Getting a Tier 4 UK Visa
Updated: Oct 31, 2018
It was a nightmare.
I want to say that I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not. Ask my parents, they’ll probably agree with me. Or say it even more enthusiastically, since it was their money that had to be spent.
To start the visa process, you need a CAS number. This is given to you by the institution that is hosting you during your stay in the UK. It might be for a few months (though students on study abroad programs of less than a year generally get lesser tier visas) or a few years, but without the CAS number, it’s unlikely that your visa will get approved.
A Tier 4 visa means that you’re a full time student and that an institution is hosting you. It also means, generally, that you’re here for more than 6 months and that your entire degree will take place in the UK (barring study abroad to other places). Under the Tier 4 visa, you must upkeep your studying as full time and must stay enrolled in your current program. If you choose to switch anything, such as the program, University, or length, then your visa can be revoked and you’ll need to get a new one. You can also work for 20 hours under the visa with some exclusions, most notably freelance work and professional entertainment.
My CAS number got to me very late in the game. As in, about a week from when I was supposed to leave. I knew that it had to come in sooner, but when I called King’s they simply said that it was being processed and that there wasn’t anything they could do to speed it up. Don’t be afraid to pester your host institution for this, they might give you the same answer, but sometimes pestering is the only way to fight your way through. And you definitely want your CAS number early.
But, I finally got my CAS number. My application was already mostly finished, but then comes to the end where it reveals the true cost and time for processing. I knew that a normal visa takes 6 months, but I didn’t expect for it to be over $1500 to expedite it. We couldn’t take a chance with any of the other time tables they offered, because of the timing it had to be overnight. King’s couldn’t do much to help, they only offered comfort over the fact that I wouldn’t be penalized if I came late due to visa problems. But I had a flight to catch, I couldn’t afford to miss the pre-booked flight.
You might hear your University say not to book your flight until your visa is processed or until you know how long it will take, and that might be worth listening to. But it’s really just where you want to put the money. Just make the decision whether to spend it on the flight, which will get more expensive as it gets closer and closer, or on the visa, which will have to be expedited to get there in time for your flight.
There’s also several hidden fees in the application process. There’s a $698 cost for health insurance and while it does sound like a nice deal to have that cover everything for the next three years, we barely had time to read the fine print and it doesn’t tell you in advance that this cost is inside the application. Also, you’re never going to find the real cost of the visa or expediting it until the end when you actually have to pay. The website and application home page will give you different values and both will be less than the final amount. Just know that going into it. We paid $463 for the visa and $1800 to expedite it in the end.
For a 24 hour turnaround, you have to actually go to one of the bases for processing visas. I believe that there are two in the US, one being New York. So, at 6 or so in the morning, the next day, my Dad and I found ourselves on a train headed up to another state on one of the muggiest, most disgusting days of the year. We walked, which was a mistake in that weather, to the building.
There, I got my biometrics done, which is the part you have to do in person. This doesn’t have to be done the day you submit your visa, but is often done before then submitted after with your visa application by mail. But because of the turnaround time and because I was getting it done in New York, I did. They scanned my fingers, took pictures, and asked me to spell my name (which lead to one of the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done which is loudly misspell my second middle name twice in front of the woman because I was so flustered and her having to look at me and tell me that I’ve done it wrong).
Then we filled out a little bit of paperwork. We didn’t have to bring much with us, most was done electronically, but we had just in case. Ironically, one of the things we did have to bring was a letter from a legal guardian giving me permission to study abroad and we didn’t know that in advance. My Dad hastily scribbled out a note on the back of a piece of paper to add to my file. Then we were done.
A lot of trouble for a very short visit.
We were back almost before noon. The next morning, as I prepared for a local festival performance, my Dad went up to New York again with the papers he had been given the day before (with my signature on the back and a note saying he could pick it up for me) and he picked up my fancy, new clearance for entry.
It took up a whole page in my passport and was very official looking. There’s something so exciting, too, about having a thing like that in your passport. It makes you feel like you’re really doing something with your life. It made me so ready for my next chapter.
Of course, that isn’t the real visa. That’s the entry clearance into the country. It’s good for one ride into the country at the airport or any other customs port and has an expiration date that you must be in the country by, generally about a month out.
Once in the UK, you have 10 days to pick up your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) from a post office or your host institution depending on where you had it sent to. Do yourself a favor and just get it sent to your institution. It’ll make it easier when you don’t have to go searching for whatever post office you had it sent to, which one of my friends had to do, and if there’s a delay that sends it past 10 days, then you’ll have a bit of a buffer as long as you communicate with the institution. They shouldn’t penalize you or kick you out of the country and generally it’s blamed on the institution with no repercussions for them. So everyone wins and you get your visa.
Once you have your visa, make sure to take it with you whenever you leave the country. You don’t need to carry it around with you at all times, in fact, don’t carry it with you at all times. That’s dangerous and if it’s pick-pocketed, then you’ll just have to go through more stressful paperwork and interviews to get a replacement. Keep it somewhere safe when traveling and always take it with you when visiting home. You’ll need both your passport and BRP to get back into the UK whenever you enter.
All in all, make sure to have your CAS early and if you don’t, just know that it will sadly cost a lot of money to get the visa in time. But, hey, at least you’ve got your visa. For us, it cost an unbelievable amount of anxiety, about $3000, and a trip to another state to get it done. Hopefully, you won’t need to have it expedited and can just relax doing it the old fashioned way- by mail and in 5-6 weeks!