I would actually like to name this post:
“Applying for a UK visitors visa when it feels like the UK border agency is conspiring against you”
Passport Image link
Anyone from South Africa knows the absolute sheer pain and torment of attempting to obtain a visa to travel in Europe or the United Kingdom (or most countries in the world who take our buy-one-on-your-local-corner attitude towards passport control more seriously than our own government do.) Having travelled quite extensively through Europe, and visited London a couple of times, I know all about this. Hundreds of supporting documents to show that you really and truly just want to go on holiday kind of take the spring out of your step. And even when you do succeed against all the odds that are stacked against you, you get re-questioned at the borders of different countries as though you’re on Interpol’s most wanted list. (I’ve been whisked away for questioning at more borders than I care to reflect back on. Dingy rooms with bad-smelling men asking my flat mate and I what our fathers’ names are… really?)
The worst part is that the process of applying for a British visa makes you feel like you’re a criminal – like they are desperately trying to catch you out – cross questioning (“Is this passport yours, prove that it’s yours by stating your date of birth and full name, is this photograph of you, how long ago was it taken…?”) before you’ve even gotten inside to actually make your application. Finger prints, extra photographs, bank statements, proof of employment and a sweet R1600 for all of this – a price that’s risen dramatically in the last 2 years. The most laughable request is that they actually ask people in the official form “Are you or have you ever been involved in acts of terrorism?” oh yes – because Al Qaeda fills out these forms honestly. All I want to do is come on holiday!!!! This is bullshit. Plain and simple. But until South Africa’s government pull themselves together we’re only going to see stricter and stricter rules when it comes to international border crossings. Personally I would like to campaign for government officials to have to go through civilian visa processes and not be allowed instant access to other countries. Oh hey, Jacob Zuma, where’s your proof of income? Oh right, of course. That would prove that you actually couldn’t afford the Nkandla upgrades yourself.
I’ve gone through the UK visa process 4 times now. One of those times being declined for my 6 month holiday visa, due to insufficient supporting documentation (I had listed my cousin as my source of accommodation, but had failed to prove how I was related to her. Dude…. seriously?) however the other 3 have gone smoothly, or as smoothly as you can go when you’re scrambling around getting 80 pages of evidence together. I’m about to apply for another one – I’m taking a little trip up to London in April. Shoe shopping, art gallery hopping and Starbucks drinking – the usual. Now the Visa 4 UK service in South Africa doesn’t really help when it comes to explaining the supporting documentation that you need. So I thought I would go through what I have used in the past and plan on using for my visa application this time around.
|| Please note, I am by no means a travel agent, visa specialist or UK border crossing guru. The things I’ve listed below are simply a guideline – they’re what has worked for me, in my situations. I am not going to take responsibility for anyone who has had their visa rejected and they think it’s my fault. Don’t hate me, hate the system. Thanks.
Step one | Online application – Fill in your personal and travel details, book your appointment and pay R1600 online
Step two | Physical appointment at your nearest visa office. Here you hand in your supporting documentation and have you biometric details taken – fingers prints, photos etc.
Step three | You passport is sent to the British embassy in Pretoria, where they decided on the outcome of your application. You can check the progress of your application online, or opt for SMS notification for an extra R20 (payable by card at the visa office)
Step four | Collect your passport and hopefully your 6 month travel visa. You can also pay for a courier service to bring it directly to you. Upon collection you must produce your South African ID book as well as your visa receipt, which you get upon applying.
• Start you visa process and book your appointment at lease three months in advance (this is the furthest time from when you plan to leave that you can apply.)
• Make sure you have your credit card/Visa or Master Card debit card ready to pay online – this is currently the only way to pay.
• Don’t let the process overwhelm you – it’s a series of checks to make sure you aren’t coming into the country to work/live, and if you are truthful and have nothing to hide then you shouldn’t have a problem.
• Make sure you start collecting all of your supporting documents long in advance. You might find that certain documentation isn’t easy to come by. Don’t be an 11th-hour kind of person. (Something I’m terribly guilty of.)
• Be sure to have your documents stamped by authorities – bank stamps for statements etc.
• Organize your document in a clear, easy to read format and system. I like to print out a cover page, and also create heading pages for each of the different sections, stating exactly what inside them.
• Be truthful, even if you think the questions are a bit silly.
• Yes, they did just ask you to list all the places you have travelled in the last 10 years. Just go with it. It’s rather nice recollecting on your past adventures.
• Make sure you have enough time to complete your application.
• You can save your application and go back at another time to continue, but I’d suggest completing it in one go.
• Be sure to have your planner/calendar with you, so that you can decide when you want to set up your personal interview.
• Be patient, your holiday will be well worth it.
• You must hand in your South African passport.
• You need 1 colour passport photograph. You must have your hair behind your ears, you may not smile, wear hats or angle your face at the camera.
• Remember to print out your actual online application form before going into the visa office for your appointment.
• Include a proof of payment – get a credit card statement from your bank showing that you paid R1600 for your visa online. Make sure you get this stamped by your bank to make it official.
• I like to write a cover letter, stating exactly what my intentions are and give an overview of the supporting documentation, listing what I am proving (finance, employment, accommodation, etc)
• I live with my parents, and like to include certified copies of their passports and ID books, as well as their marriage certificate as proof of my relation to them.
• Include details of your marital stays if you are married, divorced or widowed. This could be marriage certificates, death certificates or official divorce papers. If you are single and have stated so in your application then don’t worry about this section.
This section is really important!!
• You must must must include a return flight to show that you intend on coming back to South Africa after your holiday.
• I am aware that they suggest that you don’t book your flight before your visa is granted, but without a booked return flight home it is very difficult to prove that you are going to be leaving the UK.
• Give a detailed description of what it is you want to do in the UK – places you intend on visiting, people you want to visit, if you have booked or intend on booking any tours, include this.
• If you mention that you want to visit family/friends who live there, make sure to supply copies of their Passports and/or visas to prove that they are legally living and working there.
• The return flight is one of the most documents to include.
An equally important section…
• You MUST show that you are currently working in South Africa.
• Personally, I work as a lecturer and as a freelance graphics designer – I earn money both ways.
• Include a letter from your work, signed by your boss, on an official letter head. This letter should include: your salary, length of employment, whether you will be paid or not while you are away, that you will be returning to continue working after your holiday.
• Include 6 months of pay slips, to prove that you have been earning money.
• If you work freelance, like I do, try to include a business account, business registration, invoices to clients (that will correspond with your bank statements in the next section), membership in associations etc… anything to prove that you run a legitimate business in SA.
• I like to include my SARS registration letter, stating that I am a registered tax payer in SA. You could also include your latest tax return.
• You must explain how you are going to fund your trip to the UK.
• Include 6 months of bank statements. Try to do this ahead of time, but not too far in advance that you statements aren’t up to date.
• Your statements must have the official bank stamp on them.
• If someone is sponsoring you trip (i.e., your parents or partner) you must give a written & signed letter from them, stating what they do for a living (plus providing proof of this – similar to what you provided in your own ‘employment’ section) and why they are sponsoring you. They must include 6 months of bank statements showing that they can afford this.
The UK visa office like to know where you are going to be sleeping…every…single…night.
• If you are staying with someone at their house (i.e., family or friends) you must include:
– copies of their passports and/or visas (proving they can legally live there.
– proof of address. This could be a utility bill in their name or a rent agreement etc.
– A signed letter from this person stating that they have invited you to stay for the duration of your trip.
– It won’t hurt including their National Insurance number/official NI forms to prove they really are legally living there.
• If you are booked to stay at hotel (yes, I do encourage booking and at least paying a deposit):
– Include your confirmation of booking
– Include the hotel’s details (address, postal address, email address, phone number…)
I really hope that this has helped. It was a horrible experience having my visitors visa denied a few years ago – I cried in the elevator going down all 22 floors in front of people in fancy clothes and suits. Not funny at all. Honestly, I hope that the visa regulations will change soon, and they will let us poor South Africans hop on over into London for free, or at least buy visas on arrival. It’s not really a fair system, with so many other countries being allowed to waltz into SA for a couple of months, un-checked, while we practically tear our eyes out just to organize permission to board a flight there. As I explained, it’s a tedious process to go through – I don’t even want to think about what it’s like to apply to work in London. My Lordy. Nightmare on Oxford street.