Posts Tagged ‘Student Visa’

Bonnes Nouvelles — Le visa vient!

Fantastic news, friends:

My UK Student Visa is on the way!

passport

I am beyond excited right now — the visa was essentially the last component to get the move completely under control and as of yesterday, everything is secure. Now that all of the stressful paperwork is in order, I can get excited and not worry about being stranded in the United States sans student visa.

FYI for those that are still waiting, here’s an idea of the time frame from start to finish:

July 29th, 2009 // Sent my visa from Sacramento, California with package tracking
August 3, 2009 // Package arrived in Los Angeles (per tracking #)
August 17, 2009 // Received an email from VisaInfoLA noting that my visa was beginning to process
August 25, 2009 // Visa approved and UPS Tracking Number was sent via email
August 26, 2009 // Got a call from UPS noting that my package was overnighted and would be arriving today!

About a month from start to finish to receive the visa, possibly a little more now since they’re pretty backed up, but on the brightside — once it is approved, it should be delivered within 1 – 2 business days!

Super happy travels!

Signature Stamp - Shannon

Rainy Days & Mondays.

I’m trying to get over  rainy days getting me down, seeing as how there will be a lot of those coming up. The Mondays, though… well, they’re not so fun. Weekends never seem to last long enough and Mondays come around entirely too quickly. Despite having a (semi-) fun-filled weekend, the scream of my alarm at 615A was definitely not welcomed. On the bright side, I did get to spend Saturday soaking up the sunshine, which was pleasant. Today marks 30 days until the big move (September 17th!), so I’m trying to get in as much sunshine & tanning as possible before sunshine becomes an enigma known only in my dreams.

LSE2

With thirty short days left, what’s on my calendar?

What still needs to be done?

1) Visa. I have applied for my visa, of course, but I have yet to hear back from the LA office. They received the package on the 3rd of August, so I should know within the next few days whether or not it has been approved. Once that’s done, my stress will be hugely relieved.

2) Packing. I have begun the packing process, but I (obviously) still have a lot to sort out. I feel relatively unorganized in this arena: I have jackets, sweaters, pants, dresses, etc. packed, but I feel like there’s an entire world of items that I haven’t given enough consideration. I will be buying shampoo, conditioner, etc. once I’m over there (to save the space & weight of those items) and will be traveling with mini, travel-sized versions, in lieu.

3) Shopping. Oh, I do plenty of this, but I still have to go out and get a few things that I don’t want to have to worry about overseas: some back-up make up, new brushes, sunless tanning lotion, etc. For the most part, my shopping is complete, but there are a few beauty items that I need to acquire before leaving (as to not deal with exchange rate fluctuations and already high prices in London).

4) Ethernet Cable. I can get one of these guys whilst overseas, but since I’m addicted to be connected, I would like to take one over with me so I can plug in as soon as I’m on-site!

HoughtonStreet

What’s done, already?

1) Bank Account. I’ve already applied for a bank account with HSBC and have gotten the majority of that hassle out of the way. I just need to pop into a location, show them my CA ID & my passport and I’m golden!

2) My Phone. My glorious iPhone is already in hand. I just need to get to an O2 store and sign up for their SIM Only – Simplicity plan.

3) Chauffeur Service. Since I’ll be arriving at Heathrow with huge bags in tow, I will be needing some serious assistance and am definitely not opting to take the tube. I have booked my trip with Dot2Dot and have them picking me up from the airport & dropping me off at my new home!

4) Luggage. After perusing the aisles of discount stores, I now have two 29″ bags plus an awesome carry-on in which to take my life.

5) Visa. I have to consider the hardest part of this done — it’s sent in with all of the necessary information. I just need to wait for it to be approved. (*Please be approved, please be approved.*)

6) Classes. Now that the provisional timetable for classes has been posted, I have been able to go through and check out the availability of classes and see what my schedule will tentatively look like — as of now, no Friday classes!

7) LSE e-mail. I am the proud owner of an LSE email address: s.e.falzon@lse.ac.uk. Lovely.

I can’t believe how fast the summer has come and gone!
Thirty days left until I’m wandering the streets of London!

Lots of love,

Signature Stamp - Shannon

Visa on the Way In, Relationship on the Way Out?

This weekend has been intense from start to finish. Friday, I was able to submit my visa application to the British Consulate in Los Angeles and I should be hearing back within 15 days, provided everything goes well! I think I included everything necessary to make the process go smoothly, although their stringent policies worry me slightly.

More importantly (important’s not the right word, but I can’t find the right words to use now), my three year relationship with my boyfriend ended. Normally, I wouldn’t post it on the internet for all to know, but somehow I find it cathartic to be able to discuss openly. I’m definitely (surprisingly) okay. Not that I’m okay with ending a three-year relationship so abruptly (and it was abrupt), but I am a lot more independent and strong than I had realized. It’s also been amazing to have the family and friends that I have surrounding me and helping me through everything. Talking and venting is what I really needed, and all of my close friends were quick to allow it. Although I am obviously sad about the situation, to put it lightly, I am really hoping that as two adults we’ll be able to maintain a friendship one day, seeing as how we were best friends for a number of years.  I tend to think that the hardest part about breaking up is losing your best friend, not necessarily losing your “boyfriend.” There are so many amazing memories created throughout the years, that it’s difficult to recall fond memories that he’s not  a part of.  Also, after such a long time, the relationship isn’t just about us anymore, not just two people, but rather about intertwined families. It’s difficult to know that breaking off a relationship with one person effectively means breaking off a relationship with his whole family (my second family). Although I realize that it’s possible to maintain a relationship with them, it’s definitely a lot harder.

In keeping with the optimistic mindset, I have also come to accept the reality that I’ll be moving overseas in 40ish days, and as hard as moving is for me, it’s probably equally hard for him and for our relationship. Although it’s difficult to have to let our relationship go now, perhaps it’s easier than having to deal with moving  and an ended relationship simultaneously. I’ve been trying to keep my mind busy with family, friends and working out, but I know at some point, it’s going to really hit me. Whilst moving all of my stuff out of our his place, I definitely felt that sensation of sadness wash over me, but I still haven’t fully digested the entirety of the situation. The loss of communication makes me more than sad, since I’ve lost my first line of conversation, of venting and of celebration, but I suppose that’s part of parting ways. All of the idiotic platitudes come to mind, “It’s better to have loved and lost…”, “What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger…,” “There are always other fish in the sea,” blah, blah, blah. I wonder if that’s really true. Obviously there are other “fish in the sea,” but the thought of having to start a different relationship and build something similar with someone else is mind-boggling. It took three years to build what we had. How do people divorce after 25 years and move on? Obviously it’s possible, I guess I just need to accept the reality of it, and look to the future.

Love,

Signature Stamp - Shannon

‘Site’ Seeing!

Throughout this whole period of preparation during the past few months, I managed to tackle some issues that I was eager to address before September. I made a mental list around mid-April with certain information I wanted to find prior to the move. I am the ultimate planner and I have this relentless need to organize my life — I feel infinitely more comfortable going into a situation that I feel semi-educated about. Plus, since this is a school-less summer, I had ever more time to prepare! Below are some tidbits of information that I am finding invaluable, so I thought I’d share:

1. What supporting documents do I need for my Student Visa application?

The UK Visa site proved to be useful in providing a list of necessary items for my visa application, and Appendix 8 (which has to be submitted along with the visa application) did well to outline what pieces of supporting documentation are necessary. Here’s what my packet includes:

– My visa application (printed from online)
– My passport (the original, not a copy!)
– My Visa letter provided by LSE
– My proof of funding (either in the form of a receipt from the institution, bank statements that are signed off or, as in my case, loan guarantee forms provided by the lender)
– My transcript/degree from your undergraduate institution
– Passport photo (this needs to be affixed, not paper clipped)
Appendix 8 (the self-assessment form for Tier 4 applicants)

2. How am I going to get from the the airport (LHR) to my housing?

I looked through a bazillion chauffeur-type services to get me from the airport to my new housing at High Holborn and the average (whether a taxi or a pre-arranged service) was around £40 – £45. I entertained the ridiculous idea of trying to use the tube, but two huge bags, a carry-on and a personal item don’t travel well from tube to tube. So, per some new friends that I encountered at the LSE Bon Voyage party, I found a site called Dot2Dot. It’s an amazingly affordable service and you can book it before arrival! My trip, from LHR to my postcode (WC1V) costs £23.50!

3. What are the limitations on luggage?

I happen to be flying United, but most airlines have similar luggage limitations. For international travel, I am allowed two checked bags, plus one carry-on and a personal item for free. In terms of weight, there is a 50 lb. limit (get lightweight luggage!), and in terms of size, the luggage cannot be greater than 62 linear inches (length + width + height measurements cannot total more than 62 inches). From what I’ve found, a 28 – 29″ bag hits the limit.

STA also provides a list of some airlines and their pricing and policies for domestic flights. Although charges can be incurred on domestic flights for standard baggage handling, you should get your two checked bags free of charge for an international flight!

4. Where can I get (relatively) inexpensive luggage?

I scoured stores for cute and inexpensive luggage only to learn that luggage is costly! I hadn’t realized how much it can cost for a good quality bag, but I decided that spending $350 on a 29″ bag was not in the cards. Whilst in the Nordstrom Rack in Seattle, I found amazing luggage for half price. I’m not entirely sure that all the Rack stores carry the same inventory, but it’s worth a shot.

I also found a veritable slew of amazingly cute and affordable luggage at TJ Maxx and at Marshall’s. TJ Maxx definitely tops the list with their quality, their selection and their prices. I was amazed! Most of the 28-29″ bags there were in the $50 – $75 range(marked down from $200 – $300 at MSRP). Side note: they also have a bunch of darling handbags!

6. How much is it going to cost me to ship the items I can’t take with me?

More so than weight issues, I think I’m running into space issues with packing. Shoes, jackets, etc. can be awkward and take up a great deal of baggage space. That being said, I have looked into a number of shipping services so I can ship some shoesies overseas and have them meet me in the UK.
{See my previous post on packing & shipping overseas!}

1) USPS was by FAR the cheapest option. For a 65 lb. box, it costs around $208.
2) White Glove Express is about 50% more, but I’ve actually had personal communication/interaction with the people at White Glove & their customer service is definitely selling me!
3) UPS quoted me around $389.09 for the same 65 lb. box, and
4) FedEx was ridiculously high priced — $482.31

7. What are the best websites for information on the city (events, sightseeing, etc.)?

I would re-type this, but there’s no point: see my previous post on the coolest (read: my favorite!) London-focused sites on the web.

8. What are my best options for Euro travel?

I suppose travel can be divided into a few categories: by plane, by train or by bus. For airfare, I’ve found the best deals on Ryan Air and on EasyJet. After talking with one of my friends who backpacked across Europe, I learned that although RyanAir’s prices are pretty unbeatable (£1 and £5 deals pop up frequently), they tend to fly into places that aren’t central to the city; they tend to be in the outskirts which spawns other transportation questions/issues. From what I’ve seen of EasyJet, the flights are a little more standard — normal, central airports at a great price. Also, I don’t think anyone should underestimate the power of Expedia (the UK version). I searched for random flight deals on their site (to Portugal, Greece, Egypt, etc.) and they had some unbeatable deals!

For trains, the only site that I really ever peruse is National Express, primarily because I found some pretty good deals on tickets while I was in Europe earlier this year. From what I’ve seen, trains can be worth it for medium-length trips if you get a good deal, but all in all, there are some amazing flight deals to be had which semi-nullify the idea of trains in my mind. Also, the Virgin Train site is worth a look-see as is the First Great Western site. They post some serious deals occasionally. 

As for buses, I’m not a fan and I haven’t looked into pricing. I know they’re sort of a necessary evil, but they tend to evoke images of psychotic drug users for me. Perhaps I will get used to them next year, at which point I will update this with relevant information, but for now I shall steer clear.

9. Where do I buy my stuff? I can’t possibly cart my shampoo, conditioner, body wash, etc. overseas!

There are a few staple stores with average deals and locations scattered all throughout the country:

1) Sainsbury: There’s a location that’s going to be super close to me and they have bits of everything: food, drinks, sporting goods, home and garden and random necessities.

2) Tesco: Groceries, wine, electronics… their website isn’t all that pretty, but they’re pretty averagely priced.

3) Marks & Spencer: Food, wine, skincare, hair products, accessories… posh Target, anyone?

4) Lidl: So, this kind of reminds me of the Grocery Outlet of the UK. Awesome prices, off-brand stuff; probably a good place for students to shop. Downside: I don’t think there’s a store near me. Boo.

10. Where can I snag a not-so-expensive hair cut &/or color?

The thought of going months without a root touch-up or a trim is a little foreign and would probably be very frightening… and not just for me. Unfortunately, hair cuts, color and highlights got really expensive at some point! On the bright side, I did find a Toni & Guy at 75 New Oxford Street that serves as a training academy and has pretty sweet deals (£5 haircuts?!). Of course, these deals involve student cosmetologists but they do have a licensed professional overseeing everything. The reviews that I have read are mixed, but tend to lean towards the positive end of the spectrum. Perhaps worth the risk?

11. What phone plan is going to work best?

There’s O2, 3, Vodafone, T-mobile… so many to choose from. After checking out pricing & weighing my options, I decided that the O2 SIM Simplicity plan was best for me! I purchased my phone on eBay: an unlocked, jailbroken iPhone. With the Simplicity plan, I can purchase just the SIM card on a 12-month contract for 19.88 GBP per month. It includes 800 minutes, 1600 texts & a bolt-on of your choice (I’m choosing unlimited web!). The plan definitely works for me and fits into my budget perfectly. O2 also has an iPhone plan that’s 44 GBP per month (18 month contract) wherein they give you the phone in the package plus loads of minutes, texts & unlimited web. Lots of deals to be had! Click here for more of the lowdown on my decision.

12. What bank account should I opt for?

After scouring the internet for different bank accounts, I opted for HSBC’s passport account. Firstly, HSBC has a branch that’s two minutes away from my new housing. Secondly, I was able to actually submit the application online! I had it approved within two weeks and now I just need to pop into a location with my CA Driver’s license & my passport to officially open shop! Check out my previous post on different banks & their fees. FYI, they ALL charge fees. Lame, but true.

13. Are there any relevant London-focused apps for my sweet new iPhone?

Oooooh, hellllllls yeah, my friends. There are a load to download from the App Store, but there are three that I found that are actually semi-awesome. If you are a fellow iPhone user/Mac convert, check these out:

1) TubeMap: It’s just that — a tube map, but tads cooler. Here’s why: you get to input your information, including your “home” tube station and it allows you to check the tube station status, map from point A to point B and so much more. It’s seriously awesome. And it’s free! FYI, all my apps are free. I don’t believe in paying for such things.

2) London Highlights {Way2GoGuides}: A sweet little app with audio “tours.” There’s information on location highlights: The British Museum, Kew Gardens, The London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and the like!

3) What’s On (London): This app basically uses Time Out London as it’s basis for information. It’s a cool way to navigate and find events you’re interested in. You can view events by category: pubs/bars, opera, theater, art, around town, etc. and see what the haps is in your area.

 There are so many other cool sites I’ve found that are so awesome and so relevant, but I don’t want to overload!

Much love,
Signature Stamp - Shannon

Oh Student Visa of Mine…

passport

Oh, the visa process…. so not fun. After going through all the steps involved, it really makes me wonder how so many people end up studying overseas each year. I would think most people would give up half way through! They have made the process a little bit easier in applying for a visa, though. You can fill out the application online, and provide the necessary supporting documents via mail. The online application is fairly simple, although there are a quite a few questions: things like your name, DOB, address, address while in the UK, institution of study, your reasons for choosing the UK, criminal history, etc. are submitted within this process.

For students, your university should provide a visa letter for you, outlining your course of study and noting that you are eligible for a visa from their perspective. After you have secured your visa letter, you also need to pay the visa application/processing fee, around 145 GBP ($235), depending on your intent and length of study. Lastly, they need to ensure that you have the funds to pay for your stay while in the UK. For me, this equates to the cost of tuition (14,192 GBP) + cost of living. Cost of living is estimated based on where you will be living (they require a greater amount of accessible funds for those living in London) and the length of your stay. In my case, this is about 9000 GBP. You need to have these funds in your account for 28 days prior to the visa OR have a recipe that the items are paid, per the institution. The visa process is a points-based system now: you need 40 points total, basically. You get 30 points for your visa letter and 10 points for the funding. If you’re missing either component, it’s a no-go.

Also, they’ve implemented this biometric scan requirement, a fairly quick process, but you do have to find the closest center to your hometown (mine is San Francisco, CA). It takes five to ten minutes, in which they scan your fingerprints and take a digital picture to keep on file. The reasons behind this are two-fold: 1) to keep students safe from identity theft, and 2) to help keep terrorism and crime at bay.

According to the information on processing times, most student visas are processed in 10 days (92%) and 100% of visas are processed within 15 days — pretty quick once you get all of the relevant information in! Now, it doesn’t sound hard, but it’s a little tedious. The main problem is that all of the separate components are not in your hands: you have to wait for your loans to be processed (by a third-party), then you have to wait for your institution to actually go through the loans and take disbursements (per the school’s own time line). You also have to wait to receive your letter (up to 28 days since it’s coming from overseas) and you have to make sure the money is in your account for the required time.

Also, as one of my student friends recently discovered, they require that you send in your ACTUAL PASSPORT. They don’t want a copy of it, they want the physical passport so they can put your visa inside and send it back. If you don’t send it in, it will defintiely delay the process.

In any case, I’m still waiting for my visa letter and waiting for the school to actually PULL the approved funding…

Hopefully all of this will be under control by August! Grrr…

Talk to you guys later!

Signature Stamp - Shannon

 For some awesome visa information, check out this great site!