Soldiers in Afghanistan. Credit: Cpl Daniel Wiepen, Crown Copyright
Military Life

A Guide To Joining The UK Armed Forces From The Commonwealth

How to join the Armed Forces from the Commonwealth - all the rules and regulations

Soldiers in Afghanistan. Credit: Cpl Daniel Wiepen, Crown Copyright

Britain’s Armed Forces have been working to step up their long-held global links by increasing the number of recruits from Commonwealth countries.

However, how do members of the Commonwealth go about applying to serve in the UK Armed Forces?

In 2016, the Government lifted the five-year UK residency requirement previously required for members of the Commonwealth applying to join the British Armed Forces.

All three services offer a limited number of places and roles with security standards assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The number of applications from Commonwealth recruits was raised to 1350 per year (to be implemented over several years) following a previous cap of 200. The places are shared between the three services with 1000, 300, 50 allocated to the Army, Navy and RAF respectively.

Applications for members of the Commonwealth wishing to join the British Army are capped.Sergeant Rupert Frere, Crown Copyright
Applications for members of the Commonwealth wishing to join the British Army are capped. Credit: Sergeant Rupert Frere, Crown Copyright

Royal Navy

Overseas applicants need to be 18 or over to join, or 16 if already living in the UK and have a biometric residency card.

Army

For Irish and Commonwealth applicants, the age requirements are the same as British personnel.

Due to high numbers of applicants the Brigade of Gurkhas’ age limit is stricter and on the 1st Jan of the recruiting year, applicants must be between 18-21, giving a window of three years and one day to join the British Army.

RAF

Same age requirements as UK personnel.

The age limits for those joining the Army or the RAF from the Commonwealth are the same as UK personnel. Credit: Sgt Russ Nolan, Crown Copyright
The age limits for those joining the Army or the RAF from the Commonwealth are the same as UK personnel. Credit: Sgt Russ Nolan, Crown Copyright

What Do I need?

Navy

You must hold a valid passport and enough time on your visa to see you through the application process. 

Army

Applicants must have permission to be in the UK for the duration of the selection and recruitment process up until the point of enlistment.

If your visa expires, then you are responsible for any costs involved with leaving the country and applying for a new visa during the process.

Passports must be valid for a minimum of two years from the start date of military service.

RAF

Although the MoD can recruit commonwealth citizens without the five-year residency requirement, the residency requirements for security clearance will still apply. For SC clearance the RAF requires a minimum of three years UK residency. DV clearance requires seven years.

All roles in the RAF are open to members of the Commonwealth. Credit: SAC Daniel Herrick , Crown Copyright
All roles in the RAF are open to members of the Commonwealth. Credit: SAC Daniel Herrick , Crown Copyright

Can I Apply For All Roles?

Navy

There are 33 roles available to Commonwealth applicants and 106 available to UK citizens.

Army

No. Because of a cap on annual recruitment applications from the Commonwealth, only certain Regiments/roles are available. The Army is currently taking applications for the Infantry, Household Cavalry and Royal Armoured Corp.

There is also a limit on amount of annual applications for the Brigade of Gurkhas.

RAF

All roles are available to Commonwealth applicants.

Do I Need To Be A UK Resident Or Be In The UK To Enlist?

No, the five-year UK residency requirement for Commonwealth applicants was waived in 2016.

Commonwealth applicants and Irish personnel must be in/reside in the UK in order to enlist.

Gurkhas can enlist from Nepal.

Will I Get UK Residency When I Join?

No. While serving, Gurkhas and Commonwealth citizens are given ‘exempt immigration control’ status and receive a (free) immigration passport stamp. Irish citizens are part of the EU and can travel/reside freely.

Gurkhas remain Nepali citizens whilst they serve in the Brigade of Gurkhas. After five years they can transfer to the wider Army where they will serve as Nepali citizens but not as Gurkhas and can apply for British citizenship, alongside Irish and Commonwealth citizens.

Serving personnel must meet minimum income threshold levels to bring family members or spouses to join them in the UK. Credit: Harland Quarrington, Crown Copyright
Serving personnel must meet minimum income threshold levels to bring family members or spouses to join them in the UK. Credit: Harland Quarrington, Crown Copyright

Will I Get UK Residency/Citizenship When I Leave The Armed Forces?

Military service counts towards residency requirements and Gurkhas/Commonwealth service personnel wanting to stay in the UK after leaving the Military will need to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)/Indefinite Leave to Enter (ILE) within two years of leaving and would need to have served a minimum of four years.

It is much easier to apply for this while serving. The individual is responsible for all fees and charges associated with these applications.

Can I Join The Reserves?

To join the Reserves, you must have been granted Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) status. Irish citizens must be living in the UK to join the Reserves.

Can Asylum Seekers Or Refugees Join The British Armed Forces?

No.

A Chief Petty Officer returns from deployment. LA(Phot) Maxine Davies, Crown Copyright
A Chief Petty Officer returns from deployment. LA(Phot) Maxine Davies, Crown Copyright

What About My Family?

Changes to immigration rules in 2013 mean that dependents will need to meet English language requirements and applicants need to earn a minimum income threshold for bringing family members. The thresholds are;

Partner - £18,600

Partner & 1 child - £22,400

Partner & 2 children - £24,800

Partner & 3 children - £27,200

Applicants must also meet the travel costs and visa costs. Visa costs for 2019/20 are £1,525 per person per five-year visa. There are additional costs for permanent settlement and gaining UK residency.

According to the Armed Forces Federation (AFF), it is possible to bring a spouse/partner and use your combined salaries to meet the income threshold requirements. Both applicants need to meet a minimum of six-month employment requirement.

Savings (above £16,00) and other forms of income e.g pensions and property can also be put towards the threshold-providing they meet stringent guidelines.

Those with sole custodial responsibility for children do not have to meet the minimum income threshold.