A year ago today was one of the most emotional days of my entire life. 1 year and 48 hours prior, I received an email that I was waiting for four months. Four long months of being seperated from my partner in crime and the love of my life. Not by choice but because we were simply born in different countries and had different passports. I have to start by thanking everyone who supported us during that extremely difficult time in our lives. You kept me sane and I’m forever grateful.
On this email from the U.K. immigration office, it simply said that the decision for my visa application had been made, not what the decision was. I was staying at my childhood home visiting my parents until I got the decision. I had tracking on the package that contained the decision and my passport so I knew it was coming, I just didn’t know what time so I refreshed the app about 386 times that day.
My mom and I waited by the door the entire day peering out the windows for the UPS truck. I made her stand guard while I did my workout and showered. We took turns using the bathroom. We tried to watch cheesey rom coms to drown out our anxious thoughts but nothing was helping. I have never had so many butterflies in my stomach.
It was such a surreal experience when I saw the brown UPS truck park outside my house. I shot up from the couch and my mom had to catch me in her arms because my legs nearly gave out. I wasn’t sure if I could open it in front of my parents or what I would want to do. As soon as we got the package in the house, I barely remember what happened, the emotions and anticipation flooded my body.
My Dad opened the package for me with a letter opener and handed it to me without looking. My hands were shaking as I read the first line “You have been successfully granted your visa to the U.K…” and burst into violent tears of joy. Straight up SOBBING.
“I GOT IT!!!!” I screamed eventually because my parents weren’t sure if they were happy or sad sobs. I immediately Facetimed my partner who was waiting for my call in England. I was still sobbing. I won’t lie, I’m a crier but I didn’t expect that reaction. He answered the phone and I was sobbing and within seconds I froze. He had no idea what was happening and thought I didn’t get it. I hung up and tried again and thankfully got a better connection. He was so relieved they were tears of joy. The stress and the build up of almost 2 years of international visa drama were over (for now), just like that with one UPS delivery.
This all sounds very dramatic, trust me, it was. That’s why looking back a year later I can’t hardly believe that was our reality. When I was going through the process of applying for a partner visa in the U.K. I had no idea where to go to for advice and all I wanted was some personal experience. I couldn’t really find any blogs and all I wanted was someone who understood. It was so stressful it’s taken me a year to even be able to write about it. Every website had conflicting information and you had to pay a lot of money even to get an appointment to see if you wanted to potentially work with an immigration lawyer.
You can get basic visa information on the U.K. government website I’ve linked here.
It’s a good place to start but I promised I would give tangible advice for people who are in an international relationship (like myself) and applying for a visa to move to another country. We have applied for visas in both Australia (which was unsuccessful and a whole different story) and in the U.K. I will give my best advice I learned from both and some U.K. specific tips.
1. You could be the exception, not the rule. For a process that costs so much money and means so much to you and your partner, you would think there would be clear cut rules and directions but that is just not the way the immigration process works. There are so many loopholes, discrepancies, and they are constantly changing and updating the rules. NOTHING is set in stone and if you accept this early on it makes dealing with this process a lot more manageable. You can’t just call someone and have the right answer. There is a lot of guess work that happens and you will undoubtedly get conflicting advice, even from professionals.
2. PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING! If you are in a semi-serious or serious international relationship and you have any thoughts of settling down together, start saving everything. Open a joint bank account as soon as possible. Get bills in both of your names. Save your text message/Whatsapp/Facebook conversations and take lots of photos. (My people know I had the photo part covered) The more paper trail you have of your relationship, the better and never throw it out because even now this process is not over for us.
3. Look for visa support communities on Facebook. Join them & turn off the notifications. Many people live in a victim and complaining mindset. These groups are incredible resources but you WILL get conflicting advice. You will get people who make EVERYTHING seem so much worse than it actually is. I was glad I found these groups but also equally as glad I was confident enough to not jump at everything a stranger trying to get a visa from Africa to be with her pen pal was telling me. All advice you have to take with a grain of salt.
4. Find like minded friends who understand. NO ONE can possibly understand the stress of this visa process like someone who has lived it or is living it. Putting your entire life on hold without your control, being separated from your partner, dishing out thousands of dollars with no guarantee for success and then having all your friends and family constantly asking for updates. There aren’t updates. You are at the mercy of the government and the immigration office. I found a very supportive American Women in the U.K. group that isn’t visa specific but provided me with a lot of insight & comfort. The constant question and lack of sympathy from others is really frustrating but if you need someone who understands visa drama, I am your girl. Seriously, reach out!
5. Do serious research if you choose to pay an immigration lawyer. For our Australian visa application, we did it ourselves and didn’t get it (not due to anything in our control) and for our U.K. visa we paid a lot of money for a lawyer and he made the process 100 x more stressful than if I just did it all myself. He basically just sent me the checklist of documents I needed from the government website and I had to do all the work. If you do opt for a lawyer, make sure you vibe with them and trust they will be professional, organized and knowledgeable about your exact visa application. Hire a lawyer in the time zone you will be in when you apply for your visa. We hired a lawyer for me in the U.K. but I had to apply while in U.S. and the time zone negatively impacted our communication on several occasions.
6. Marriage isn’t always the only option. Depending on the country and the nature of your relationship, there are other visas you can apply for. We thought we had to get married to get me a visa for the U.K. and we were going to rush to do so but we figured out we could apply for a Tier 2 unmarried partner visa, since we had been “living together in a relationship for at least 2 years” when we applied. The wording was very confusing in regards to this visa and we needed to give a lot of extra proof since we weren’t married but we are happy we waited to get married when we are ready and not just for the visa. If you are not American, there are other work visas you can apply for in the U.K. too. There are options so make sure you explore them all.
7. Don’t take the stress out on each other. This process is stressful enough, you don’t want to then be arguing with your significant other too. My partner and I definitely weren’t perfect about this but we realized very quickly we needed to be a team, have open communication and set clear expectations about our needs during our time apart. I’ve done long distance in previous relationships and it clearly didn’t work out, but for the right person, with the right team mate, you can survive this. The stress is horrible. It sucks and it seems to take over your life but I promise there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
8. Pay for the expedited service if you can. The quicker you can find out the better. If it’s absolutely not in the budget then skip it but paying to wait less time was absolutely worth it for us. We had already spent four months apart.
9. Stay positive. Stay organized. Easier said than done but organization helps the positivity a lot. This is not a process you should procrastinate. Try to focus on the tangible things you can complete and not on the worries of “what if?” Whatever happens you will handle it. I have experienced a lot of tragedy and hard times in my 29 years, things I never thought I could survive, but I did. When bad things happen, you figure it out no matter what so don’t waste your time expecting the worst. Vent when you need to. But don’t get stuck in the wallow/complain/victim mode because it doesn’t look cute on anyone.
10. Remember the love. At the end of the day international relationships bring up so many difficult situations that the visa process is really just the tip of the iceberg. But would I change a thing? Absolutely not. I met the love of my life, at a random dirty hostel in Australia and we happened to both be from oceans away from home. I can’t imagine a better partner, lover or travel buddy. I can’t wish my life to be different or relationship to be easier because then it wouldn’t be with him. He is worth it. Our love is worth it.
This is just a taste of the beast that is the visa process. I have been particularly drawn to sharing about life as an expat lately and reaching out to others who need help and guidance in this situation too! I have made incredible friendships with ladies I’ve met in expat groups or through social media and I want to help them and all the future Susie’s I haven’t met yet.
Exciting news, I am going to do a blog series on the visa process, moving to your partner’s home country, how to make friends as an expat, packing and scaling down your life, things I miss about America, funny quirks about English culture, basically all things being an expat.
This is a huge part of my life and if I can help just one other person who is moving across the world for love, work, study abroad, a gut feeling, or wanderlust– I will be happy!
If you resonate with this piece, stay tuned for the series. If you have a visa story too, please share in the comments or reach out to me directly.
Although international relationships have a whole new set of roadblocks and hardships, they sure are romantic and I will always swoon over an international meet cute.
At the end of the day love is love. No matter your gender, nationality, race, ethnicity, or visa status. Love is worth it. Happy ann-visa-ry to me!