Friday, 19 September 2014

Applying for a UK Visa?

I've decided to write this post mostly because we're in the middle of applying for visas, and boy there have been times I've wished someone else prepared this post for me!

As a South African, getting to into the UK (or pretty much any other part of the world, for that matter) is a process paved with red tape. There is simply no easy or cheap way around it so it's best one be prepared beforehand!

The Prerequisites
Before we even start, let me just remind you of the new law requirements when travelling to and from South Africa with children. In addition to a passport, you need to have an unabridged birth certificate for each child, and if the child is not travelling with one or both parents, an affidavit from the absent parent/s giving permission for the child to travel with you (yes, even if you are one of the parents).

It's also useful to know that as soon as a child is 2 years old (be they a big two, small two, nursing two - whatever) they need to be booked their own seat on all flights (yes, even if they're going to sit on your lap the entire journey). In most cases these seats are approximately 75% of the full price, however, in some instances, especially local flights operated by budget airlines, you may have to fork out the full fee.

The Process
Currently there is only one service provider for UK visa application processing, so you have to go to and start off registering with them (this doesn't last forever, but is pretty handy if you plan to apply for visas multiple times over a few years). Once you've done this, you can log in and start the application process.

You are able to apply for yourself as well as others - in separate applications. Make certain you look at the types of visas available, and ensure that you are applying for the correct one (there is some assistance provided on the website). Then systematically fill in each section of the application carefully as it can get tricky (e.g. some of the finance questions are asked to be answered in GBP, not R) especially when you're tired and/or on your third application! The page tab turns green when all the necessary fields have been completed, and you are able to save and quit at any time during the application.

Once you have checked (and double checked) all sections, you can submit your application online (once you do this you will no longer be able to edit) and follow the necessary links to make payment. When you've submitted and paid, you'll be able to make an appointment at which you'll have all your biometric data recorded, and you'll submit your passport, photos, application and all the supporting evidence in person.
NB! As of 1 July, all children (previously it was just 5 and older) are required to attend this appointment in person, and be submit to biometric data submission. Brace yourself! This is quite a story, and your child needs to be awake and cooperative. Good luck.

Following this appointment, you have to register with the Teleperformance Centre ( where you can track your application. You may or may not be called for an interview at the British High Commission. In Pretoria. (I only know of one person who was unfortunate enough to have to do this). If not, you usually get a response in 3 - 4 weeks (they say to allow for 6 - 8), and collect your passport again.

The Paperwork
While the success of an application is never really guaranteed, the following supporting documents, some mandatory, others optional, are ones I would recommend - they've certainly helped us:

From the applicant:
  • Identity documents - including unabridged birth certificate for minors
  • Marriage certificate
  • Proof of residence - home ownership or lease agreement
  • Proof of employment and salary
  • Proof of school enrolment
  • Bank statements - 3 months
  • Any savings / additional income sources
  • Flight booking /provisional itinerary
  • Accommodation arrangement

From friends or relatives in the UK:
  • Letter of invitation
  • Identity documents
  • Visa or permanent residency permits - or bio date page of passport
  • Proof of residence - home ownership or lease agreement
  • Proof of employment
  • Proof of finances

From home:
  • Letters indicating your involvement or presence required at any up coming event/occasion for which you'd have to return to SA

Sending best wishes with your applications, and hoping for a favourable result for us all!

 Unabridged birth certificates are applied for through the Department of Home Affairs at a cost of R79, and are meant to be processed in 8 weeks, however, at the time of publishing this post, the Minister of Home Affairs announced that the introduction of the new children travel laws would be delayed from 1 October 2014 to 1 June 2015 due to some objections and a rumoured backlog of applications not yet processed.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Hip Hip Hooray, We Are Going To The UK!

Last week, on my 100th happy day, I bought three return tickets to Dublin (talk about saving the best for last!).

We're leaving on a jet plane...

We were last in the UK three years ago. It was a (very) belated honeymoon, a much needed break, and a chance to introduce Andel to my family there. We enjoyed the hustle and bustle of London (including being in the vicinity of the Royal Wedding), being able to relax in the Norfolk countryside, and a whirlwind two days in Ireland.

Just six months after that trip, our besties moved to Ireland. Since then we have each had one child, and seen each other every year - but we have never been to visit them (that's a bit embarrassing, actually). So it seems only fair that, this time, we should make the trip - and what better way to introduce Zac to the family, and enjoy the lights and white (hopefully) of Christmas?

I wouldn't mind us a little bit of this, thank you

The preparations thus far have not been in any way this simple though: we've had leave issues, flight drama - all kinds of fun stuff! But it's amazing how God works things out for our best. After searching for months (I'm not even kidding) for good flights, we miraculously found ones 30% cheaper than the average quote we were getting. Unfortunately it was a Friday, and while trying to book online, after putting in all our details, picking seats etc. there was a recurring technical error - and a call centre that was closed for the weekend. I retried every few hours for three days, so you can imagine my fury when I finally got hold of someone the Monday, only for them to give me a long sob story and an apology, before swiftly telling me the next best tickets were R3000 more!

The next day I found another really good price, and tried booking, only to have some agent tell me the price advertised was incorrect (forgive me, but in the service industries where I've worked, when this happens, it's not the customer's problem). Anyway, after two days' worth of fighting with them, I eventually found something else - not as cheap, not as quick, not as convenient, but manageable, I guess.
I wish I could explain what it was that made me stall on the payment. I really don't know. I kept telling myself I'd wait to hear from one more agent, check another site one last time. It was during this wait that someone advised me to call the airline about the connecting flights - and on this phone call (for the first time!) I was made aware that more than one transit stop in Europe requires a Shengen visa. Thank God I had not paid - I couldn't imagine anything worse than having to pay for an additional visa, and then not even leave the plane/airport to use it!

After all this drama, I decided to lay off the search for a day or two. And it just so happened that when I picked it back up, we got something that worked out ok. We're a little bummed that we have to come home earlier than originally planned, but we've managed to gain a day or two at the start, and at the end of the day, we just really want to see the people we love and miss so much!

So, on the 3rd December we'll be setting off on a little adventure, and I can't wait to share all about it!

Less than 13 weeks to go!