.post-body img { max-width:1100px; height:auto; }

Thursday, June 6, 2013

expat diaries: visa tips

Since it's the first Thursday of the month (wow, seriously, June already?), I'm linking up with Rachel at Postcards from Rachel.  Last time I wrote a little bit about my experience moving overseas, but today I was thinking about visas.  Yeah, visas.  Basically the bane of my existence of the last year.  So if you're considering moving abroad for any reason, you need to make sure you know all the rules and regulations about getting a visa, and make sure you apply in plenty of time.  Even if you've been offered a job, and they're funding the visa process, they usually still expect you to complete it, and you need to make sure it's done in time.  However, my only direct experience has been with getting a student visa, so that's all I can really talk about. Also,  I'm only really talking about moving from the US (as an American) to the UK.

* Make sure you know the timeline and paperwork.  For example, my brother (who attends university in Canada) just needed to bring the paperwork (like proof of his course and American citizenship) to the border, literally as he arrived to attend university, and he was given a visa.  That easy.  Moving to the UK is a bit more difficult. You'll need a Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies number, issued by your program, as well as proof of funding.  Ugh.  They're a bit picky about what you use as proof of funding, and even if you're having your parents provide the proof (which is allowed), they want to the money to have been sitting in a bank account for 30 days.  

* It's kinda expensive.  Applying for a Tier-4 visa costs somewhere around $475.  For each person.  Also, you'll need to get passport pictures, and any official documents they need.  If you're applying as a dependent, you'll need an official marriage license.  And unless you make sure to ask, chances are, you won't get it back.

* More on the timeline: research online is essential.  For us, it was mostly all on the UKBA website.  It's really hard to ask questions, because they suck, and run a third-party service to answer your telephone questions (as well as email ones, I think).  They are called Worldbridge and they don't know anything you can't find yourself online. Don't even try to call the NYC embassy.  That's not what they're there for.  Online, it will tell you approximately how long it should take.  But it might take longer!  Or not!  And once you've sent your paperwork in, don't expect to get any updates until a decision is made.  (Unless you did something wrong.  Then they'll usually let you know, and give you 15 days to fix it.  Good luck putting money into a bank account for at least 30 days when they've only given you 15. See what I mean about how they suck?)

* For an extra $100, you can do a one-day application.  Unless there's something wrong (like you've been rejected before), any US citizen can go to the NYC embassy and apply in-person.  (For a Tier-4 visa only.)  This means you drop your documents off (usually in the morning), wait around until 3 or 4 pm, and go back.  They'll hand you a visa right then!  We did this in 2011 and it was awesome.  Really easy.  Definitely worth the money.  We did it in 2013 and I wanted to die.  (But that's because we had been rejected before.  They still did the best they could, and were really nice to us.  Plus, I'm sure it still went faster than if we'd just mailed in our applications.) 

* The UKBA requires biometrics, meaning fingerprints and pictures.  You'll need to go to an office in the US to get these done before you can submit your application.  Make sure your full name (what's on your passport) is what you register for at the biometric place.  The center is run by the US government, so all they do is pass on the information, but the woman we went to last time was really chatty, and said a lot of people are rejected because they do something like leave their middle name off their visa application.

* And, finally, if you're in the UK as a student and want to stay there for another course.  You can reapply from within the country.  It will be expensive.  They will want more biometrics done.  (This is so bizarre.)  Also -- even if the people at the Immigration office you call say otherwise -- you can only reapply if you are there on a main-applicant Tier-4 visa.  If you're there working, and want to start studying?  You need to leave to apply.  And (here was our problem) if you're there as a student (me, last year), you're the main application.  Your husband is not.  If he then wants to get a Tier-4 visa (and has a course lined up), you both need to leave the country to reapply.  Otherwise, they will take 8 months to think it over, and then reject you.  Then you'll need to go back to the US and apply again, wasting another $1000.  Also, it will take at least three weeks, because their system is deplorable, and the officials working in the USA can't see any information about rejections that happened in the UK.  They'll need to send off for more information, and that takes a while.   heir own. 

Anyway, now that we have visas, I'm doing my best to forget about how awful it was.  Unfortunately, since it meant my husband was stuck in the US for a month, it's still causing us problems...since now his course is upset about all the time he missed.  After August, if all goes well, I can finally stop thinking about it.  Oh, because that's one last thing you should realize about the UK.  They're extremely bureaucratic, and nobody will make a decision on their own.

But for all that, I know I'm lucky to be living here, and I also really love this place.  I'll be sad when we have to leave (which we'll almost certainly do in two years, because have I mentioned how I hate visas?), and I know I'll get so nostalgic, both for this time in our lives, and also for this country.  That's a big part of the reason why I try to write things down, and keep a record of it:  so I'll have that to look back on. 


  1. I have heard so many horror stories about visas! Thank goodness my husband's company hired someone to do all of our dirty work. I don't know what we would have done.

    They sent us the paperwork, we signed it and then went to our biometrics. It was pretty simple.

    ... until we had to extend our visas while living in the UK. That's another story.

    Thank you for linking up with us!

  2. i can't imagine all the work that goes into visas! we were really lucky with our job and that we got ushered in my previous teachers. that and the fact that my husband handled all the paper work for us while i planned our wedding!