I decided to blog about the process involved in applying for a UK visa because it’s one of the more ‘difficult’ applications for a South Africa traveller. Since I’ve been through this process several times, and sent lengthy emails detailing it, I thought it would be easier to just share it here. The process has changed as of March 2016.
- You need to go to the UK Visa Application Centre website to get started. This is the URL: https://uk.tlscontact.com
- Choose South Africa and submit.
- There are five cities where you can apply through, to go for your visa appointment. Just choose the one relevant to you.
- You need to choose the right visa you require. Basically, it will be a standard visit visa, assuming you have come across this post because you want to visit the UK, be it for a holiday, or a quick business trip. Do not choose any other visa other than visit, thereafter you can specify what type of visit (business, holiday, etc). Just be aware that the processing time for a standard application is 15 working days, excluding weekends and public holidays (and usually bank holidays in the UK).
- If you want to speed up the processing time, this can be done AFTER you complete your standard visit visa application and receive a reference number prefixed with GWF (more on that further down).
- The online application is quite tedious. They require information about yourself, spouse, parents, and the last 10 countries/places you visited, excluding the UK. This can be a mission if you don’t have a record of where you’ve been. The first time I applied, I just used my older passport for reference. They also want info of all the previous visas you were issued for the UK. I now make use of a trip planning site to keep record of where I’ve been, which comes in handy to fill this section.
- After you submit your application, which concludes with you choosing a visa appointment date and paying for it online, you can access “value added services” for a quicker processing time.
- If you are travelling last minute for business for example, you can choose “Priority Visa Processing” at a cost of £150 (~R3300 as of 29 March), and your visa will be processed within 5 working days. The price went up recently as I paid £120 in the second week of March 2016. Value Added Services can be accessed here: https://uk.tlscontact.com/za/JNB/page.php?pid=added_value_services (if you require a general visit visa to be sped up, this is the option to select; don’t worry about the other options).
- When it comes to submitting supporting documents, unlike the Schengen visa process (that has a checklist), the UK one lets you choose from a list which documents you want to submit. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a “better” process. It’s slightly daunting because you don’t know if you are submitting too little information. In my application this month, it felt like I was submitted fewer docs than the previous years but it somehow worked out and I received my visa.
- The process that has changed this month, March 2016, (other than the cost which I noticed when writing this post) is that you don’t need physical photos to be taken. Do not waste money doing this. If they take your biometrics, then the photos will be done at the same time. Oddly enough, they didn’t ask me to remove my glasses, as you would normally at a Postnet.
- Lastly, you can track your application online. You won’t know before hand if it’s a definite yes as the online tracker only says a decision has been made, not whether it’s been approved or rejected.
The UK visa process is one of the most expensive I’ve come across for South African passport holders. The standard visit visa is valid for 6 months and costs around ~R2000. If you want it sped up, it’s now an additional R3300. Anything longer than 6 months, is obviously way more expensive. With the Schengen visa, you can never tell how long the validity will be (mine over the years started out with the day I entered to the day I left, then one month; three months; six months; and now it’s a year.
On the topic of visa costs, the US one is the best value for money you can get, mostly because it’s valid for 10 years. I paid R1300 back in 2013, and only expires in 2023!
Hope you found this post useful.
Fun fact: once upon a time I worked in the travel industry ✈️