​Transit in London: everything you need to know about transit visas

“They didn't let me on the flight with a transit in London. What kind of lawlessness is this? I will complain!”. We receive hundreds of emails of similar content to our inbox, and angry posts from passengers who have encountered the harsh reality of transit flights through the United Kingdom constantly appear on Facebook. It's time to dot all the i's. Read about everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask in our article.
11 october 2023
6 min

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London is one of those points on the world map that instills vague doubts and worries in the hearts of travelers. Due to the strict immigration policy, the British approach the visa issue with all caution. As a result, there is an ambiguous situation with transit visas when transferring from one flight to another.

The good news is that a visa may not be required (but don't count on it too much), the bad news is that there are many pitfalls when passing through customs control. We will tell you everything you need to know for a successful transit flight through the capital of the Foggy Albion.

How to check if a visa is needed if I am flying in transit?

The first question that arises for transit travelers is whether a visa is needed. For complete peace of mind, we recommend checking information about transit flights on the official website of the British Immigration Service.

Another way to check is to look into TIMATIC. This is a unified information system of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Here, with all scrupulousness and accuracy, all the rules for those traveling by plane are collected. So, to double-check the need for a transit visa, use TIMATIC on one of these resources:

  • Skyteam;
  • IATA;

    Remember, no matter how authoritative forums you refer to, the experience of your acquaintances, or even responses from the embassy, airport staff will still not let you on the flight without a transit visa if TIMATIC indicates that you need one.

The course of events also depends on the arrival airport: if you arrive at Manchester International Airport, Heathrow, or Gatwick – life is beautiful and you definitely don't need to worry about a visa. The layout of these airports allows you to move from one terminal to another without leaving the transit zone. This type of transit is called airside.

But here, too, some rules should be followed:

  • arrive and depart by plane,
  • do not leave the airport transit zone,
  • flight tickets to the final destination must depart from the same airport on the same day,
  • the passenger must have the appropriate documents allowing entry into the destination country (visa).

Low-cost airlines Ryanair and Wizz Air do not fly to London Heathrow or Gatwick airports, so it is impossible to use airside transit.

Photo author - Xesc Arbona

The second type of transit is landside transit. During landside transit, the traveler leaves the airport territory, and consequently, the transit zone.

Usually, in such cases, a transit visa is required, but it may not be necessary if the following conditions are met:

  • you arrive and depart by plane,
  • flight tickets to the final destination must depart no later than 23:59 on the next day after arrival,
  • you must have the appropriate documents allowing entry into the destination country (visa).

HOWEVER, in addition to this, you must have one of the listed documents:

  • a valid visa to the USA, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand and flight tickets to one of these countries.
  • when flying from the USA, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, a valid visa or a visa that expired no more than 6 months ago.
  • a valid biometric visa to Ireland (marked BC or BC BIVS) and flight tickets to Ireland.
  • residence permit in Australia, New Zealand, USA (issued after 1998), or Canada (issued after 2002),
  • residence permit in European Economic Area countries or Switzerland.
  • category D visa issued by one of the European Economic Area countries or Switzerland.

Electronic visas (e-visa) and electronic residence permits (e-residence permit) are not accepted for landside transit.

However, there's a catch - a visa concession doesn't guarantee trouble-free transit. If you happen to appear suspicious to the customs officer, he may refuse you entry to the United Kingdom, citing non-compliance with migration rules. Moreover, your fate at that moment entirely depends on his decision.

So, get ready for customs control: it won't hurt to print out your hotel reservation if you're staying overnight, and during the interview itself, it's not worth being too frank about deliberately choosing a long layover to see the city. You won't be denied entry to the airport territory, but they may not allow you to leave for the city.

Photo author - bjaglin

At passport control, you will need:

  • a passport;
  • flight tickets for flights with the corresponding route. For example, tickets for the Warsaw-London-Toronto route look much more convincing than tickets with the Warsaw-London-Berlin route. The immigration officers of the United Kingdom will clearly suspect that you deliberately chose such a route to walk around London;
  • a valid visa to the destination country (if necessary);
  • a fully completed immigration form (the form is taken at the counter before control or on the plane of some airlines).

What to do?

First, you need to print boarding passes for all connecting flights on your route.

During check-in for your flight, you need to get a stamp from the airline employee indicating that there are no issues with your documents. To do this, you need to inform them that you are flying in transit, show the boarding pass for the flight from London, and your passport with a valid visa for the country of arrival.

  1. Go through passport control and fly to London.
  2. Fill out the landing card on board the aircraft.
  3. Upon arrival in London, present your passport, landing card, and boarding pass for the flight from London at passport control.
  4. When boarding the next flight, your visa for the country you are traveling to will be checked.

You can book a hotel in London with a discount of up to -65% on the website.

Photo author - Hector Yep

It should be noted that you only have 24 hours for everything. For stays longer than 24 hours, a transit visa is already required – it allows staying in the territory of the United Kingdom for up to 48 hours.

There are cases when a visa needs to be obtained in advance. If you have had refusals of a British visa, deportation, or entry refusal to another country, legal issues, or if there have been violations of the visa regime during your previous visits to the United Kingdom, you will need to obtain a transit visa in advance to avoid problems at the border control.

Please note that flying with low-cost airlines with a layover in London without a UK visa is impossible.

Photo author - nikonimaniac

If you still have questions and doubts, comprehensive information can be found on these resources:

  • International Air Transport Association (IATA) – everything you need to know about layovers, transit zones, visa requirements, and the specifics of different airports can be found here;
  • Timatic – this is an international database for airlines and border services, based on which decisions are made whether to admit a particular traveler to the country. Access to the resource is paid, so you only have access to the demo version;
  • KLM – here you can find out about visa requirements for any country by filling out a special form.

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