Contrary to what many travelers think, the UK plays by a totally different set of rules to most of its European neighbors. Most visitors can generally stay in the UK for up to six months without a visa.
So, what happens if you hit six months, and have somehow found yourself overstaying?
First Steps if You Might Overstay Your UK Visa
The first thing to do is stay calm. Believe it or not, the UK isn’t particularly strict on short overstays. In fact, until late 2016, the Home Office had an explicit policy of allowing overstayers a 28 day grace period.
Under this policy, anyone who accidentally overstayed had a comfortable 28 day window to either leave, or apply for a new visa. This has since been reduced to a 14 day window to make new visa arrangements.
Even then, technically speaking you’re supposed to have some kind of good reason for your overstay.
Nowadays, UK officials are still usually fairly understanding, and with a bit of luck you won’t have any issues if your overstay is just a few days.
If you somehow manage to stay past your 14 day grace period, you’re still not necessarily guaranteed to end up in hot water.
Fines For Overstaying Your UK Tourist Visa
It’s unusual to be deported in your first three months of an overstay, and criminal prosecutions are rare. During this time-frame, the most likely outcome of an overstay is little more than a grouchy look from immigration officials on the way out, and some additional hurdles if you ever try to apply for a UK visa in the future.
Even that might not happen, and in the past inspections of passports on departure often weren’t all that thorough.
Having said that, immigration has tightened its game significantly in recent years. If you’re caught overstaying a month or two, there’s a very real risk of being banned from the UK for a period of time. You might also have difficulties applying for a visa even years down the road.
Whether its an overstay of just a few days or a few months, the best policy is to be honest and apologetic. As mentioned, the UK is pretty tolerant on short overstays, and honesty can go a long way even after a particularly long period of illegally remaining in the country.
The real problems can arise if officials suspect you’re hiding something. Lying to immigration officials can lead to much more serious penalties, including fines and imprisonment in some circumstances.
So, the general message here is: be honest, be nice, and do everything to can to either get a new visa or leave as soon as possible.