Announcing: Girl in London Guides

 

Girl in London Guides

It is with great excitement that I am announcing the launch of Girl in London Guides!

After years of blogging I’ve had countless people tell me that I should write a book about moving to London and living in London. Well, I’ve finally taken all that advice to heart and have started writing a set of guides to help my fellow Anglophiles move to, live, and thrive in the UK capital.

The first guide that I have available is … (drumroll please) …

Applications for UK Work Visas and Indefinite Leave to Remain: Getting it Right the First Time

This is for all of you out there who are currently going through the [excruciating] process of filling out your visa or ILR application. I’ve done it three times myself and each time it took days of research to get everything right.

The guide translates the UKBA’s ambiguous instructions into plain English, and provides lots of examples so you can fill out your application(s) with confidence.

The guide is £9.99, but since this is my first ever e-book, I’ve got a discount code for you all!

Use the promo code girlinlondon and you’ll get 50% off!

girl in london guides

Happy reading!

xoxo
Girl in London

The Difference Between Indefinite Leave to Remain and Citizenship

 

uk citizenship

It’s been a couple of weeks since I was granted Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) and I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who sent their congratulations. I know I’m terrible at responding to comments and emails, but I do want to let you all know that I really really appreciate all the kind words that have been sent my way. You guys keep me going!

On that note I wanted to keep the ILR theme going this week and talk about the differences between ILR and UK Citizenship.  There is a lot of overlap, but they are definitely not the same thing.

Indefinite Leave to Remain

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland [Permanent residents of the UK can live in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland]

Indefinite Leave to Remain effectively equates to permanent residency. As a permanent residence, I am free to live and work in the UK without restrictions. I can also leave the UK and return as a please, as long as I’m not away for more than 2 years (in which case I would have to re-apply for settlement).

Having ILR also means you qualify for EU/EEA tuition rates at UK universities (provided you’ve lived in the UK more than 5 years), and it also makes it much easier to secure loans from banks.

Citizenship

Bruges Belgium

Bruges, Belgium [UK citizens can live and work anywhere in the EU/EEA]

UK citizenship is similar in that citizens are also free to live and work in the UK without restrictions. They can leave the UK and return as they please, but without the 2-year restriction. In other words, a UK citizen can move to Japan for 10 years and come back to the UK whenever he or she wishes, no questions asked.

See Also: What Does it Cost to Become a UK Citizen?

Obviously, citizens also qualify for EU/EEA tuition rates at UK universities and can secure loans and other financial accounts more easily than temporary residents.

Where the primary difference lies between IRL and citizenship is that UK citizens are also EU citizens. This grants UK citizens to live, work, retire, and enjoy unrestricted travel throughout the EU. Permanent residents of the UK do not have this right. Anyone who has traveled to an airport in Europe will notice that immigration is separated into two categories: EU/EEA Passports and All Other Passports. UK citizens use the EU/EEA line, while ILR holders like myself must still use the All Other Passports line.

Of course, another major difference between citizenship and settlement is that adult UK citizens have the right to vote. Permanent residents do not.

Obtaining UK Citizenship

In order to qualify for UK citizenship, you must first obtain Indefinite Leave to Remain. Most applicants must meet a 5-year residency requirement and hold ILR for at least one year before becoming a naturalised UK citizen. Applicants married to UK citizens have it a little easier – they qualify for citizenship directly after receiving Indefinite Leave to Remain, provided they’ve also met a three-year residency requirement.

FAQ: Don’t you have to give up your American citizenship to become a British citizen?

This is a question a lot of Americans ask me. For some reason there is prevailing myth that Americans are not allowed dual citizenship. This simply isn’t true. Regardless of whether you obtain additional citizenship through birth or naturalisation, dual, triple, or even quadruple citizenship is perfectly acceptable. In fact, the last time I visited the US Embassy here in London, the woman next to me was a citizen of FOUR countries (The United States, United Kingdom, India, and Italy).

Application Approved! You’re Looking at the UK’s Newest Permanent Resident!

 
Indefinite Leave to Remain

UK Home Office Premium Service Centre

I woke up this morning as a temporary work permit holder living in London. Tonight I’ll be going to bed as a UK permanent resident.

In other words…

OUR INDEFINITE LEAVE TO REMAIN APPLICATION WAS SUCCESSFUL!!!

Home_Office_Public_Entrance

Lunar House Entrance

We booked our Indefinite Leave to Remain application appointment just over a month ago, and today (Oct 17th) was the big day.

It took us several weeks and many, many, many, many hours to put our SET(O) application together, but it was worth it. This morning we hopped on the overground train to West Croydon and arrived at the UK Home Office at 11:00am for our 11:30am appointment. Here’s how the next 5 hours went:

Upon entry to Lunar House in West Croydon, we showed the guard our appointment confirmation letter and proceeded through security without any troubles.

Reception

handout

The visa processing area is located on the 3rd floor. There is a registration desk there that issues you a number – this is your application number. The number comes with a little card that tells you how the application process will go.

Registration

When we arrived the floor was nearly empty, so we were called right up to registration. The officer reviewed our passports, biometric cards, and entered in some information from our SET(O) application. She also checked our payment confirmation.

Biometrics

The next step was biometrics. We waiting in a small waiting area for our application number to be called, then we went to a closed off area with photo booths and fingerprint scanners. Our passports and biometric cards were checked again, and we had our photos taken.

THE LONGEST WAIT OF OUR LIVES

waiting_area

Waiting Area

After we were done with our photos, we were told we could leave the building to grab lunch – it would be a while. The Home Office offers a canteen and waiting area with monitors displaying the progress of all active applications, but the canteen was closed. We popped off to Starbucks for 20 minutes and when we returned are application went from “Awaiting Biometrics Confirmation” to “Awaiting Consideration.”

It was pretty promising.

However, it took another hour or so until our application moved to “Under Consideration.” We figured at this point we would only need to wait another 90 minutes, but we ended up waiting over three more hours. By the time they called our number after 4:00pm, the office was empty except for the officer who handed back our paperwork and said the magic words: “Your application was successful.”

Whew!

What a relief!

approval letter

So I may have spent my whole Saturday in a waiting room in West Croydon, but I couldn’t be happier. It’s taken five years to qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain and I’m just so relieved that the application process is through and over with.

Our new biometric cards will be coming in the post in the next few days.

I’ll write a separate post on the actually Indefinitely Leave to Remain application in the coming days, but I just wanted to share the good news with you all first!

It’s a date! I’ve just booked my UK settlement appointment!

 
A photo from my first ever trip to London in June 2010.

Horatio Nelson at Trafalgar Square (a photo from my first ever trip to London in June 2010)

Has it really been five years already?

I guess it has!

In 2010 I was a 22-year-old on a one-way flight to London. I landed at Heathrow in the midst of the coldest winter in the UK in decades and schlepped my way to a small rented room in South Ealing. Back then I was just trying to take it one day at a time.

Never could I have imagined all the wonderful opportunities and experiences that laid in store for me over the next five years – getting to know London, travelling around Europe, changing careers – this has probably been the most pivotal five years of my life.

My boyfriend and I entered the UK on work visas; work visas that have an expiration date. We successfully extended them in 2012 for three more years. And now, five years after we first arrived, we finally qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain. In layman’s terms, that’s permanent settlement (i.e. the right to live in the UK permanently).

Qualifying for Indefinite Leave to Remain

There are several different pathways for achieving permanent residency, but for most of us on work visas, it requires:

  • 5 years of continuous residency in the UK – you must remain in the UK at least 180 days each year during this time period
  • Passing a points-based test – this is the same test you must pass in order to obtain your original visa and visa extension/renewal
  • Proving your ability to speak English – American citizens do not need to provide any evidence other than their passport
  • Passing your Life in the UK Test – Read more about the test here

Appointment versus Mail-In Application

For anyone applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain, there are two options: a mail-in application and an in-person appointment at a designated service centre. We chose the latter, since 90% of in-person appointments are processed on the same day. When we mailed in our last visa extension, it took more than 3 months for our application to get processed and we were without passports the whole time. It costs more to book an in-person appointment, but I think the speed and the peace of mind make it worth it.

Our appointment is booked for mid-October, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to deliver the good news to you all by then.

 

Wish me luck!

 

How to Pass the Life in the UK Test

 

Anyone who has plans to settle permanently in the UK will need to first pass the Life in the UK test. Consisting of 24 multiple-choice questions, earning at least 75% (18 correct questions) on the exam is enough for a passing score and proves to the powers that be that you understand the UK’s culture, history, and values.

In early March I took the test and passed. Here’s how to do it:

Purchase Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents


This is the title of the official guide to the Life in the UK test provided by the Home Office. It’s is THE best single resource you have for passing the test. It contains everything you need to know for the test.

At 161 pages, it’s a short read. Read through it once, then again, then again. Use this time to commit the major events of UK history to memory.

When did the first settlers arrive in the UK? How long was the Roman Empire in the UK? Who won the War of the Roses? These are the types of thing you’ll need to know.

Download a Life in the UK Test app (Apple) (Android)

After reading through the Life in the United Kingdom book a few times, I moved on to the Life in the UK app. For this post I’ve provided links to the official app available for Apple devices, and an unofficial app for Android devices. While the official app is probably the best, I personally used the unofficial version and still found it to be extremely useful.

Both apps have a pool of about about 1000 questions that reflect the same types of questions you’ll see on the test. Work through all the questions or take the 24-question practice exams over and over and over.

I took 3-5 practice tests every day for a week before the real test and it helped immensely with memorising dates and other numerical figures. These app are handy, convenient, and portable. Use it during your morning commute or before going to bed. You’ll be ready for the test in no time.

What you need to know for the Life in the UK Test and what you don’t need to know

According to the Home Office, you no longer have to remember the birth and death dates of notable figures in UK history.

Recognise this landmark? You'll need to for the Life in the UK test

Recognise this landmark? You’ll need to for the test ;)

However, you will still have to remember important event dates, such as dates of major battles (e.g. Battle of the Boyne), dates of major political events (e.g. the year the UK joined the EU). You’ll also need to memorise a few other random numbers, such as the number Shadow Cabinet members and the number of national parks in the UK.

A Final Word of Advice on Taking the Life in the UK Test

It costs £50 and about an hour of your time (or more depending on travel) to sit for the test. Don’t take it unless you know you’re ready. If the names Andy Murray, Richard Arkwright, and Adam Smith don’t ring a bell, then I’d suggest hitting the books. Memorising the dates, facts, and figures is a little tedious, but it is a worthwhile endeavour if you consider the payoff.

Remember to book your test well ahead of your settlement application date and to bring multiple forms of ID and proof of address with you to the testing facilities.

 

Good luck!

 

Has anyone one else taken and passed the Life in the UK Test? Are you currently studying for it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section! 

One Step Closer to Permanent Residency: Booking my Life in the UK Test

 

In my ‘4 Years in London‘ post, I mentioned that this year I’ll be applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain. This is a fairly annoying term for permanent residency and it’s a HUGE milestone any expat’s life. To qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain (or ILR for short) under my visa category, you need to have lived in the UK continuously for the past five years. With my four year anniversary in London a few months behind me, it’s time for me to start thinking about my ILR application.

Beyond the typical picture IDs, bank statements, and so on, there’s one extra requirement for ILR that I need to take care of:

Passing the Life in the UK Test

Regular readers will know that I purchased the study guide for this test quite a few months ago. For more information on what the test is all about, you can read my initial post about it here.

Booking the Life in the UK Test

This morning, after many months of on-and-off studying, I booked my Life in the UK Test online here. The booking process is fairly simple. You’ll first need to sign up for an account. Afterwards, you’ll be sent one of those ‘confirm your e-mail address’ e-mails, which will include instructions on how to proceed.

bookatest

Because you are asked to provide your address during the account signup process, the UKBA automatically suggests test centres in your area. Once you choose your preferred centre, you’re able to then select a testing time.

chooseatesttimeIt should be noted that the earliest test date shown is five weeks from now. That’s not really an issue for me since my ILR application is not due for another 9 months or so. However, if you find that your ILR deadline is sooner, I would endeavour to schedule the test at least three months in advance to be safe. If you fail, you can take it again in seven days, provided there is availability.

After booking a slot, the only thing left to do is pay the £50 fee and go take the test! I’ll let you know in five weeks whether or not I passed :)

 

4 Years in London: It’s Starting to Feel Like Home

 

Wow. Four years. I can’t believe that it was over four years ago that I packed my things and shipped off to London. It really doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.

Last year, for my three year anniversary, I wrote about some of the more frustrating aspects about living in London. This year I struggled to come up with something fresh to talk about (hence why I’m writing this in Jan/Feb rather than Dec), but I think that in and of itself is worth delving into.

After much contemplation and soul searching (OK, not really), I think the reason I can’t think of something clever the write about for my four year anniversary is because London feels like home now.

When you’re a newly minted expat there’s a strong temptation to compare your new country or city of residence to ‘back home’. It’s unavoidable really, as it’s not like you have any other frame of reference. I definitely did this when I first moved to London, but I think in year 3-4 I experienced a notable shift in how I perceive London.

I’ve Never Been Back ‘Home’

December 14th, 2010. That’s the last time I set foot on American soil. It is admittedly a little unusual for an expat to not so much and visit his or her home country for so long, but I just haven’t found the time to go back. As a result, my memories of America are fading – and they’re fading quickly.

These days I struggle to remember the order of the streets in Las Vegas, the last city I lived in before moving to London.

“Does it go Tropicana, then Flamingo, or is Flamingo before Tropicana. Wait, what about Russell?”

That’s not all. It’s worth noting that the fading version of America that’s in my head is now four years old. A lot has changed in four years.

“What’s this whole Obamacare thing about? What’s going on at Disneyland? Measles? Why does Vegas suddenly have a giant Ferris wheel? What happened to the Sahara Casino? Did it close?”

Sometimes it’s the silly things that remind you the most of how much has changed since you left ‘home’. When I last lived in America, Taco Bell didn’t sell tacos made out of Doritos. No one had a clue what the heck Tough Mudder was, the cronut was not yet a reality, and no one could have possibly predicted the fairytale that is the Kim Kardashian-Kanye West union (hah!).

The ‘High Roller’ observation wheel in Las Vegas was built years after I moved away. (Image Source: danramarch)

My only real connection to America, other than friends, is American television. I’m able to watch most major network shows online, and sometimes I find myself more interested in the local commercials than in the shows themselves. They offer up a little slice of the regular ol’ American life that I don’t get across the pond.

Ooh! There’s a sale at JC Penney this weekend. That new Infiniti Q60 looks cool. Since when did Jennifer Garner start hawking credit cards?”

London is Home…

Posing in front of The Shard (Jan, 2011)

There is, however, a limit to what you can glean from a country by watching commercials. And that’s why London now feels more like home than ever before. Not having been back to America in so long means that I’ve lost much of my expat ‘frame of reference’. These days I see the world through London-tinted lenses rather than American-tinted lenses.

…and Living Here is Getting Easier

Posing INSIDE the Shard (Jan, 2015)

Last year I chronicled a few of my struggles with living in London, and I always tell future expats that the first 6 months is the hardest. Now that I’m into my fourth year, I’m happy to report that living here gets easier and easier each year.

A part of this also has to do with growing up. I was barely 23 when I moved here and working in a job that I really didn’t enjoy. Since switching careers things have gone a lot better. Every year that goes by my boyfriend and I find ourselves on more stable footing. With London salaries, student loans and credit card debt are things of the past and we’ve been lucky enough to stay in the same flat (which we love) for over two years now. We’ve mastered The Tube, getting to the airport, when and when not to use Uber, and have a firm grip of handling daily life. We know our neighbourhood inside and out, and have managed to carve out a very comfortable existence in our little patch of London.

Expat Milestones

This year will be a significant one in my expat life. About nine months from now I’ll be applying to settle in the UK permanently (aka indefinite leave to remain), after which I’ll have earned the right to live in the UK for the remainder of my life if I so choose. A year after receiving indefinite leave to remain, I’ll be eligible for citizenship. These are both huge milestones for an expat, and I’m looking forward to what the future brings.