most people entering the UK for a finite time are officially classed as ‘visitors’ under immigration law. This means that they can generally only stay for up to 6 months at a time. This includes people from countries of the EU (excluding Ireland), the U.S.A. and other countries whose citizens don’t normally have to apply for an actual visa stamp in their passport, as well as ‘visa nationals’ who do need a visa document. Regardless, they are all subject to the same 6-month time limit, which is set out in Appendix V to the Immigration rules.

With that in mind I thought it would be useful to revisit rules for visitors and, in particular, a common misconception that catches people out: the idea that visitors cannot spend more than 6 months in the UK in a year.

Hang on, didn’t you just contradict yourself? You said there’s a 6-month limit and now you’re saying it’s a misconception,’ I hear you say.

So, can I stay in the UK for more than 6 months at a time?

The short answer to this is still no. However, even though you cannot stay for more than 6 months at a time, you can, in theory, leave at 6 months and then come back to the UK soon after. The actual rules do not have any specific cumulative time limit in them. So, once your first stay of 6 months is over, it would be possible to return within the same calendar year for another visit even though it would bring your cumulative total time in the UK that year to over 180 days.

However, the rules do say that a visitor has to show that they will not ‘live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits, or make the UK their main home’. This is very different from having a specified time limit.

What does the reality of this look like?

It may be easier to explain in an example. Say that you have a large extended family in the UK and a few babies have been born into the family in the last few years. In May, Granny decides to visit from Bulgaria to spend some time with her grandchildren. She stays for 6 months in various households and goes on day-trips with the family, helps out with caring for the children and has a great time. In November, she needs to return to Bulgaria. This isn’t a problem, as she enjoys her life in Bulgaria; where she owns her house she has lived for many years, and is surrounded by friends and relatives who live nearby. She has no intention of moving to the UK. However, on her return to Bulgaria she decides that she would quite like to join her UK-based family for Christmas. Can she do this? With caution, yes.

However, there are a few things she needs to look out for in order to stay within the rules and avoid any potential issues at the border:

  1. Having clear reasons for her return to the UK that are within the allowed visitor activities (including visiting for tourism, to see family members, undertaking a short course of study or certain business activities). In her case, she is coming to visit family for the specific purpose of spending Christmas together.
  2. She needs to be able to show that this is not a pattern of long visits that will continue. For example, she could bring copies of her grandchildren’s birth certificates with her to show that they were recently born and this was the reason for her long trip. Now she would like to spend her first Christmas with them. She could point to the stamps on her passport showing that prior to that, she had only made short trips to the UK. She could bring bank statements showing that she has plenty of funds in Bulgaria and proof of ownership of her home.
  3. Ultimately, the rules place a lot of power in the hands of the Home Office staff either at the border or making a decision on a visit visa application, so she will need to have convincing answers to any questions asked, if she is stopped. There can be no guarantees that her answers would be accepted but acceptance is much more likely if she has a clear, legitimate purpose in mind and documents to back it up
  4. In summary, you can visit the UK for more than 6 months in a year, as long as you are doing so for an activity which is allowed as a visitor and you can show that you are not falling foul of the rules, particularly the part referring to ‘frequent and successive visits’ and making the UK ‘your main home’. It cannot be guaranteed that frequent, successive visits would be accepted by the Home Office as discretion rests with them, at least initially, for deciding who is and who is not a legitimate visitor. That being said, it is always helpful to know that you do not have to be tied down to any specific time limit and visitors can, and do, manage to visit the UK for periods cumulatively longer than 6 months in a year.

In summary, you can visit the UK for more than 6 months in a year, as long as you are doing so for an activity which is allowed as a visitor and you can show that you are not falling foul of the rules, particularly the part referring to ‘frequent and successive visits’ and making the UK ‘your main home’. It cannot be guaranteed that frequent, successive visits would be accepted by the Home Office as discretion rests with them, at least initially, for deciding who is and who is not a legitimate visitor. That being said, it is always helpful to know that you do not have to be tied down to any specific time limit and visitors can, and do, manage to visit the UK for periods cumulatively longer than 6 months in a year.

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