Hannah Drake

Move to England

How I Applied for a UK Further Leave to Remain Visa

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Exactly 7 months ago, I posted about How I Applied for a UK Settlement Visa. Today I'm here to talk about How I Applied for a UK Further Leave to Remain Visa, the next step in this moving to England process.

Before I even jump into it, I want to be really clear that there are so many reasons to move abroad, so many avenues to pursue to get a visa, and of course each country's process will be different. I don't know anything about work visas, I really only know about my visa and my situation, which applies to someone who moves to the UK to live with his or her fiancé, with plans to marry in the UK and settle in the UK. The reason I'm choosing to write about the process is because while we were going through it, there didn't seem to be a lot of helpful, clear, available information out there. Later on we found some forums, but it was still a lengthy, frustrating process, and we often felt very isolated in it because it was hard to understand what was going on, which makes it hard to communicate to the people in our lives what's going on.

My original Settlement visa was valid from 31 May 2017 through 30 November 2017. That meant I could legally live in the UK for six months, Luke and I had to get married within those six months, and I wouldn't be able to work for the duration of the visa.

Shortly after I moved on 8 June 2017, we called the local Register Office to make an appointment to give notice to get married. Our plan was that we'd be able to get married in July and I'd be working by August. Boy were we wrong! We had to wait nearly two months for an appointment just to give notice on 16 August 2017. At that appointment, we met with a man who asked us questions about who we are, what we do, and where we live. Because I was in the UK on this Settlement visa, we were not taken into separate rooms and questioned about the validity of our relationship. We had already proven our relationship was genuine and real while applying for the first visa. After the confirmation questions, he said the earliest we could get married was 31 October 2017, but we decided to get a slightly bigger room and get married as soon as possible, on 16 September 2017, which was actually our original wedding date. (Our original plan was to do one ceremony within the six month window I had, but we quickly pushed it back and decided to do it in two parts.) 

We decided to pay extra for my second visa in order to go into the local office and leave with the visa that day, otherwise it could be another 12 week waiting period. In total, it cost £1,583, with nearly £600 going toward the one-day service. So as soon as we got back from our minimoon in Wales, we booked the appointment, thinking it would only be a few days out. Unfortunately, the earliest appointment was a month away and actually outside of their "regular business hours". (The office is open from 8:00-5:00, but charge an additional fee to book from 8:00-9:00 and 4:00-5:00. The earliest appointment within their normal working hours was 25 October 2017. (While we were booking the appointment, we had to pay an NHS surcharge, called an Immigration Health Surcharge, of £200 per year of the visa, so £500 in total for a 2.5 year visa. As far as we understand it, I'll still pay toward the NHS from my paychecks like other the rest of the British workforce, despite paying the surcharge.)

On 24 October 2017 while I was riding the train back from London, I got an email saying the office was experiencing IT problems, my appointment was canceled and I needed to email them if I wanted to reschedule. We emailed them saying we wanted to reschedule for as soon as possible and the next day I got a call rebooking the appointment for 3 November 2017, a week and a half after the original appointment and only 27 days before my visa expired.

We completed another 79 page application (this time done long hand) and updated our supporting documents with current information. We included:

  • The application (corrections were made with white out tape)
  • My passport
  • My birth certificate and social security card
  • Luke's passport
  • Our marriage certificate
  • Two passport photos for each of us
  • Luke's 12 most recent bank statements, stamped and verified with his bank
  • Our tenancy agreement for our shared home
  • Utility bills in Luke's name from our current residence and his previous residence
  • A pre-paid credit card statement with my name and address
  • A copy of Luke's 12 most recent pay stubs
  • A packet documenting our relationship from our first visa application, including screenshots of our conversations on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Skype (15-20) and photos of us together with the date (from Facebook, Instagram, and screenshots from our phones, 15-20)

At the appointment, we took a number and waited to be called up to a desk, kind of like the DMV again. Once we sat down with the man, having only waited maybe 10 minutes, he confirmed my name and phone number, checked that we had the necessary documents, but seemed to mostly pay attention to the application and our passports. He told us we needed to wait again to do my biometrics, then they would call me in about 2 hours to come back and pick everything up.

After about another 10 minutes, we got called in for my biometrics. They took my finger prints, took my photo, and had me sign something exactly how my signature shows up on my passport. (Which looks like I just learned cursive and I was practicing by writing every single letter in my entire name.) I asked that woman about changing my name and how it would affect my visa and passport. She said to go ahead and change my name, but to wait until the visa or the passport needed replacing, whichever came first. My passport expires in 2022 and my visa expires in 2020, so I'll change my name in the next 2.5 years and change my passport before applying for my next visa in 2020.

We went across the street to get breakfast and then wandered into a John Lewis store before getting a call that we needed to come back, maybe an hour later. The woman at the front desk told me the visa had been approved and asked me to make sure all our documents had been returned. She said it would take about 2 weeks for my residence permit card to come via post.

Yesterday, my card got delivered by certified mail. It looks like a driver's license. It has my photo and signature. It's valid for 30 months and says "WORK PERMITTED" under "Remarks" on the front and "NO PUBLIC FUNDS" under "Remarks" on the back. I'll use this card as identification when applying for work and when reentering the country any time in the next 2.5 years.

In 2020, no earlier than 28 days before the expiry date of this visa, I have to apply for this visa again. After that visa, I'll have been living in the country for 5 years and I can apply for citizenship or indefinite leave to remain.

Looking back, we could have done this differently. Luke could have gone to visit me in the US and we could have gotten married during his visit. After that, I would have applied for this visa as his spouse, skipping the first visa entirely. We would have spent the first few months of our marriage apart and I wouldn't have moved as early, but it certainly would have been cheaper and I could have continued to work in the US while waiting for this visa to come through.

However, it was really important to me that we figure out what things would be like in "real life" for us before becoming legally married. When I said yes to Luke's proposal, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that I wanted to spend my life with him, but we had no idea what it would look like to live together or even live in the same city. We needed to get a rhythm going first before thrusting ourselves into so many major life changes: marriage, living together, moving country, and job searching. It would have been a lot for me all at once.

Again, what we did may not be the best for everyone. You may choose to go a slightly different route than us, or you may be moving abroad for completely different reasons. One thing is for sure, it's not worth the stress and cost to fake a relationship to get a "green card" (because that's not what it's called here), so The Proposal be damned!

In the end, it cost us approximately $2,300 to get my first visa and approximately £2,100 to get my second. Though we have a lengthy break now and we don't have to worry about these things for a few years, the process is far from over. We'll have to pay for this visa again (though I'm not sure about having to pay the NHS surcharge again) and we'll have to pay for either an indefinite leave to remain visa or citizenship a few years after that.

Hopefully either of these posts can serve as a help for someone who is going through something similar. We understand that it can be frustrating, stressful, costly, and uncertain and we would have loved to know what other couples went through so we could just talk to someone who understood! If you have any questions, I'm more than happy to try to answer to the best of my knowledge, but again everyone's process is different and we only know about the visas that we pursued.

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Moving, Part II

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E N G L A N D

Since I've been in England now for about 3 weeks, I figured it's time to write about this side of the move. Much of those 3 weeks has been spent adjusting to all the changes. Luke and I moved into our friends' house last week, which we're subletting for the summer, so really I moved twice in as many weeks. Aside from that, I'm just trying to put roots down here in England.

I figured the easiest way to chat about this part of the move was with FAQ's that I've been getting from friends and family, both here in England and back in the States.

When are you and Luke getting married?

We're having a ceremony in May of 2018, but my current visa stipulates that we marry within the 6 month duration of the visa, so we have to legally get married before 30 November. We've made an appointment to register our intent as soon as possible, but they didn't have openings until mid-August, which means we won't legally get married until mid-September at the earliest.

Can you work?

No. My visa specifically states that I am unable to work in the United Kingdom. After Luke and I get legally married, I will apply for a new visa that will allow me to find a job. As for what that job will be? I have no idea.

Are you a British citizen now?

Also no. It's my understanding that because I will next be on a spousal visa, I can apply for citizenship after 3 years, which is earlier than someone who moved here on a different visa, like a work visa. I will have to take a citizenship test, which Luke recently said he's not sure if he could even pass, so it sounds fairly similar to the process in the States.

Can Luke become an American citizen?

He can apply for a Green Card if we plan to move back to the States. After that, he would go through a similar process to become a US citizen after living in the States for the minimum number of years required.

Are you planning on moving back to the States?

We haven't ruled anything out. Luke really likes the States and Colorado in particular, but we decided that I would be the one to move initially. However, in order for me to fully dive into my new life here, it's important to me that I don't have any sort of timeline in my mind for our life in England. I don't want to have thoughts like "If I just make it through this year, we can move back." Our plan is to live here indefinitely, which means that I need to cut ties with some aspects of my life in the States to focus on my life here and be present in my current situation. When I get asked that, I often say we won't move back until I know our kids' accents will last through American influences.

Do you have an accent? Will you get one?

I doubt it. I've known a few adults who are from Wales, England, Ireland, etc. who still have their natural accent despite living in the States for years. I've already picked up some British inflection and it's just easier to communicate if I adapt to their words and phrasing that differ from American English. Besides, Luke has been pretty clear that my attempts at a British accent sound like "a really good American trying to do a British accent". Reading between the lines, I think that means I'm rubbish.

How do you fill your days?

Moving has kept me quite busy so far. Luckily I was mostly packed from my first move still, but we had to pack up Luke's belongings, which included separating them from shared spaces in his previous house. We also had to deep clean the last house and we were on a tighter timeline than his housemates since we went to Scotland that weekend. We've also been busy with errands, like trying to get my phone squared away or open a bank account for me. Luke was off work the first week I was here, but now that he's back to work, I've been doing things around the house like grocery shopping (which includes walking to the shop), cooking, and getting our new place organized since we're not fully unpacking everything we moved over here. There are a lot of little details that need to be taken care of due to moving countries and moving houses. It's also nice to get out an explore my new surroundings.

This week I subscribed to Pure Barre On Demand and we're thinking about doing a free 30-day trial of Daily Burn. I'm hesitant to join a gym or find a fitness class that I can regularly attend while we're in this house because we may move to a completely different area of Birmingham. I'm also wanting to find some new hobbies (like water color), or practice old ones (like lettering). Next week, my goal is to set a routine for myself, at least for the mornings, and maybe stick to it using the 30/30 app. I also need to buckle down on wedding planning, especially since I have a large craft undertaking that I want to get done while I have the time.

You'll travel all the time now, right?

Well, so far I haven't made a strong case for "no". Since I've moved, we've spent a weekend in Germany with Luke's family (which was why I moved when I did) and a weekend in Scotland with my sister and brother-in-law (post coming soon). We're living on one income right now, so travel can't be a priority for our spending right now. And though I have the time since I don't currently have a job, it's a lot more fun to travel with someone you care about, isn't it? All that being said, I have Luke's blessings to take day trips within the country (via train) and explore other cities while Luke is at work.

Can I still text you?

I have a new number with a +44 country code, but since it's an iPhone, I can still iMessage international numbers (which now includes you with the +1 numbers). Otherwise, I can text via WhatsApp and I finally have enough space on my phone to keep the Facebook Messenger app downloaded, so I can be reached that way as well.

What do you miss the most about living the States?

Friends and family should go without saying, of course. I thought I'd miss the food, but maybe that hasn't set in yet and I'm currently enjoying making lunch and dinner at home instead of eating at Chick-Fil-A or Motomaki. I think right now, I miss the convenience of having a car and knowing where I'm going. That's not to say I'm jumping at the bit to start driving over here. Quite the opposite, in fact! But life is certainly a lot more simple when you can hop in your car and head over to Target and get everything you need. Right now, though, it does still feel quaint to walk to the shops, like you imagine living in Europe is like.

What do you like most about living in England?

Again, being with Luke in real life should go without saying. My favorite thing, so far, is the proximity to so many amazing places in the world. There are a lot of things to do and see across the 50 states, but I've always been so fascinated with European history and it's all so close! Luke also enjoys telling me buildings and other landmarks are older than my country.

If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments below and I'll answer them for you! I'm just learning as I go!

Moving, Part I

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C O L O R A D O

Moving to another country is no small undertaking. But that should go without saying. The problem is. There's no tailor-made handbook. Every situation is different, so minor details will vary, but in a major move like this, minor details stack up quickly.

Luke and I have decided to leave some roots down in Colorado because we haven't ruled out the possibility of ending up back in the States somewhere down the road. However, it was really important to me that we have no such time limit on our time in England. I didn't want to ever tell myself "just make it through this year and you get to go home." I'm moving for the foreseeable future so I need to put roots down in England and set up a life there.

All that being said, that gave me a lot to do before I left. I had a lot of tasks to check off a to-do list like sort through my possessions and decide what to sell, what to keep in Colorado, and what to ship to England. Like sell my car, which I actually didn't do before I moved, so I had to sign over power of attorney to my mom so she could sell my car. Like cancel subscriptions, like get the information I'll need to set up a life over there. But then I also had a list of my favorite restaurants I wanted to visit "one last time", which also made for a great way to say goodbye to people.

I was very intentional when visiting some of my favorite places, eating some of my favorite foods, and spending time with some of my favorite people. I wanted to be present and soak everything in, savor every bite, and cling to every word.

There were moments, especially while I was distracted doing some mundane task like driving or showering, I would feel butterflies and realized how nervous I was. There were moments when I was angry. When I was sad. When I was excited. Luckily, Luke was supportive through all of it.

He flew out for my last week in Colorado. He pushed through jet lag to be there with me for a late night bonfire with friends the night he landed. He helped me pack and weighed and reweighed all of my bags until they were under weight. He distracted me from the move by watching House of Cards with me. He encouraged me to get out of the house and enjoy our final Colorado summertime afternoons instead of holing up in my room.

We had a going away party where we got to say goodbye to friends and family. My younger brother even took leave from the Army and flew out from Washington to surprise us! That was the perfect way to say goodbye to all the important people in my life because unfortunately there just isn't time to sit down with everyone one-on-one. Although I tried!

As far as moving goes, I packed a large suitcase and a carry on bag. Luke brought an empty checked bag to Colorado so I was able to fill that up as well. I previously took a checked bag full of winter clothes when I visited in April, so I already had some clothes in England. And I still had to leave some clothes behind despite how much I got rid of in May. I left about four boxes worth of stuff to be shipped once Luke and I have a permanent address, since we're subletting our first month or two in Birmingham. It'll be nice to have some familiar things around our house once we're settled into a longterm place.

We flew Southwest to LAX, which allows two free checked bags per passenger. That's right, TWO! We had no idea and thank goodness because when we got to LAX and checked in for our Thomas Cook flight, we discovered they only allow each passenger to carry on 6 kilos of luggage, so we had to pay $80 per bag to check our little carry ons. They only accepted cash and I left my debit card in Colorado since I can't use it without fees in England, so Luke had to rush to find an ATM and get enough cash out. They were horrible at the desk. Not at all helpful and so rude. They only gave us information when we explicitly asked, so at first we were just told we couldn't bring all our luggage and offered no other options. We will absolutely never fly with Thomas Cook Airlines again considering the plane was an hour late and the worst transatlantic flight either of us had ever had. (Uncomfortable seats, dirty blankets, charged for water, extremely limited entertainment options.) Thank goodness we had season 5 of House of Cards downloaded on Luke's phone to keep us occupied until we were able to get a little sleep.