Tips for Applying for a UK Visa

After posting my recent visa update, I thought it might be useful (maybe?) to someone going through a similar visa process if they happen to stumble upon my blog to offer some tips. These are things I picked up from going through a number of visa application processes of my own as well as from advising on visas when I was study abroad advisor back in the day. So, I hope these come in handy for someone.

In no particular order, my visa tips…

  1. Be on top of when you need to apply and how much time it will realistically take you to complete your application. You don’t want to have to rush everything as the applications are quite in-depth and require a number of additional documents be included. For us, this meant passports, marriage certificate, birth certificate for our daughter, bank statements, pay stubs…you get the point.
  2. Save random things. Basically, be aware of what sort of supplemental materials you’ll need to include in your application. For us, the hardest things were bills or other official correspondence addressed to both of us. These cannot be bills printed from your online account, which is difficult when most bills are sent and paid online now. We needed 6 pieces spread over the course of 2 years from 3 different sources. It’s helpful that my husband saves pretty much everything!
  3. Photocopy everything before you send it to the Home Office. This is so important. Most of what you will send off will be originals. What if something gets lost in the post? It will make your life so much easier if you have copies of everything in case something does happen to your application. Another reason for photocopying? Ease in completing future applications. The applications I submitted for my first leave to remain and for my second were essentially the same. It saved me loads of time by being able to flip through page-by-page and use my previous application as a guide to how I worded things, etc.
  4. Check, double check, then check it forty more times. I’m not exaggerating. The applications have to be perfect. You don’t want to spell something wrong or enter a date wrong. Small things can delay applications, so it is worth it to review your application a lot before sending it off. I even recommend having someone that you trust look over it for you. A fresh pair of eyes can often spot errors that might not jump out at you as you’ve been the one filling in all of those small blocks that have made your eyes cross.
  5. Just because the application is the same, doesn’t mean the requirements are the same. This time around I was required to pay an NHS fee. (Talk about a shock to the system when the price of my visa nearly doubled with that addition!) The application isn’t complete until every piece is submitted, so be sure you know exactly what is required.
  6. Post it securely. The Royal Mail has something called Special Delivery, which keeps whatever you are sending under lock and key until the postman collects it from the post office. This service can also be tracked online, and when it arrives at its destination, a signature is required from the recipient. It cost me less than 9 quid and was completely worth my peace of mind.
  7. Don’t book any international travel until you are certain your visa has been approved. The Home Office has your original passport and, in some cases like mine, your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) and you cannot travel abroad without those documents. Okay, this one is a good idea, but I totally didn’t listen to my own advice. Months ago, we booked flights back to the US for Thanksgiving at the end of November. I was fairly certain it wouldn’t be an issue, but I half wondered if I hadn’t jinxed myself with those flights.
  8. Call the Home Office if you have any questions. Although you might know others who have gone through a similar process and their experiences are helpful to hear, they cannot ultimately give you an official answer on specific questions you have about the application. I’ve called the Home Office a few times, and they have always been helpful. It doesn’t hurt to be certain, so give them a ring and yourself some peace of mind.

I do hope this might be helpful to any newbie visa appliers out there! And, please feel free to get in touch with me if you need to vent or chat about the application process. It always helps to have someone on your side who has been there before.

Would anyone else like to add any tips of their own?

Please don’t go!

Well, don’t worry, United Kingdom, you’ve got me for another 2 and a half years.

I found out last week that I was approved for my second leave to remain as a spouse – hooray! Having been approved once before in this same visa category, I wanted to believe that I would definitely be approved this time as I am even more settled now with Richard and our daughter. However, as I sent off that 2-inch thick envelope containing every detail of our life my application, I still left the post office feeling a bit anxious.

This time, I received my letter requesting me to submit my biometrics just over a week from posting my application. This is compared to when I applied in 2013 using the FLR(M) application and it took close to a month to receive that letter. Receipt of that letter left me feeling hopeful that things were moving quickly and I might receive word soon. I actually went to the post office the day after receiving the letter and had my digital fingerprints, photograph, and signature captured. I wanted to be on top of it, especially as we have flights booked to the US for late November.

After submitting my biometrics, it was once again a waiting game. I knew I should receive a reply from the Home Office within 8 weeks of submitting my application, so I marked each week on the calendar and silently wished for super smooth sailing.

It was a surprise when last Friday there was a knock on our front door, and it was a courier with a small envelope addressed to me. This envelope carried my Biometric Residence Permit (BRP), which resembles a driver’s license and which I must have with me when traveling abroad. The rest of my documents were sent under separate cover and arrived via Royal Mail that afternoon with a signature required upon delivery. What a relief!

When my BRP arrived, it was just me and my girl at home, and I showed the card to her and kept saying, “Yay! Mommy can stay!” She thought this was hilarious and would hold up the BRP then say, “Mummy! Yay!” It was so sweet. (Yes, I say ‘mommy’ and she totally says ‘mummy.’ I’m holding onto my little American-isms as long as I can yet it is adorable to hear her say ‘mummy’!)

So, what does all of this mean? It means that in 2018, we have to reapply again, but for indefinite leave to remain. That will be a huge deal for us!

 

Celebrating the 4th of July in the UK

I logged into my WordPress account and saw that I had started this blog post right after the 4th. I had completely forgotten about it, but I still wanted to share it, even if it is a bit late.

The week of the 4th of July brought absolutely beautiful weather to us in England. It was glorious! The sun lover in me was in heaven. I actually felt like we were on holiday sitting out in our garden, enjoying juicy watermelon, and taking in the view. It was absolutely wonderful and my mood got a much needed boost from the sun.Abersoch1

With the weather as good as it was, we expected it would carry on through the weekend, so we made plans to go to Abersoch for some family time and to have our own little 4th of July celebration. The weather unfortunately cooled off, which for me was disappointing, but I am sure for the rest of the UK was a dream come true.

However, we still managed to enjoy our weekend by the sea, even if the weather wasn’t as great as we were hoping it would be. We filled our weekend by walking to the village and to the beach, watching our girl explore the beach and collect every seashell she could, and eating delicious burgers and sausages hot off the grill. If we couldn’t be in the U.S., then this was the next best thing, and it was honestly a perfect way to spend the 4th of July. As I told Richard, “It just doesn’t feel like the 4th without a barbecue by the beach or a pool.”

Abersoch3

Abersoch4

Oddly, the 4th of July is one of the U.S. holidays I miss the most. I’m not sure if it is because it was always about spending time with friends and family or that it was the one day a year when everyone would come together to celebrate our country no matter their political affiliation. For me, it is a day about being proud of where you come from and celebrating that with those you love the most. Although we didn’t have any U.S. flags waving here in the UK, I definitely felt a sense of pride for my home country. I was glad I shared a relaxing 4th of July weekend with my little family, and I hope that in the not-so-distant future I can show both Richard and our girl what it’s like to celebrate the 4th in the U.S.

Abersoch2

A Very Yorkshire Day

There have been moments during my time living in England that I would classify as very British – a grey and misty day along the Thames watching the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Floatilla with friends whilst drinking champagne and a day dressed to the nines at the races at York Racecourse to name a couple. But until last week, I have never had a day that I can categorically refer to (in my mind at least) as a “Yorkshire day.”

Two events happened that make me say this, and I’d like to share….

Situation #1

The council is doing work on the road that runs in front of our house, which has meant that the road is closed to through traffic during the day. I looked out the window and noticed a dump truck parked in front of our drive. The girl and I were set to leave for her swimming class, so I walked outside and asked one of the workers if I would be able to get out of the drive in about 20 minutes. He assured me that I would be able to leave when one of his co-workers joined the conversation and in his broad Yorkshire accent asked, “What time do you need to leave, love?”

“11:45.”

He then asked, “And what time is it now?”

“11:20.”

He cheekily said, “You couldn’t get us two teas then, could ya?”

I was fairly certain I heard him right, but I asked anyway, “What?”

“Could you get us two teas with the tea bags left in and one sugar in each?” he replied with a grin.

I couldn’t help but chuckle when I told him that wouldn’t be a problem. He thanked me with, “Ah, you’re a star, love.”

Off I went into the house smiling to myself as I made their teas. I quickly learned that when you live here you always ask a person who comes into your house – either for a visit or to do work – if they would like a drink. It’s just the polite and appropriate thing to do. Although these guys were not doing work directly for us, I was glad to help them to enjoy their morning tea break.

Situation #2

On the way to our swimming class, we had to pick up our friends and I chose to go ‘over the tops’ to get to their house. ‘Over the tops’ essentially means that the route will take you over the tops of the hills and the road is usually rural (read:  narrow). I was coming upon a blind curve on a stretch of road only wide enough for one car.

As I cautiously approached the curve, I saw the recycling truck stopped in the road as it collected the recycling that day. This was the first time I had to reverse my car up the hill to a place that would allow the truck sufficient room to pass. I did well and even received a polite wave from the driver. This left me thanking my lucky stars that I now drive an automatic!

Both of these occurrences were fairly minor, but they were real reminders that I live in Yorkshire!

Have you ever had a moment – during travels or as an expat (if you are or have been one) – that left you thinking, “We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto?” 🙂

P.S. Those road works, by the way, are in preparation for Le Tour de France that departs from Yorkshire this year and, lucky for us, goes RIGHT past our house! Post to come on that excitement!

{We Do: Travel} Life as a US Expat in the UK

Hello to all of you who have made your way here from The Charming Blog! I’m Becky, and I’m a U.S. expat living in West Yorkshire, England. I moved here in September 2011 and haven’t left! (There is so much behind-the-scenes in terms of visas and logistics that has allowed me to stay here. I don’t plan to go into that in this post, but if any of you have questions about those details, please don’t hesitate to email me.) I hope you enjoy my post and that you’ll stick around to read more from me!

When I found out from Amy that I would be contributing to the We Do series by writing about life as an expat, I was equal parts excited – because I have the opportunity to share about a topic I know well – and nervous – because there is just so much that can be shared. I really had no idea where to even begin, so on the advice of my husband and my mom, I went through some of my old blog posts for ideas. They are smart ones, those two! I stumbled upon this paragraph from this post I wrote in February 2012:

Sometimes, I feel there is an assumption that when you move abroad your life will immediately be more glamorous and full of adventure. I admit that is an easy trap to fall into; wishing that every day I had some incredibly amazing story to tell. And yes, sometimes my life here is more glamorous than my life in the US (and I love those times too!), but it’s the every day that has become so meaningful to me. The mundane to me is the perfect.

Even after I wrote that post, I had only been living in England for just over five months, so I still found myself feeling as if every day should be full of adventure. One of the great things about being an ex-pat is that you can truly find your own place in whichever country you choose to make your home. So, although you might not think your life abroad as an expat is all that exciting, it actually is pretty great. It’s almost as if you know you have really assimilated when life in your adopted country seems normal to you. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly when the tourist feeling finally went away, but at some point it did. It was then that I truly realized that my life here in England is perfect as it is and that I could call myself an expat without feeling like I was pretending.

BoltonAbbeyExploring Yorkshire landmarks much older than any building in the U.S.

So, what were some of the things that made me realize I was no longer a tourist? Although I honestly could write so much more on this topic, I have chosen to share some of my favorites today.

Shall I just swing by the chippy? My husband, Richard, will sometimes ring on his drive home from work and ask me that question. The chippy is the fish and chip shop. Oh, the fish and chips of northern England are most definitely done right and so delicious! They are often served with mushy peas, which are essentially mashed peas. I have texture issues when it comes to food, so I wasn’t sure if I would like them, but I definitely do. This simple side dish is the perfect accompaniment to the fish and chips. When we return to England from a trip abroad, Richard always likes to have fish and chips for our first dinner back. I used to poke fun at him for it, but now I actually look forward to it!

Fancy a cuppa? After much practice and instruction from my husband, I am able to make a mean cuppa the proper way – milk and sugar (if you like), but always milk. Previously, I found it so strange to put milk in my tea, but now I find it odd to drink my tea without milk. Also, I look forward to a cuppa before bed with my husband while we’re winding down from the day. In fact, we’re watching MasterChef (a BBC classic) and enjoying our teas as I type!

IMG_3272What’s better than tea and cake in the afternoon?!

The pub. Most people know that the British love their pubs. They are everywhere making them an easy meeting place when you want to catch up with friends. Even in our tiny village, I can count four without even thinking about it. The best part about the pub though is that many of them are family establishments, which is not something you would find with bars and pubs in the U.S. Yes, everyone loves a night out just the adults, but we have a little one now so it’s nice to know you won’t get the side eye from the other patrons if you bring a baby with you. In fact, she is usually the star of the show when we take her with us! Also, this was the first Christmas since we’ve been together that we have actually stayed in England as we usually spend the holidays in the U.S. We went to the pub before dinner on Christmas Day and I didn’t think twice about it. My parents were visiting at the time, and they thought it was the funniest thing!

Hiya! You okay? This is a common greeting when you see someone you know. To be honest, it got on my nerves when I first arrived, but now I often catch myself saying it to friends as we’re greeting each other with a quick kiss on the cheek. I find that it just fits into the flow of conversation here.

The ‘x’. With close friends in the U.S., I would sometimes end emails and text messages with xo. The in the UK is a bit of an institution. With friends and family and even some people you aren’t that close with, every email, text, and greeting card will be signed with at least one x symbolizing a kiss and the end of a thought. At first, it felt forced and I would often find myself asking Richard when it was appropriate to use the x. However, it has become second nature. I’ve even found myself signing professional emails with it (and thankfully catching it before I would click send!).

The ‘wrong’ side of the road. For the first 2 1/2 years that I lived here, I did not drive, which was odd for me because like many others from the U.S., I had become reliant on having my own car. I could have driven legally on my U.S. license for the first year, but in all honesty, as a newbie to Yorkshire living, it was fairly nerve-wracking. We live in the countryside with narrow roads that sometimes are only wide enough for one car and left me holding my breath as a car approaches from the other direction. Because of that, I was content taking public transportation (which thankfully is quite good) and walking everywhere. However, public transportation is not as easy with a baby in tow, so I was keen to pass my test. (It’s funny to me that she spent the first few months of her life taking taxis with me!) I applied for my provisional license in March 2013 and began driving lessons in July. In March 2014, after two failed attempts, I finally passed my UK practical driving exam!

The exam here is nothing like the U.S. exam. Yes, you take a theory and a practical exam, but that is where the similarities end. In fact, I’m fairly certain I ran a stop sign on my U.S. test when I was 16 and still passed while that would be an automatic fail on the UK exam. (If you have a few minutes, I’d highly recommend reading this article written by an American describing his experience with the UK driving exam. My experience was nearly identical!) The fact that I now drive here on the opposite side of the road and from the opposite side of the car has been a massive factor in making me feel more settled. It’s so nice to be able to pop to the shop or catch up with friends as I please. It’s hard to remember what it was like before I drove. (I will be blogging about the entire process in the next few days, if you want to hear more about this, then be sure to check back!)

IMG_2900I’m pretty proud of that certificate!

Shall I just pop round for a quick catch up? Just reviewing this post, I see a number of words and phrases that I either didn’t use or never would have felt comfortable saying or typing prior to settling into life here…a bitring (as in call on the phone), poke fun at (as opposed to make fun of), cuppa, was keen toand pop to the shop. They now just seem to roll off the tongue when I’m speaking and writing. Here are a few more that I catch myself using:  have a thinkpop round, and watching some telly. I’d definitely recommend you read this great post written by another US ex-pat on some common British phrases and how they fit into conversation. She also mentions some words that don’t seem to sound right in an American accent if pronounced the British way, and I wholeheartedly agree with her point of view on tomato and aluminum. I’d like to add basil (pronounced bah-sil) and oregano (pronounced or-a-gan-oh) to that list if I may!

Living Across Two Cultures. Aside from the every day, there are so many things about being an expat that excite me. I enjoy the ease with which we can travel to continental Europe as well as a number of other places that aren’t as accessible from the U.S. I love that our daughter, although she will spend most of her younger years in the UK, will grow up with traditions from both sides of the pond. I find it funny that although the Yorkshire accent is slowly rubbing off on me, I’m still a bit of a novelty when meeting new people. I like to talk about where I’m from, but I also like to see people smile when I say I love living here.

RBParisParis is just a quick plane ride away!

All of this is not to say that I don’t still have moments that leave me frustrated or asking Richard way too many questions about why things happen the way they do. Being an expat is most definitely a continual learning process, and I enjoy being a student in my own life. I feel it is natural to still have moments when I find myself pining for things in the U.S. There are times when I desperately miss my family and friends in the States, despite the fact that my friends and family here are all incredible people. This is my home now though and it is hard to imagine life any other way. Life as an expat is about finding a balance between learning to love your life in your new home whilst still keeping a place in your life and heart for your home country. So, although the adventure isn’t always apparent to me, it is definitely still there!

countrysideIt’s hard to imagine living anywhere else, especially on days like the one pictured above!

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