Moving to Edinburgh – Visas

If there is anything that will discourage someone from wanting to study, work, or live abroad, this is probably it. The visa application process for the UK is awful and has caused a great deal of stress, but it’s finally over (at least I think so), we’re in Edinburgh, and God is good.

As a young professional, college graduate, and someone who has just planned a 450 guest wedding, there have been many opportunities for stress, but the UK visa application process pretty much exceeds them all.

Obviously, Andrew would not be able to study in the UK without a Points Based (PBS) Tier 4 Student Visa and I wouldn’t be able to accompany him or work without a Tier 4 Dependent Visa. Here is my attempt to explain to you the process and possibly help others if they are in the same situation Andrew and I are in (Tier 4 Student & Tier 4 Dependant Visa). We are American citizens, married, no kids with 1 spouse studying in the UK for a post-graduate program that is longer than 1 year.

The UK visa website has the illusion of being organized and easy to follow, but when you have specific questions or want to make sure that you’re doing things correctly, there is no guidance so you’re left doing things on your own, running in circles, and hoping things go correctly.

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Here is our experience, some takeaways, our timeline, and a step-by-step process.

1. Receive your CAS number. 

The thing about applying and studying abroad in the UK is that you can’t exactly plan or do things early. Andrew’s start date at the University was September 14th. We scheduled our flights to depart on September 7th. Andrew received his CAS number (basically an official acceptance letter to show the immigration officer) on July 14th (2 months before his start date and 55 days before our scheduled flights to the UK). We received the CAS number “late,” but we could’n’t have even applied earlier since you can’t apply for your visas until 3 months before the start of your course.

 2. Complete your visa application online

This is pretty much self-explanatory. Fill out everything. Print and save pdf copies of everything. Your visa application will have a barcode on it.

YOU NEED:

  • CAS NUMBER
  • Passport
  • Credit Card (for all the fees)

3. Pay the visa application fee online through the Visa4UK website.

The visa application fee is $257.50. This is $257.50 per person, so we ended paying $515 for our visa applications. Keep in mind that this fee is only for application processing and the entry clearance decision-making service and not guaranteed delivery of a visa or passport. We received an emailed receipt after we paid. Then, we printed and saved copies of everything.

4. Pay for the Immigration Health Surcharge.

Yes, another horrendous fee. You pay online for this. I believe some people can be exempt from this, but I’m not sure what qualifies you to be. Basically, this surcharge is for health insurance. Apparently before, international students were just covered with their national healthcare, but now we have to pay. We spent $1,080 (PER PERSON) for this surcharge so we spent $2,160 total for the both of us for health insurance. This is a one-time fee so we can be covered with the NHS for the duration of Andrew’s program (3 years?). The only nice part is that we paid this with our fantastic Chase Sapphire Preferred Card so we’re getting 2000 travel points. 🙂 We also received an emailed receipt for payment. Then, we printed and saved copies of everything.

5. Book your biometric appointment at an application support center.

You’ll be able to make an appointment online. Once we had our appointment, we printed our biometric confirmation receipt. When Andrew was trying to book an appointment, the earliest available time was on August 19th. Our flight was scheduled for September 7th. That gave us 19 days to get our visas back before our flight. Hello stress.

6. Optional:  Buy Priority Visa Service and Courier Service.

Since we only had 19 days to get our visas before our flight, we sucked it up and spent the extra money to expedite our visas. We applied for our visas through the USA VSF Global website so we returned to the website to purchase these User Pay Services. The website says that it takes approximately 3 weeks to get your visa and if you check the visa processing times, 97% of visas get approved within 10 days (But is that 10 working days? 10 days including weekends? Do they work Saturdays? And what about the other 3%?) So we logged back into our account and purchased a Roundtrip Courier (good for 2 applications..yay) for $50 and Priority Visa Service for both of our applications. The Roundtrip Courier is basically 1-day UPS shipping. The Priority Visa Service costs $192 for each application so we spent $384. The Priority Service basically places you at the front of the queue so it’s processed before the other visa applications. Don’t know if it really made the process faster, but we did it. Once we purchased these services, we printed our the UPS shipping bills and receipt of our Priority Visa Service purchase.

7. Go to your appointment at the application support center. 

We went to the USCIS Application Support Center in Oakland off of Hegenberger. Out of this whole application process, this was the only part of it that I can say was a positive experience. The people at the USCIS center were nice, organized, and efficient. Check out their yelp page! 5 stars and 34 reviews! We brought our passport, all of our documents (although we probably didn’t need to bring all of it), and our visa applications. Our appointment was at 10am. We arrived at 9:30 and left by 9:45. Basically, this appointment is to have your photo and fingerprints taken by the US Department of Homeland Security. Apparently using your phones or cameras is not allowed at the center though. For whatever reason, Andrew and I thought this appointment was going to be like the DMV with long lines where an appointment is definitely needed. However, the center is so efficient that I think we could’ve went there right after printing out our visa application and paying our fees since all they need is a barcode. We could’ve prevented some of our rush and stress, but we didn’t know. 😦 At the center, they’ll take a picture of you (no smiling, hair away from eyebrows) and take fingerprints of all your fingers. Then, they’ll stamp and sign your biometric confirmation receipt. Make a copy of it just in case. Oh, and make sure your face/hair looks good. This picture will be printed on your visa in your passport and for your biometric residence permit (aka, your UK ID card).

YOU NEED:

  • Visa Application Form
  • Passport
  • Proof of payment for the Immigration Health Surcharge

7. Sign your visa application form.

Andrew and I totally forgot to sign it and had to drive back to the UPS store to open our package and sign it. That was lame and caused another 10 minutes of panic.

8. Post your application.

Since we bought the UPS Courier Service, we went to our local UPS store to get the envelope and send our package. Your package needs to include a ton of documents and you have to provide a fully addressed prepaid electronic shipping label to have your documents returned to you. You technically have only 2 weeks to post this copy of your application form, passport, and supporting documents after your biometric appointment. Since we only had 19 days, we went to the UPS store immediately after our biometric appointment.

YOUR PACKAGE NEEDS TO INCLUDE:

  • Priority Visa Service Receipt (FIRST PAGE)
  • Visa Application Form (stamped from the biometric appointment)
  • Passport
  • Proof of payment for the Immigration Health Surcharge
  • Marriage certificate (to show that I’m the spouse)
  • Passport 2×2 color photo with your name written on the reverse side
  • Bank Statements (show enough funds for tuition and living expenses)
  • Airway bill to the UK Visas and Immigration British Consulate General on the UPS envelope (845 Third Avenue New York, NY 10022)
  • Return airway bill on the UPS envelope inside the package

Make sure your write PRIORITY on the UPS package. We forgot and believe that this was one of the reasons why our visa process application took so long. If you forget things in the package, your visa may be denied or it could take even longer.

9. Wait.

I checked the UPS tracking and saw that our package was received the next day (August 19; 18 days left) and thought it would be fine. I made the mistake of thinking that they opened it. 9 days later on August 29th (at this point, we only had 9 days left before our flight), we received an email saying that our visa application has been opened and will be placed in the queue for an immigration officer to approve it. What?! That’s when I really started to worry. So then, I went to one of my favorite websites, Yelp. The NY office is rated 2.5 stars on yelp and everybody shared their horror stories of their visa application process. While there are some helpful tips, it made me stress out even more.

I wanted to contact the office, but they charged £1.37 per minute and the lovely ladies and gentlemen on yelp all said that they were unhelpful so I decided to emailed them through a form on the website which said that they would get back to us within 1 working day (thankfully, free).

This was their first response to us (on August 30th; 7 days left):

With regards to your query, your visa application has not been processed
yet. We understand that you have sent your application as a fast track
application and paid the priority visa service fee. We aim to process the
priority visa applications within 3 to 5 working days however, this is not
a guaranteed service and may get delayed due to several reasons.

This was their second response to us after we sent another email (on September 1st; 6 days left):

“We understand that you would like to know about the current status of your
visa application. I have tracked the status and found it is yet to be assessed by an Entry Clearance Officer (ECO). Your visa application centre or the entry clearance officer(ECO) will contact you once a decision has been made or, if necessary,during the consideration of your application.”

Super helpful right? So then we prayed a lot.

10. Pray. 

Pray very hard. Pray that the UPS shipping is actually 1 day. Pray that they open it. Pray that the immigration officer approves your visa. Pray that they print it that same day. Pray that you gave all the right documents. Pray that UPS picks it up. Pray that UPS delivers it correctly.

That same day (September 1st; 6 days left) in the evening, we received an email saying that our visas have been approved and were queued for printing. Praise God! …but how long does is this printing queue? So then, we prayed more.

The following day (September 2nd; 5 days left), we received an email saying that our visa was printed and that it will dispatched within 72 hours. 72 hours….ok, that gives us 3 days.

The next day (September 3rd; 4 days left) we received the beautiful UPS package in the mail with our passport, entry visa, and supporting documents! We also received a reference letter for our biometrics residence permit in this package. We were all set to go, even with 4 days to spare, but too little days for my comfort.

But the visa process isn’t over once you receive that beautiful UPS package back. There’s more!

11. Bring your passport with your newly printed visa and all those supporting documents with you on your flight.

You never know what the immigration officer is going to ask for. We had to show Andrew’s CAS/Acceptance Letter to the immigration officer.

DON’T FORGET TO BRING:

  • Passport
  • CAS/Acceptance Letter
  • Any other supporting documents
  • Biometrics Residence Permit Letter

12. Pick up your Biometrics Residence Permit Card.

Within 10 days of arrival to the UK, you need to pick up your biometrics residence card. Our letter said that if we don’t pick it up within 10 days, we may have to pay a fee. Basically, without this card, you can’t really do anything. You can’t open a bank account, which means that you can’t get a flat, which means you can’t get an address, but you need an address… yeah, it’s confusing. Anyways, we brought the Biometrics Residence Permit Letter to the assigned location (ours was a post office) and passport to pick our cards up. Our letter said that it would be there on August 8th. We went there on August 10th and the lady at the post office said that there was a problem with the NY office so they didn’t have our card. She told us to come back next week. Next week?! That means that we can’t get a bank account or flat for another week?! Anyways, we decided to go the next day and our cards were there….so now we are Residents of the United Kingdom and I’m eligible to work here!

Total Cost: $3,109

Now, do you still want to live, work, and study abroad?

As stressful and annoying this whole process is, God is good and is providing us with all our needs. We are thankful.

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