Working on a student visa

To make your studies a success you have to be able to cover your basic living needs. This includes access to affordable safe accommodation as well as having the financial means to study and live. There are rules regarding working on a student visa, so this article looks at your options if you think you will need to work while you study.

Applying for a masters course

If you are planning to come to the UK for a masters degree or PhD then you should be aware of the process of applying to study. In short, universities consider your application based on your qualifications, your standard of English communications and your ability to pay for tuition. If you're an international student, you'll need to prove you can cover all of these when you apply for your course and study visa.

Scholarships are available from a number of institutions as well as the university itself. These vary in amount according to the criteria used to provide them. Many are merit based or are offered to particular nationalities. 

Support available for masters students

Your chosen university may have accommodation set aside for international students on campus. They will also direct you to local private rented accommodation locally. Remember that help and support can only go so far. You will need to have the means to cover most of the costs of accommodation, food and living expenses.

It is tempting to think you can just use your spare time to get job when you are not attending lectures or studying. Rules regarding work – whether paid or unpaid -  on a student visa are very strict.

International Students on a part-time student visa are not permitted to work in the UK

UK students studying a masters degree are free to combine study and work around their studies. Our current Masters Compare Scholarship holder Thalia has successfully combined these together, and she explained how she did this in her blog.

Unfortunately, it is not possible for part-time international students to consider paid employment during their masters course. This is clearly stated in the UK Home Office guidance so there is little room for manoeuvre.

Your study visa will state if you can work – and the amount of hours you are allowed to work – per week. If your visa says “no work allowed” or “work prohibited” you must adhere to these instructions by law.

Full time students on a study visa can do most kinds of work, but you must not:

  • be self-employed;
  • engage in business activity;
  • work in a position that would fill a full-time permanent vacancy;
  • work as a professional sportsperson including as a sports coach, paid or unpaid
  • work as an entertainer, paid or unpaid;
  • work as a doctor or dentist in training, unless you are on the foundation programme.

These restrictions apply throughout your time on a student visa.

Postgraduate Taught students

Postgraduate Taught Masters (PGT) students are only permitted to work (paid or unpaid) up to 20 hours during term time.

PGT students have official vacation periods during Christmas and Easter only. This means that students will only be permitted to work full-time during the Christmas and Easter vacation periods.

PGT students are expected to be studying during the summer whilst they write their dissertation. This period is considered to be term-time, and therefore students will only be permitted to work 20 hours per week during this time.

Typical student jobs during your masters course

In simple terms, many of the jobs available to students involve customer services, such as servers, baristas, bar work, restaurants and retail staff. These are usually part-time, so they may fit well with your study patterns. In addition, the university may offer a number of jobs for students, including work for the student recruitment team, the library and of course the student union.

If you are considering working on a student visa in the UK you are required to apply for a bank account and a National Insurance Number. This is in order that you pay any tax earned at the appropriate rate. All employers will require you to comply with this.

The difference between Employed vs Self Employed

Broadly speaking self employment means you are not an employee of an organisation. This means you are responsible for your own health cover and payment of taxes. You provide your services to that company as an independent contractor, so you are able to agree the number of hours you work performing that service.

Delivery jobs for companies such as Amazon, Uber and Deliveroo can be a problem for working on a student visa. This is a complex issue, and we don’t cover the legal details in this article. In this instance its best to thoroughly check the details of your employment contract with these companies before you commit to a role.

Volunteering is another option, and this ‘service’ is also covered by the terms of your study visa. Of course, any kind of voluntary work is by its very nature unpaid. This will provide a welcome addition to your CV in terms of future employability.

If you plan to stay on after your masters course to work then the Graduate Route is another option open to you.

Placement as part of your masters course

A number of masters courses include a semester on a work placement. This provides an excellent opportunity to contribute to the goals of a relevant organization. A selection of courses includes these examples in Pharma, Biosciences and Finance.

Needless to say, any available placements are competitive, and they are unpaid positions. However, they can be highly beneficial in the long run for masters students seeking a career within those specific sectors. A masters with a placement might make all the difference compared to the challenges of working on a student visa.


Working on a student visa is a widespread practice. Many students have to get by on limited means while they are studying. All countries are experiencing challenging economic times so a student that is able to juggle study and work without running into visa problems is to be encouraged.

Taking advantage of all financial support available is a commonsense approach. We list a huge number of courses that are designed to enable masters study on Postgraduate Studentships. In addition, we list charities and trusts that target specific groups of students, particularly from overseas.

Subscribe to our regular newsletters on Masters Compare or Postgraduate Studentships.