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Arriving at a UK airport – a guide for international students

If you are coming to the UK for the first time on your own, arriving at a UK airport can be a very scary experience for international students. If you would like a friend to make sure that you leave the airport quickly and without any problems, Study Links can provide a full airside access chaperone in all terminals at the Airport. The chaperone will meet you as soon as you come off of the plane, escorting you through immigration, baggage and customs to ensure that you exit the terminal as smoothly as possible. This service is available at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London
City, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Cardiff
airports. Contact us for more information on this service.

If you don’t require this service, but still feel a little nervous about arriving at a UK airport, read our guide below to help you prepare.

Immigration control

When you arrive at an airport in the UK you will first pass through immigration control. There will be two queues: one for European Economic Area and Swiss nationals, and one for everyone else. Queue accordingly. When it is your turn, a Border Force Officer will look at your passport and check your Visa/Entry Clearance.

If you are coming into the UK on a Tier 4 student Visa, we advise that you carry the following documents in paper form (do not rely only on an electronic tablet or mobile phone), in case the Border Force Officer asks to see them:

  • Your Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) letter
  • A letter from your guardian stating that they are your guardian

Once the Border Force Officer is satisfied that you are coming to the UK to study, they will put a date stamp in your passport (if you have a Visa or Entry Clearance) or they will stamp your passport with ‘Student Visitor’ (if you are a non-visa national coming for a course of less than six months and do not need Entry Clearance).


Once you have passed through immigration, you can go and collect your baggage. When you enter the baggage area, check the screens for your flight number and the name of the place your flight departed from. When you have found the correct carousel for your flight, wait for your baggage to appear. If you have a lot of baggage you may wish to hire a trolley to help you transport it.

If all of the baggage has been round the carousel and you still don’t have yours, speak to the airport staff. You may need to fill in a lost baggage form. In most cases they will deliver your baggage to you in a few days.


Once you have collected your baggage, you must pass through Customs Control. Customs Control check that everyone entering the UK is complying with the duties and taxes imposed on imports and exports and the other UK laws. They do this by inspecting goods and persons at the border.

You will make the declaration on a form which will be given to you when you arrive. You will be able to keep a copy of the completed form as evidence that you have made a declaration.

Please note that a large fine can be imposed if you do not make this declaration, or provide incorrect or incomplete information.

You must declare goods if:

  • If you are travelling to the UK from a country outside the European Union and are carrying the equivalent of 10,000 euros or more in any currency (in cash, banker’s draft or cheque of any kind) you will be required to declare this at Customs Control. Find out more here.
  • If you are carrying more than the permitted duty/tax-free allowances
  • If you are carrying prohibited goods (e.g. drugs or offensive weapons)
  • If you are carrying certain food or plants from outside the European Union or medicines made from endangered species. We recommend that you DON’T bring any food or medicine into the UK unless absolutely necessary as there are very strict controls on what food products you can bring into the UK. Find out more here. Don’t worry – you will find that many of the foods that you enjoy at home can be found in the UK.

When you arrive at Customs, you must join a queue. The queue you join depends on whether you have anything to declare.


  • The green channel if you have nothing to declare. (Even if you pass through the green channel a Customs Officer can ask you to open your baggage for checking. You really must only use this channel if you have nothing to declare.)
  • The blue channel if you have arrived from an airport within the European Union (EU) where you have already cleared all your baggage through Customs Control
  • The red channel if you have goods to declare

If you do get interviewed by a Customs Officer, be very honest about what you have. It will work in your favour to be co-operative.

If a person is found carrying prohibited goods, foods or medicines they will be taken from them and they may get a fine. If a person is found to be in serious violation of any laws, Customs Control will hand them over to UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration).

Arriving at a UK airport a guide for international students.pptx

Related blog posts

Travelling to the UK to study

What is Unaccompanied Minor (UM) service?

What to pack when you’re coming to school in the UK

Bringing medicine to the UK

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