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In most countries that I have traveled to, a visa is a document / attestation that allows you to travel to the country's borders in order to request temporary entry, because you are not normally entitled to enter the country.

The visa may state the nature and purpose of your visit (for example, F1 is a student visa in the US) or it may not (for example, my Schengen visa just states "Schengen Visa" type "C").

Visas usually also have a validity period and sometimes contain other restrictions (for example, my Saudi visit visa only allows one entry, the Schengen visa allows multiple entries).

However, for the UK it seems things are a bit different. According to Wikipedia:

Leave to Enter is the technical term for someone granted entry to the United Kingdom by British immigration officers.

Is this a separate document / stamp? How is it related to the visa (if one needs to apply for to begin with).

Also, curiously, why is called "Leave to Enter" - "leave" where? Presumably you are already "in" the UK when you get this permission?

Nevermind, @fkraiem explained that one.

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    This seems similar to the Japanese system: what you want ultimately is permission to enter the country (Japan calls it "landing permission"), and a visa is something you may or may not need to obtain beforehand as a prerequisite. – fkraiem May 29 '16 at 6:25
  • No need to cancel your Q. Actually something I've been wondering about myself. Why don't you un-edit and leave it to be answered? +1 – mts May 29 '16 at 6:28
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The word "leave" is here used in the slightly archaic sense of "permission".

Leave to enter is what a third-state visa-free national gets from an immigration official when he is allowed to pass through the immigration control line into the UK. It usually takes the form of an ink stamp in the passport, showing the date of entry plus conditions for the stay (such as no work and how long the stay can be):

leave-to-enter stamp

(Citizens of EU/EEA states are not formally given leave to enter, but are instead "admitted" under the EEA regulations; this admission is equivalent to a leave-to-enter for many purposes).


Where the UK differs from many other countries is the phrasing it uses for visas. The formal term for a visa that appears in many (but not all) legal contexts is entry clearance; visa applications are processed by "entry clearance officers" and so forth. The UK government tends to use the word "visa" in communication that targets the traveling public, though.

Entry clearances are issued in the form of a passport sticker.

Entry clearance is not exactly the same as a visa, in that it can be applied for (and issued to) non-visa nationals even for short visits where the traveler could just have sought leave to enter at the border. In that case the entry clearance tells the immigration officer at the border that the traveler's documentation has already been found to check out by an ECO, which allows for a much abbreviated landing interview (basically just verifying the traveler's identity) and less uncertainty for a traveler who might otherwise be rejected.

When a traveler has entry clearance, the entry clearance itself usually serves as (or instead of) leave to enter. Instead of stamping a leave-to-enter in the passport, the immigration officer will stamp the entry clearance sticker with the actual date of entry.

Thus, in contrast to, say, US or Schengen visas, a UK entry clearance constitutes an actual permission to enter that border guards are only supposed to override if they positively smell a fish.

The terms 'entry clearance', 'entry certificate', 'leave to enter' and 'leave to remain' are defined in the Immigration Act 1971.

There is lots of information at gov.uk: Entry clearance basics, Immigration rules part 1.

  • Do EU/EEA citizens get a stamp similar to what you posted? Is it valid for multiple entries or do visa-exempt nationals need to get a stamp for each visit? – Burhan Khalid May 29 '16 at 11:29
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    @BurhanKhalid: No, EU/EEA passports do not get stamped. The leave-to-enter passport stamp is valid for that visit only; it automatically lapses if the holder leavs the Common Travel Area (that is, UK and Ireland). – Henning Makholm May 29 '16 at 11:36
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    EU/EEA visitors just flash their passport and are allowed to go in. Because of the EEA regulations they have all rights to visit/stay/work in the UK (as long as they wish or as long as the UK is a part of that treaty). – kiradotee May 29 '16 at 12:17

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