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Bringing your family to Northern Ireland

If you are coming to study in the UK on a student visa, you might be planning to bring your family with you. Certain students are permitted to bring family members to the UK, such as dependents. Students should be aware of recent UK government changes around bringing dependants to the UK.

If your postgraduate level course starts on or after 1 January 2024, it must be either:

  • a PhD or other doctorate (RQF level 8)
  • a research-based higher degree

This page provides information that you will need consider if you are thinking about bringing your family to Northern Ireland.

Visas for Dependants

Your dependents (that is your partner/husband/wife and dependent children) will be considered for visas if you are government sponsored and your course is over 6 months long, or if you are doing a postgraduate course 12 months or longer.

When you have read the information on the above links, and if you are still considering bringing your family with you, then your family should apply online for their visas. They will need their biometric information (fingerprints and photographs) taken at a visa application centre.

Family Accommodation

We strongly advise that you do not bring your family to Northern Ireland until you have found accommodation for them. There is currently a very high demand for suitable family accommodation in Northern Ireland, in Belfast and Derry~Londonderry in particular. This demand has caused significant delays in international students securing appropriate term-time housing for their families and an increase in monthly rental rates.

If you plan to look for family accommodation, we recommend that you come to Northern Ireland on your own before your classes begin and start your search through local letting agents before inviting your family to join you at a later date. This process may take several months, and you should plan and budget accordingly.

The University has a limited number of family suitable accommodations, you should contact our Residential Services team directly for further information.

Childcare and Education

It is compulsory in Northern Ireland for children between the ages of 4 and 16 to attend school. The school year begins in September and ends in June with the school day running from around 9.00am until around 3.30pm.

Education is free for all children up to the age of 16 but you will need to pay for a school uniform, and you may be asked to pay for sports kit, specialist lessons (e.g. music) and for trips and events. It is not possible to register your child at a school before you have a term-time address in Northern Ireland.

You may find the information on the Education Authority website helpful; this includes contact details for the Education Authority’s regional offices. NIDirect also provides information on finding and choosing a school in Northern Ireland.

Playgroups and Crèches

Playgroups, crèches, and day nurseries offer short daily sessions of care and learning through play for children aged 2 to 4 years old. Day care facilities normally charge weekly or monthly rates and they can be quite expensive.

NIDirect also provides useful information on finding and choosing a day nursery.

When you have found a nursery that you think is suitable you should contact them and ask to make an appointment to discuss your requirements, costs, etc.

Read more information on finding a day nursery in Northern Ireland.


As long as your course lasts six months or more, your wife/husband and children under 16 (under 19 if still at school or college) can get free healthcare through the NHS.  As part of their visa application they pay the Immigration Health Surcharge.

Once your family arrive, they should also register with a local doctor (GP). This should be the same doctor’s practice that you registered with after your arrival.

If your course at Ulster lasts less than 6 months then you and your family should take out medical insurance for the duration of your stay in the UK.

Opticians and dentists will charge adults for treatment.  Students may receive slightly discounted rates with some service providers. Children under the age of 16, or under 19 if in full-time education, are eligible for free dental and optical checks and treatment.

Information on local doctors, dentists and opticians can be obtained from your campus Student Wellbeing team.

Read further information on bringing your family to Northern Ireland.