I don’t usually talk too much about my personal life on this blog, but I do have some big news!
I am writing you today from my new home in Norwich, England, so I thought I should take some time to update you on all that’s happened. Plus, I know some of you might be interested in moving to England from America yourself, so you might be able to learn from my experience getting a UK Spouse Visa.
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Why I Moved to England
It’s simple, I wanted to be with the love of my life, Russell. Long-distance relationships are tough. Even tougher when you have to deal with a 5 hour time difference and 3,000 miles between you.
After doing the long distance, across the pond relationship for too long, Russell and I decided it was time to close the distance. We had never lived in the same city but we had spent enough time together and on FaceTime to know that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. I would be moving from America to England.
It was definitely a difficult decision to make. I loved living in New York City and had been living there the last 13 years. I hated leaving all my friends and moving further away from my family. There were so many factors to consider. We discussed it for months and we finally decided the best place for us to live would be England. Norwich, specifically, which is located about 100 miles northeast of London.
(Check out this guide if you are moving to London).
How I moved to England
Closing the distance in an international long-distance relationship is not as easy as just picking up and moving houses. You must have a Visa to live in another country. We did some research and read a lot of information about moving to England.
There are several different routes you can go to get a Visa. Russell is a British citizen, so we could either do a Spouse Visa or a Fiancé Visa. The Fiancé Visa is more expensive and has some work restrictions. It would have also meant that we would have to get married in the UK.
We decided to apply for the UK Spouse Visa. It’s not just as easy as completing an application and showing your passport and marriage license. The Visa process was a lot more complicated and stressful than I expected. It would also mean I wouldn’t be able to travel internationally while we awaited the decision.
So the first step of that process was to get married! I never wanted a big wedding, so we decided to get married at the City Hall in NYC.
First, you must get a marriage license. You are supposed to get the marriage license, at least 24 hours before you want to get married but it expires after 60 days. You can get a judicial waiver and get married before the 24 hours is up, but it wasn’t clear to me what conditions needed to be met to get one. It seemed like it was up to the judge’s discretion. I felt more comfortable picking another date.
The day of our wedding we got up early to take pictures at one of our favorite iconic NYC spots, the Brooklyn Bridge, before it got too crowded. Then got in line a little before they opened the doors. It’s a bit of a blur. We went through security, signed some papers, took photos in front of the city hall picture, waited a little bit, and said our vows.
It was simple and intimate and I don’t think I would change anything. Thanks so much to my good friend Artee for helping me organize everything and taking our photos. After the ceremony, we headed to Niagara Falls for our mini-moon.
We are still trying to plan our honeymoon, which we plan on taking some time next year. As a travel blogger, I want it to be somewhere memorable. Probably somewhere in southeast Asia, maybe Vietnam?
Applying for the UK Spouse Visa
After we were married, I completed the online application for my visa and paid the UK Visa application and Immigration Health surcharge fees. I also made my appointment for my biometrics in NY a few weeks later.
We considered the option to pay more and have the Visa application expedited. In order to save money, we decided not to pay any extra, although there were many times we were waiting for the Visa to come through I was wishing we had.
In the meantime, we needed to gather supporting documentation for our Visa application. After the biometric appointment, we would only have 5 days to mail everything off. Russell took the lead in researching things and did it all without consulting with a lawyer.
He found a great online group that was helpful throughout the whole process – the UK Yankee Forum. We were able to ask questions and chat with others that were going through the same thing. I can’t say enough good things about this group!
I didn’t realize how much documentation was needed until we put it all together. We had to show that we met the UK Spouse Visa financial requirements and that our relationship was real. Plus my birth certificate, passport, old passport, documentation of travel, and other documents supporting our case.
When everything was gathered, we had a 3-inch stack of paper that we needed to make two copies of. One to be sent with the originals and one to be kept with us for reference.
The biometric appointment was quick and painless. I went to an office building on Varick Street in NYC. I filled out a few forms, showed my passport, and then gave my fingerprints. They gave me the last bit of paperwork I needed to submit my application. I went online and paid for UPS shipping both ways, double-checked that I had everything, then dropped off the package at the UPS store close to my apartment.
Waiting for the UK Spouse Visa Decision
My passport was part of my supporting documents, so I wouldn’t be able to leave the US until I got my decision. The estimated Spouse Visa processing time for the UK Visa Immigration Service (UKVI) was 60 business days. This meant we would have to wait about 3 months once UKVI had received our Spouse Visa application and supporting documents. I kept hoping we would get our good news faster.
The decision process was very dramatic and stressful. First, you are notified that a decision on your Visa has been made by email, but you are not told what that decision is. As the days went by, I kept a close eye on my email and my junk email folder just in case.
We got the email telling us a decision had been made on day 59. Then we watched the UPS tracker while we waiting for my passport and other documents to be returned. I would finally find out the decision once I got my package.
For us, it was even more dramatic than normal, as UPS had messed up my address. We had to wait an extra day for delivery! When the letter finally arrived, I was nervous to open it. I knew I should be granted the Visa but I also knew there could always be a mistake. I felt such a sense of relief when I confirmed I got my Visa.
Arriving in England with a UK Spouse Visa
You have 28 days from the day you get the email to enter the UK. When you enter, you go through the non-EU line at the airport and present your letter to the immigration officer. I could not use the UK Registered Traveller program. I got asked a few questions, but it was less grilling than I got on other visits.
Then, the last step in moving to England from the USA was to collect my residence card. You are supposed to do this within 10 days of entering the country. I went to the local Post Office in Norwich as directed on my letter. Waited in line for a little bit and then got my card. Whew! I am all official now!
Getting Settled in the UK
Now that I was official, I would need to start getting settled. Luckily, I already had a place to live, since Russell was already settled in the flat, but I would need a bank account and also work on getting a UK drivers license to name a few.
For my bank account, initially I opened an account with a traditional bank. In my situation, this was a bit limiting as could only hold GBP and my savings and income was in multiple currencies. I ended up setting up a multi-currency account with Transferwise, now called Wise, which has saved me so much in fees. If I would have known about it earlier, I could have had a bank account in place before I moved. Get more information about Wise here.
RELATED: Wise Multi Currency Account Review
I would be able to drive on my US license for 12 months after arriving in the UK. To continue driving after that, I would need to pass both the theory and practical exams here. Driving in the UK is quite different to driving in the US. To make things even more challenging, I plan on learning how to drive a stick shift.
Road to UK Citizenship
Well, official for the next two and a half years. I will have to apply for another Visa after that to continue to live in the UK. I think it will be easier. We know what is needed and we will be gathering the documentation as we go.
I will then need a third visa to get permanent residence status called Indefinite Leave to Remain. To get that visa, I will need to pass the Life in the UK test. After that, I can apply to become a UK citizen.
I am excited about this next phase in my life. It is going to be an adjustment. As an American citizen moving to the UK, I know I have a lot to learn about how things work in England. Still, I am happy that Russell and I are together properly.
Some of the details of the process for the Spouse Visa will have changed since I got mine in 2017, so be sure to do your research.
Update: In December 2019, I reclaimed my family’s German citizenship, so I am now living in the UK through the EU settlement scheme. The process to become a UK citizen is much simpler (and cheaper) this way.
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Last Updated on August 18, 2021