When it says:

You can apply for a visa up to 3 months before your date of travel to the UK.

Source: gov.uk

Does it mean the latest I can apply for a visa is 3 months before the travel date, or the earliest I can apply for a visa is 3 months before the travel date?

  • 8
    At the level of English language the statement is ambiguous. Ask whoever wrote it, if the answer matters to you. ELU cannot help. Jul 22, 2014 at 12:30
  • 4
    If it is so and the sentence is ambiguous, it is also an answer for the OP and there is no need to give him -1. I have had a strong feeling that once somebody here just does not like a question (and without GIVING or maybe even having an objective reason) they give minus points. I am not happy about this. I find this question useful, even if a clear answer cannot be given. I as a non-native English speaker feel this as arrogant from you native speakers. Jul 22, 2014 at 12:36
  • 4
    No, the question is not off-topic. The question is perfectly answerable! The answer is: "Even for the native speaker the sentence is ambiguous and can carry both the given meanings". I understand "Opinion-based" differently. The question is not ambiguous! What is ambiguous here is the sentence under question which is perfectly OK! Jul 22, 2014 at 12:47
  • 5
    As long as Usage in in the name of this site, I do not see this question as off-topic. This is Usage of the English Language, by none less than the government of the UK, and it is admittedly ambiguous. I don't see how a question about that would not be on-topic.
    – oerkelens
    Jul 22, 2014 at 12:50
  • 6
    I am quite unhappy that the site seems to be turning into a kind of a snobbish arrogant native English club with members who reject questions just because they don't like them enough or because they consider them as too trivial. Without even bothering to state a clear reason - which makes their voting even more dubious. I am often completely confused why some questions are -1-ed or put on hold or closed, while they seem perfectly complying with the site policy. And an ambiguous text is not the same as an ambiguous question! I would expect at least this distinction from you "English seniors"! Jul 22, 2014 at 13:37

4 Answers 4


There are a number of ways in which the statement may be analysed.

You can apply for a visa up to 3 months before your date of travel to the UK.

The ambiguity is in the interpretation of up to: it could mean until or it could mean a maximum of.

You can apply for a visa until 3 months before your date of travel to the UK.
You can apply for a visa a maximum of 3 months before your date of travel to the UK.

In this case, up to should almost certainly have the second meaning. There's no point in applying for a visa years before you intend to travel, because your circumstances could change in the meantime. So the authority seeks to limit the possibility of changes by forcing you to apply fairly close to the date of travel.

  • The British Government publishes processing times of up to 60 days, and the web page itself says "You should get a decision on your visa within 3 weeks," so it's certainly not three months to process an application. But I have flagged the ambiguity on that web page.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 23, 2014 at 8:53
  • 1
    The web page has (at some point in the last six years) been amended to say "The earliest you can apply is 3 months before you travel," so it is the second of the possible interpretations. It's now a beautifully clear statement.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 15, 2020 at 6:54

From a language point of view, this sentence can be parse in two ways:

1) You can apply for a visa up until a moment in time that is three months before your travel date.

2) You can apply during a period ranging from 0 to 3 months before your travel date.

Now, purely practical, the only interpretation that makes much sense in this context is the second one. Otherwise, nobody could apply for a visa unless they plan their trip more than three months in advance - and strict immigration rules may be one thing, but things like business trips (that stand to make the UK money indirectly) often come up on a shorter notice.

  • 1
    downvoter, care to explain?
    – oerkelens
    Jul 22, 2014 at 14:51
  • @JoeBlow nopes, but I'm in the EU. But I have some experience with immigration policies of several countries; and however big the bureaucratic workload, those policies are not designed to make ad-hoc travel impossible. Even from not-so-nice countries too much money flows in :P
    – oerkelens
    Jul 23, 2014 at 9:05

Although from the language point of view the sentence may be ambiguous, I am pretty sure that in the given context the correct meaning intended by the immigration office is the second - you may first apply for the visa 3 months before your travel.

The sentence structure is like this:

  • up to 3 months = 0 to 3 months, but not more
  • up to 3 months before the date = 0 to 3 months before the date

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  • 4
    That is not necessarily the case. The other interpretation is perfectly valid, too, in which you can apply for a visa up until a point in time that is three months before the date of travel, but not after that. The phrasing is ambiguous. Jul 22, 2014 at 12:34

The emigration office is imprecise and ambiguous. It should be "no sooner" or "no later" than 3 month before date of travel.

In addition, the regulations also say that the office has 30 days to process the application, so it cannot necessarily be that we can apply at any time during the three-month period before the date of travel (e.g. two days before departure).

  • 1
    Hello, Wojtek. 'The [instructions are] imprecise, ambiguous.' This answer has been given already. The rest of your comments, while probably quite valid, do not address the title question but (a) suggest a sensible replacement (as other answers have done) and (b) suggest how further information not directly supplied by OP in the actual question may suggest (but not force) one rather than the other of the two possible interpretations. But this does not answer the original question as presented. ELU was never intended to be an interpretation service: way beyond remit. Nov 29, 2019 at 16:20

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