Thursday, July 25, 2013

Getting a UK VISA: From Headache to Happy-Dance

I have a VISA! And no, I don’t mean a credit card (although I just got one of those, too). I now have a UK VISA, allowing me to study in Scotland.

It seems like a little thing. After all, it is just a little sticker in my passport. Getting it, though, was a lot more involved than I thought. That’s why I decided to write this post: so anyone considering going to the UK to study can have some idea what sort of hoops they’ll have to jump through.

The process began about a month ago, when St. Andrew’s issued me with the CAS (Confirmation of Application of Studies) number, which allowed me to begin my VISA application. I found the right form (Tier 4-General) relatively quickly using their form finder (, filled it out, and paid for it online.

This part of the application was a lot simpler than I assumed. Mostly it was basic info like name and date of birth, then things like passport number and whatnot. One nice feature is that you create a username and password that allows you to log in and out if you want to finish the application later. Also, after you’ve completed the application, you’ll need to print it out and sign it (on legal-sized paper supposedly, though I used normal 8.5x11 and it was fine) and since I didn’t have print capability at home, I was able to log in at school and print it there.

After the online application, you have to make a biometric appointment, in my case using World Bridge (, which is a company that the UK government hires to help with visa applications. There are very few World Bridge centers in Canada, so be prepared to travel! You’ll also have to bring a couple important documents:

 -T he printed/signed copy of the application
-One passport-style photo (Note that this photo is smaller than a Canadian passport photo)
- Your Self-assessment points form

You’ll get a detailed list of what to bring in an email, but those are the main things.

This was by far the worst part of the application. For starters, I had to go all the way to Halifax for my appointment (a 3.5 hour drive). They also had only one available appointment all summer, meaning I was forced to take a day off work. Once there, the appointment was only ten minutes long, and consisted of a woman looking at my papers, taking my fingerprints, and getting me to say my name into a camera. She also told me that my photo wasn’t good enough (because my bangs slightly covered the corners of my eyebrows) so I had to get new ones taken afterward. It didn’t matter for me, since I had to courier the application in myself, but at other places where they courier it for you, you need the photos to be right the first time.

After the appointment, it took me about a week to get new photos taken and courier the package to the Visa application center in New York. I also had to purchase a return courier service through the World Bridge website and include the receipt in the package. I tracked my package to New York (it took a few days, since I choose the cheap service) and then I received an email saying that the embassy had received my application and would email me again when they made a decision.

According to the website, student Visas are usually processed in 3 weeks, but it can take up to 12 weeks. In the first email, they said their average time was 8 days. My visa was processed in just 4. They received my application on Tuesday, and by Friday my Visa was already in the mail.

I wasn’t too impressed by the return courier they used. The service was supposedly overnight, but it didn’t arrive until Tuesday afternoon (five days), and they simply left it on my doorstep. Considering that the package contained some very important pieces of ID, I would have preferred a more secure method of shipment… but it still arrived, so it’s okay.

Basically, I’ve been very pleased by everything on the UK end of the application (the original online application and the response time) and a little annoyed with anything to do with World Bridge (the appointment and the courier service). So, if you’re in a bigger city where the UK has their own offices, you can relax. If you’re in a more rural area like me, well, at least you know what you’re getting into.

To recap, here’s a timeline and a summary of costs:

Online application- One day
Biometric appointment- A week later
Couriering to processing center- Several days
Adjudication- Four days to twelve weeks
Return courier- Several days
Total time- Approximately a month (basically dependent on the adjudication period)

Application- $492
Photo- $18
Appointment fee- $175 (only for mobile clinics)
Travel to appointment- $110
Couriering- $55
Total- $850

I apologize for how long this post ended up being, but I hope y’all have a sense now of just how complex applying for a VISA is, and I really hope that I’ve helped some potential exchange student who’s in the same position I was a month ago. Applying for a VISA can be extremely stressful and expensive, but I’m sure that once I get to Scotland it’ll be worth it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment