The following post is about visa application for a U.S. citizen moving to the UK on a Tier 4 student visa. Regulations are always changing and the process may change when you start your visa application. I write this as general advice.
The visa application process begins 90 days before your program begins. The 90 days before your program is the 90th day from the date that your acceptance letter tells you that it begins (The 90 days for me was not actually when my modules start but when orientation begins). So, by this time you have already applied to your chosen programs, and confirmed with the university that you are accepting their offer to study. Be warned–when the 90 days finally hits, you have a lot of work to do! You are probably trying to sell a lot of your possessions and possibly a home if you own one. (The fact is, you own more than you want to ship to the UK, and your probably don’t like your stuff enough to pay for storage for however long you’ll be gone. We’ve been fortunate that we sold the vast majority of our things and what we do have left Aubree’s Mom is storing in her attic.)
You are going to busy logistically on top of the job you probably have, spending time with your family, and studying. Filling out the application for your visa immediately is important so don’t put it off. It takes a couple of weeks for them to be processed and then you’ll want to buy your plane tickets, so you want to give yourself plenty of time to make sure your visas were approved and buy plane tickets at a reasonable amount of time before your arrival.
After you have accepted your offer from your University they will soon send you what is called a CAS # (I can’t remember what it stands for presently). This is the number that you will need in order to fill our your application.
The actually filling out of the application is not too difficult as long you know exactly what they are asking for which is sometimes not the clearest. One example from our experience was what is our “Given Names.” In the U.S. anytime you have to fill out your name on an application for example it usually asks for you FIRST NAME, MIDDLE NAME, LAST NAME. For the visa application form is just asks for your GIVEN NAME and then for your SURNAME. We simply assumed that my given name is Lucas. What becomes even more fuzzy is that on the online portion of the application when you hover over the help icon it just says, “Given Name such as John.” The key is to enter everything as it appears on your passport. My given name is Lucas Glen. As long as you enter it in all the information as it appears on your passport you should be fine.
I also had a bit of confusion on the biometric appointment that is needed. I was confused about how to make an appointment and when to make it. If you complete your application online, after you complete your application online you will be directed to schedule an appointment. Each member of your family going to the UK with you will also have to have their own appointments so try and schedule them as close together as you can.
After completing the application and attending your biometric appointment you will have to print off your application and then mail it to the UKBA in New York. When you mail it in, I would suggest 1 day shipping in order for it to arrive faster. Once they receive it, you should receive an email from the UKBA saying that they have received your application and a general time frame for when they will inform you if it was accepted. After they review your application they will then email you again saying it was accepted or not and then 1 day ship your package back to you.
This was our general experience. I had a lot of anxiety because applying for a visa is expensive and you don’t want to have it rejected because of a simple mistake and then have to re-apply.