UK Start Up Visa: A Complete Guide for 2023
Launched in 2019, the UK Start-Up Visa is an immigration route designed to attract innovative entrepreneurs from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland to set up businesses in the UK.
This visa provides a simple and fast-track option for non-EEA founders to gain entry to the UK market and access the support of its start-up ecosystem. Since its inception, the program has already brought in over 1,000 entrepreneurs who have created hundreds of new companies.
In this comprehensive guide, we cover everything you need to know about the UK Start-Up Visa in 2023 – from eligibility criteria to step-by-step application instructions and expert tips for creating a successful application.
Table of contents
- UK Start Up Visa: A Complete Guide for 2023
- Overview of the UK Start-Up Visa
- UK Start-Up Visa Eligibility Criteria
- Securing Endorsement for the Start-Up Visa
- Gathering Required Application Documents
- Submitting Your Start-Up Visa Application
- Start-Up Visa Application Tips and Common Mistakes
- Life on the Start-Up Visa in the UK
- Frequently Asked Questions
Overview of the UK Start-Up Visa
The Start-Up Visa route enables non-EEA entrepreneurs to come to the UK for up to 2 years to develop innovative business ideas into reality.
To be eligible, you must:
- Have an original business plan and idea for a UK start-up
- Prove your business idea is innovative, viable, and scalable
- Have support from an approved endorsing body
- Meet the English language requirement
- Have at least £50,000 investment funds available
If approved, you can work full-time on launching your UK start-up. After 3 years of living and doing business in the UK, Start-Up Visa holders can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.
Your dependents can also accompany you on your visa application. The Start-Up Visa offers a streamlined path to set up an innovative business in the UK’s thriving entrepreneurial environment.
UK Start-Up Visa Eligibility Criteria
To qualify for the UK Start-Up Visa, you must meet these key requirements:
Have a viable business idea:
Your proposed UK start-up must be an original business plan that is innovative, viable, and scalable. It should fill a gap in the UK market or provide an innovative product/service.
Be endorsed by an approved body:
You must have support from an endorsing body. This can be a UK higher education institution or one of the approved business organizations on the UK government’s list. The endorsing body does due diligence on your business idea and application.
English language skills:
You must have English language ability at a minimum B1 CEFR level in all four components (reading, writing, speaking, and listening). Approved English tests include IELTS, TOEFL, and PTE Academic.
Sufficient investment funds:
You need to prove you have access to at least £50,000 in investment funds to support yourself and your business during the initial period of your visa. The funds can be from registered venture capital firms, UK seed funding competitions, or your own resources.
From outside the EEA and Switzerland:
This visa is for those outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland looking to set up UK start-ups. EEA and Swiss nationals have access via other immigration routes.
Complying with all other visa requirements:
In addition to the start-up visa criteria, you must meet general visa application requirements around proof of identity, previous travel records, intention to do business, and no criminal history.
Securing Endorsement for the Start-Up Visa
One of the key eligibility requirements for the Start-Up Visa is getting an endorsement from an approved endorsing body. This organization essentially reviews your business plan and application and determines if they will endorse you.
There are two categories of organizations that can provide endorsements:
Higher education institutions
These include UK universities, colleges, research institutes, and other similar academic institutions. Many UK universities have dedicated entrepreneurship/innovation centers that assess international start-up ideas.
The UK government has approved a number of established business and entrepreneur-focused organizations to endorse Start-Up Visas. These include companies like Founders4Schools, Entrepreneur First, Startup Funding Club, and CodeBase.
The endorsing body does in-depth due diligence on your business plan, past experience, skills/talent, language ability, available funds, and overall suitability.
If they endorse your application, they will provide a letter of endorsement that you must submit with your visa application. This letter is crucial for proving to the UK Home Office that your start-up idea and application has already been vetted and validated by experts.
Gathering Required Application Documents
Once you have your endorsement letter, you need to gather all the required supporting documents to submit a complete Start-Up Visa application.
Key documents include:
- Endorsement letter
- Detailed business plan for your UK start-up
- Evidence of investment funds (e.g. bank statements, investment certificates, signed affidavits)
- Academic qualifications and English test results
- Passport and previous visas
- Accommodation details in the UK
- Tuberculosis test results
All documents must be original copies or certified translations in English. Copies of any dependents’ documents are also required.
Submitting Your Start-Up Visa Application
You can submit your completed Start-Up Visa application online via the UK Home Office’s website. Paper applications by post are also accepted.
The standard application fee is £363 per person. You will also need to pay the healthcare surcharge for access to the NHS.
Biometrics enrollment at a UKVCAS center is required as part of the application process.
You can track the status of your visa application online using the application reference number. Most applications are processed within 3 weeks.
If approved, you will receive a vignette in your passport, valid for 30 days to travel to the UK. Upon arrival, you can collect your Biometric Residence Permit to evidence your visa status.
Start-Up Visa Application Tips and Common Mistakes
Follow these tips when preparing your Start-Up Visa application to avoid common mistakes:
- Provide as much detail as possible on your business idea, market research, monetization plans, and projections. Avoid vague, unsupported claims.
- Clearly articulate why your product or service is innovative and fills a gap in the UK market. Compare it to competitors.
- Demonstrate your skills and experience for executing this start-up through resumes and track record.
- Ensure your business plan is realistic and achievable based on your available funds and proposed growth milestones.
- Meet the English requirement and take an approved English test early if English is not your first language.
- Allow ample time for the endorsement process – it can take weeks or months to get a letter.
- Show sufficient evidence of your investment funds and their legitimate sources.
- Disclose any past visa refusals and be able to explain them. Don’t risk getting caught hiding any history.
- Check that your passport has at least 6 months before expiry at the time of application.
- Comply with all biometric enrollment and document submission requirements. Missing pieces lead to delays or refusals.
Following these best practices will help you avoid common pitfalls and create the strongest possible visa application.
Life on the Start-Up Visa in the UK
If you are approved for the Start-Up Visa, you can come to the UK for up to 2 years initially to work full-time on launching and growing your start-up business.
You will have complete flexibility to be based anywhere in the UK. London and Cambridge are popular destinations, given their vibrant tech start-up scenes.
During your visa, you are allowed to work for your own business but cannot take on employment from other companies. You can bring in dependents who may have unrestricted work rights.
As a Start-Up Visa holder, you can access business incubators, accelerators, UK start-up grants, entrepreneur networks, and expert support to help develop your company.
Your initial visa is valid for 2 years, after which you can apply to extend your stay by another 3 years. After 5 years, you can then qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain if you fulfill all criteria.
This provides a long-term pathway to operate and grow your start-up venture in the UK permanently. Your business must be registered and compliant with all laws.
The UK Start-Up Visa provides an excellent opportunity for international entrepreneurs to build innovative businesses in the UK’s thriving start-up ecosystem.
This guide covers all the key eligibility criteria, documents, processes, and tips you need to increase your chances of Start-Up Visa success. With the right preparation and submission, you can launch your start-up venture in one of the top destinations for entrepreneurs globally.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some common questions about the UK Start-Up Visa:
Most applications are processed within 3 weeks. Those that require additional verification may take longer.
Yes, you can bring dependent partners and children under 18 on your visa application.
Yes, you can switch from a Tier 1, Tier 2, study, or visitor visa to a Start-Up Visa from within the UK.
You can provide bank statements, signed affidavits, investment certificates, or proof of government awards to evidence at least £50,000 in available funds.
After 2 years on the Start-Up Visa, you can extend your visa by 3 more years. Then you may qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain and have full work rights.
No, it can be in any industry, but it should be an innovative, scalable idea that fills a gap in the UK market.