My friend in America has recently been looking into some of the nicest modern apartments manchester has to offer and has been asking some questions about what it’s like living in the UK and asked about everything from living expenses to travel. She also asked about visas and how should could get one if she’s planning on living in the UK for a long time so I thought I would write about my experience when trying to get a visa. What does getting a UK Fiance visa involve? Let me assure you, it’s no easy process to live in London as an expat through a visa.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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 the normal experience, but it just goes to show you that anything can happen when you send your documents.
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: 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?
For those interested in asking questions or who want to share their stories, please join my show ‘Expat Chat’ on Blab. It’s designed for expats to communicate about issues and have fun conversations about expat life. You can find more details about ‘Expat Chat’ here.
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. I hope to see you on Expat Chat too!
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!