Author - Chris Martin

How to Move Your Pet to the UK: Advice From an Expat (Vlog #15)

Moving to a foreign country can be a stressful experience. But that is only amplified if you are moving with a pet. Whether it’s a beloved cat, dog, rabbit or more exotic creature – we all want our pets to arrive safely at our new home. But unfortunately, as Chris and I discovered, relocating a pet to the UK is no easy task.

Challenges of Relocating with a Pet

The first challenge we faced was the lack of information. There seems to be little written guidance on the procedures, timeline or requirements of shipping a pet. Then, of course, there are the strict regulations imposed by the UK government. Pets must fly cargo (if arriving by air), have a full EU health certificate and you – as the owner – must arrive within 5 days.

In this video, we explain what we learnt about relocating to the UK with a pet from our own experiences moving Apple (my Miniature Dachshund) to the country. We give a few pointers, pieces of advice and sources of guidance for how you can get the ball rolling on your own journey too.

Want to see more long distance relationship advice? Subscribe on YouTube to see new videos every Wednesday & Sunday.

Links & Further Information

Throughout this video, we discuss a lot of different sources of information, as well as a couple of the forms and companies you might come into contact with during the process. Use the links below to find out more information on each:

Of course, this is based on my experience. Apple and I moved to the UK from the USA – and I used a pet travel agent in British Columbia (Canada) to help arrange direct flights from Vancouver. Your experience may differ depending on which country you are applying from.

If you have moved to the UK with your pet before, please feel free to share your advice, tips and questions in the comments below.

-Chelsea

Do Long Distance Relationships Work? (Vlog #13)

Any couple in a long distance relationship will recognise this question. Do long distance relationships (LDRs) work? It’s a question often asked by concerned family & friends, or even those that have previously been through an international/ long distance breakup.

In this video, we attempt to answer that question. In short, we believe that, just like any relationship, your LDR can work. There’s no doubt that they can be more difficult and stressful to manage – but by openly communicating and understanding each other’s needs, there is certainly a strong possibility that you’ll close the distance.

Our Long Distance Relationship

Throughout the video, we also discuss some of the tips and advice that we followed during our time dating long distance. Even though we’ve now closed the distance and are living together in the UK, dating across time zones (with an 8 hour time difference) is still very much fresh in our minds.

We would certainly agree that long distance relationships take more work than most. During ours, we discovered the importance of setting clear objectives, communicating regularly and taking advantage of every moment we could. Find out why we think your long distance relationship will work too in the video below.

Want to see more long distance relationship advice? Subscribe on YouTube to see new videos every Wednesday & Sunday.

Need more proof that long distance relationships can work (just as much as any close proximity relationship)? Take a look at the infographic we produced to show, in numbers, that long distance relationships are not doomed to fail.

Tell Us About Your LDR

We love hearing stories from other couples. So, if you’ve been in a long distance relationship, let us know in the comments below and share your story.

If you’re interested in becoming a featured couple, email us at [email protected]. It’s a great way to share your long distance success story with the world. You can see our previous featured couples here.

-Chelsea

Update #2: Partner Visa Joint Sponsorship Petition (+ Home Office Response)

Joint Sponsorship Update

If you’ve been following our petition to introduce joint sponsorship for UK partner visas, you’ll know that last month we wrote to local MP David Morris about the idea and to see if the government would be willing to consider such a proposal. You can read the full update & email exchange here.

Since then, David wrote to Security and Immigration Minister James Brokenshire on our behalf, outlining our thoughts on the issue.  Yesterday, David forwarded us the official reply from James which was not only disappointing – but patronising.

We don’t like to stray into politics on this blog, it’s a much too divisive subject – however, the response we received from James clearly shows that visa applicants, and their UK partners, do not have any allies within the current government.

The Government’s Response in Full

Below, you can see the letter that was sent to us. Don’t worry if it’s a little hard to read, we have also posted a full transcript below (just carry on scrolling).

James Brokenshire's Response Page 1

James Brokenshire’s Response Page 1

James Brokenshire's Response Page 2

James Brokenshire’s Response Page 2

James Brokenshire's Response Page 3

James Brokenshire’s Response Page 3

The Transcript

Thank you for your email of 18 May on behalf of Mr Christopher and Mrs Chelsea Martin of 12 Turnpike Fold, Lancaster, LLA2 6FB about the minimum income threshold for sponsoring a non-European Economic Area (non-EEA) national spouse or partner to come to or remain in the UK under the family Immigration Rules.

The purpose of the minimum income threshold, implemented on 9 July 2012 with other reforms of the family Immigration Rules, is to ensure that family migrants are supported at a reasonable level so that they do not become a burden on the taxpayer and they can participate sufficiently in everyday life to facilitate their integration into British society. We welcome those who wish to make a life in the UK with their family, work hard an make a contribution. But family life must not be established here at the taxpayer’s expense, and family migrants must be able to integrate.  That means they must be able to speak our language and pay their way. The is fair to applicants and to the public.

The minimum income threshold was set, following advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee at £18,600 for sponsoring a spouse or partner, rising to £22,400 for also sponsoring a non-EEA national child and an additional £2,400 for each further child. This reflects the level of income at which a British family or a family settled in the UK generally ceases to be able to access income-related benefits.

On 11 July 2014, the Court of Appeal upheld the lawfulness of the minimum income threshold under the family Immigration Rules, including its compatibility Convention on Human Rights. The Court of Appeal found that the policy is a rational and reasonable means of achieving the legitimate aims of reducing taxpayer burdens and promoting integration, and strikes a fair balance between the interests of those wishing to sponsor family migrants and the community in general.

The maintenance requirement in place before 9 July 202 in practice meant that any sponsor earning, after tax and housing costs had been deducted, more than the equivalent of Income Support for a couple (around £5,795 a year) was deemed to have sufficient funds to sponsor a spouse or partner. That was not an adequate basis for sustainable family migration and integration. British citizens and those settled in the UK are free to enter into a genuine relationship with whomever they choose, but if they wish to establish their family life in the UK it is appropriate that they should do so on a basis that prevents burdens on the taxpayer and promotes integration.

Mr and Mrs Martin suggest that third party financial support should be counted. Promises of financial support from family or other third parties cannot be counted under the minimum income threshold. This is because we want the couple to demonstrate that they can stand on their own feet financially, with adequate resources under their own control and not somebody else’s. Promises of a support from a third party are vulnerable to a change in another person’s circumstances or in the sponsor or applicant’s relationship to them.

As noted by Mr and Mrs Martin, we will not take into  account the previous, current or prospective earnings, or any job offer, of the migrant partner when they apply for entry clearance to come to the UK.  Employment overseas is no gaurentee of finding work in the UK. Partners coming to the UK with an appropriate job offer can apply under Tier 2 of the Points Based System. Those using the family route to come to the UK must be capable of being independently supported by their sponsor and/or by their joint savings or non-employment income. Where, or once, the migrant partner is in the UK with permission to work, we will take their earnings from employment here into account.

The minimum income threshold can be met in a number of ways in addition to or instead of income from employment or self-employment. Full details can be found by searching Appendix FM1.7 Financial Requirement at: www.homeoffice.go.uk.

We have continued to keep the new family Immigration Rules under review and to make adjustments in light of feedback on their operation and impact. However, our overall assessment is that the new Rules are having the right impact and are helping to restore public confidence in the immigration system.

I hope this clarifies the government’s position.

Our Thoughts on the Response

I don’t want to write too much about my opinions on this response – but believe me, I could. While this was not an entirely unexpected response, it was still disappointing. The way the letter reads, from it’s assumption that we have little understanding of the current rules to the blasé dismissal of joint sponsorship, is condescending and patronising. However, rather than focus on emotion, I want to point out a few things that this response fails to address. (and also a few contradictions)

It fails to address that joint sponsorship is implemented in other countries (notably the USA). It fails to address the notion that a legal system could be in place to ensure that joint sponsorship is a legally binding agreement. And it fails to address that there is anyone who could possibly not be able to meet the current financial requirements – yet be in a genuine relationship and willing to pay their way to be in the UK. This is an insult to many of the long distance couples we have spoken to, who are willing and want to be financially independent, but these rules prevent them from doing so.

I’ll conclude (before I ramble on) by highlighting a two of the contradictions that  this letter also brings to light. The response (correctly) states that guarantees of employment in the UK will not be considered for the visa applicant. Yet, guarantees of employment in the UK for a British sponsor returning to the country are taken into account.

Secondly, and crucially to the notion of joint sponsorship, the response states that the couple must demonstrate that they are financially independent as a family unit. And yet, the way this is demonstrated is by only taking into account the income of 50% of the family unit (less if child dependants are involved). It does not seem fair or right that the financial stability of the couple is based on one single person’s income.

Is This the End of the Road for Joint Sponsorship?

No. This is not the end of the road for our campaign for joint sponsorship. While this response has bought to light some serious issues with the government’s stance on immigration, and ‘clarified’ that this will not make it any further via parliamentary committee – we still have a voice.

The petition is still live, it can still be signed and, if it reaches 10,000 signatures it must still be address. We know we are not the only ones taking this up with the government, there is great work being done by many others. But to be successful, we must be vocal. We must make it known that joint sponsorship (and many other amendments) can make the process fairer to international couples whilst still protecting the (perceived) faith the UK populus has in the immigration system.

So please – if you are affected by this, know someone who is affected by this or just want to show your support: share this message. Sign the petition. Share this post, write an article, write to your MP, share your opinion and help us make it known that there are other ways!

Thank you so much to everyone who has and is supporting the campaign to introduce joint sponsorship – it’s appreciated more than you know :)

-Chris

Our Pre-Wedding Photoshoot with Ray McShane

Pre-Wedding Photoshoot Cover

In late May of 2016, Chelsea and I travelled to Plymouth to make the final preparations for our wedding blessing in August. Our wedding blessing was originally intended to be our actual wedding. However since we have already had our secret visa wedding we decided to keep the date as the day we’re emotionally invested in. Our friends and family will be there and for all intents and purposes, it will act as our wedding date.

Our first appointment in Plymouth was with our videographer – Ray McShane. As a part of the videography package we chose, we received a pre-wedding photoshoot. Because of our busy schedule, we made sure that this was early on in our trip so that we would definitely have the time to make sure the photos turned out great. And they did! These are a selection of our favourite photos from that session.

On Plymouth’s Barbican

Although whilst travelling to Plymouth, the sun was shining all day – the moment we met for the photoshoot the weather turned cloudy and wet (a predictably British trait). Undeterred by the rain, we still wanted to make the most of our time with Ray and used the rain to our advantage. This led to the great umbrella shot we’re using as the cover photo to this blog post.

Pre-Wedding Photoshoot 2

A Candid Kiss Caught on Camera

Fortunately, just as soon as it started, the rain stopped. Knowing we had to take advantage of our luck while it lasted, we ditched the umbrella and posed for some candid shots. Ray did a fantastic job in directing us where to look and how to pose (neither Chelsea or I are natural in front of the camera). I imagine a lot of these shots ended up on the cutting room floor, but we did manage to get one candid kiss!

We love a lot about this photo, including the reflection captured by the water, how natural we look (it really is a rarity) and the warm, soft feel of the lighting.

Pre-Wedding Photoshoot 3

On the Barbican Steps

Next, we posed on the barbican harbour steps. For those unfamiliar, the Barbican of Plymouth is the site where the Pilgrim Fathers left in search of a better life the USA. While the original steps have long since been built over, this still had a special significance to us. And what better representation of a British/American relationship too.

Pre-Wedding Photoshoot 4

A Second Shot on the Steps

We took quite a few photos on the steps, from different angles and in different poses. The ground was a little damp, but we’re certainly glad we were able to get these great photos from it. These were the last photos we took before heading back to the car to collect Apple (our Miniature Dachshund) and introduce her into some of the later photos.

Apple & Our Pre-Wedding Photos

Though we brought Apple with us for the photoshoot, we’ve heard the age-old advice before: never work with children or animals. Experience also told us that Apple is so curious, it can be hard to get photos with all three of us looking in the same direction! So for the first half of the session, she waited patiently in our car.

We did want her in at  least some of our photos though. So as the first hour drew to a close, we headed back to the car to pick her up (along with a few treats to keep her focus on the camera while shots were being taken).

Pre-Wedding Photoshoot 5

Walking Down The Old Streets

The first photo that Apple featured in was one of the three of us walking down the old streets together. One of the things we loved about the Barbican location was the look and feel of the historic buildings. This photo captures us, as one family, immersed in the history and the company of each other.

Pre-Wedding Photoshoot 6

Outside the Pub

What quintessentially British photoshoot would be complete with at least one shot outside of a pub? We really come to the foreground in this photo and Ray managed to catch us at a moment where we’re caught up in each others’ eyes. It may look a little like we’re pulling faces at each other… but we aren’t (or, I don’t think so at least).

Pre-Wedding Photoshoot 7

Our Family

Perhaps my favourite of all of our photos is this one of Chelsea, Apple and myself. None of us are looking at the camera. In fact, none of us are even looking in the same direction. But there’s a great dynamic in this picture and it’s one that gives me a lot of pride to look at. This is our family, together after 3 years of beating the distance and nothing can take that away from us.

Pre-Wedding Photoshoot 9

Apple – The Star of the Show

Of course, we couldn’t leave without a photo of Apple! Nearly everyone we passed thought she was super-cute… she definitely stole the show. One of the last photos of the evening, as the light was finally beginning to fade, was this incredible shot of her waiting patiently for us to finish chatting with Ray.

Overall, we had a fantastic evening with Ray. He really put us at ease about the wedding day and walked us through what would be happening. The idea of 2-3 photographers & videographers descending upon our wedding is a little daunting, so it’s always nice to get some clarification about the day. On top of that we came away with some lovely photos that we’ll be keeping & framing as soon as we get the chance.

We’re more excited than ever for our wedding (blessing) in August and hopeful we’re get high quality photos/ videos which we can share with our friends and family who weren’t able to make the journey.

-Chris

251+ Open When Letter Ideas

Open When Letter Ideas

Read any long distance relationship blog (or story) and one piece of advice will come up time and time again. Communication is key. It’s true – but it’s also difficult. Especially when you cannot be with your partner on the days they need you most. Whether it’s times of celebration, hardship or just feeling low – communicating via text or video just isn’t the same.

Open when letters are the perfect form of communication for these moments. For those unfamiliar, an ‘open when’ letter is a sealed envelope with details of when it should be opened written on the front. Every envelope follows a similar format: “open when…[time/event here].

The contents of each envelope can be tailored to that situation. For example – an open when you’re feeling sad envelope would typically contain a pick-me-up. Or, an open when you need me envelope could contain a reminder of how soon you will be together again. The possibilities are endless. From links to hidden YouTube videos, to sweet treats and hand-written notes, what you include is limited only by your imagination.

251 Open When Letter Ideas

Stacks of open when letters are ideal for birthday/Christmas presents. They give your partner something fun to look forward to opening throughout the upcoming year. But by far the hardest part of putting together your stack is coming up with creative ideas. Knowing how to label your letters is over half the challenge.

Open When for Pinterest

A Selection of the Open When Letter Ideas

That’s why we’ve come up with a list of 251 ideas for you to choose from. Use them all if you’re feeling adventurous, or just pick your favourites – it’s up to you. We’ve even broken down the ideas  into 8 topics to help you easily navigate through the list. Below you’ll find open when letters based on: months/holidays, the weather, how your partner is feeling, reasons for celebration, remembering moments together, what your partner is thinking about, locations and a few miscellaneous ones too.

The List in Full

Months & Holidays
1 It’s New Year’s Eve
2 It’s New Year’s day
3 It’s Valentines day
4 It’s St. Patrick’s day
5 It’s Good Friday
6 It’s Easter Sunday
7 It’s Independence day
8 It’s Mother’s day
9 It’s Father’s day
10 It’s Halloween
11 It’s Bonfire Night
12 It’s Thanksgiving
13 It’s Christmas Eve
14 It’s Christmas Day
15 It’s the first day of Spring
16 It’s the first day of Summer
17 It’s the first day of Autumn
18 It’s the first day of Winter
19 You see the year’s first bloomed flower
20 The sun sets after 8pm for the first time
21 You see the first leaf fall from the trees
22 You catch a falling leaf
23 You see the first snowfall of Winter
24 It’s the first day of the school term
25 It’s the last day of the school term
The Weather
26 It’s sunny outside
27 You spot a funny shaped cloud
28 It’s raining and you don’t want to go outside
29 There is a thunderstorm
30 It’s windy and you struggled to walk
31 When it starts to hail
32 The day is so cloudy it feels like night
33 You can’t leave your house because of snow
34 You want to build a snowman with me
35 It’s too cold and you can’t get warm
36 It’s too hot and you can’t cool down
37 The breeze catches you off guard
38 Your teeth are chattering because of the cold
39 You forgot your jacket
40 You forgot to wear sunscreen and were burnt
When You Feel…
41 Ecstatic and are on top of the world
42 Cheery and can’t be brought down
43 Affectionate but don’t have me with you
44 Enthusiastic (about something you love)
45 Romantic and wish we could be together
46 As though you need a cuddle
47 Excited for our next visit
48 Optimistic about the future
49 Fed up with life and want to quit
50 Lost with nowhere to turn
51 Regretful about something you did in the past
52 Tender (a moment where you need me)
53 Hopeless and need a little hand
54 As though you can’t do anything right
55 Powerless to help
56 Worried about the future
57 Nervous about tomorrow
58 Desperate for someone to talk to
59 Intimidated by a new challenge
60 Protective over me
61 Frustrated with yourself
62 Frustrated with me
63 Misunderstood
64 As though I am neglecting you
65 Devastated by recent news
66 Rejected by family
67 Just a little bit grouchy
68 Someone has offended you
69 Someone has embarrassed you
70 Aren’t able to sleep
71 Woke up in the middle of the night
72 Had a nightmare
73 Are feeling under the weather
74 Can’t get out of bed
75 Were injured in an accident
Reasons to Celebrate
76 It’s the anniversary of when we started dating
77 It’s our wedding anniversary
78 It’s my birthday
79 It’s your birthday
80 You graduated college
81 You bought a new car
82 You sold your old car
83 You bought your first home
84 You moved to a new home
85 You got a promotion at work
86 You found a new job
87 You added a new pet to the family
88 It’s one month until our next visit
89 It’s one week until our next visit
90 You are on your way to visit me
91 You are waiting at the airport for me
92 We are about to close the distance between us
93 We submit our visa application
94 We receive our visa decision
95 You are thinking about proposing
96 The day you propose to me
97 On our wedding day
98 The day after our wedding
99 We find out we’re having a baby
100 You find out I’m giving birth
On the Anniversary of…
101 The first time we met
102 Our first conversation
103 Our first kiss
104 The first time we held hands
105 Our first night together
106 The first holiday we celebrated
107 The first meal we cooked together
108 Our first true date
109 Our first long distance date
110 The first adventure we had
111 The first vacation we took
112 The first time we went to the movies
113 The first time we went to a restaurant
114 The first time we bought something together
115 Our first argument (if you can remember)
116 The first time we baked together
117 Our first goodbye
118 Our most recent goodbye
119 The day you proposed
120 Our wedding day
When You Need…
121 Somebody to hug
122 A kiss to make you feel better
123 Someone to massage your joints
124 A foot rub after a tiring day
125 My support during the tough times
126 To know how much I love you
127 Need to talk to me but can’t
128 To let off some steam
129 Something to do after plans backfire
130 Help falling asleep
131 To know that I am here for you
132 Motivation to get up for the day
133 Motivation to keep going through a tough day
134 To know that I’m not always mad at you
135 Reminding the world isn’t against you
136 Help with your friends
137 Help with my friends
138 Strength to deal with your family
139 Strength to deal with my family
140 Advice about work
141 Help in making an important decision
142 Courage to deal with a problem
143 Comfort after criticism at work
144 Advice about what to do when we disagree
145 A break from waiting to be together
146 Time to yourself
147 To speak to me but I am mad
148 A push out of your comfort zone
149 To know we won’t be apart forever
150 Help staying awake
151 To know how to deal with my stress
152 To know how to deal with your stress
153 Me to be around for you
154 To be around for me
155 Help planning our wedding
156 Help applying for a visa
157 Comfort about our future
158 Advice on your new pet
159 Something to eat (but don’t want to cook)
160 Something to drink
161 Something that reminds you of my country
162 Something that reminds you of home
163 A little caffeine for the long nights
164 Me there to do nothing but listen
165 To know that you are not alone
166 A little bit of a distraction
167 Some fun to lighten your mood
168 A backup plan for a rainy day
169 A surprise to cheer you up
170 To know things will get better
171 To hear a friendly voice
172 Good news after a bad day
173 A break from the internet
174 To get out of the house
175 Rescuing from your own thoughts
When You Think About…
176 My scent which makes you miss me
177 My smile
178 Us laughing together
179 Our past
180 The future ahead of us
181 Laying in bed with me
182 Sitting beside me
183 How our children will be
184 Holding my hand
185 Kissing me
186 How much you want to hug me
187 The times we have cuddled together
188 Our last visit
189 Our next visit
190 Your dreams and my dreams
191 Our hopes for what will come
192 What we have overcome
193 Your proudest achievement
194 A moment you regret
195 The sad times we’ve shared
196 Saying goodbye to me
197 Our engagement party
198 Our wedding day
199 Writing our vows
200 Our honeymoon
201 Our pets
202 My quirks that you put up with
203 A time I was angry with you
204 Our very first meeting
205 How I make you feel
206 How long we have to wait to be together
207 Booking our next visit
208 The doubts you have
209 Your worst fears
210 Growing old together
211 A year from now
212 Our adventures together
213 What you wish I didn’t do
214 The big questions in life
215 My love for you
Locations & Places
216 At home on your own
217 At work on a stressful day
218 In the car on a long drive
219 Stuck on public transport
220 In our favourite spot
221 At our favourite restaurant
222 On the beach
223 Out with friends
224 With your family
225 In the hospital
226 Lying in bed without me
227 At the movie theatre
228 Out on a walk
229 At the gym
230 At the vet clinic
Miscellaneous 
231 We’re fighting
232 You don’t know what to buy me
233 I’m not answering the phone
234 You have no phone signal
235 You’re lost (keep this in your car)
236 You don’t know if we’ll make it
237 You need help making a decision
238 You need to tell me something important
239 I’m being unfair to you
240 We haven’t talked in ages
241 I do something stupid
242 You do something stupid
243 You make a big purchase
244 I make a big purchase
245 You’re nostalgic
246 You’re down on your luck
247 You feel like it
248 You’re going through a crisis
249 You’re walking down memory lane
250 You receive these letters
251 You have no more letters to open

Open When Pin
So, there you have it! Our favourite 251 open when letter ideas. These cover a huge range of scenarios, but half the challenge is knowing what to include in these letters. The best ideas are personal; something special to you and your partner. To get you started, we’ve created a Pinterest board with the best ideas. Click on any of the links below to find out more.

Do you have any great open when letter ideas we haven’t covered on our list? Which has been your most successful? Let us know in the comments below and join the conversation.

Want more long distance relationship gift ideas? Read our list of the top 20 gifts for LDR couples.

-Chris