Applying for visas in the UK: a guide for non-UK nationals

First, let me get one thing out of the way: visas are the bane of my existence.

I spent years and years living a blissful life, empty from embassies and consulates, enjoying a life free from 50x50mm photographs and ticketed appointments. And then, I decided to travel. Oh, boy.

By far, visa applications and the general navigating of international administrations have been the most tiring part of planning this trip — a lot of it due, I think, to the fact I applied for visas in a country that I’m not a national of. To make things more complicated, it’s a little hard to find information about such cases online (especially for non-USA passport holders), which is why I thought I’d do a post on my experience.

New Zealand

First, I wanted to get my working holiday visa for New Zealand out of the way. This wasn’t actually difficult — the website is really well made and allows you to pick whichever holiday scheme is the correct one for your country. The earliest you can apply for it is a year before you plan on entering New Zealand. Then the process is pretty quick, it took about two weeks for mine to be granted, and as it’s an e-visa, it can all be done from the comfort of your home.

It’s worth planning for the extra documents that customs might ask you when you actually get to the country, but that’s something I’ll update you on in the future…

Vietnam

I then decided to apply for a Vietnamese visa: it’s not normally necessary for tourists to get one for a short stay (it can be obtained at the border), but as it’s the last country on my bus tour around south-east Asia, I thought I might end up spending a little longer than two weeks there, and could use a visa.

The experience for this one was relatively painless: I simply filled in the online form then followed the instructions on the Embassy’s website. In this case, not being a UK national wasn’t particularly complicated. The only thing to be aware of is that the Vietnamese Embassy in London only accepts cash, and you must email them to obtain the fee information so you know how much to bring. It took only three working days to get my visa, and only cost me £52: easy enough.

China, part one

The third on my list was the one that worried me the most: China. As it turns out, I was right to be worried. I don’t know how I got it so wrong, but I missed the piece of information explaining that a 30-day Chinese visa’s validity (three months) starts from the day you apply for it, rather than starting on the date you enter the country. This means that the earliest you can apply for a Chinese visa is three months before you will be exiting China — for me, that places my application window not in London or Paris like I’d hoped, but in Thailand… To be continued.

India

Finally, the last one on my list before I left was India.

But, you’ll say, there are really good and easy e-visas for India online!

Yes, but they are valid for 30 days. And I’m going for 34 days. (sigh)

This one was particularly tricky, as to apply for an India visa in London, non-UK nationals must prove they have permanent leave to remain and have been living in the UK for over two years. You can use utility bills or tenancy agreements; I couldn’t for reasons a little bit complicated to go into. Instead I had to apply as a non-UK resident, and add on an application letter explaining why I was applying for this visa five months early. A lot of jumping through hoops, but it worked out and I ultimately got my visa in just three days. (A note, here: the Indian visa centre on Goswell Road does have a photobooth if, like me, you can’t figure out where to get 50×50 photos — it’ll cost you £10 though.) On the plus side, it all cost only £32 and I got a six-month multiple entry visa.

Most of the other countries I am visiting offer visas on arrival, and I plan on applying for my Australian e-visa closer to the date. Overall, it maybe wasn’t too painful of an experience, but as a European, it certainly put me out of my free-movement travel comfort zone. If you’re planning a big trip with a rather set itinerary, I’d recommend creating a master spreadsheet to keep track of visas you need, their prices and deadlines to apply. It’s definitely been my best friend throughout planning this trip.

 

Top image by dcgreer

So you want to go travelling?

When I started telling people about my travel plans, many asked where this whole travelling idea came from. I thought that’d be a good place to start the story.

Curiosity

My answer could really start and end here. I’ve always been curious – about other people, other places; habits, flavours, sounds, stories that are different from mine; about people and their lives and what they think about and how they feel. I want to see different trees, sunsets and trains. I want to see what a civilisation that wasn’t built by the Romans under the banner of Christianity looks like. I want to eat lots of new things, taste flavours I don’t even know exist, spend my savings for that mortgage I won’t ever be able to afford anyway on a couple of top meals whose cuisine is miles away from what I know. Mostly — mostly I want to learn to make bread however the locals make it (no jokes). I can go on for ages (especially about bread). There is so much that’s different out there and I want to see as much of it as I can.

Finding stories

I’m a journalist by trade. Words are my currency and stories are how I make a living. And I found/find it hard writing stories when I have so little material to use as inspiration. My literary vocabulary is already limited when it comes to words because I choose to write in a language that’s not my mother tongue, but I feel like my sentient vocabulary is even more restricted. I want to be able to use examples that reach outside of my the bubble of my experience, to tell stories of people that you and I haven’t met, to have more experiences to bring into my writing.

Taking a break

Going through years at school and university (or even later, by that matter), did you ever feel like it was all going a bit fast and you didn’t really know why you were doing what you were doing and whether you really wanted to be going in that direction? I need some time out to go figure out what path I want to take and what I want my priorities to be.

The challenge

I like pushing my limits. Challenges give me motivation, and I get a kick out of completing them. I know it’s a fine line to walk between a healthy challenge and a painful, masochistic trial – and I’m sometimes on the wrong side of it – but I’m hoping this one turns out to be the former. Travelling is very much a challenge, seeing as I am used to a life of colour-coded diarising. This should be interesting.

Because I want to (and I can)

Ultimately, that’s the only one that matters. It’s a little bit easy to forget already. Travelling doesn’t need a reason or a goal. I don’t really know why I’m going. I just feel like it (and I can).