My London: Visa Journey

20160710_visa_extension_pics_0410Like every Kiwi who has lived in London over two years, we have a bit of a story to tell about how we managed to stay. In fact, you can almost guarantee when meeting expats over here, conversation will invariably come around to visa arrangements. It’s something that bubbles away in the back of all of our minds whether we have a renewal date looming, or have just come through the battle fields of visa application.

As my current visa is due to expire very soon (in August), it’s something that has been on my mind a little more often lately. My visa story is very much intertwined with my relationship. It’s based on my relationship that I have been able to stay in England for as long as I have. I talked a bit here about how Ben and I have followed each other around the world, and had some enforced periods apart due to visa and travel.

To catch you up: I went to Japan to teach English after university. Ben followed me after 6 months or so and stayed for a year. As his visa was coming to an end we were thinking about the next steps, I knew I didn’t want to stop travelling. I was filled with wanderlust after seeing what I had of Asia, I knew I couldn’t go home yet. Europe was calling.

I grew up listening to my mum and her friends recounting stories of their travels in and around Europe in the early 80’s. Tales of seedy men in Morocco, smuggling jeans into Russia, early Contiki tours and Kiwi hubs in South West London with intrepid travellers posting on notice boards looking for travel buddies.  I wanted to experience it all.

As Ben has a British passport, it was a no brainer for us to head to England next. So Ben headed off to set us up and I followed, in what turned out to be months after due to a family wedding in NZ.

As my mum, and countless other antipodeans before me and after me, I came to England on a two year working holiday visa. Two years went by in a flash and we quickly decided we didn’t want to leave when my visa was up. So we started exploring options to stay. This is where the really helpful network of Kiwi friends came in. Someone always knew of someone who had done it before and could get us lots of advice.

In the end the best option for me was to apply for an ‘unmarried spouse visa’. This means I could stay in the UK as a family member of a British settled person, i.e. Ben.

We put together mountains of paperwork…

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                                                                 …and I do mean mountains!

  •  You had to prove that you were in a genuine relationship.

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  • That we had lived together for the two years prior to apply for the visa.
  • That you meet the financial requirement, which for us was £18,600
  • And that you meet an English Language requirement. However coming from NZ meant I was exempt for providing evidence on that point.

20160710_visa_extension_pics_0445But for everything else we needed solid proof.

We spent about three months preparing for the visa, gathering documents from NZ and ordering things here. As everything has gone paperless it can be a bit of a hassle to get original payslips and bills and in many cases we were charged for them.

As we were doing it for the first time we had an immigration lawyer check over our application to see that we hadn’t missed anything or made any silly errors. I was really glad we did this for peace of mind as it is not something we had done before and …. it costs a whole lot of money to re-apply

We bundled it all up….20160710_visa_extension_pics_0454Then trekked down to the Home Office in Croydon for our appointment on Valentine’s Day. Woo! Romantic! We had decided to make our application in person as we had travel plans over the summer that I didn’t want to risk missing because our passports weren’t back. So that meant, we would find out whether we were successful on the day.

We arrived in Croydon overly early as we were nervous and thought we would have a coffee or something to calm ourselves once we got down there. Unfortunately Croydon is not a place you want to spend too much time in, we found a dingey mall, not yet open and a Costa Coffee shop on the main road. So we sat with our coffees looking out over grey buildings and greyer drizzly skies and started to wonder why we were making this application in the first place…

When the time came for our appointment we passed through airport style security at the entrance and then queued to sign in. The whole process was a lot of being called up, queueing and then waiting. We signed in, handed in paperwork, my biometrics were taken and then it was time for the decision.

We were sent to a cafeteria style waiting room with a ticket number and told to come up when we heard our number. I forget what number we had, but let’s call it 100. It took about an hour for the numbers to get close to 100… We started to pack our things and prepare to go up.. I was wired. I kept thinking worst case scenarios like, I was going to be denied and sent straight to Heathrow.

Then the numbers went past 100. 1021, 107, 115. My stomach started sinking… This could only mean bad news right? 121, 140. I started looking around at the others whose numbers had been skipped, were they over stayers? Were we all being deported today? 144, 153….

100!!!! I looked at Ben, well, this is it. We walked up to the decision desk and the officer handed me an A4 piece of paper and said we were successful. I had to ask her again as she delivered the news so casually I didn’t realise it had happened. After all the waiting I felt like I need the news to be delivered to a chorus of trumpets and fanfare.

We got it! 2.5 more years in London. We took these fuzzy pictures once we got home to commemorate. Yay wine! I definitely needed that.IMG_2237

This was all two and a half years ago now, so it’s time for me to get an extension.

This time we’re doing it ourselves, via the post. So my passport will be sent away for a few months. Fingers crossed it all goes well I’ll have another two and a half years to live in this amazing country.

What has your visa experience been like? Tell me about all the nerves and the paperwork… Soo much paperwork!

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Lately… Spring, we missed you!

_MG_0821The blog has been hibernating over winter, mainly because we moved flats and it was soooo time consuming. But spring is here, and with it, a new beginning. In a new place, with new people and a whole different perspective on London. I am so excited to explore!

I did manage to fit in a few other things since the New Year too, so here is what I’ve been up to lately…

We are, as of last week, residents of Tufnell Park._MG_0827It’s only been a week but already I’m in love with our new location. It’s a short wander to Kentish Town and all the booze, food and gigs that the area boasts. We have local cafes, butchers and cute little independent shops down the road.  My commute has got quicker and we have a big sunny garden out the back of our flat, the date for our first BBQ has already been set.

These are some of the pastel houses I pass on my walk to the station. It reminds me of the coloured house on the Venetian Island of Burano and never fails to brighten my day.

I found out I may be able to go for indefinite leave to remain this year!! Eeek! This is big. I thought I was only able to get an extension of my defacto spouse visa this year, but it turns out I may qualify to apply for a more permanent settlement visa. It will be a bit more work as I would have to sit a ‘Life in the UK’ test. If I am eligible though, it means that I am quite close to being able to apply for UK citizenship and then a passport which would give Ben and I a few more options in the future if we ever wanted to come back to the UK. I’m getting some advice on it now from an immigration lawyer. Fingers crossed!

20160123_Anna's_baby_shower_cake_0014Friends recently had a gorgeous baby boy, on February 29th to be precise. But before we knew he was going to be a leap baby, or even before we knew he was a he, the girls gathered for an afternoon of onesie decorating, bump measuring and goodies. I took the chance to create my second baby shower cake (here is my first). A baby lamb for the new Kiwi baby.

20160315_Andie's_cards_0809I mentioned in my new year’s resolutions that I collect (hoard) a whole lot of magazines and craft stuff. In an effort to reduce my load before we moved I spent some quiet evenings making these cards and gift tags from all the pictures I had collected. Now to send them.

I was introduced to the wonders of National Theatre Live. Its live screenings of West End or Broadway theatre shows in local cinemas. So you get the best seats in the house, for a fraction of the price. They do one a month, with a few encore screenings after that. So far I have seen Of Mice and Men which James Franco and Chris O’Dowd performed on Broadway and I am hoping to book Hangmen next. It’s a dark comedy that recently showed on the West End. Both only £16 each. So cheap! There is going to be so much more theatre in my future.

Speaking of theatre, a colleague and I recently saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Firstly, I highly recommend the book. I don’t want to give away any main plot features, but it’s a gorgeous tale of a young boy trying to understand the mysteries in his life. I think the narration is done brilliantly and it is such a nice book to read. The play was equally good, it followed the story really closely and really bought it to life. This show features the most tech I have ever seen in a theatre production. The whole stage is effectively a computer screen, but it doesn’t take anything away from the production, as I thought that something like that might. Instead the characters interact with it seamlessly, like any other prop piece. Definitely one to see.

I read Jane Eyre recently too. I wish I had a read it sooner, it is a classic for a reason right? Jane is a kick arse heroine for her time and I completely devoured the book in a matter of days. I’m now wondering what other classics I have been missing out on? Wuthering Heights is next on my list and then maybe some Charles Dickens? Any other recommendations for me?

Old Rope ComedyOh, and let me gush about my new flatmates! I now live with a comedian – we just saw her do a sweet gig as part of the Old Rope new comedy night at The Phoenix; a blogger – check our all her wanderlust inducing travel tips here and an events manager working for a company that manages lots of tourist sites in and around London – we have already had ticket hook ups for Thorpe Park. Thank you all, I will repay you with sooo much cake.

 

Procrastination

I started thinking about this adventure in December and we’re now in August, that’s some serious procrastination. But now that I have got this far, let me take things back a few months as there were a few things I wanted settled before I started.

A visa

As a Kiwi currently living in London, I’ve got to jump through a few (so many!!!) hoops to be entitled to live and work in this amazing, vibrant and challenging city. The working holiday visa that I entered the UK on ran out in March this year so to stay on I had to apply for further leave to remain. Options are pretty limited for Kiwis once your working holiday visa runs out but luckily for me my lovely Kiwi boyfriend has a British passport through his father. So I could apply as a defacto spouse to stay with him. It is a long, convoluted and expensive process but fortunately, we came out the other side without me being deported on the next flight out of there.

A diet

After feeling super lethargic coming out of a long British winter, I needed to shake up my diet and spend some time tending to my health. After looking into a few things and talking to a few people, I decided I wanted something sustainable and be a basis for good habits in the future. I then, on one crazy Sunday (this may or may not have been the 31st of December) I made a resolution to undertake the most extreme fad diet out there, the Whole30. I went through withdrawals; headaches, tiredness, lethargy. Then frustrations with the intensive food prep and planning that goes into it, then euphoria at finishing and seeing the diminished figure on the scales. I then celebrated waaaay too much and undid it all. You can read my lessons learned here. I am no poster child for the Whole 30 but I gave it a good shot.

A desk

I felt that I needed to make an area for myself, a space to write and think and get all deep about things. I didn’t want the distractions of TV or my boyfriend or the all too present pull of sleep. I usually sit on my bed to work and go from upright and alert to slouched, head on the pillow, laptop on stomach in the time it takes to open my browser. Not good if I am to be a serious blogger. Instead of going to all the effort of sorting out a desk and lighting and plugs and everything, I have subtly commandeered a little space for me on my boyfriend’s desk (read taken over). It’s not a good long term fix, but until I am properly booted off, I’ll take it.

A deadline

Yup, after the first few months flew by I knew this wasn’t going to happen unless I really forced myself too. I bit of time here and there on a lazy Sunday does not a blog make. Then listening to this podcast by Bevan James Eyles about finding your passion in life, I decided that I had to get a wiggle on. So my friend and I decided to set some goals and then check in with each other weekly to see how we were getting on. My first goal was to start a blog before my birthday and success! I registered this domain name on my 27th birthday.

Next goal: To have it functioning with all the widgets and sliders before the end of the month.