I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my visa process on the way to London. It’s such a big part of my life and as promised, I’m going to detail the process from start to finish. Getting my UK Student Visa was the exact same as last year outside of the cost. The UK Student Visa process was much smoother than last year as the UK and US have settled after dealing with COVID last year. Let’s break it down from start to finish.
The Application Process
Before I did anything, I let my university know I would return after my interruption and that I would need CAS number. A CAS is a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies number. It’s unique to every applicant. Because of my family situation, I ended up taking an interruption, so my visa was canceled and I needed an updated number. I waited 3 months before the date I wanted to enter the UK to begin the UK student visa process. Then, I wanted to arrive at the end of August, so I asked them for the updated CAS in mid-May. I knew there would be a bit of a wait, so I sent the request a bit early to allow for processing time on the school’s end.
Once I finished, I filled out my application! The Student Visa application is incredibly straightforward, and the great thing about each CAS number is that it comes with additional guidance that explains how to fill out specific prompts on the application. I did have to look in my passport and phone to figure out the months of my most recent international trips. Outside of that, it was incredibly straightforward. If you are applying, my university created a great guide that I’ll link it here for you. The guide goes step, by step by step through the application. I hope it helps you as it helped me!
The Appointment Process
Once my application was submitted, the system automatically directs you to pay for your visa. The Student Visa costs £348 or $484.31 (as of August 3, 2021). I paid this with my credit card and swallowed the cost, knowing it was for a good reason.
Immediately after, the system directs you to make another payment. How exciting! I’m serious, these visas are expensive. Next was the NHS Surcharge, which covers my NHS fees for the entirety of my time in the UK. The surcharge is calculated based on the time of my visa (12 months+4 months), so I paid £705.00 or $981.13 (as of August 3, 2021). This surcharge covers emergency room visits, some medications, but regular checkups with my GP. While I will pay for things like therapy or dentistry, there are ways to find providers covered by the NHS.
Finally, I got to a point that I didn’t have to pay for. After I finished paying for everything, it was time to get my biometrics done. Setting up that appointment offered me two choices: a DHS ASC (Application Support Center) or a VFS Premium Application Center. I made this choice for me and based on the amount of time I had to book, but just do your research beforehand. I say this because if you get in and decide you want to switch between ASCs or VFS, you have to cancel and redo your entire application, pay for everything again, and then change which system you want to use. It can take the UKVI up to 15 days to refund you too, so make your choice wisely.
The ASC’s are run by the US Department of Homeland Security. You make an appointment and (for US Students and those on the approved low-risk list) upload your passport or any other required documents. When you complete your application, you receive a checklist, which will show you exactly what to upload and send with your application. You’ll have to upload those yourself, but I did it with my home scanner and it worked perfectly fine.
There, you have the opportunity to pay for extras. A rush fee, text updates (psst….they send emails and texts regardless if you pay or not), and the opportunity to buy shipping labels. They provide next-day signature needed labels if you purchase through them, or you can purchase them yourself. I went through and didn’t purchase anything, because I know their labels are more expensive than me purchasing them myself. My labels from UPS cost me $50-60 for the 2-day round trip.
I’ll briefly speak on the VFS Premium Application Centers, but this wasn’t my experience, so I will be brief. At VFS, they will take your biometrics, and scan the documents for you. They are very expensive and come with a bronze, silver, or gold package. All in all, the process is the exact same, but rather than mailing the documents yourself, they will do it for you. For me, I wanted to just save the money and do it myself, but depending on your comfortability, that’s a choice for you.
One thing I did find is that getting a biometrics appointment was tough. In Atlanta, they were booked out til early August when I applied, and it takes 15 days to return. I was going away for work to Mississippi where they had appointments every day. With USCIS, you do have to be flexible, but I made it work for me. Last year, I drove to South Carolina and made a hiking trip out of it! Other people I know went hours, but I definitely say make your application as soon as you get your CAS, so you can plan.
I appeared at my appointment about 10 minutes early, waited for the officer to called me, went in, took my photo, did my fingerprinting and that’s it! She signed & stamped my paper and I was off! All in all, the whole process took about 5-10 minutes, maximum. It’s really quick, which is part of why I didn’t pay extra for it. Once I got home from my work trip, I went to the UPS store by my house and the attendant was really helpful! They got me a 2-day service both there and return, with tracking and signature releases both ways! When you mail, this is important. Add:
- Your Checklist (and everything that it asks for)
- The application from the UK website
- The signed paper from the biometrics appointment
- Return Label
While this is my list, be sure to check the Checklist you get when you finish your UKVI application. They will add anything else you need, but for US students, it should just be a passport. Be sure to sign all pages you need to sign on your application/checklist and send it off to NYC! At your appointment, they give you a sheet of paper that explains where to send and what to put on the labels.
Ah the wait…the toughest part of the UK student visa process. Normally, it takes 15 business days to get your visa from the time it arrives at their processing center and when it is back in your hands. Last year took about 20 due to Covid, and this year was way different. I got my passport back within 3 days of sending it. Granted, this set off a big red flag for me as I thought they’d rejected me, but in reality, all was well and my visa was in my hands. Now, I just present it when I land in London in August/September and pick up my BRP after 2 weeks.
All in all, I paid about 1500 for the entire process. The application, NHS fees, and labels, all of it. The turnaround time was minimal, and now I’m ready to go well before my move date. All that’s left now is to pack my bags, make sure I turn on my utilities and then head to the airport! I really hope this guide to the UK Student visa process was helpful! If you know anyone who is applying, send it to them and I’m happy to answer additional questions! Best of luck!