Disclaimer: This information is based on the process I went through as a low-risk United States applicant in 2013 to obtain my Tier 4 Visa. The process has changed slightly since then.
This guide is ***not*** legal advice, and it may not be up to date. Visa regulations change all the time, without warning. If you wittingly or unwittingly deceive the UKBA, they may ban you from the country for TEN YEARS. Check with the United Kingdom Border Agency for the most up to date information.
If you follow the instructions carefully and do all you are supposed to, then you may get this very expensive sticker in your passport:
Don’t worry, I’m a professional at this. Italy, Chile, Korea, India and now the United Kingdom. I’ve even started putting a section about my bureaucratic expertise in my CV. I’ve applied for at least one visa per year, every year out of the last five. The most difficult so far was the process to obtain legal residency in Korea, but I have to say that the UK Tier 4 process is right up there in complexity! The biggest problem was that there is not a consistent or consolidated list of what one needs to apply anywhere on the UKBA website. I bounced from department to department at UCL asking questions, and no one seemed able or willing to answer.
It’s taken me almost a year to obtain all of the necessary requirements for my Tier 4 visa. 329 days since I began the first step, applying online to my Master’s Program.
Many students must obtain a student visa in order to live and study in the UK. Some nationals are not required to apply for a visa. Maybe you can save yourself the headache!
Determine whether you are required to apply for a visa and which type is appropriate for your course of study, using the quick guide from the UKBA. Tier 4 Student Visas are generally applied for under a Points-Based System that requires 40 total points. According to the UKBA:
As a Tier 4 (General) student, you must have 40 points in our points assessment. You can score:
- 30 points for having a valid confirmation of acceptance for studies
- 10 points for having enough money (also known as maintenance or funds) to cover your course fees and living costs
Before you can apply to the UK consulate with jurisdiction over your state/area, you must obtain a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) from your university.
To get your CAS, you will need:
- A completed and submitted university application
- An UNCONDITIONAL offer for acceptance at your university
- Constant vigilance of your email account
Your university should identify you as a student needing a Tier 4 visa and email you with a request to confirm that the identifying information they have is correct. Confirm the details, and they will submit the information to the UKBA.
Now comes the time for gathering the documents for your application. Begin with your online print and send application, which can be accessed for US citizens on the Visa4UK website.
To fill in your VAF9 application form, you will need:
- Your current contact information
- The date on which you wish to travel to the UK
- Your passport information
- Information about your family origins, including dates of birth and nationalities
- Information about previous travel and any visas you have held in the past
- The ability to answer questions about your involvement in war crimes, terrorism, criminality, and genocide (Hint: If you’ve been involved in any of these, do not apply for a UK Visa. As a matter of fact, get the hell off my blog!)
When you complete the VAF9 application form, you will need to pay your visa fee. Use the UKBA Country Finder to find out what the fee is for your nationality. In the case of US citizens, the fee currently stands at £298 (~$460).
You can pay by credit card or Paypal. I had some issues when my bank tried to cancel the transaction for fear of identity theft. I had to sit around on the phone for a half an hour to get this fixed. Consider letting your bank know that you will be using a card for the visa, in the hopes that they will not do the same to you. Save yourself the agony of listening to Visa’s god-awful elevator music that repeats every 30 seconds.
You will be prompted by the Visa4Uk system to make an appointment at the Biometric Center for your state/area to submit your biometric data. You must be physically present at the appointment. You cannot arrive more than 15 minutes late. Use this planning tool from US Citizenship and Immigration Services to find your center.
To enroll your biometric data, you will need:
- Your passport
- Your printed biometrics appointment confirmation
At your biometrics appointment, you will scan each of your ten fingerprints and have a photo of your face taken. You cannot refuse this on the basis of privacy. If you are older than 5 years old, you must have this done or your application cannot proceed.
The biometric center in Colorado is kind of sketchy and quite difficult to find. Give yourself time to get lost, or consider bringing a change of underwear for those moments when you cannot find it!
You will also need to have the appropriate Appendix. In my case, that was Appendix 8.
To fill out your Appendix 8, you will need:
- A lot of the same information as for the VAF9, for some reason
- The address at which you will reside in the UK, or a temporary address upon your arrival
- The information of your University from your CAS
- Your course details from your CAS
- Your actual CAS number
- Information on your English language abilities and financial situation
I am considered a “low-risk” applicant because I am a US Citizen. Your passport is used to determine your nationality, and you can check the list of low-risk countries here. I found it very difficult to find accurate and concise information about exactly which documents are required of low-risk nationals, in part because there are many sections on the UKBA website. Additionally, everyone seems afraid of giving advice on this process. I literally got passed from department to department within my university, and no one seemed to have a clue which documents are actually required.
Below is the list of documents that I sent to the New York Consulate General on July 31st, 2013.
Tier 4 Documents List for Low-Risk Applicants:
- Passport photos (to UKBA standards)
- Print and send application form VAF9
- Appendix 8
- Receipt of payment online
- CAS information in the form of an email
- Biometric report receipt stamped by my local immigration office
- Return shipping envelope (Overnight, with a tracking number!)
You will also need to have ALL of the documents that the UKBA requires of non-low-risk applicants. As part of your application, you will affirm that you hold all the documents necessary, even as a low-risk applicant and they are not required for your application.
IMPORTANT: THE UKBA CAN REQUEST THAT YOU SUBMIT ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTS AT RANDOM. IF YOU CANNOT PROVIDE THE DOCUMENTS, THEY MAY BAN YOU FOR TEN YEARS FOR DECEPTION
- Proof of financial solvency for your course of study, including maintenance
- Bank statements
- Official Loan Letters from your university if receiving financial aid
- Any additional funding/sponsorship
- Your parents’ financial information if they are paying any part of your costs
- Proof of your educational history (transcripts/degrees/etc.)
Check all of your documents several times for accuracy, and take them to a mailing center. I used FedEx because I’ve used them for other visa processes and trust them. NEVER send your documents without obtaining a tracking number!
An amazing part of this process is that the New York consulate actually sent me updates on the status of my visa throughout the remarkably short review period. My visa is currently on its way back to me via the return envelope I included, and should arrive tomorrow. I can’t believe that I’ve managed it, after literally 10 months of legwork on applications and recommendations and loan packages and biometrics.
I will be carrying the original documents that are returned to me, as well as copies of everything I submitted to keep with me when I fly out on September 12. They may ask for them when I cross the border, and I don’t want to be turned away! I will update this blog post as necessary when I have the final details of my process, including a possible trip to register with the police in London.
A couple of final tips:
- DO fill out all of your documents in BLACK INK (tip from a friend of mine who helps prepare UK visas).
- DO make and keep copies of every single document and carry them with you on your flight.
- DO ask questions of your school, but know they may not get back to you.
- DO consult others who’ve been through the process before you.
- DON’T try to fake anything. TEN YEAR BAN TEN YEAR BAN (Clear enough?)
- DON’T try to apply more than 3 months before the beginning of your program.
- DON’T wait until the last minute for any of this.
- DON’T freak out when the requirements change.
Happy hunting! Please post comments if you have any recent changes or if you have questions.