London for Thanksgiving: Applying for a UK Visa

A few days after my parents flew back home to Manila, the travel bug seemed to have bitten me again. I’ve been seeing ads offering relatively affordable airfare between New York and London (as low as ~$450 roundtrip with taxes). The idea of spending the 4-day Thanksgiving weekend in London came to mind.  The more I thought about it, the more the idea became attractive, and the more it became seemingly possible.

But, first, I had to get a visa to be able to enter the UK. I went to the website of the British Consulate in New York where I got the needed information on how to apply for a UK visa. The application fee was a whopping £63 plus return postage of $12 (total: $144). That is just for the regular 6-month visa. I decided to apply by mail since I’m not sure what appointment dates would be available. Applying by mail also wouldn’t require me to take time off work to go to the British Consulate.

So on the weekend of September 8, I decided to try my luck applying for a UK visa. I went through the list of requirements:

  1. Passport - Check!
  2. Passport photo - Check!
  3. Bank statements - Check!
  4. Airline reservation - Check!
  5. Certificate of Employment/Student Status - Check!

The worst thing about applying for the visa by mail is that lingering feeling that my travel documents (passport, I-20, I-94) could get lost in the mail. Replacing those documents is not only a lot of hassle; it is also expensive. I mailed the documents from the Farley Post Office on 8th Avenue. Although 1st-class Mail and Priority Mail would both take only 1-day to the British Consulate in Manhattan, I opted for the more expensive Priority Mail, hoping (without basis) that the likelihood for loss is less. I also added the Certified Mail option (not as if that would prevent it from getting lost). I could have chosen to send it using the Express Mail option, or even by FedEx or UPS, but I’m too cheap for that. I mailed it on the 10th. After checking the USPS tracking page every 5 minutes the next day, I learned that it was received at the consulate around noon on the 11th. Finally I could relax a bit. At least I know (or believe) that my travel documents are safe in the hands of the British Consulate

I was hoping to receive some kind of confirmation email from the consulate that they indeed received my documents and that they’re processing my application. That would’ve certainly added to my peace of mind. But I got not such email. I just relied on their promise that the typical application turnaround time is 5 business days, and that the passport will be returned by FedEx overnight. Counting from the day after they received the package — Wednesday (9/12), Thursday, Friday, Monday, Tuesday (9/18) — 5 business days. An hour past noon on the 18th, I got an automated email saying my application has been approved, and that the passport will be delivered by FedEx. The tracking number was also given in the email with estimated delivery before 10:30 A.M. the next day.

Now that I have my UK visa,  I can start planning for the trip. Unfortunately, the cheap airfare offers from Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, and British Airways have expired, and the fares have risen by about $50. More on where I got my reservation in another post.

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