Uprooting your life and resettling in Scotland: when you’re in love, you want to be together and start a whole new life of adventures. But what if one of you is British and the other is US American? This guide for moving from America to Scotland includes everything you need to know when applying for a spouse visa in UK!
Guest blogger Jessica Norah moved to Scotland to live with her British partner Laurence. She runs the travel blog Independent Travel Cats and shares her adventures from all around the world! In this guide Jessica explains why and how she moved from America to Scotland, goes through the spousal visa process and shares a few experiences from living in Scotland for the past two years! You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
I was born in Ohio but had been living in the San Francisco Bay area in California for the 5 years prior to moving to Scotland. I was working as a clinical psychologist but had started a travel blog, called Independent Travel Cats, in 2013. It was beginning to gain a larger following and was increasingly taking up more and more of my free time. I knew I was going to have to decide soon whether I wanted to pursue it full time or just keep it as a hobby.
In late 2014 I met a fellow travel blogger and photographer Laurence Norah, who runs a blog called Finding the Universe, at a travel conference. We later started dating and he proposed in 2015. But we had one big problem – he was a British citizen living in France and I was an American citizen living in California. So we knew that we needed to figure out a way to marry that would not cause any legal issues for us and also figure where and how we were going to live together. For example getting married on a student or tourist visa can cause nightmares down the road in applying for visas and citizenship.
From America to Scotland: The Wedding and the Spouse Visa
Most people apply for a fiancé or marriage visa and get married in the country they plan to live in after the wedding. This is probably the easiest and smartest thing to do in most cases, including the UK, as there is unlikely to be any concerns when applying for a residency or spousal visa if you go this route. It does mean that you will often need to fill out paperwork, have a bit of a wait, and then you need to get married during a certain time frame. In the UK, the visa is generally called a UK Fiance / Fiancee Visa and I’d be sure to investigate the visa options based on your own situation thoroughly before planning your marriage or move. The visa process for Scotland is the currently same as the rest of the UK.
However, we went down a different route. After a month-long American road trip, we took the RMS Queen Mary 2 to cross the Atlantic Ocean to England and got married aboard the ocean liner. Our wedding at sea took place in international waters by the captain. Our marriage license was issued by Bermuda as that is where the ship is registered, so our marriage is subject to the laws of Bermuda.
Tip #1: If you get married outside of the UK, check ahead whether your marriage license will be valid in the UK. We did check ahead to see if there would be any issues with a Bermuda marriage certificate and the circumstances of our wedding in the UK, and we were lucky that it was never an issue.
Since we did not do the fiancé visa route, as an American I could only stay in the UK and EU for so many days at a time, so we traveled around Europe and Africa for the next 6 months. First we had to wait for our marriage certificate to be issued (from Bermuda) and then we had to begin the application for a spousal visa.
Tip #2: Don’t be in a rush. The UK spouse visa process is expensive and the paperwork is time-consuming, so be sure to leave plenty of time for this.
This required having to return back to the United States in order to do fingerprinting and turning over my passport. It took about 4 weeks (it can take much longer) for a decision, which is sent by mail. We were anxious during the wait as although we received a notification that our application had been processed, we didn’t know the result until we actually got the letter in the mail. Luckily, my passport was returned and I was granted a temporary spousal visa with permission to work in the UK for 2.5 years.
We flew to Scotland on the same day I received my visa decision. By this time we had also signed a lease on an apartment in Scotland, just south of Edinburgh. A friend of Laurence’s was moving and she offered us the apartment at a very good rate and even though we hadn’t seen the apartment in person, we decided to give it a go.
You might also like: 7 Things to do ASAP when Moving to Scotland
Moving to Scotland: Adjusting to a New Life
We moved to Scotland in February. It was cold and dark outside and our apartment was freezing for the first few days from not being lived in for the past few months. After living in California, it took me a few months to adjust to the weather and more limited outdoor spaces. It was also a bit of a cultural adjustment from living in a fast-paced innovative place like Silicon Valley to a small Scottish village!
Overall though, we have loved these past 2 years and adjusted well. We have spent a lot of time traveling around Scotland and have written loads of content about our travels in Scotland on our blog. Some highlights have included getting to really know Edinburgh, attending the summer festivals in Edinburgh, exploring the Scottish Highlands, and driving the North Coast 500. There are still plenty of places left to explore and we are excited to see more of the country as well as the rest of the UK.
Life in Scotland: From temporary visa to permanent residency
The visa process is far from over for us! Although the initial stages are often the toughest, we still have many steps ahead of us. It has now been 2 years since I received my visa, so I have another 6 months until it expires. Soon we will need to apply for an extension for another 2.5 years. If approved, I can then apply after 5 years of living in the UK for the right to settle in the UK (“indefinite leave to remain”). Once you receive that, you also have the right to apply for citizenship and a UK passport.
Quick Guide: Applying for a Spouse Visa in UK from America
Here is a quick summary of the process (as of Dec 2018) for those trying to obtain a UK spousal visa (if one partner has British citizenship or is settled in the UK):
- Apply for a UK Fiance / Fiancee Visa (lasts for 6 months)
- Apply for family visa – spousal visa (last for 2.5 years)
- Apply for a renewal of spousal visa (lasts another 2.5 years)
- Apply for right to settle in UK/ Leave to Remain to settle permanently in the UK
A few good resources for Americans thinking about a UK visa:
– UK government Visa site – This is the most important resource so I’d bookmark this one. A confusing but informative website that you need to use to figure out specifically what visa you need to apply for and how to apply.
– U.S. Embassy in UK – This website provides information for Americans in the UK.
– U.S. Consulate in Edinburgh – The consulate office that can help if you need assistance as an American citizen in Scotland.
– U.S. Government Travel – General travel information and guidelines for Americans traveling abroad.
This year we are planning to apply for an extension of my current UK visa and loads of travels, which will likely include the UK, Ireland, the USA, the Seychelles, Iceland, and Spain!
I should note that there are travel restrictions that come with most visas and limit the number of days you can be out of the UK each year. This will not affect most people with 9-5 jobs, but as travel writers it does affect how much we can travel outside of the UK. Although a definite limitation, as we normally spend about 6 months abroad, it gives us a lot more time to do some in-depth travels within Scotland and the rest of UK over the coming years! We hope you’ll com along!
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