A lot has been asked about this and I answered that before. Unfortunately we can’t pin such post so that every newcomer could read it before (re)posting the Q.
Anyway, straight off, General and Academic are two different types (or versions) of IELTS and UKVI IELTS. So it should be IELTS vs UKVI IELTS, and General vs Academic.
- IELTS vs UKVI IELTS:
IELTS and UKVI IELTS are names of two different business partners who test English language skills. Yes, I do literally mean business partners! Take an example of McDonald. McDonald is a brand name with its own speciality. The “SHOP” McDonald is a franchise which is a SEPARATE business but it’s associated with McDonald. The SHOP has to comply with McDonald standards if it wants to use “McDonald” logo.
So, like McDonald brand IELTS is a brand in testing English language skills; and UKVI is a separate business who wants to use “IELTS” logo. UKVI “sell” its English language test as “UKVI IELTS”, but it must adhere to IELTS rules and regulations as well as standards. Similarly, when I took my IELTS test at one of IELTS test centres that centre was actually a “shop” that uses IELTS brand. This is true for any organisation that’d want to use and affiliate with IELTS brand so that Cambridge English Language Assessment could issue IELTS certificate.
Now as they’re kinda independent businesses, UKVI and any other test centre can independently set their own fee of the test, and number of tests held in a month. But they must at all times comply by rules and regulations set by IELTS.
Thus, IELTS and UKVI IELTS are essentially selling the same thing. Since they are selling the same thing, one can use IELTS certificate issued by one test centre (in my example it was University of Manchester) or UKVI in any other place where IELTS is acceptable.
- General vs Academic:
Now here is the real difference. First of all, from now on when I say “IELTS” I mean simple IELTS as well as UKVI IELTS.
General IELTS is a test of English language skill at basic level. It’s usually required when one moves to or migrate to English-speaking country, or education at secondary level. Wait, wait… I’ll come to answering which IELTS after getting GMC reg and moving to the UK.
Academic IELTS, on the other hand, is more advance test to test one’s English language skills. It’s THE requirement whenever one is applying for education and advance communication skill sector like NHS and GMC.
Scores are NOT interchangeable between General and Academic.
Since General type of IELTS is basic and Academic is advance, one CAN use Academic IELTS score to satisfy the requirement of English language where minimum requirement is General IELTS.
Three example scenarios: 1/- An institute requires MINIMUM band 4 --> Since there is no mention of which type of IELTS, one can use either General or Academic version of IELTS as long as score is 4 and above. However, it’s always better to ask. 2/- An institute reqs minimum band 4 of General IELTS --> Here you can use General IELTS but you can also use Academic IELTS (as this is more advance than General). However, there are illogical people in this world so again I’d advice to reconfirm with the institute. 3/- An institute reqs minimum band 4 of Academic IELTS --> Here one CANNOT use General IELTS, even with straight 9 band, because General IELTS is “inferior” to Academic IELTS. Therefore, one can ONLY use Academic IELTS score in this scenario.
- IELTS for PLAB and GMC Registration:
For PLAB exam and GMC registration one MUST have ACADEMIC version of IELTS irrespective of whether it’s obtained from UKVI (UKVI IELTS) or any other institute/test centre (IELTS).
General IELTS will not be accepted at any point.
GMC consider IELTS score valid for two (2) years only!
You MUST have a VALID IELTS score to book PLAB 1 (please note that I’m saying “1” here). Which means that your IELTS certificate MUST be valid at the time of PLAB 1 test date. Meaning, if your IELTS expires just 1-2 days before PLAB 1 test date then the online system will NOT allow you to book PLAB 1 exam for that date. It is that strict about it. (I’d, however, strongly recommend that you do send in a request to GMC if your IELTS expire 1-2 days before , no harm in asking eh).
You don’t, yes you DON’T need a valid IELTS to appear in PLAB 2 (as of writing this). Let me explain: If, for example, you’ve passed PLAB 1 but your IELTS expires anytime AFTER the PLAB 1 test date, you’d still be able to book PLAB 2 test. However, two things: should you have to go back to PLAB 1 (4 failed attempts at PLAB 2) or go ahead to GMC registration after passing PLAB 2 THEN in both of these cases you WILL need a valid IELTS.
You MUST have a valid IELTS at the time you APPLY for GMC registration.
- IELTS for Visa
Now please, it’s a common-sense that UKVI is related to immigration and it’s THE and ONLY authority to grant visas/entry to the UK. IT’S NOTHING TO DO WITH GMC, PLAB, OR JOB. Therefore, it’s set rules to GRANT VISAS and visas only!
It’s actually NHS employers who MUST STRICTLY adhere to UKVI rules for immigration.
So, one of the rules of immigration to grant visa is that the applicant must have some level of competency for English language. It states, and I quote, “passing an approved English language test with at least CEFR level B1 in reading, writing, speaking and listening”.
The statement says two things: Approved test and CEFR level B1.
Approved tests are IELTS (UK or overseas) and test from Trinity College London (UK only). Since GMC recognise IELTS, it’s no brainer that people use IELTS and it’s available overseas.
CEFR is The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
Please note in the above quote that UKVI DO NOT say which IELTS band score they require but want level B1 according to CEFR. Therefore, CEFR level B1 is equal to band 4 in IELTS. Thus, at least IELTS band 4 in each is required.
Please note again, UKVI said CEFR level B1 is required which is equivalent to IELTS band 4. As mentioned above, UKVI want people to use IELTS from them (obviously, it’s a business). So they have labelled “IELTS” as “UKVI IELTS” and " UKVI Life Skills". Therefore, you can also use General as well as Academic IELTS for this purpose!
So (as the Q raised above), if you still have valid Academic IELTS at the end of GMC reg and job offer, you can use that certificate to satisfy UKVI requirement of English when you apply for visa. Otherwise you can also take General IELTS (like I did) to score at least band 4 (CEFR Level B1).
VERY IMPORTANT thing to know that UKVI rules change every April if not every few months!! So it’s incumbent upon you to check the latest UKVI reqs for your visa when you apply.
I hope this lengthy post clears some of your questions.
Please feel free to correct me if there’s anything I might have overlooked.