Unofficial Guide To Getting A UK Spouse Visa

*Disclaimer* I am not a lawyer, solicitor, legal expert or person who has even read one single law book in her entire life. I have watched Legally Blonde about 10,000 times, and I did score well on the LSAT. BUT the following post is not a substitute for professional legal advice and I cannot be held liable for any mistakes, expenses or heartbreak resulting from your visa or immigration experience.

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Prior to meeting Daley, I had one simple rule. I would not fall in love with anyone in the military or anyone who lived in a foreign country. My fear of being widowed was equal to my fear of the bureaucratic paperwork required of multinational couples. Obviously that rule went out the window pretty quickly, because I told Daley one cold winter evening in England that yes, I would love to marry him. Before I’d even skyped my mom to show off my shiny new ring, I’d jumped down a rabbit hole of visa red tape. If you’re not interested in how to get a UK spouse visa, stop reading here. But if you’ve fallen in love with a Brit and need help getting your visa for British residence, sit tight! I’ve written this post for you; it’s exactly what I needed when I was in your shoes.

I was on a six month tourist visa in the UK when we decided to get married. This meant I could spend more time getting to know Daley, but I could not work, volunteer, or use the national health service (NHS). We soon found out that it also meant I could not get married in the UK without first returning to my home country (the US) and applying for a Settlement Visa (fiance route). The language on this throughout the UK’s visa info site is ambiguous, so I ended up consulting with a solicitor for clarity. He was clear: If you get married or attempt to get married while in the UK on a tourist visa, you have a high risk of being deported or having future visas rejected.

No matter what, you will have to return to your home country before getting married. Annoying? Absolutely.

If you are in the UK on a tourist visa and you decide you want to get married, you have two options.

Option 1: Go back to your home country and apply for a Settlement Visa (fiance route), then return to the UK when/if your visa is approved, get married in the UK and then apply to change your status from fiance to spouse (requiring an additional visa application and fee).

Option 2: Both of you return to your home country, get married there, and then apply for a Settlement Visa (spouse route). This way, you only have one application (and application fee) to contend with. Because Daley already has a 10 year multiple-entry visa to the US (another visa story for another day), we decided to fly back to my hometown in Texas together to get married, then apply for the Settlement Visa (spouse route).

J. Lo Was Wrong When She Said Love Don’t Cost A Thing

Brace yourself, because this is going to get expensive. Here’s what you can expect to pay as an American applying for a UK Settlement Visa (spouse route):

Visa Application Fee – $2,024
Immigration Health Surcharge – $800
Settlement Priority Visa Service – $834
Roundtrip UPS Worldwide Express – $220
Total cost: $3,878

You can save yourself some cash by forgoing the Settlement Priority Service, but I highly highly highly recommend you bite the bullet and pay for it. Priority Service means the Home Office will aim to decide on your application within 90 working days. That’s like four months. If you don’t pay for Priority Service, you could be left hanging without an answer for a year or more! It is a gamble, yes, but not one we were willing (or able) to take. We got our answer about 3 months after I applied.

There Are More Steps to this Process Than Ariana Grande’s Average Day

I’m a list person. Do yourself a favour and make Evernote your new best friend. If you don’t like Evernote, just use something that will sync between your devices and let you make dynamic checklists. Trust me. Just do it. Here’s the exact Step By Step checklist I used throughout my UK spouse visa process.

  1. Complete online visa application (from your home country)
  2. Choose where to pick up Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) once back in the UK
  3. Book biometric appointment at Application Support Centre (ASC)
  4. Pay IHS fee, $800
  5. Print copy of IHS reference number and payment receipt
  6. Pay visa application fee, $2,132
  7. Print copy of visa payment receipt
  8. Pay priority service fee here, $834 (highly recommend if you can afford it)
  9. Print copy of priority service receipt
  10. Download and print 2 copies of your completed application form
  11. Sign pages 2, 11 & 12 of the printed application form
  12. Print copy of biometric confirmation receipt
  13. Print Appendix 2
  14. Fill in Appendix 2
  15. Compile supporting documents
  16. Assemble application package
  17. Go to biometric appointment at ASC for photo & fingerprints
  18. Get biometric confirmation receipt stamped at ASC
    1. Mail application package within 5 days of biometric appointment to:
      International Operations and Visas 
      6 Millsands
      Vulcan House
      Sheffield
      S3 8NH
      United Kingdom 
  19. Wait for decision to be mailed and application package to be sent back
  20. Pick up visa and passport at ASC or wait for it to be mailed back to you
  21. Book return ticket to UK
  22. Collect BRP within 10 days of returning to UK

Get Your Timing Right To Meet the Income Requirement

For couples who meet while traveling, meeting the income requirement is often the biggest hurdle in the visa process. Your British partner must have six or twelve months of pay slips matched to their bank statements as proof of income (unless you’re going the savings route, in which case, congrats for being rich, please consider donating to my patreon). They’ll also need to include a letter from their employer verifying their employment and income. And before you ask, no, your income as the non-British applicant does not count towards the minimum requirement.

We had just returned to England in December 2017 after traveling in the US, so Daley had been working exactly six months when we returned to the US to apply for my visa. We submitted pay slips and bank statements for December 1 – June 15. One thing to watch out for is the dates on your pay slips. Daley’s first pay slip was issued on December 15 for the pay period starting December 1. So we had to provide pay slips through June 15, not June 1, in order to meet the six month requirement.

Don’t Freak Out Over Proof of Relationship

There is so much conflicting information out there about how much to submit to prove you’re in a legitimate relationship and not just seeking British citizenship. The truth is, there’s not an official way to meet this requirement. But after days of focused research, I came up with a way to concisely show that our relationship is genuine.

I provided two or three captioned photos per month of our relationship, showing us traveling together, meeting each other’s families and celebrating important milestones. I just used Word to create a basic document, where each month of our relationship had one A4 page of captioned photos. Then, I provided one page of messages per month of our relationship, including texts, emails and photos of handwritten notes. Again, I just screenshotted these messages and dropped them into a Word document. Finally, I provided our original marriage certificate.

Keep Your Application Package Organised

For your sanity, and the sanity of whatever poor soul reviews your application over at the Home Office, organise your application package!!

I broke my application package into sections: Receipts, Application Forms, Applicant’s Documents, Sponsor’s Non-Financial Documents, Sponsor’s Financial Documents, Accommodation Documents, Relationship Documents, Return Materials.

Remember what I said about Evernote? Seriously, just get it already. And no, I’m not in any way sponsored by them or receiving any monetary compensation from them for this post.

Here’s My Application Package Checklist:

Envelope labeled Settlement Priority Service in large letters on front and back
Priority service receipt
Page with my name & IHS reference number
Table of contents
Appendix A: Receipts
A-1: Visa application fee receipt
A-2: Immigration health surcharge receipt
A-3: Stamped biometric confirmation receipt
A-4: Priority service receipt (copy)
Appendix B: Application Forms
B-1: Completed online visa application, printed out and signed
B-2: Completed Appendix 2
Appendix C: Applicant’s Documents
C-1: My current passport
C-2: A4 sized copy of my current passport photo page
C-3: My previous passport
C-4: A4 sized copy of my previous passport photo page
C-5: Two passport sized photographs of me w/ full name written on back
C-6: Applicant’s letter of support briefly stating how we meet requirements
Appendix D: Sponsor’s Non-Financial Documents
D-1: Sponsor’s letter of support
D-2: One passport sized photograph of spouse w/ full name written on back
D-3: A4 size copy of spouse’s biodata passport pages to show UK citizenship
D-4: A4 size copy of spouse’s birth certificate to show UK citizenship
Appendix E: Sponsor’s Financial Documents
E-1: 6 months of spouses’s payslips with at least £18,600 annual pre-tax income
E-2: Stamped bank statements showing spouse’s income from past 6 months
E-3: P60 for the past 6 months
E-4: Letter from spouse’s employer, dated and on headed paper
Appendix F: Accommodation Documents
F-1: Letter from homeowner stating you can stay at his house (could be your spouse, family friend, landlord, whoever owns the place where you plan to stay)
F-2: Proof of ownership (original title deeds)
F-3: Original housing report conducted by a chartered surveyor
Appendix G: Relationship Documents
G-1: Original marriage certificate
G-2: Annotated photos, 2-3 per A4 page, 1-2 per month Sep-May & civil ceremony
G-3: Copies of letters, messages & emails to each other (1 page per month)
Appendix H: Return Materials
H-1: Fully addressed prepaid electronic shipping label
H-2: Blank return envelope

You Don’t Have To Do This Alone!

Visas. Are. Stressful. Especially when the lengthy process forces you to be away from your spouse for months at a time. My biggest piece of advice for anyone embarking on the UK Settlement Visa journey is to find a visa support group. Whether that’s a forum, Facebook Group, WhatsApp group, Instagram page, anything… just find one. They’re an amazing place to vent, cry, ask questions, compare timelines and celebrate when that answer finally comes.
If any of this post doesn’t make sense to you, please leave me a comment below and I will do my best to respond. I know this process can be heartbreakingly slow, frustrating and confusing at times, but it is worth it! Just take it one step at a time. You can do it!
NOTE: I am an American citizen who married a British citizen in the US in 2018. The UK Settlement Visa application process varies for applicants from other countries, so please do your research according to your home country!

 

 

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Scotland: The Eagle’s Nest

For our last night on Harris and Lewis, I had planned a small surprise. I’d heard about an off-the-books bothie perched on the edge of a cliff, and I knew we had to stay there. Unlike official bothies, which are first come, first served, this bothie requires a free reservation. I couldn’t find much information online about how to do that, so it felt like a treasure hunt to make the reservation. It’s so rare these days for such a stunning place to have (mostly) eluded the internet, so I’ll leave the details fuzzy here to keep that spirit of adventure alive.

The Eagle’s Nest Bothie is a tiny stone hut hand-built into a ledge on the cliff face that the owner blasted and chiseled out himself. It’s entirely hidden from approach and impossible to find without detailed directions. The irregular round building has a triangular skylight and two small rectangular windows looking out over the vast North Atlantic. If you sailed west from here, the next land mass you’d reach would be Canada. The wind-battered cliffs seem to tumble into the frothy water below. During winter storms, the crashing waves reach as high as the bothie’s thick windows.

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To enter the bothie, you step through a Hobbit-sized door and down a set of rough hewn stone steps. There is a small fireplace for burning wood or peat. The owners generously shared some peat dug from their croft to warm the cold, windy night. We ate a surprisingly delicious dinner of rice with fried spam, Branston pickle and sriracha in front of the fire. Previous tenants had left a newspaper to use as fire starter. The headline read Saltired and Emotional, which perfectly described our state of mind. I had no idea that I was in the first intense weeks of pregnancy, which brought my emotional fragility to a dizzying height. We sat at the edge of the world and watched the sun go down, and I’ll admit I had a good long cry without even really knowing the reason.

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This place is charged with emotion to begin with. It was built by John Norgrove, a crofter whose daughter Linda was born and raised on the island before leaving to pursue a highly successful career in environmental policy and international development. In 2010, she was working in eastern Afghanistan to promote stability by creating jobs, building infrastructure and strengthening Afghan leadership. Tragically, Linda was kidnapped by the Taliban and ultimately killed during rescue operations several weeks later. Her parents John and Lorna started the Linda Norgrove Foundation in her memory, which works to fund education and healthcare for women and children in Afghanistan. Visitors to the bothie are asked to give a small donation to the foundation in exchange for a night’s rest in the most stunning bothie in Scotland. Remember how we (i.e. Daley) changed a flat tire for those stranded southern women in the beginning of our trip? When they insisted on giving us the cash in their pockets, we promised to pay it forward to another worthy cause. This was the perfect opportunity, and we only wished we had more to give.

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Scotland: Ullapool to Stornoway

We decided to head even further from the mainland, so we booked a ferry to the Isle of Harris and Lewis. The ferry departed from Ullapool, an idyllic port that felt more like Norway than the UK. We ate fish and chips on the wharf as a light rain glossed the late afternoon sunshine.

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The ferry was full of families and fishermen. We watched the sun set over the water and enjoyed a cup of hot tea with biscuits before settling down for a nap on the floor.

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A few hours later we arrived at Stornoway in the dark. That night we met an artist named Annie and her sweet pup, whose home was filled with tropical plants and gorgeous black and white photographs. We spent a cosy night there under layers of quilts before heading off to explore the island.

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For anyone interested, we highly recommend the Ullapool-Stornoway ferry. The journey itself is gorgeous as you pass through the minor islands of the Outer Hebrides. Skye is vastly different from Harris and Lewis (which, despite its name, is just one island), so it’s well worth a visit to both if you have the time. Harris and Lewis is even more beautifully windswept and desolate than Skye. We saw ancient viking settlements, lots of shaggy cows, some inexplicably flamboyant sheep, and a beach that looked straight out of the Caribbean.

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To be continued…

 

 

 

Scotland: The Quiraing

Just joining the story? Read more about our Scotland trip here: Part One, Two or Three.

After leaving the north coast of Isle of Skye, we headed southeast to hike up to The Storr. Despite visiting in the off season, the trail leading up to the ancient rock formations was incredibly crowded. So we enjoyed the view from the bottom and decided to camp in a less popular area: The Quiraing.

The rain held off for the most part as the sun graced the mountains across the sea. We climbed up from the valley floor to the foreboding rock walls of The Prison and on past The Needle, a 120 foot high pinnacle of jagged rock. This entire area is part of a landslip that has been moving for thousands of years and is still settling into place.

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After scrambling out of The Prison via a windy scree field we stopped to enjoy the incredible views before turning inland. Our goal for the night was to camp at the famed Table, a massive grassy flat high above the valley floor where iron-age farmers hid livestock from invading Vikings.

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A sharp left turn led us up a very steep slope. Here we paused for a brief argument about whether or not this was the right way to the Table. It was.

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Unbeknownst to me, I was sheltering a very tiny stowaway in addition to carrying my 40 pound backpack. With every step up the near vertical face, I felt my knees quiver as though something might snap. I suddenly felt exhausted, out of shape and overwhelmed with emotion. A couple weeks later I found out I was pregnant, which explained everything.

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We found The Table, set up camp and promptly brewed a hot cup of tea. After dinner we watched the sun set over the Trotternish Ridge. Bunnies hopped around the grassy bowl and ravens soared overhead. The wind howled all night and we woke to a frosty ground.

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To be continued…


 

Autumn Arrives in Yorkshire

Growing up in Houston we had just three seasons: Hurricane, Christmas, and Summer. The colourful leaves, brisk temperatures, evening campfires and cosy flannels of autumn were nothing more than a myth I saw on TV. So when I actually experience a true autumn first hand it still shocks me, as if Bigfoot himself were strolling past. I marvel at the obedience of the trees as they trade summer greens for amber and gold. The last fat blackberries ripen alongside dusky blue sloes, shiny red rose hips, apples, elderberries and the elusive wild plums known as damsons.

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The wind howled for days as if mourning the loss of summer. Suddenly chilly mornings prompted a return to porridge. We did our best to welcome the new season throughout the week. We made two litres of sloe gin with the wild berries we’d picked the day after our wedding, which will deepen in flavour under our kitchen sink until Christmas. Maybe we’ll toast our new baby with the cheery aperitif.

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On Wednesday we went apple picking. Daley’s dad Ian showed us his secret tree, where he seemed to know everyone who drove past. We spent a happy hour with a long pole and a net to catch the falling fruit. Tomorrow I’ll turn them into a traditional Tarte aux Pommes before stewing the rest with cinnamon to freeze.

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We gathered pocketfuls of rose hips on our evening walks. Daley knew them as itchybuds as a kid; they’d break them open to stuff down each other’s shirts for a day’s worth of incessant itching. I’ll leave them whole to infuse in oil for a stretch-mark preventative serum as my belly grows bigger by the day.

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Supper took a decidedly autumnal turn as well. We made a gently spiced butternut squash soup laced with apple, onion and garlic. Linguine with sweet late season cherry tomatoes bursting in hot olive oil. Hearty black eyed peas with a hint of smoky bacon. Warming coconut chickpea curry with spinach. Roasted lemon and thyme chicken thighs with potatoes, squash and onions. I don’t have photos or recipes for you but I promise to be better about that for the rest of the season. For now I’m off to the library to print CV’s as I scrounge for a two-month gig before baby’s arrival.


 

Scotland: Rubha Hunnish

Just joining the story? Start with Part One and Part Two.

We love food. Nine times out of ten, if we break our weekly budget it’s because we are weak in the face of good food. When we travel, we usually camp rough and skip paid attractions in order to maximise our food budget. In my hurried research for this trip, I discovered The Three Chimneys, a tiny restaurant honoured with a Michelin star in 2015. Although the restaurant has not regained its star in subsequent years (yet), it remains a highly recommended stop on the island. With its daunting ££££ price tag, we decided to play it cool and visit for lunch. The small but dignified dining room was a tranquil cocoon quietly celebrating the island’s offerings.

After lunch we re-entered the bright world in a daze, on a serene high from the incredible meal we had just shared. Blessed with another day of sunshine (how??), we drove to the northern point of the island to find our home for the night. A friend of ours (hi Paul!) had recently shown us a book about the Bothies of Scotland, inspiring us to stay in one ourselves. Bothies are humble huts scattered around the countryside for shepherds to find respite from the cold, wind and rain. They are free to stay in, but are first come first served, so you might end up sharing with a few other smelly walkers.

There is a beautiful bothie perched on the edge of a cliff at the northern edge of the Isle of Skye. It’s called the Rubha Hunnish Lookout and has a wall of windows facing the sea where you can watch for whales and basking sharks. We tucked the car away in a small parking lot near an iconic red phone booth before walking up towards the cliff. The peaty ground was soaking wet and my boots sprang a leak inviting cold water in with every step. But the sun was warm and the wind had eased, so the walk was pleasant.

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Another group of walkers had beat us to the bothie and there was no more room for the night. We stayed to chat and enjoy the view for a bit, then headed back out to find somewhere else to rest. This blessing in disguise led us to my favourite camp site of the entire trip, nestled on a patch of rare dry ground between two sheltering hillocks.

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There was a small stream of frigid water running down one side of our camp, which Daley saw as the perfect opportunity to get a wash. He stripped down and stepped into the cold ankle-deep water, wetting down and soaping up before taking another small step forward to rinse. But with a peat bog, every step is a gamble, and this time Daley was up to his hip in freezing, wet, half-decayed plant matter. So much for getting a wash! I was laughing too hard to get any pictures until after we both regained composure, and I’m still kicking myself for it.

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Dark rainclouds threatened but passed as we filtered water from the stream and ate our dinner. The dissipating storm made for a stunning sunset overlooking the north Atlantic as a lone fisherman patrolled the water below us. The next day we’d head down the East coast for the Quiraing.

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To be continued…

Scotland Road Trip Part Four: The Quiraing


 

Scotland: Neist Point

Read Part One Here.

Just as we came to Loch Lochy (yes, a real place!) we passed a Volvo with a blown-out tire at the side of the road. Moments before, we had agreed to stop to help if we saw any stranded motorists. We U-turned and pulled up behind the Volvo. It turned out to be a rental car hired by two blonde South Carolinians on vacation! We had a roadside southern girls reunion while Daley put on their spare tire. They insisted on giving us the £40 cash they had in their pockets as a thank-you, which we decided to pay forward to someone in need. More on that later.

The sky lightened and the scenery became more watery as the day went on. After a long, grey, landlocked winter I was ecstatic to be nearing the ocean. We soared over the fjord-like Loch Alshe on Skye Bridge and officially arrived on the Isle of Skye. Shortly we came to the old bridge at Sligachan, whose arches frame the Black Cuillin mountains.

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We’d set our sights on Neist Point as our camping spot for the night, so we made our way to the westernmost tip of the island. The island was blissfully empty and we hardly saw anyone else on the road. Only sheep and lonely cottages punctuated the barren landscape. We had the good fortune of visiting in the peak of lambing season, and I was overjoyed by the abundance of tiny new lambs bounding and wobbling around.

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We reached our destination a couple hours before sundown. Neist Point is home to one of Scotland’s most famous lighthouses and is an iconic sunset photography spot thanks to its westerly views. As we set up our little home for the night, photographers began arriving in droves. We happily perched at the edge of the cliff, huddled in our sleeping bags eating beans on toast as photographers around us frantically worked for the best shot. At one point there was a full-blown altercation right in front of us between two groups of photographers angling for the same spot. The sunset was a bit of a dud and the frigid wind was brutal so everyone soon left us to the empty night.

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To be continued…

Scotland Road Trip Part Three: Rubha Hunnish

Scotland Road Trip Part Four: The Quiraing