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My Visa Journey Part 3: Citizenship

invitation I became eligible for my UK citizenship in January 2013 after three years of residency, but we did not submit my application until September 2014. At the time I submitted my application, I was quoted as it taking 3-6 months to process, but closer to six….so imagine my surprise on Saturday when I got my acceptance letter! Total time from application being submitted to letter arriving on my doorstep was 6 weeks and 6 days!

The application itself is pretty straight forward. You download it off the gov.uk website. Don’t forget to download the guide and booklet to filling out the application as well as the payment form*! The current fee is £906, but this usually increases every 6-12 months, so it’s a good idea for you to double check with the website. I think the most frustrating part for me was finding the application online as UKBA used to have it’s own separate website and sometime between getting my ILR in 2012 and now, they moved all their files over to gov.uk. Google to the rescue!

You can either send your application in on your own (and send all your original documents) or you can pay £50 to your local council for a Nationality Checking Service. At this appointment, they will photocopy all of your documents and send those so you will not need to send in your originals.

Before you start to fill out the application, you need to get your photograph taken. I went to Snappy Snaps and had 4 photos done for £10. I’ve since used one for my provisional driver’s license and will use the remaining two when I apply for my British passport. You also could use one of those £5 machines in Tesco, Asda, etc. but every time we tried to get mine done the machine seemed to be down. I also preferred having mine done by a person and not a machine, because this ensured my photograph met the exact standards. Photos in hand, I was ready for the second important part of my application: your references.

You need to have two references. Both references need to have known you for at least three years. One needs to fit some very specific criteria** such as being a business owner, and the other reference needs to hold a valid British passport. Your first reference does not necessarily need to be British, by the way and neither referee can be related to you, even by marriage. Fortunately for me, I have been friends with the owner of MediVisas (BTW, an excellent source of advice!) for well over three years and I used one of our local 16mm members who I have known since I was first a visitor in 2008.

application

Before you sit down to fill out your application, you should first make sure you fit the residency criteria. As the spouse of a British citizen, I was eligible after three years of residency. Even though I waited longer, they are only interested in the past three years. You must have been in the country (not travelling) on the date exactly three years before the date of your application, and in the past three years you must not have been out of the UK for more than a total of 270 days and no more than 90 in the past 12 months. You also will need to know the exact dates you were out of the country (if you didn’t keep track, just go back through your passport stamps). Days spent partially in the UK (date you left and date you returned) do not count. You will need to enter the dates (for the past three years only if applying as a spouse) on page 7. If you run out of space, you can add additional details on page 13.

In addition to needing to know when you were out of the country, you need to list all of your UK addresses for the past 5 (three as a spouse) years. This can prove difficult for people who have moved multiple times. If you are reading this now with an eye to gaining citizenship, start keeping track of your addresses!

If you didn’t need to take the Life in the UK test for your ILR, you will need to take this test before you can apply for citizenship. If you are not from an English speaking country, you also will need to take an English language tests. Details for both of these can be found on the website. Hopefully, you kept hold of your LitUK test result paper, because you will need to send it with your application. If you don’t have it, you will need to take the test again, as they do not re-issue pass certificates.

You also will need to know your parents full names (including maiden for mother), birth date, nationality, and birth place, as well as all of this information for your spouse.

If you book a Nationality Checking Service appointment, you will need to bring:

-Your current passport and your passport with your current visa (if it’s in an expired passport)
-Your expired passport if it shows dates you were out of the country in the past 3 years***
-Your birth certificate
-Spouse’s current passport
-Spouse’s birth certificate
-Marriage certificate (the certified one, not the pretty one)
-Life in the UK Test pass certificate
-English language test results (if applicable)
-Proof of current address+
-Any other documents showing a change in identity (examples: adoption certificates for you or your spouse, divorce papers if either of you were previously married)
-Any other travel documents as issued by the Home Office. If you have a biometric card, bring it (I don’t have one).
-£50 to pay for the Nationality Checking Service (My council only accepted cash)
-Completed Application
-Payment slip for citizenship plus payment (No cash accepted. Card or Cheque only)

Please note that if any of your documents are in a language other than English, you will need to get them translated.

My Nationality Checking Service appointment was on a Wednesday morning. I did not need to bring my spouse along with me, but I did need to bring his documents. My appointment took about 15 minutes because I had organized everything ahead of time in a document folio in the exact order it would be needed. The woman who did my review praised my organisation….I couldn’t imagine doing these things without keeping my paperwork organised! As we went through my application, she had a checklist of documents and after we made the stack, she left the room to photocopy everything and returned all of my original documents to me. If you do not use the checking service, you cannot send copies and would need to send your originals.

fee

At the appointment, I was told I would hear from them in about 2 weeks letting me know the payment had been taken, and then I wouldn’t hear again for 6 months as that was how long it was taking to process applications. Well, I must be lucky as my letter arrived this weekend — what a perfect fifth anniversary present for us!

First thing Monday morning (today!) is ringing up the county council office to schedule my citizenship ceremony! Unfortunately, I can’t apply for my British passport right away as I am travelling to the US in January and I do not think I would have my passport back in time, but at least I will have my new passport before my trip to the US in May! (and yes, I will keep my blue US one too! I get to be a dual citizen!)

***

*When I went to my appointment, they had copies of the payment form, but to be on the safe side I would print one out.
**The guide claims there is a “list on our website”, but I could never find it. However, the full list if acceptable referees can be found here.
***If you have travelled to a country that is part of the CTA (such as Ireland) it’s a good idea if you have copies of your boarding cards if you flew or took a ferry to show the dates you entered and left. I’m not sure if this was a requirement, but I submitted the information as I listed Ireland on my dates out of the UK.
+This is not listed as a requirement, however I was asked for this at my appointment. Fortunately, I had with me the letter I recieved with my ILR that listed my current address, although she did tell me it would have been okay if I didn’t.

The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on http://blog.beccajanestclair.com, my facebook page, Networked Blogs, the RSS feed(s), or through an e-mail subscription, please notify me.

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My Visa Journey Part 2: ILR (aka Permanent Residency)

Yesterday was probably the most nerve-wracking and important day in our lives. As if getting married and applying for a Spousal Visa wasn’t bad enough, it only lasts for 2 years (technically, 28 months to give extra time in case you arrived more than a month after your visa was issued). To stay in the UK longer, you currently need to apply for ILR (Indefinite Leave to Remain AKA Permanent Residency). You can apply by post or in-person. The in-person appointment has a heftier fee, but it’s an immediate decision and saves weeks of finger nail biting. We decided on an in-person appointment for peace of mind, and also just in case we decide to go abroad on a long weekend (we’ve toyed with a weekend in Paris, but might put it off so we can save more for a trip to Austria in June).

My appointment was for 11:15 at the Sheffield PEO office and the appointment information states you should arrive 30 minutes before your slot. We decided to take public transportation the whole way starting with a bus at 7:40AM out of the village. Our train was running early and we actually arrived at the PEO office with an hour to spare.

Getting through security was an ordeal. There was a couple behind us complaining that their appointment was in 10 minutes and I couldn’t help but wonder why they hadn’t read the information on the website! To get through security, we had to take the batteries out of our mobile phones to show the inside. We were allowed to put the phones back together, but we had to leave them off the whole time we were in the PEO. Tim made the best blunder of the day by forgetting his dress shoes were work issued and had steel toes! Fortunately, security just waved him through after I said “it’s the shoes”.

We checked in early and were quite surprised to get called up to the desk within 5 minutes. Our case worker, Joe, looked at my application and asked me when I filled it out. I told him I had printed it off the website a few days prior and he said “everyone’s been telling me that, but this is the old form”. He then handed me the new form and asked me to fill it out. There are NO differences between the old form and the new form, save for the fact that the bottom of the new form says “10/2011” and the old form “04/2011”. Apparently, the website hadn’t been updated with the new form and everyone coming in this week has had to re-do their form on arrival. I told the man at reception I had finished the new application, and before we even found seats in the crowded lobby, we were called to the desk again.

This time, Joe went through our entire packet. He asked me where in New York I was from, and I puzzled him by answering “I’m not”. I then explained how I was born in Brooklyn, but my parents moved when I was a baby. Surprisingly, he knew where Princeton was after he didn’t know where Hightstown was. He checked to make sure we had the required documents, transferred it into a plastic document folder, and told us to proceed to the payment counter. We had to wait for about 10 minutes while someone came to the counter, but the money was soon out of our account and the woman at the payment counter said she would “pop (y)our documents over to the case worker” and that he would be with us “shortly”.

Shortly turned into two hours. Two nervous hours. I tried reading, but I couldn’t even tell you what I was reading. I couldn’t even speak to Tim because I knew if I opened my mouth I might start crying from all the stress. I kept worrying that we had missed something, or something was wrong. I kept wondering if I should go back up to Joe to ask him if they needed more documents, because I had two years of bank statements, payslips, etc. with me just in case. Finally, we were called to another window where we faced a stony-faced man named John.

From the look on his face, I was expecting bad news, but he surprised me by telling us we had been approved! He then chatted with Tim about his job for a little, and asked us how we met (in some ways, I wonder if he was checking the information on file from my first application, but I’ll pretend he really was interested). He then told us we could leave and return in a half hour to 45 minutes for the visa to be processed. I really wish they had given us the option of leaving and returning during the two hour wait instead!

We left and walked down the river to a Tesco Extra for a snack and by the time we got back and went through security again, my visa was ready! Happy day! What a relief!

We celebrated by having a late lunch at Meadowhall at our favourite restaurant, Frankie and Benny’s.

As of January 2012*, These are the minimum required documents for ILR (if settling as a spouse**):
-Completed ILR application. The bottom of the application should read “10/2011”.
-Life in the UK pass certificate
-Your passport
-Your spouse’s passport
-Two passport photos of yourself
-One passport photo of your spouse
-Three most recent payslips for your spouse and yourself (if applicable***)
-Three most recent bank statements (jointly held or singly held)
-Six pieces of post spread out over the previous two years illustrating that you and your spouse share an address. Alternately, you may use six addressed to each of you for a total of 12. They should be from at least three different sources****.

Anything else is just extra fodder and they honestly don’t need it unless you need further documents to prove residency, employment, or funds. If you are in doubt, contact an immigration lawyer^.

All hurdles are complete for settlement in the UK. Once you have ILR, as long as you do not leave the country for an extended period of time (I believe it currently is two years), you are permitted to live here.

My plans? Citizenship, once I become eligible. As a spouse and under current rules, I will become eligible on January 22, 2013, after three years of residency.

*Please check the UKBA website for up to date information as requirements can change at any time and use my information as a rough guide.
**ILR applicants that fall under other categories have additional requirements. See website and application for details.
***Include payslips from whoever is employed. If you both have jobs, include payslips for each.
****My documents were council tax bills for both 2010 and 2011, e.on bills from random months in 2010 and 2011, a barclay’s bank statement, and a Santander/Soverign Bank statement. If you have changed address, you might require more documents.
^ I did not contact a lawyer to review my application as I felt fairly confident I knew what I was doing based on my own research. However, I brought along additional information in case we were asked for it including our birth certificates, marriage certificate, expired passports, Tim’s payslips for the previous two years, bank statements for the past 6 months, mortgage statements for both 2010 and 2011, and pieces of mail for each month from January 2010 to December 2011 addressed to either myself, Tim, or both of us. If I was sending my application by post, I might have included some of the other documents.

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The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on http://blog.beccajanestclair.com, my facebook page, the RSS feed(s), or through an e-mail subscription, please notify me.

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Taking the Life in the UK Test

I took my Life in the UK test today and passed! The test honestly took 5 minutes and that included going back over a few questions I was unsure of and reviewing all my answers….and I only started studying about three days ago. This post will NOT tell you what questions will be on the test (it’s randomized anyway), but it could help you prepare for it.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Life in the UK test (LiUK) is the test everyone must pass before they can obtain permanent residency/citizenship. The test is in English, so if English isn’t your first language you will be certified as part of an English course. I have no idea if you get given the same test or not, but I’ll assume if you’re reading this that you speak English!

Before you can book a test, you will need to register on the Life in the UK test website. After you register, you will have the option of booking your test. You put in your postcode, and the site will tell you where the closest testing centre is. If you click on the centre you want to take your test at, it will take you to a calendar page and show you the available dates and times for that centre. If you don’t like the dates on offer, you can go back and pick a different centre. This is how I wound up taking my test at Nottingham since the Lincoln centre only does tests every other Friday.

The test costs £50, which you will need to pay when you book it. You also will need to enter details from your identification. It is very important that you bring that same piece of identification with you when you take the test. If your ID does not match exactly, you will automatically fail the test. The computer system allows three tries to match an ID before it locks someone out of taking the test. If you get disqualified from taking the test, you will not be refunded and you will need to re-book a test.

As far as studying goes, your best bet is to purchase the official guidebooks published by the UKBA. That book has everything you need to know in it (link to be posted later), including some additional information about Britain’s history, ILR, and citizenship. The important chapters are chapters 2-6. You can also purchase other guides, but make sure they contain chapters 2-6 of the official guide or you might not learn the correct information. The official books will be the most accurate and the most up-to-date, as the test is not updated annually. Purchasing a book that says it has been “updated for the 2011 census” will not help you since the test was last updated in 2007 or so.

If you do not want to purchase the books, you can borrow the official books from your local library. Now that I’ve passed my test, I can offer the first person to comment on this entry directly on my blog (http://blog.beccajanestclair.com) the copies of the book I used, which I received second hand from my friend Jessy after she passed her test last year. I have both the official Journey to Citizenship book and the practice question book. I also purchased a non-official study guide that has quizzes for each chapter I will pass along. I do not want any money for them, but I will only send them within the UK.

I also wound up downloading a non-official study guide for my Kindle, too. I found it much easier for me as I could read the Kindle version anytime and anywhere. There also are websites to help you and Tim and I even saw a computer program for it, so there are loads of options out there.

The practice tests I took really helped, even if I did blitz about 10 of them the night before. I even had 2 questions on my test nearly word-for-word out of one of the practice tests!

Taking the Test

The test is pass/fail, but you need to get at least 18 out of 24 questions right. The test will be a combination of multiple choice and true/false. There are no open-ended questions, and no room to add any comments.

Navigating the test is pretty easy. There will be a row of 24 boxes at the top for the questions. If you have selected an answer, the box will be coloured in (blue). If you have looked at the question but not answered it, the box will have a blue outline. A plain box indicates that you have not yet looked at the question or answered it. Opposite the boxes will be your timer. You have 45 minutes to take the test, and the test is set up to give you warnings at the halfway mark, 10 and 2 minutes remaining. The middle section is where the questions and answers are. The bottom left has buttons to move between the previous and next question, and the bottom right has the “finish test” button. DO NOT CLICK “FINISH TEST” UNTIL YOU ARE SURE YOU ARE DONE. If you accidentally click it, there will be a second screen asking you if you are sure, but if you exit the test you cannot get back into it and if you did not complete the test, you risk failing it.

You will not be allowed to have anything with you on the desk other than your ID, but you can ask for paper and a pencil. I was the only one who asked for it, but I found it helpful when I was asked a statistic question and I was able to write down all the numbers I could remember from the book. I also used my paper to keep track of which questions I wanted to make sure I went back and looked at again. I had four questions I wasn’t positive of the answer, but since you only need 18 correct to pass, I was confident when I walked out.

You are not allowed to talk or look at someone else’s computer while taking the test. Both will result in an automatic fail. The testing centre I was at allowed you to bring in personal items (handbags, phones, etc), but you had to turn OFF the phones and leave everything under your desk. We were told that if they even heard a phone vibrating while you were taking the test that you would be disqualified.

Like I said, you will have 45 minutes to complete your test in, but in my honest opinion, you only need at the most 20. Most of my friends who have taken it before me have said it took them 5-10 minutes. I was done in about 5, including double-checking my answers. The test is not a race though, so take as much of the 45 minutes that you need!

This may be specific to the testing centre in Nottingham only, but when I was done with my test, I was able to leave the room and join Tim in the waiting room by raising my hand. Tim and I talked about the test, and I talked with another person who had taken the test. We were then called in individually to get our score, but we were called in while people were still taking the test. I understand at some centres, you need to wait until everyone has finished before getting results. I was walking out the door well before the 45 minutes would have passed. Your result will not tell you how many questions you got right or wrong, only if you passed or failed. Your pass certificate will get stamped and signed, and you need to keep this safe as you cannot get a second copy. If you lose it, you will have to take the test all over again.

To those of you taking the test in the future, good luck!

[Please note that any information about the Life in the UK test or ILR and citizenship requirements are valid as of 10 November 2011. If you are reading this for advice in the future, please double check the information against the official UKBA website.]

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The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on http://blog.beccajanestclair.com, my facebook page, or the RSS feed(s), please notify me.

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Life in the UK

No time for a real entry today, it’s time to cram, cram, cram.

I have my Life in the UK test tomorrow in Nottingham. I have to pass this test in order to be eligible to apply for my ILR (Indefinite Leave to Remain) also known as permanent residency. It’s a short test, but there’s a lot riding on it. I’ve been studying like mad for the past few weeks and it will all come to head tomorrow morning.

I’m taking my test in Nottingham because the testing centre in Lincoln only does tests every other Friday and when I went to book a test, the first date wasn’t until the 25th. Fortunately, the testing centre in Nottingham is only about a mile from the railway station.

Wish me luck!!

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The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on http://blog.beccajanestclair.com, my facebook page, or the RSS feed(s), please notify me.

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I am an Immigrant

Apparently, there is going to be a speech made today (or maybe it has been made already) about more changes to the UK immigration system. My reliable source told me not to worry, and it looks like by “cutting family visas”, they mean more restrictions on people who come over as dependants of people here on work visas. Not family visas where you’ve moved to the UK to live with your family. Whew. My friend also pointed out to me that they already did put restrictions on the family based visa, based on the new English test, which isn’t aimed at people from English speaking countries anyway. The government scrapped the “Earned Citizenship” route as well, which affects my permanent residency, because it now looks like I am back to applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain in December 2011 instead of the new Probationary Citizenship that was to go into effect in July 2011.

But all the talk lately about immigration rules changing, caps being made, and fees raising reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend Erin a few weeks back. It was right around US election day and I mentioned to her that I hadn’t registered for an absentee ballot. My reasoning behind this was that I felt since I no longer lived in Lancaster/Pennsylvania/the United States, I really shouldn’t be making decisions on how things are run. I’m not there every day to experience life under [insert name of politician], and being in the UK means I only get exposed to print media, which as we all know, can be biased. I don’t think not voting made me a “bad American”, either.

I can’t vote in the UK, either. I am an immigrant, and even with permanent residency, I still can’t vote. In order to vote in the UK, you need to have citizenship. I have every intention on gaining UK citizenship when I am eligible (should be January 2013, if my calculations are right) because I feel that since I plan on spending the rest of my life here, I should be able to state my views on the government and be able to vote. It killed me not being able to vote in the May election.

I was discussing things over with Erin, and I proposed to her my idea — You should be able to vote where you live, regardless of immigration status. Obviously, some rules would need to be made to keep people from moving just for an election, but why shouldn’t you be able to vote where you live and vote for the candidates that you support?

I’m also in favour of “world citizenship” and having it not matter where you wish to live. Ever notice on a sci-fi show how they almost always refer to the government as “earth” or “world”? Why can’t we have that now*? Yes, I know. Overpopulation. If we had world citizenship, then everyone might move towards the “desirable” places to live, and places that were “undesirable”, like deserts where you can’t grow anything, would soon become abandoned. But it’s a nice thought, isn’t it?

I never thought I would become an immigrant. Immigrants were my dad’s parents, and my mom’s great-great-grandparents. Not me. But, here we are. I am an immigrant. And I’m happy.

*Okay, so it’s been pointed out that a government controlling the world isn’t such a hot idea…but that’s not really what I meant. I’m more for the “world citizenship”, not world government!

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Volunteering

One of the new requirements under the BCI bill is volunteering. Volunteering will cut 2 years off your citizenship wait, reducing it from 5 years to 3. Since I enjoy volunteering, I decided to look for a place to volunteer starting now. This way, when the requirements finally get posted I’ll hopefully be on my way to fulfilling them.

I started my volunteer stint (will be 4 hours each week) at the Cancer Research UK charity shop yesterday. The day was on the slow side, but still enjoyable and I picked things up pretty quickly.

My basic responsibilities are all on the sales floor. When items come in they go upstairs for pricing. Someone will bring the priced items downstairs and people like me will go around placing the items on the correct racks (and in size order). I also am responsible for keeping the racks neat (make sure hangers are all going the same direction, nothing is falling off, sizes are in order, etc) and for operating the till (register). The people I worked with seemed somehow surprised that I picked up working the till so quickly, but once you’ve seen one till, you’ve seen them all. The money is different, though. I found myself looking for a £1 paper note (which doesn’t exist) a few times, and I forgot all about the £2 coin so when someone needed £4 in change I handed them 4 £1 coins! The other big difference is the size and types of coins – a 10p coin is the size of a US quarter, and a 5p is the size of a US dime. the UK doesn’t have a 25p coin, but has a 20p and also extensively uses a 50p coin as well as the £1 and £2 coins.

…But I’m learning.

I’m looking forward to this a lot. Not just because it’s a requirement to obtain citizenship, but because I honestly like helping people and volunteering.

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A Day Out

I took the bus into Lincoln today because I had a few errands I needed to run.

I got off the bus at the “top of the hill” near the Cathedral, as my original plans were to talk to the people at the pub we want to use for the reception in person, but that didn’t work out. As I was walking down Steep Hill (yes, it’s called that) I happened to spot a volunteer sign in the window of the Cancer Research charity shop. Since my application for OxFam must have been rejected (never heard back from them!), I was still looking for some place to volunteer, both as something to do, and as part of the new requirements for seeking citizenship in the UK. I walked in, asked about volunteering, and 10 minutes later I was “hired”. I’ll be working every Thursday from 1-5PM, which goes nicely with my other activity on Thursdays – an all-female Barbershop group (part of Sweet Adelines).

After landing the “job”, I went to Primark to replace some of the items I accidentally shrank in the wash* and then to Boots (drug store) to use some coupons that expired at the end of the month, and to place an order for photos to be printed to go with my insurance claim form. Then, it was the trek over to the other side of High Street to Argos to make a return. Right as I got to the barriers for the train, they went down, so I sent a text to Tim. He called and played “big brother” on me by looking at me through his CCTV! Item returned and new item purchased (I needed a new small crock pot), I walked back only to get to the crossing right as the barriers were going down again.

I met up with Tim and we went shopping for Mother’s Day cards and Birthday cards and then decided we’d just go look at eyeglass frames at one of the discount stores. I found frames for both regular and sunglasses that I liked (and they were only £70) and so we asked about making an appointment, and there happened to be an opening right then, so this afternoon I had an eye exam and got new glasses and sunglasses! I pick up the glasses on Thursday.

We also did our weekly run at Tesco, and now I’m busy (at midnight) finishing roasting a chicken so I can use it tomorrow in a stew I’m making for Tim’s grandad.

I just need to keep my eyes open for another half hour….

*Last week when I did the wash, I forgot that temperatures were in Celsius and I set it for 60…..60C is a hot water wash, not the lukewarm water wash I thought it was.

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http://www.us2uk.net

BritanniAmerica is also great for networking and meeting new friends! Imagine moving to a country where you barely know anyone, but having a strong network of friends who are just like you! Friends who will offer advice and support whenever you need it, without that expensive phone call back to the US. From time to time, we’ll even be hosting various gatherings to get to know your fellow Americans face to face.

Not from America? No problem! We welcome anyone who is working their way towards a move to the UK, though most of our experience with immigration lies with US to UK moves.

We are still a relatively new site, so we also are looking for people to join our staff – people to moderate different sections of our site and board, people who want to add pages to our site (and who know HTML), people who want to write articles for the Wiki, and even people who just want to write a blog post about their experiences so far.

Come join us!

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Establishing Myself in the UK

I landed at LHR (London Heathrow) in the wee hours of the morning on the 22nd. We were the first plane down for the day (at around 5:30AM) and I managed to get through immigration and customs before Tim even left the hotel room! Sitting in Business Class (thanks Friend! [you know who you are]) rocked. They passed out these “fast passes” for immigration which goes to a special line only for First & Business class, so not a long wait there at all. I held my passport open to my spousal visa when I walked up to the counter and was asked one question “Where is your husband?” I replied that he should be waiting for me on the other side of Customs, and the I/O stamped my visa and said “Welcome Home, Mrs. L”.

Fortunately, luggage carts are free at LHR, and I piled it high with my bags and managed to get myself through Customs (nothing to declare) and out into the arrivals hall….to no Tim. Granted, it was 6AM, and my plane was supposed to land at 5:55, so I wasn’t upset. Instead I called Mom to tell her I had arrived and then called Tim. Turned out he was just leaving the hotel (since we live about 3 hours away from London by car, we figured a hotel was the best idea).

We were soon reunited and loaded the car…and we almost took the bags of someone parked next to us (who was even on my flight!) who had a purple bag, because Tim is programmed that all things purple must belong to me. heh. We had breakfast at the hotel, then went to our room and crashed for a few hours.

I woke up around 11, and after a shower we decided to head into the nearest town (though not into London proper) to find some Lunch and pick up a few things at Boots (Pharmacy), and tehn it was mostly hanging around in our hotel room until our pre-paid dinner at the hotel restaurant. Unfortunately, my stomach hadn’t figured out the time change yet, so I spent most of my afternoon being sick, but I felt well-enough to go down to dinner and nibbled a bit. Again, we didn’t do much after dinner (partially due to me not feeling well).

The following morning we decided to stop at IKEA in Essex on our “way home”. It wasn’t entirely on the way, but closer than any of the IKEAs in our area, and we wanted to go window shopping for new bedroom furniture.

We wound up spending 5 hours in IKEA! But it was worth it. We now know what we want and have a plan for renovating our bedroom.

We returned to Lincoln….and then the errands started. Oh, the errands.

Monday we went over to the GP (Doctor) so I could register. The receptionist had a little trouble with registering me, as she thought I needed to call the NHS to get a NHS number, but after calling the helpline from the lobby we got it straightened out and I should have my NHS card in a few days. We also headed into town, thinking that we’d be able to add me to Tim’s bank account. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite work out and we had to make an appointment for Tuesday. We also stopped at the Library though, and I got a library card and then to the Co-Op to sign up for a membership there. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my NI number (It’s similar to an SSN), but I have the number to call to get that, too.

Tuesday we had our bank appointment and after a two-hour meeting overviewing our finances, I was added to the account, we paid off the credit card mostly (we used it for my visa & moving fees), and we have a plan for a new savings account once I have my NI number. I should have my bank card in a few days!

We’ve also been doing a lot just to get the house in order. We plan on celebrating our Christmas on Sunday, complete with putting presents under the tree. At IKEA we purchased a new laundry hamper that ought to handle a week’s worth of two people’s clothing (and it even has a divider), and a cute side table for under the living room window. We’ve also been opening the wedding presents and started to use them – yesterday I made bread in the bread machine and it turned out really good.

Sadly, last night the washing machine decided that this was teh PERFECT time for it to crap out. So today we went off to Comet’s and picked out an inexpensive washer dryer combo. We figured since we knew we needed a new dryer eventually, we might as well spend the money now to get the combo, because buying them separate would have been twice as much. Plus, this gets rid of one of the units in the kitchen, so more space for other things.

Hopefully we’ll have a quiet weekend (other than Christmas on Sunday) and start to get things in order. My shipment got to Felixtowe on the 25th, so hopefully it won’t sit in customs for too long….but hopefully long enough for us to make room for the boxes.

[LJ readers reading this on the LJ RSS feed: Please click on the link at the top of the entry to go directly to my blog to leave a comment, as comments left on the LJ RSS do not get seen by me.]

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My Visa Journey

I’ve recently applied for and recieved my UK spousal visa. Here is a detailed account of what I did. I hope this can help someone in the future!

1229091138 On 5 November 2009, Tim and I got married in a small and private ceremony in PA, followed by a reception for friends/family in th US. I filled out the paperwork to get the certified copy of our marriage license before the wedding and had the envelope and cheque all ready to be sent post-wedding. Tim and I departed on our honeymoon on the morning of the 7th, and my mom mailed off the request for the certified copy on Monday. We returned from our honeymoon on the 15th, Tim went back to the UK on the 16th, and the marriage certificate arrived on the 17th.

Before sending off the marriage certificate, I went ahead and changed my name with my bank (though I did that immediately after the wedding and added Tim to the account) and with PennDOT. Then, it was off to the post office to send in a renewal/name change on my passport. This is an optional step, however I really wanted everything to be in my married name. I did NOT expedite my passport, but I had it back after only 4 weeks. During this time, Tim was able to collect the required documents we needed on his end, and he FedExed me his paperwork on 23 December. Due to the holiday, I did not receive the package until the 28th.

Tim and I had gone through the paper version of the application together to make sure I knew the answers to some of the questions (like Tim’s NI number) in case he wasn’t around when I filled out the online form. Fortunately, Tim was around and we filled out the application together. It took about an hour, but that partially had to do with my slow computer. It got to the schedule biometrics page and I was given a date at the beginning of January.

I organized all the paperwork before I did anything else. I purchased Avery dividers with document pockets and color-coded each section. I had 6 sections to my documents – General Information, Identification, Finances, Employment, Housing, and Misc. I will attach at the end my table of contents for more details. Anything that was more than a page long got paperclipped together, and each section was then clipped together with a small binder clip. The entire application was 60 pages, 12 photos, and 3 passports, so I then took 3 very large binder clips and clipped it ALL together on three sides.

After hearing a few success stories of getting biometrics done early, I decided to take my chances and we drove over to York (where my local facility was). It worked out since it was only about a 20 minute drive away, and we wanted to go out to Lunch at a restaurant in York anyway. Fortunately, there was only 3 people waiting for their testing (this also is INS, the place where US immigrants go for their biometrics and green cards!). Since they weren’t busy, they agreed to take me after the three people waiting.

Biometrics was pretty painless. Instead of using ink and paper, they have a special scanner that scans in your fingerprints. Mine were hard to read, and the woman doing it told me it’s because I use my hands a lot – like to type on a computer, send text messages, even crafting. Doing those things creates lines on your fingertips and it makes it harder to read your prints. Fortunately after about 15 minutes, she finally got something that the computer was satisfied with.

When we got back to the house, I had an email from my courier instructing me to send my application via overnight FedEx that afternoon, so off we went to the FEdEx facility across town. It cost me $53, but it was worth it!

I used All Star Visa & Passport Services and I can’t recommend them enough. They were very professional, didn’t offer me any unsolicited advice like some of the others, and kept in communication with me every step of the way. The received my application at 10AM on the 30th, after their submission time to the consulate, but that gave Myra time to go through my application and make sure I had sent everything I said I was (a step I appreciated). She wasn’t going through it to review it like some places, just checked for my documents. She also told me that I was pretty organized, which pleased me. Their services are a little more than some of the other LA couriers – $150 plus an additional $24 for shipping, but in my opinion it was well worth it to have such professional service. I had heard a lot of complaints about at least 2 of the other LA Consulate couriers, but nothing but good things about All Star.

Ken submitted my application in the morning on 31 December. The consulate was closing early for the holiday, so it was iffy if it would get looked at. When I didn’t hear from the courier by 3PM PST, I assumed it was going to have to wait. Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call around 7PM EST telling me I was approved and my visa was on it’s way to me! Way to go All Star!

My visa process took exactly 8 weeks from wedding to visa issued, but you can cut some time off if you don’t need to/want to change your name on your passport (or if you expedite your passport). Tim had most of his documents all ready and we were only waiting for a copy of the land registry, but I’ve been told we could have used the internet print out instead, which also would have cut off a week.

I’ll be leaving the US on 21 January to join my husband so we can start our life together!

My table of contents is a pdf for you to look at and use as a guide. It can be found here: spousalvisatableofcontents.pdf. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list, and you might require additional documents depending on your situation.

For a guide of required documents and an example of what your sponsor’s letter should look like, please visit Transpondia.

You can find support from fellow Americans who have gone through or are going through the same process by visiting the forums at BritanniAmerica.

Meg from UK-Y has put together a sample budget, and you can download the template here. Again, please remember this is only a guide, and you might need to add or delete lines as necessary based on your own financial situation.

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