Surprises when applying for a UK student visa

This blog is part of my Study Abroad series (surprising, I know).

Topics in this blog

  • Surprises I encountered during my application
  • What to do if your visa is taking a long time and you need your passport

Apply for a visa

This step is the worst of all. Visas and governments working together are complicated matters, let me tell you. There were several “fun” surprises in store for me in this process that I thought I’d share.

  1. Not all schools sponsor student visasso make sure before you even apply that the university you are attending sponsors student visas.
  2. You cannot get a student visa if you are studying part-time. So you need to take that into account when setting your budget if you were hoping to work and go to school.
  3. Before you even apply for a visa, you need your university to provide you with a CAS letter. What is a CAS letter, you ask. This is a letter from the university stating that they are sponsoring you as for a student visa.
  4. The visa application process includes an in-person appointment which is only available in major cities. You may therefore have to travel to the nearest town for this appointment, take this into account.
  5. You have to give them your passport and you won’t get it back until your visa has been processed (3-4 weeks). Important to know if you have travel plans, like me!
  6. There are additional fees for applying for a visa beyond what the UK government charges. Often they will work with third-party companies that conduct the interviews in your country, so you will need to consider these fees as well.
  7. Everything takes a long time! So start early.
  8. I had to pay a deposit on tuition fees before applying.

Steps to get your visa

Not The time it took me
Pay a deposit for tuition before applying for my CAS letter. 2 weeks because there was a learning curve for me. I had to make an appointment with my bank to make a bank transfer to the university. Then it took 3-4 business days for payment to be received.
Prepare to apply for a CAS letter. For this I needed to provide information such as my passport details, and I needed to have details of how I would finance my education already figured out.

As I am from the United States, I did not have to provide such detailed proof of income, but I had to verify that I had enough funds in my bank account to cover tuition and/or funds from loans or grants.

1 week
Once I applied for the CAS at the university, it took them at least 2 weeks to respond with my CAS letter. However, there was an error in my CAS letter, so I had to request an amendment which took about an additional week to correct. I think my middle name was misspelled or something, but your CAS letter must match your passport exactly, so be careful! 1-2 months from the time I applied to receive my CAS from the university.
Total time to apply for CAS letter About 2 months from when I started to when I finally got the right CAS letter
Then I applied online for my UK student visa. The first part of this was quite easy and was conducted through their website. 5 hours
The second part of the application required me to make an appointment in person with a visa application center so that they can collect my biometric data. Unfortunately, this part of the application is done through a third party website, one of the visa application centers. I used VFS Global.

Their website was very confusing and hard to navigate. This was also done a bit.

They also had multiple locations and variations of visa application services. They try to charge you a lot of extra services to be careful.

It was April when I made an appointment for the second week of May, which was the first day I could travel to the nearest town (2-3 hours from my home) for the appointment .
Attend a biometric appointment in person. You must give them your passport at this stage. They keep it until your visa is processed. So if you have any trips planned, keep that in mind! 30 minute appointment (but I had to drive all day to and from the appointment).
Wait to get my passport and visa back. I attended my biometric appointment in May and picked up my visa the penultimate week of June. I had to drive back to the town where they had my appointment to pick up my passport and visa in person.

They offer a service to send you your passport and visa (at an additional cost of course). Yet I was on a really a tight deadline and needed to get my passport back as soon as possible so I went there myself.

3-4 weeks.

What if you need your passport back before they finish processing your visa?

I applied for my visa in mid-May and had a trip scheduled for early July. I didn’t realize they would physically take my passport instead of just making a digital copy of it. Because of this, I ended up panicking because it looked like I wasn’t going to get my passport back in time for my trip due to delays. I had already invested a lot of change in this trip even before applying for my visa, so I was obviously a little stressed.

I ended up getting it back on time, 3-4 weeks even despite longer than normal delays. However, I didn’t know that I would get it back in time because they don’t provide you with any details about your visa status! So here is what happened to me.

  • I emailed VFS Global to ask about my visa status and what to do if I don’t get it back. (They took a month to respond to me, then were no help.)
  • I paid to email the UK government (yes they charge a fee!) asking about my visa status and what to do if I needed my passport back sooner . They were also of no help.
  • Of course, before that I scoured every website for answers, nothing.

Finally, I went to Reddit, bless the anonymous users of this platform, they saved me! A lovely lovely person shared this if you are from the United States, you can apply for a second passport for emergency travel if your passport is stuck in visa processing. Anyway, so this is a fun fact that can help you if, like me, you’re stuck wondering what to do while you wait.

That’s all!

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