Many of our long time readers may know that I obtained my UK Spouse visa earlier this year. This meant Chris and I were finally able to close the distance after maintaining our relationship apart for over 2.5 years. I now live with Christopher in England. We prepared our visa application for well over a year and a half, and back in November 2015 we even changed our visa route.
Instead of applying for a UK Fiancé visa and then Spouse visa, we instead married on New Year’s Eve while Christopher was visiting me in the US. Because of this, we we were able to apply directly for the Spouse visa instead.
Applying for the Visa
I’ll start this story just before we submitted our application. A year of uncertainty had passed; not knowing exactly how everything was going to work out, but we were dreaming that we could live together like normal couples. Our time finally came to apply for the Spouse visa.
Chris had been working full-time long enough for us to meet the financial minimum requirement by January of 2016. But because his payslips were a month behind (in arrears), it wasn’t until February that we would have the sixth and final payslip and corresponding bank statement in hand. We created our online application on Valentine’s day – as a gift to each other, paid and submitted it just a few days later.
As much knowledge as we have on the visa application and the process, we were still nervous and stressed when it became our turn to apply. You would never think that a document from the government could mean so much to you (or instil so much fear). Without this visa we wouldn’t be able to live together in the UK. Every visit would continue to have a time limit and I would always be forced to return back home. So it was imperative that we got everything right.
We put together our application and supporting documents without the use of a immigration lawyer and decided to pay for priority processing. We had already spent so much time apart that we felt it was worth the extra cost to receive a quicker decision on our application. I will always stand by this and I still recommend it to anyone who can afford it.
Waiting for a Decision
After submitting my documents, waiting for the decision on my visa nearly drove me to insanity. I would watch the YouTube videos that existed before mine (which all seemed to date back to 2012 – 2013), to see if these girls’ experience could give me any further insight. I was hoping to pick up on clues as to whether or not my visa might be denied. I also looked at expat forums to read timelines to get an idea of how fast visas were being processed for others during that time. All the stories I read seemed be conclude within 4-9 business days.
By the eighth business day, we received an emails stating that a decision had been made and that my passport & documents should arrive at my house a few days later. We were relieved that now we know a decision had been made, but not knowing what the final decision was only amplified my anxiety and fears.
A couple of days passed. Then, finally, the day came where UPS delivered my return package to my grandparents house. I didn’t want to open anything alone, I wanted to be surrounded by my family in case the decision was a refusal. Chris had stayed up till close to 4am (British time) to hear the results. But I was still scared to open the package.
After receiving a few choice words from my grandmother, I nervously opened the envelope and pulled all of the contents out. I was looking for a letter because letters signified refusals. To my knowledge, this was where you would find out why you were denied and on what grounds.
At the top of my original documents stack was a letter. My heart stopped. I started to read the letter out loud for my family to hear, only to read that my application had been accepted! Everyone was elated, I grabbed my passport and flipped through the pages until I saw my 30-day travel vignette. I nearly cried, and then notified Christopher.
Preparing to Move
The month leading up to my departure I spent finishing up with work, spending time with family & friends, preparing Apple’s flight and sorting through my possessions. I needed to determine what I was keeping, donating and selling. While I was excited, I was also having a hard time grasping that this was real.
It felt like I was living in a dream; that I’d be waking up and we would be back 6 months in the past – waiting to apply for our visa. Even, having a one-way flight booked to the UK was not enough evidence to convince my subconscious that is was really happening. But I was still happy! I just needed to pinch myself daily to re-affirm that this wasn’t a dream – it was reality.
What made everything more difficult for me was seeing my family and friends go from being happy and excited for me one day, to suddenly experiencing the 7 stages of grief. Some were having difficulty in accepting it, a few were depressed and became emotional when they saw me taking items to my car for donating at the Goodwill, and a couple were angry with me. These family and friends felt that I was abandoning them.
During this time, I felt that I couldn’t talk to anyone but Chris about my increasing stress, or even my excitement about the move for fear that it would trigger someone to react onto me. In some ways it was a long month, while in others it went by really fast. But in the end it worked out and I felt I handled it the best I could.
However, there was still one last thing to do. Just when we thought we were finished filling out paperwork and dealing with the UK government, we find out just how time consuming it is to arrange Apple’s travel to the UK. This was only made worse by the fact we only had 2.5 weeks before I was due to fly out. It was incredibly time critical!
We had 10 days to start and complete her documents before they would expire, otherwise we’d have to start all over again. The worst rule is that you are not allowed to book anything until 2 weeks out from your pet’s intended travel date! Thankfully, due to my time working in a veterinary hospital, close relationship with Apple’s veterinarian and my preparedness, we had everything ready to go within the 10 day limit. So none of her documents expired on us.
It was Apple’s pet travel agency in Vancouver B.C. that made the process very frustrating on Christopher and I. But we pulled through. Apple was set to fly out of Canada on March 31st arriving at London Heathrow on April 1st. I would arrive shortly, a few days after her, on April 4th.
Settling in the UK
After being reunited with Christopher and Apple at the airport, we all traveled back to Lancaster together. During my first few weeks of settling in, Chris and I had started purchasing furniture for the house and stocking our kitchen. We were happy to be finally building our home together. This is something we had been wanting to do for so many years.
For weeks I couldn’t help but feel like I was just visiting, despite all of the large purchases we had been making. I couldn’t shake it. I’ve conditioned myself to assume that when I see Chris, it’s only temporary – because this was all I’ve ever experienced since being in a relationship with him. I often had to remind myself “You’re here to stay. You have no return date, this is home.” I’ve been living here for nearly 3 months now and I’m slowly feeling like this is less of a visit and more like home.
I haven’t experienced any sudden emotional breakdowns or bouts of homesickness. But I do find that there have been times when I’m frustrated or ill, that I come closest to any kind of feeling of being homesick. For example, when Chris and I both had colds, my usual go-to medication was not sold here. Even worse, I couldn’t find an alternative that worked as well, even when I gave their over the counter (OTC) medications a try.
I took for granted the variety of things I had available to me in the US – I often find myself thinking “I could find this back home no problem! This was available everywhere.” This isn’t just limited to medications, but also food and things to do. I’ve been fortunate enough to have family members and friends offer to send me care packages, and have been able to find websites that import US goods. But, understandably, I cannot expect everyone back home to send me care packages forever. Import websites are a great alternative. They have helped me feel as though I’m not taking advantage of the wonderful people I know back in the US.
I’ve been asked about how it’s like meeting new people and making friends out here. In the past it’s been quite easy. In Plymouth we were surrounded by Chris’ family and friends. This was where he was born & raised. But we currently live 6 hours from there (in the North West of England for those who want to be precise) in Lancaster. We used to have friends in this area until Chris and his classmates graduated from University. After this, they all moved on in their lives or went back home until they decided what they wanted to do.
Chris was offered a full-time job here in Lancaster, so he remained. For now it’s just us – and while it might be lonely at times, it’s not the end of the world. We cannot afford to join social clubs or groups of common interest, so unfortunately we’re not putting ourselves in social atmospheres where we can meet new people. Someday we’ll meet new people and build friendships where we live – until then, we have each other and Apple.
Currently, our plan is to remain in England until I can obtain British Citizenship – right now that is 5 years away. After I have a British passport we’ll move back to North America. In the meantime we are saving up to buy a home in Leeds, and we will live there until we leave the UK. While we are still in Lancaster I am not working. It’s not fair to try and build up clientele, only to move to another city potentially by the end of the year and inform them I can no longer work with them so soon.
Once we are living in Leeds we will both be working and each making an income. I have been told very mixed opinions on finding jobs in the UK. Some people tell me it’s been difficult while others say it was easy. Like searching for a job back home, I believe it depends on your confidence, experience, and if your skills are really needed. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to embrace my stay at home dog-mom life and enjoy my time off from work.
For those of you who are reading this because you’re about to go through this experience yourself, or you already have – you’ll know expats will all have differing experiences to a degree. For some of you, it may be hard in the beginning, while for others it’s a little easier. A few may struggle with homesickness, and others might not miss anything at all.
My perception can change at any time, it’s still new for me. I’m so happy that Apple and I are here with Christopher. He and I both miss things about the US… he tells me this a lot! So together we vent, and then we laugh. But I wouldn’t change this for anything in the world!