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…


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.


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

2 thoughts on “Applying for visas in the UK: a guide for non-UK nationals

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