22 In Expat Life

Applying for UK Visas

So you want to come live in the UK? There are definitely pros and cons to emigrating to this country, but the biggest hurdle is definitely applying for UK visas. In the last five years, the (conservative) government has decided to make it more difficult than ever for both students and immigrants alike to emigrate here. But fear not, there are still ways, if you are determined!

There are actually many ways to come to the UK when you’re from another country. Today I will give a guide to all three ways I have used and their respective visa processes. 

All of these will mostly be for Canadian emigrants and expats. It will be very similar, if not the same, for other Commonwealth countries (and the USA) but you should check the immigration guidelines depending on where you’re from.

uk visas

Student Visa

First up, the Student Visa. It is probably the most straightforward way of coming to the UK (but perhaps the most costly due to rising tuition fees). You need to have of course applied and been accepted to a university programme in the UK. 

After officially accepting your place at the university (and probably paying a hefty deposit), the university will send you a form stating that you are being ‘sponsored’ to come to the UK. That form is called a CAS, a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies, with which you can apply for your student visa.

Application process

The actual visa application isn’t too complicated. You go online and apply. At that point, you’ll have to head to a visa centre near you to give in your application and get your biometrics taken (finger prints and photos). You need to provide your CAS, proof of funds (proving you have money to maintain yourself for your first 9 months in the UK), your passport, the filled application form and, of course, your biometrics.

My application took about 2 weeks so it’s fairly swift. I would be careful to apply for your visa with enough time to make it for the first week of orientation at university. Some UK universities start in September and some in October, or it may depend on your programme. I had booked a flight so I was quite anxious to get my visa and passport back in a timely manner. Though please note you shouldn’t apply more than 90 days before your course starts. 

Since 2015, immigrants including students are forced to pay a health surcharge which really is a health tax put on immigrants. It’s usually £200-300 for each year of your visa.

At the border check

Once you arrive in the country, you will have to get your prints taken at the borders check. They may ask to see your acceptance letter and/or lease, so make sure you have those handy in your hand luggage.

Once you’re in the country

Once you arrive in the country, you may want to try opening a bank account immediately to get money in. That is something you can only do in person and with a valid UK address.

You will also have to do passport/visa checks at the university, usually at the beginning of each semester.

This visa restricts the amount of work you can do to 20hours per week so you may be able to get a part-time job. But don’t forget to apply for your NI!

Youth Mobility Visa

Known in other countries as the work/holiday visa, this visa allows you to come to the UK for up to 2 years to work or to ‘holiday’ (whatever that means). You can basically do as you wish on this visa, volunteer, work, short courses, nothing, etc. (except open a business and employ people I believe).


This visa is only valid for certain countries. The list is online, but it’s mostly Commonwealth countries and some Asian countries. You also have to be aged 18-31 at the time of application.You also can’t have children that are dependent on you and can’t have applied to one of these visas (in the UK) previously.  

Application Process

From there,the visa application is also very straightforward. The only real thing to prove is yet again that you have money saved for the first few months of your stay. It was £1890 when I applied in 2014 but will probably be higher now. This visa also took about 2 weeks, so it’s a fairly swift process.

In the country

It is valid for two years so it’s worth trying to take advantage of the whole period. Since you can apply up to 90 days before your date of travel, is ask for your visa to start whenever you wish and take a flight to arrive on that day. It gives you two whole years to take advantage of (see spousal visa for an idea…).

This visa is a great way to get contacts, perhaps get your foot in the door, especially if you’re aiming to get a work visa.

Work Visa

I won’t be talking about the work visa, because it’s pretty self-explanatory. And also because I never got one and don’t plan on getting one to the UK.

For a work visa, you need to get sponsored by an employer to stay in the country. It is very arbitrary because it’s meant to only be for jobs where you can prove that a British person cannot do it. So it may depend on the company, on your background, and where you’re from. The only instances of this happening that I have heard of lately (especially since Brexit) are in London.

The UK has recently passed legislation (or it will soon?) that after five years, to be able to apply for ILR (Indefinitely Leave to Remain ie permanent residency) you need to make £35k a year. This is much higher than most UK salaries so best of luck.

It may be a visa to look into if you’re looking for a short-term stint abroad and your company has a UK office.

Spouse Visa

The Spouse Visa is the visa I’m currently on. It is a visa that allows spouses/partners to come live to the UK with their British partner.

Application process

This visa is definitely the most difficult to manage. It also is the longest processing timeline and most expensive.

Prior to applying, you’ll need to gather a lot of proof and evidence (of basically everything). It can be divided into three main categories. 1. Your partnership, 2. The authenticity of your relationship and 3. as always, the financial requirements.

After submitting your application online, you head to a visa centre with your pile of evidence papers. You get biometrics taken again (just in case your prints have changed…) and off it goes to the UK.

The processing times vary, but should be between 10 or 60 working days. I would advise you expect the maximum amount of time and be happy if it comes before. Mine took exactly 3 months to arrive.

Guide to evidence P1 – Partnership

Part one is proving the partnership. You need to prove that you are married or have been cohabiting for at least 2 years. Or cough cough the length of a youth mobility visa… Do you see where I’m going with this? The Brit and I lived together for exactly two years under the youth mobility visa and that took us over the limit. Making us eligible as non-married partners. To prove cohabitation you’ll need proofs such as council tax or other utility bills, or a lease.

Guide to evidence P2 – Genuine relationship

Part two is to prove you have a real relationship. This is achieved with photos, transcripts of emails, texts, Whatsapp, etc. Basically you’re most intimate life needs to be laid out in front of the immigration officers. We included all of the above to cover the 3 and half year period we were dating at that point. We also included testimonials from friends.

Guide to evidence P3 – Financial requirements

Part three is the financial requirements. You need to prove that your British partner makes at least £18,600 a year. This is in salary, and/or grants and/or savings. It should be straightforward if you’re partner/spouse has a job, but since the Brit was a student we had to look at his PhD grant plus savings. The thing with savings is that only savings over £16,000 count. It also needs to have been in your bank account for at least 6 months.

You should give more evidence than less, but our immigration lawyer said it was more like a highlight reel. So don’t flood the immigration officer with information.

Getting the visa

It’s been three months and you’ve been granted your spouse visa? Congrats! You’ll receive your passport with your visa in it and it will tell you how long you have to go back to the UK. You technically have 30 days, but if you’re unlucky like me, the British immigration will have sent it to you halfway through that period. So you need to book a flight to the UK asap.

Finally, I want to highlight that I am NOT an immigration lawyer and therefore this post can only be taken as a rough guide. It can give you a better idea of what to expect when applying. I’m happy to give advice but, especially for the spouse visa, I would advise speaking with an immigration lawyer.

If you are Canadian and have any questions regarding these visas, please feel free to reach out to me in the comments or at my email address camila@adventitiousviolet.com


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  • I’ve done all my applications without the help of a lawyer and it’s hard but do-able. The thing that angers me the most is the criteria is the 18600. It’s well over the average wage outside of London and even someone who is living comfortably in say, Liverpool might not make enough to technically sponsor their spouse. It’s ridiculous. It’s also really not straightforward if the sponsor is self-employed as there are different criteria checks that need to be met. X

    • Yes I agree that it’s well feasible! I think that if you have any doubts regarding your eligibility or application though, you should 100% chat with a lawyer. Our application was a bit complicated since the Brit wasn’t on a salary, so we had a little 20-min Skype chat with an immigration lawyer and it reassured us so much. Then from there we did the application ourselves. It just gave us the confidence that we weren’t going to get rejected – especially with the fact that the fees aren’t reimbursable for some reason.

      And I completely agree that £18,600 is ludicrous. I mean it’s feasible when you combine both salaries – let’s say for the renewal or ILR apps – but yes for most people that’s a ludicrous amount. Especially the fact that owning properties, or any assets, also doesn’t count. A friend of mine is in the theatre business in London and her partner is self-employed and they were struggling to understand how to approach their application.

      Thank god we’re both done with that 😉 xx

      • So true! I always harbour terrible fears that they’ll move the goal posts again before the next round of applications! I applied for FLR(M) last year so ILR is next summer, fingers crossed! x

        • Ah I thought you already applied for ILR! Best of luck for next year. Yes well hopefully nothing changes until then!xx

          • Sadly not! You have to spend 5 years on the spouse visa before you qualify for ILR. As a Canadian were you able to apply straight for ILR? I just found out early this week that all the visa prices rose extensively starting April 4th so oy. I’ll have to save over £6000 for ILR and citizenship combined now.

          • Unforunately not. We’ll probably renew in 2019 and then in 2022 (where are those years going I swear?) I’d go for ILR…if we’re still here, we’ll see. OMG £6000? Geez and they wonder why it’s hard to save money when you’re an immigrant!

          • Ugh, bummer! I was hoping there was some loophole for you guys akin to some parts of the Commonwealth not having to pay the immigration health surcharge. Do you think you’d move to Canada or elsewhere in the world?

          • Unfortunately not, the only benefit was the youth holiday visa and being able to vote in elections haha. Yes I think long term I may want to go back to Canada, but we may see where life takes us first 🙂

  • Kathi Kamleitner

    Oh god, the £18,600 threshold terrifies me, seeing that my British partner is a musician… I’m a EU citizen, so at the moment I can remain in the UK visa-free, but I’m really worried about what will happen with Brexit and all…

    • I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you that you won’t need to go through this!! Do you guys want to stay in the UK past your PhD? If you’re in the country your (future?) salary should count toward that goal so hopefully that makes things easier if you have to deal with stupid immigration 🙁 xx

      • Kathi Kamleitner

        Well, I guess we’re both open to moving abroad together and try somewhere else at some point – but it would be nice if that was an actual choice, and not because it’s the only option… I’d like to stay in the UK for a while seeing that we have all our friends and professional networks here! We’ll see – at the moment, I shouldn’t worry. Who knows what sort of deals they come up with…

  • Wow blimey I’m glad I haven’t ever chosen to emigrate anywhere, it seems near impossible! Alice xxx


    • hahaha yeah it’s a good choice! I always regret it when I’m in the midst of a visa application! Thank god it’s all for love 😉 xx

  • I think it’s difficult to get visas just about anywhere. Brazil is a fairly open, socialized government, yet it was nearly impossible, and extremely annoying and difficult and time consuming, to say the least, to get my spouse visa, even though my husband is a Brazilian citizen! It’s my theory that governments (of any type), no matter how “good” or “bad” they are, ultimately just want your money. :/

    • Oh yes of course, immigration in general isn’t an easy thing! Which is unfortunate for immigrant spouses! But it is well known that the UK is one of the toughest in Europe to get into. I think it’s not as much wanting our money as it is trying to ask for a high amount to stop people with less money to apply. Some weird (non-natural) selection 🙁

  • The £18,600 minimum is ridiculous. Barely half of all Brits earn that much (it’s something like 48% don’t make that much each year). Talk about how the other half live! It’s like you’re only allowed to fall in love with someone from another country if you’re rich enough to be in that other half.

    • Yes I heard it was nearly half the population that doesn’t have that salary and therefore couldn’t sponsor a partner/family member to come along. It’s awful! We were very privileged to have it work out!

  • This is such a useful post! Thanks so much for taking the time to write out all of this 🙂 It may well come in useful for us in the future 😉
    So happy that you are all sorted now, what a huge relief!

    • Of course! It will be completely different of course since Carlos is Chilean, but should be straightforward since you’re married 🙂 xx

  • Oh aren’t visas such a nightmare?! I’m so glad you have yours, but it sucks that it’s getting harder and harder to apply for visas (and in the future for you to reapply/renew). Also I think the whole proving a relationship thing is incredibly invasive. I get the need to prevent sham marriages etc but seriously! Such a huge undertaking due to fluke of birth.

    • I know! It’s difficult, but hoping from here it gets easier (for us anyway!). I hope your immigration is going well! I’ve been a bit off reading blogs but will catch up soon 🙂

  • Oh the joys of applying for visas!!