Applying for my UK visa this summer was probably the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. The paperwork, the rules, the giant price tag… all of it made for so many sleepless nights and so many tears shed over UK Visas & Immigration. But I thought I’d write out this guide for an insight into the visa application process, and for anyone else applying for a UK partner visa. You can check out my other post on UK Visas for US Citizens here. I’m NOT a visa specialist or immigration lawyer, so you should always consult the UK Government website on this, as it will be the most up-to-date. I also recommend meeting with a UK lawyer (there are many places that offer free half-hour consultations) to ask specific questions you may have. All of this is from my experience as a US citizen, which may be different to other nationalities. So with those disclaimers out of the way, here we go!

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For this visa, you can apply to join your partner, parent, go to the UK to look after your child, or go to the UK to be looked after by family. For simplicity’s sake (HA! Simplicity doesn’t exist in the realm of visas!), I will only discuss joining your partner in the UK. To be eligible for the visa, you must be in a relationship with a UK citizen, a UK permanent resident (who has settled in the UK), or someone who has asylum or humanitarian protection in the UK. This visa is for 2.5 years, after which time you can apply to extend it for another 2.5 years. After living in the UK for these 5 years, you can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, a fancy way of saying the UK can’t kick you out (you can apply for citizenship after you have Indefinite Leave to Remain). Here are the eligibility requirements:

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-You must be in a serious relationship with a UK citizen/resident

You must be the spouse, same-sex civil partner, or unmarried partner (whom you have lived with for a minimum of 2 years) of a UK citizen/resident. If you are going down the unmarried partner route, you must be able to provide proof that you have lived together for at least two years, otherwise you aren’t eligible (or, as one of the lawyers we met with said, they’d laugh as they threw away your application). Civil partnerships are only for same-sex couples—and domestic partnerships (legalized in any US state) don’t count as civil partnerships. You can also apply to join your fiancé(e), but you will need to have proof of your marriage happening within 6 months (and you won’t be able to work until you’re married).

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-Person/relationship specifications:

You and your partner need to be 18 or over, your relationship must be genuine and recognized in the UK (ie. married or civil partners, living together in a relationship for at least 2 years, or engaged to be married/become civil partners), and you need to intend to live with your partner in the UK after you apply.

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-You need to apply from outside the UK

You cannot be in the UK when you apply for the visa. In general, you should apply from your home country, although I’m not necessarily sure if it’s required—but you’ll be without your passport for (probably) several months, so being in your home country is safest. Check the requirements for your country, as I’m not entirely sure.

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-You will need to meet the financial requirement

The financial requirement for a couple with no dependents is £18,600 (or £15,800 after tax). This is roughly USD$24,000 (the exchange rate changes constantly). You can meet this requirement in a variety of ways—but the most common is for your partner to be earning an annual salary of at least £18,600. There are all sorts of tricky rules and the paperwork involved is a nightmare. I was covered by Adam’s “non-employment income” for the year, which is his bursary/stipend for university. Be aware that student loans/grants don’t count. It’s all very confusing. What you need will depend on which category of income you’re applying under—you can read all 67 pages of the Appendix guide here.

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-You will need an address in UK (where you’ll live with your partner)

Basically, you just need to prove that you have a place to live once you arrive in the UK. This is easy for anyone if your partner already rents/owns a place in the UK—it was much trickier for me, since Adam was barely in England over the summer and didn’t officially have a place to live in York until a week before I got there. Lucky for us, Adam’s mom (the mum-in-law!) was kind enough to write us a letter and say that we were going to be living in her house with her.

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-You will need to have a good knowledge of English

I was exempt from this as a US citizen! Yay! If you’re from a country where English is the official language (they have the whole list on the website), you won’t need to worry about this. But if you’re from a country where English isn’t the official language, you will need to take some sort of English test and do more complicated, bureaucratic paperwork. You may also have to send in tuberculosis test results if you’re from certain countries, but the US wasn’t one of them (the risk of tuberculosis isn’t high there). Sorry I can’t advise more on this—good luck!

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If you meet all these requirements—congrats! You are eligible to apply for the visa! Remember, you shouldn’t book your ticket to the UK until you receive your visa. I also highly recommend having all your paperwork available and ready to go before you start the application process. Every situation is unique and will be different, so my experience may not be the same as yours. But here is a step-by-step guide for what generally happens next:

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Step 1: Fill out the visa application online. And yes, it is done through a company called “Visa4UK” and no, they’re not spam.

Step 2: You will need to pay the visa application fee, which for a partner is £1,195 (I paid $1604 with the exchange rate at the end of July 2016. See below for approximate costs).

Step 3: You will also need to pay the immigration health surcharge (IHS) as part of your visa application. For a partner visa to join family living in the UK, the cost is £600 (I was charged $801). It is charged £200 per year, and since the visa is for 2.5 years, they round up and charge £600.

Step 4: Make your biometric appointment. You will need to go to a visa application center to have your fingerprints and picture taken—there’s one in St. Paul, and I think in general in most big cities in the US. But if you don’t live in a big city with a visa application center, you’ll have to travel to the nearest one.

Step 5: Go to your biometric appointment, have your fingerprints and photo taken, and hang onto the piece of paper they stamp (you’ll need it for your application).

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Step 6: Now onto the fun stuff—it’s time to organize all the paperwork! Keep reading for a more detailed list of what you’ll need to provide. You will also need to make copies of everything that you want back (as well as the important documents in case they get lost—your application, appendix, etc.). For me, that meant copies of postcards, trip tickets, and more. You will need to mail your application in within 2 weeks of your biometric appointment.

Step 7: Purchase return shipping on the VFS Global website You can opt to pre-purchase your shipping from the US to the UK—I didn’t, but paid about the same price at the post office shipping through USPS. But you absolutely must pay for return shipping (online), otherwise they won’t move forward with your application and won’t send anything back to you.

Step 8: If you want to, you can also purchase priority service for your visa application on the VFS Global website. I did, and I felt that it was 110% worth the extra money. I don’t like to think how long I would have been waiting if I hadn’t bought it (and I say that with the privilege of being American!).

Step 9: Mail your whole visa application, appendix, and supporting documents. You should mail it the fastest way possible, with insurance, and you should get a tracking number.

Step 10: Wait.

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The Waiting Game: The time it takes for your application to be processed will vary greatly. As this visa is classed as a “settlement” visa, it takes longer than other visas (student, work, etc.). For applications from the US, most are processed within 30 days (one month) and all are processed within 12 weeks. Some other countries may have a wait time of up to 24 weeks (!!!). Buying priority service can significantly cut your wait time down. But the UKVI strongly advises against purchasing priority service if you have any adverse immigration history (you’ve been deported, previously been denied a visa, have a criminal record, etc.).

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In my case, I mailed my application on August 9th. It arrived in the UK on August 13th,  according to the US Postal Service (my shipping courier). It then sat in a pile somewhere until September 1st, when I got an email saying that my application had been received. As of September 13th, my application still hadn’t been opened/assessed (I had emailed them to check on it). I then received an email on September 16th that a decision had been made on my application (but they didn’t tell me whether I got the visa or not!!!!!). They processed and made a decision in less than 3 days (and they didn’t even look at some of my documents). My passport with my visa arrived on September 19th. One of the best days of my life.

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Once you have the visa, you will need to enter the country within 30 days of when your visa was issued. The full-page visa stamp in your passport (your “travel vignette”) will say when your entry clearance expires. You MUST enter the UK before your entry clearance expires. You can somehow arrange to extend your travel vignette, but it costs like $257 and you have to do more paperwork, so I wasn’t impressed. So once you have your visa, you should probably book your ticket ASAP.

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In order to enter the country, you will need to have the letter from UK Visas & Immigration that came with your visa. You’ll need to have your passport (with your “travel vignette”/visa), and the landing card that you fill out on arrival in the UK. You should most likely bring documents to show proof that you meet the relationship, financial, and residence requirements just in case. I had no problems at all with customs at the border—they asked me some simple questions about Adam, when we met, where we’re living, if I have a job yet, etc. They didn’t ask me for any paperwork besides the letter from the UKVI, but I’m also very privileged as an American. The officer gave me instructions about my BRP (see next paragraph), stamped my passport, and sent me on my way!

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Once you’re in the UK, you have a few things to do. This whole process is different from when I studied abroad in Nottingham, so I had to go through it all more or less unknown (or based off of information from lawyers). You must pick up your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) within 10 days of arriving in the country. Your BRP is your real visa: it allows to work/study in the UK, it is proof of your residency to get healthcare, it is what you’ll need to show to jobs to prove that you’re allowed to be in the UK.

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You will have selected a location to pick up your BRP as part of your online visa application. All you need to do is go there (I went to a post office in Newcastle-under-Lyme to get mine) with your passport and the letter from UKVI that came with your visa. They’ll take the letter and give you your BRP, which is just like an ID card. You should also register with the National Health Service (NHS), in order to use that “free” healthcare you paid for (just walk into a GP/doctor’s office and say you want to register there), and you should also apply for a National Insurance (NI) number, as you’ll need that for jobs/employment purposes.

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Whew! Now doesn’t that just sound like the most relaxed, non-complicated, un-stressful process of your life?!

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Here’s a full list of the paperwork that I sent in:

-Visa application

-Appendix

-SU07 Form (I don’t think I needed to do this, as it’s aimed at adult dependent relatives, but I had Adam fill it out and sent it in anyways)

-Passport

-Any other passports you have in your possession

-An extra passport photo (this will be used for your visa, try to get a cute one because it’ll be in your passport for the rest of time)

-Color copy of the bio-data page/relevant visa pages from your partner’s passport

This is to confirm your partner’s proof of residency in the UK (that they’re living in the UK legally). Based on advice from lawyers, Adam and I sent in a complete color copy of his passport (including all pages, even if they were blank), to show that he had passport stamps from trips to see me in the US. We also had this copy notarized.

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-Proof of relationship

This is where it gets tricky. We were told several times that, since I’m American (I am so extraordinarily privileged and fortunate) we wouldn’t need to send in as many supporting documents as we would otherwise need to be, since sham marriages aren’t a thing in the US. So with that privilege in hand, I sent in our marriage certificate, about 50 pictures (labeled and dated on the back) of Adam and I together and with our families, and 2 supporting letters from friends confirming that our relationship is genuine. And we sent in the Nottingham Post article with us at Taco Bell. The lawyers also suggested that if we have any shared financial responsibilities (rent, bills, etc.) to send those in. We don’t, but I sent in statements from PayPal confirming that we’ve sent each other money.

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-Proof of how you and your partner stay in contact

I sent in over 20 tickets from trips that Adam and I have taken together, or from trips to see each other. I also sent in several postcards we’d sent one another. And the killer of it all: 125+ pages of Skype call logs. Adam and I Skyped nearly every day when we were apart, and since it isn’t possible to download a Skype call history (when will this change?!), it was a whole lot of paperwork. It took 20 minutes just to scroll through and copy our Skype calls. It ended up being ~75 pages in a Microsoft Word document (once I deleted all the missed calls, dropped calls, unanswered calls, and links we’d sent one another), but since I read in some message board somewhere that a person was denied a UK visa for sending only a Word doc in, we also took ~50 screenshots of the Skype calls, printed them, and then highlighted those calls in the Word document. This was basically the worst part of the whole application.

-Proof of financial requirement

This will vary based on what category of income you’re applying with, and will probably include bank statements. Adam wasn’t in receipt of his bursary when I applied (but he would be within 3 months of the application), so we sent in his letter from the university confirming his bursary, and his university acceptance letter for his post-grad program. This worked fine for our situation.

-Proof of residence

Again, this will vary. I sent in a letter from my mother-in-law (who owns her house), confirming that Adam and I would be living there, as well as a copy of the title deed of the house proving that she owns it. A title deed or tenancy agreement should fit the requirements, but check any specific requirements.

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And here’s a general overview of the costs associated with my visa:

-Application: ~$1600

-IHS: ~$800

-Priority service: ~$600

-Shipping: $80 one-way, $140 return

-Copying/Printing: $80

TOTAL COST: $3300

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The visa application process to join family living in the UK is exhausting. Even just writing this blog post is exhausting. I can’t believe that there are people who go through all of this work with fake relationships! I hope this guide is helpful for people applying for this visa, and for the people who know me to understand a bit of what this has been like. I am so grateful and relieved that I got my visa, and I am so happy to be done with this very stressful process!

Have you ever applied for a visa before? What was your experience like?! Let me know in the comments below!