UK Fiance Visa Process as an American Expat

Why My UK Fiance Visa Process was a Nightmare!

Aside from ‘What’s the weather and food like in London?’, questions about the steps for getting a UK visa are the most popular ones I receive on my Contact page as an American expat blogger living in London.

While everyone’s situation is certainly different, I know that when I was doing research on the process for a UK Fiancé visa application, I tried to read everything accessible on the Internet. I looked at blogs and expat forums night and day.

UK Fiance visa process American Expat

First, in 2012 my soon to be husband and I decided that a UK Fiancé Visa would be the route we would pursue because we wanted to get married in London, where he is from. My ‘About‘ page outlines how we met.

UK Fiance Visa: Hiring an Immigration Attorney

In one of my trips to London, we met with and hired an immigration attorney. She knew the immigration process and was reputable.

Given our situation, she felt the UK fiancé visa process would take around two weeks for me to receive approval notification and have it in my hands. Once I sold my three bedroom townhouse in New York, I gave notice on my six-figure salary job, arranged for someone to takeover my lease on a two year old Mercedes Benz, paid to ship the car to the person and planned to stay with my parents for a short time in Pennsylvania while waiting for the UK fiancé visa.

The immigration attorney prepared all of my future husband’s documents, sent them to me and guided me through my steps. I made an appointment at the Immigration Office near me to have my biometrics completed. There was no interview.

I left that building and went straight to the post office with my application in the pouring rain on October 29, 2012, as Hurricane Sandy was hitting New York.

That was the last time I had all the conveniences of my American life.

UK Fiance visa process American Expat

UK Fiance Visa: The Wait

For four business days I checked the U.S. Postal Service website to track my package. It indicated it was held in lock down at an unidentified storage facility due to the hurricane upheaval. The package contained original copies of every document important to my life, including my passport. No one at the post office was sure ‘where’ it was exactly. The hurricane had created a nightmare for many.

Finally, I was notified it was on its way to the UK Embassy in New York City. A week later I received an email saying it was received and would be processed. So, there was my first two weeks of waiting.

At the time, the UK had a website that showed approximate wait time for ‘typical visa applications’ in my category. I checked it easily 10 times an hour. Each day it seemed to get longer. 20 business days, 33 business days. 45 business days 50+ business days…

Luckily, around mid-November, my fiancé and I were able to cancel the flat we had contracted in London with minimal financial loss. We felt it was best given the uncertainty of my UK Fiancé Visa timeline.

As my waiting stretched past Thanksgiving in America, it seemed it was unlikely I would be in London with my fiancé for Christmas.

UK Fiance visa process American Expat

The only communication I had was with others who had discovered the ‘test’ Facebook page for the UK Embassy. I read the posts of others who were waiting like me. With great scrutiny, I also read the very few responses and updates the Embassy posted. Everyone waiting tried to help each other virtually. However, each of us had a very different circumstance.

I also read the UK Yankee Forum daily to see how long it took others to receive their spouse or fiancé visa, if they had posted their experience on the website.

At the beginning of January, in a move of total desperation, I paid the priority fee, even though it was advised that it was only useful if submitted with the application. I just needed to feel like I was doing something to move my timeline forward.

UK Fiance Visa: The Delivery

In mid-January, 45 business days after they acknowledged receiving my application, the Embassy sent an email stating that my fiancé visa was approved. The email indicated it would arrive the next day via the overnight service I paid for in advance.

After some serious celebrating, I checked the website to track my document package. Despite every indication I wrote on the UK fiancé visa application stating I was selling my townhouse in New York, the package was still set to be delivered at my former address.

The delivery company said there was no way to change it. So, on a subzero temperature day in January, my mother graciously offered to drive four hours with me back to my old address in New York. Remember, I didn’t even have my own car at this point in time.

We got up at 4am because the package was set to be delivered anywhere between 9am-5pm.

uk fiance visa process american expat london

Ok. That’s not a picture from the day we waited, but it is one that I took outside my townhouse window during a New York snowstorm one year. 😉

Luckily, we only sat outside my former townhouse in the minus 0 degrees temperatures for an hour until the UPS delivery truck pulled up with my document package and UK Fiancé Visa.

UK Fiance Visa: The Unexpected

My visa process certainly wasn’t a normal experience, but it just goes to show you that anything can happen when you send your documents. Perhaps, if one could try the whole process with the assistance of a company of similar caliber to Mayfair Immigration, they might get to a different conclusion. And they would also most likely have a better visa processing experience.

Apparently, aside from Hurricane Sandy, the UK was also closing down the visa application process for Americans via their New York office. Shortly after I received my visa, all these types of applications began being processed in Sheffield, England. Those two occurrences, plus the holidays, really created a nightmare for me.

Waiting for a visa to be approved is one of the most anxiety filled processes you can imagine, especially if you have already given up your home, job and car.

UK Fiancé Visa: My Advice

You can watch my additional advice that I wrote after my spouse visa application here on YouTube:

– Note that you are unable to work in the UK if you have a fiancé visa. It’s also very difficult to find a job as an American when you do have a spouse visa. I’ll write a post in ‘Working in the UK as an Expat’ soon too. However, build that extra time without income in to your moving to the UK planning budget too. In fact, double what you think it might be.

uk fiance visa process american expat london

UK Fiance Visa: And Then…

Sadly, after waiting for the UK Fiancé Visa for almost three months (well past the predicated two weeks), I was only able to live in London for three months of 2013. This was due to my father’s terminal illness. I returned back to my parents’ home and spent the remainder of the year assisting my mother care for my dad.

A UK fiancé visa is only valid for six months, so I had to apply for a spouse visa at the end of the year to return to London. My husband and I chose to get married in the U.S., rather than pay for yet another fiancé visa and then a spouse visa too.

I’ll write about the spouse visa process, which was completely different because the New York office closed, in another post soon.

UK Fiance Visa: What’s Your Visa Advice?

Finally, please don’t try to enter the UK without the appropriate visa. I’ve not only heard horror stories about people being detained at the airport and sent home after hours of interrogation, but also I have personally met individuals who had this experience.

Follow the right procedures for a UK visa application and be prepared for any decision and length of time it may take.

Please share this post if you know anyone planning a move to the UK. I’d love your thoughts and comments too, especially if you’ve been through the UK Visa Process.

Update: On January 28, 2016 I finally received the contents of my townhouse! Here is my review of an excellent international shipping company, which includes a discount for you!

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  1. It seems like you had a really kushty life back in New York and have sacrificed a lot to come and be with your husband in London, I admire you for that. However, it is such a shame you had to go through all that trouble to get your visa. I’m glad it is all sorted now and that you’re here in London now.

    Aftab | Fresh And Fearless

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Aftab. Yes, the total loss for living here has been shocking. Aside from that, the years of experience I had in my job are completely overlooked in London, which has made it even more difficult to transition. While I did plenty of research before moving, I learned when I arrived that people had not been completely forthcoming about things with me in my industry. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to acquire the same type of life I had in the U.S. in London. I’ll write a post soon on the working in London experience. Hope to see you soon 🙂

  2. I’ve been in the UK (I was also born in the US) for nearly 15 years. In October 2012, I had to apply for my ILR as my visa (I kept getting work visas) was due to end, and I couldn’t apply for it earlier than October 2012 for the timings. Now, I’d applied for the visa extensions before and the most they ever took was 6 weeks. So I thought I’d have it back well in advance for my brother’s wedding in early January. However, it did not happen. It took AGES. I was without my american passport (as the UK home office had it) for nine months. God forbid if anything urgent happened in the US and I couldn’t be there. As it stands, I had to miss my brother’s wedding and I’m still pissed off about it. I’ve done everything legal and have spent 15 grand at least on visas, extensions, solicitor fees, etc over the course of all those years.

    1. Jenn, thank you so much for sharing your story. While I consider mine to be a ‘nightmare’, your nine month wait is unfathomable! Please let me know if you’d like to guest on ‘Expat Chat’ to talk about your visas or any other expat experience in future weeks. At least with an ILR, you’re free from the process and expenses now. What a fortune living here has cost!

  3. I’m currently waiting for my fiancé visa to come through! 35 days and counting…. I too hoped I’d be in the UK for Christmas but it’s not going to happy now. Luckily my family have arrived in Spain where I’m living to have Christmas with me. Waiting for this visa has seriously been the most stressful time of my life! The ups and downs with it are crazy. And not looking forward to doing it all again after we’re married… but at least we’ll be together then! Basically having a mini rant on your post… but it’s nice to have read about someone else going through the wait!

    1. Sorry to hear your wait is so long. Fingers crossed it comes soon. I absolutely understand your frustration! Please do send me a message when it arrives.

      1. Oops I mean not going to happen now! I’m still hoping they tell me this week then at least I can have my Christmas here with my family and book a flight back once I get my passport back. That’s the main frustration for me, not having it! They have a service now where you can pay to keep your passport during the process. I didn’t think it would be so long or I would have paid for it. Hindsight is 20/20! I wasn’t able to do the priority application from Spain because it’s not available, and it does make me wonder if it takes a lot longer since on the forums most people seem to apply for priority so I assume that applications keep pushing ahead of mine :(. Oh well it’s all worth it right :).

  4. I’m from Vietnam .and did 3weeks in timeline to waiting result fiancé visa .That’s so much nervous .

  5. Hi there
    We’ve applied for the spouse visa to U.K. And had paid for the priority service which we lodged it in with the application.

    My partner is already in London
    I’m jobless (I’ve quit my job) and officially homeless yesterday on my birthday.
    We thought that we would have the visa latest 14th of April (15 buesiness days from the date we lodged)
    so we had rented out house out for 27th of April thinking that I’d be in London by 20th April
    Nope! we were so so so wrong.
    This is a real nightmare for us and my partners heart is aching
    So I could really relate to your post

    1. Oh no! Sorry to hear this. With Brexit, I think things are happening slower at the processing office. I address a lot of these ideas in my YouTube video about moving. I know it won’t help now, but maybe the other videos on the Expat Chat playlist would be valuable? Specifically, the video on working might prepare you for moving. Fingers crossed you get the email soon stating they’ve made a decision. I know how slowly the clock moves during the wait. All the best to you during this anxious, heart-breaking time!!

  6. I’m now approaching the second month of waiting and am already crying with my fiancé almost everyday. We also hired an agent in the beginning and thought it was only going to take a few weeks. The anxiety started to grow a month into the waiting. I’ve never felt so anxious and to some extent humiliated before.

  7. Hi! I am about to go through the same waiting game you guys have gone through. My fiance and and I have a kid together. We did a trial of living together to have a feel of how it will be like living together and we both agreed that the time has come for us to settle down and live together permanently as we don’t want our daughter to grow up without her dad. I have just submitted my application today and was shocked that the supporting documents needed to be sent directly to Sheffield. I hope it won’t take that long to get processed.

  8. Can anyone tell me the process once you have been E-mailed that the decision has been made, but it does not say what the decision is!

    My fiance called a number given and was told the decision will be arriving in a letter. I am beside myself, and tomorrow is my Birthday.

    If anyone can help me, I would be very grateful. Am hoping my Birthday wish comes true! SOS IN SOUTHERN VIRGINIA! HELP!

    1. When I received my fiancé visa in 2012 I was sent an email with the verdict indicating the visa was going to be sent to the house I had already sold in another state. I had to drive 275 miles overnight to be at the old address by 8am to receive the package of all my documents back and visa. When I applied for the spouse visa I just received an email saying the decision was on the way. I learned I received it when I got the mail the next day. If you met all the criteria, it’s probably safe to assume all is fine and is in the mail. Did you pay to have it delivered by priority mail?

  9. Thanks for sharing the informative post. I have one question. Please tell me the eligibility for applying for UK finance visa.

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