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International Players Wanting to Play Professionally in the UK

Published Friday 17th of December 2021 03:46 PM

Since we last wrote about this subject there has been a major change, as the UK is no longer in the EU due to Brexit.

What does this mean from a practical perspective? The situation remains that you can’t legally sign for a club in the UK without a UK passport. Now, however, this same rule applies for those players that live in an EU country. Previously they would have had the ‘freedom of movement’ law to enable them to sign for a club in the UK with an EU passport.

So how do non-UK players get to sign for clubs in the UK? The UK government and the English Football Association have worked together to develop a points-based system, whereby players earn points for meeting certain criteria. These criteria include points for representing their country at their age level. This system is called a Government Body Endorsed ‘GBE’ points system, and is quite hard to understand. You can read all about the GBE points system here at

This means for overseas players; it is extremely difficult to be signed for a professional club at a young age. Indeed, it is almost impossible unless you are exceptional and at a level where you are not only representing your country at youth international level but are also one of the best in your nation. However, players can come to the UK on different visas, live here, be scouted and train with a football clubs academy (but not signed!).

The most popular visas are either a ‘Tier 4 Child’ visa or a ‘Tier 2 Dependent’ visa. Here is a little about them both;

•    Tier 4 Child Visa – this visa is granted to those up to 17 years old and is a study visa. This visa is granted for those coming to the UK to board in an Independent School (not a state funded school), if they are able to demonstrate they have enough money to cover course fees and living costs. 
•    Tier 2 Dependent Visa – parent/s have been granted a Tier 2 Visa in the UK and their child is coming to the UK as a dependent. A Tier 2 visa is granted to adults, who are known as ‘skilled workers’ and are coming to the UK to work for a company who will (and can) sponsor the visa. For example, a footballer’s children. 

However, there are some ‘loop holes’, and football clubs will sometimes go to great lengths to try and sign that perfect player for their club.

This may be that an English football club is willing to invest in a player, in terms of loaning him out to feeder clubs. The most famous case is Carlos Vela - Carlos Vela - Wikipedia).  Football clubs have partner clubs located in the likes of Dubai, Portugal, Mexico, Finland, Canada and Qatar. If you look at any non-EU player in the top leagues (and since the turn of the year, all non-UK players) you will see they nearly all took this route, going through a European club first - Salah, Mane, Aguero etc. 

Alternatively, if a player is training with a club, the club will try and get him national appearances.  If the player is wanted to be signed by let’s say, Manchester United, the club will contact his home nation, say he is playing within their club, and ask if he can trial for the national team.

Finally, a very popular pathway into football is that players will choose to finish their studies at a private football boarding school in the UK, while training within a club academy, until they become of age to sign for the club and have built up enough GBE points.

But please do not forget the main question here, and that is, are you good enough to be a professional football player? If so, then you will become one, and doors will open.

UK Football Schools work tirelessly to keep up with the current immigration and footballing laws, so we can advise you to the best of our knowledge.  We can also help with the football boarding school pathways option, where we are the leading experts in the UK.

Please contact a member of the team for more information or register on our website.


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