EEA and Swiss nationals do not require any visitor visa to visit the UK. Nationals of some other countries (eg USA, Japan, Brazil) are classified as “non-visa nationals” and they do not have to hold a visitor visa to visit the UK, but they are entitled to apply for one before they come to the UK if they wish to (typically because they have some adverse history, and they do not want to take any chances about not being admitted to the UK). But, if all goes well, a non-visa national can gain entry to the UK just by showing their passport.
Nationals of other countries are classified as “visa nationals” and in all cases, they require a visitor visa to visit the UK, and so nationals of these countries have to submit a visitor visa application to the relevant British diplomatic post in their country. This includes nationals of countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, China and India.
There are two main different types of visitor visa (see below for more detail): a general visitor visa, which is suitable for tourism, visiting friends and family and so on; and a business visitor visa, which is specifically for businesspeople who want to visit the UK for business purposes. There are also various other specialist types of visitor visa.
A standard visitor visa is granted for a period of up to but not exceeding six months. Visitors are not allowed to spend more than six months in the UK on any one occasion.
Long-term visitor visas can be issued for one year, two years, five years or ten years. They are suitable for people who have an established record of visiting the UK and who have a good immigration history. Very importantly, a long-term visitor visa holder is only allowed to spend up to 180 days in the UK in a 12-month period.