I've seen similar questions like this on the site before, but was wondering if anyone was able to point me to an official site that says that, as an American citizen traveling to the UK, the stamp put on my passport at the airport is an entry stamp and does NOT count as a visa. Or, alternatively, a site that says the opposite. Or has any real information about this, to be honest, I'm getting a bit desperate!

I know as an American citizen I do not need a visa to get into the UK as a tourist, but I need to know if the entry stamp counts as a visa given at the airport. Basically, if you enter the UK for a short-term visit (just to see the country), are you given a visa at the airport?

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    Why do you need to know if it counts as a visa?
    – cpast
    Mar 19, 2015 at 21:06
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    In fact, another user explained recently that UK law does not use the word “visa” at all. Instead, some people require an “entry clearance”. So if you don't explain what you mean by “visa” and what consequences you attach to this categorization, it will be difficult to provide a meaningful answer.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 19, 2015 at 22:47
  • @Relaxed, in context they don't use it for visitors at all. Entry Clearance and Entry Certificate are the legal terms used in the law. There's still transit visas though, plus the PBS side.
    – Gayot Fow
    Mar 19, 2015 at 22:59
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    @cpast - I need to know if visiting the UK as a tourist after living their on a student visa for several years means that the last visa I had was a tourist visa, not my student visa.
    – UStoUK
    Mar 20, 2015 at 0:54
  • @Relaxed - I need it as defined but the UK government, for applying for a work visa.
    – UStoUK
    Mar 20, 2015 at 0:55

4 Answers 4


In my experience, a "visa at the airport" (or "the border") is something you pay for, and probably fill out an application form for. A US citizen entering the UK as a general visitor does neither.

In addition, such a visa usually takes the form of a piece of paper stuck into the passport on one of the visa pages, not just an inked stamp. There is no such piece of paper for US tourists in the UK.

I also note that the government site https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa says that a US citizen coming as a tourist "won't need a visa" -- they do not say that you have an implicit visa represented by the passport stamp or anything like that. They say that you do not need a visa. That implies that the passport stamp is not a visa.

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    Does that mean an American can stay as long as they want?
    – Gayot Fow
    Mar 19, 2015 at 23:06
  • @GayotFow no, not at all. The stamp limits their stay to 6 months, or at least that was the case 10 years ago or so, the last time I entered the UK on an American passport. That's why I qualified with "coming as a tourist" -- for longer stays, US nationals would need a visa or resident permit or the like.
    – phoog
    Mar 20, 2015 at 17:33
  • As pointed out in his comments, the OP is gaming a T2 application, presumably to evade the cooling off period. From a legal standpoint, someone receiving leave to enter has a visa. Ask the IO next time you enter. My answer was to a different question and has been deleted. The OP is happy and all's well.
    – Gayot Fow
    Mar 21, 2015 at 2:48
  • @pnuts sure. Some countries give you a stamp at the border that says "visa." The UAE is apparently such a country. The question is specifically tagged for the UK, though, so this answer should be read in that context.
    – phoog
    Dec 17, 2016 at 4:24
  • @phoog Visas can be stamps, but they're separate stamps from the entry stamp. Oman being an example upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/48/…
    – Crazydre
    Dec 17, 2016 at 13:23

A Visa is permission to enter a country. An Entry Stamp is documentation that you did enter the country and on which date. And conversely, an Exit Stamp is documentation that you left said country and on which date.

In general all foreign nationals get Entry Stamps, irregardless of whether a visa is required or not.

A Visa on Arrival is nothing more than a last minute opportunity to get a visa when your nationality requires it. Once in your passport, you will still get an entry stamp acknowledging the date of entry.

So NO an entry stamp for a US citizen entering the UK is not a "visa".

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    Actually, a visa is not necessarily "permission to enter a country." For example, the US describes a visa as "allow[ing] a foreign citizen to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry (generally an airport) and request permission to enter the United States." It is not permission to enter the US. Because of this, US visitors are not necessarily required to leave the country before the expiration of their visa.
    – phoog
    Mar 19, 2015 at 21:43
  • What does a UK exit stamp look like? I've never seen one.
    – Gayot Fow
    Mar 19, 2015 at 22:56
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    My intent was to describe the difference between a visa and entry stamp in GENERAL terms. Each country will describe the visa definition differently. And yes Gayot, the UK does not stamp you out, but many countries DO.
    – user13044
    Mar 19, 2015 at 23:21

One thing is certain: This entry stamp is much easier to obtain than a Schengen or US visa. You don't need to apply weeks in advance, attend an interview in some distant consulate, provide biometrics or pay tens of euros/dollars in fees.

Also, many people do need to go through a similar procedure to get what's called an “entry clearance” for the UK, which US citizens do not generally require.

In light of all this and by analogy, I would think that an entry stamp does not really “count” as a visa. But of course, things like the US ESTA and visa-on-arrival schemes kind of blur the distinction and if you don't tell us what you mean by “visa” and why it matters to you, it's impossible to give a meaningful answer.

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    OP (UStoUK) here - I used to live in the UK under a student visa. Because I studied there, I get special exceptions when someone in the UK is hiring me and paying for my work visa as long as the last visa I was under is the student visa. After I left the UK as a student, I went back for a visit as a tourist and I need to know if that means I no longer get the special exceptions. FWIW, I spoke to someone at the UK Visa Office and they have clarified that the entry stamp is NOT a visa, and it should be fine as long as I explain the above when applying.
    – UStoUK
    Mar 20, 2015 at 0:43
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    @UStoUK Entering the UK as a general visitor does not allow you to accept employment of any sort, and doing so - even if you can convince an employer to hire you by showing them your old student visa - is a great way to get deported and banned. You can work (within limitations) if you enter on a student visa, but you would have to actually be studying... Mar 20, 2015 at 1:09
  • @MichaelHampton - thanks, don't worry, that's not the plan! I'll be applying for a Tier 2 work visa, I just need to know this information for my application
    – UStoUK
    Mar 20, 2015 at 1:24

The entry stamp is not a visa and although it is given a 6 month expiry date it actually expires the day you leave the UK so you can't return on this stamp. This is very important for people entering the UK as an EEE family resident, the Surindar Singh method of entry.

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    Do you have a link or reference to back this up? Some sort of explanation of what the Surindar Singh method of entry is?
    – Mark Mayo
    Apr 4, 2017 at 5:37

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