Arriving in the UK and London

I arrived in the UK about a couple of weeks ago for my masters program in York and chose to stay in London for a couple of days.  When I booked my tickets, I acted like a cheapskate and bought tickets online for Etihad which flies Bangalore – London via Abu Dhabi and offered the best possible price. But of course nothing in world is for free and they had a ridiculously low baggage allowance – I ruthlessly packed light and still exceeded the limit, I had to juggle some stuff into my carry on laptop bag to meet the limits. So watch out for this when booking tickets. The connection time in Abu Dhabi was 1.5 hours which I thought was great, but a slight delay in departure to and arrival into Abu Dhabi ended up in me literally running between connecting flights – so make sure you allocate at least 3 hours when you have a connection to make. The flights were cramped and the service was nothing great, but I got my luggage !  Etihad – worth repeating ? I think not.

I stayed at a relative’s place in London who kindly agreed to host me for a couple of days. London was supposedly unusually warm for that time of the year, so I was lucky to take in some sights of the city where it was gloriously warm and sunny. I’ve always been interested in the history of the second world war, so one of the first things I visited was the Imperial War Museum.  It was one of the best museums I’ve been too, they had all kinds of weaponry and vehicles and detailed sections for each major war starting from World War I.   As soon as you walk in, there are some great quotes that are displayed, there’s one which I thought was amazing and stuck with me:

The essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility. – John Fisher.

I ran out of time and couldn’t see all the exhibits, because the museum was closing, but I plan on a repeat visit. Best, part of all it’s free – so I highly recommend it.

Other than that, I walked around some of the usual touristy things and spent a couple of very enjoyable days in London before heading north to York.

Here are some pictures:

One of the many tanks at the Imperial War Museum













Lawrence of Arabia's Bike !










Applying for a UK Student (Tier 4) Visa

I’ve decided to study for the MSc Software Engineering degree at the University of York in the UK starting this October.  Applicants from India require a student visa from the UK to enter the country as a student. I just received my student visa a short while ago and here are some tips from my experience that maybe of some use to you.

  • Read up on the official documentation and all the literature on the UKBA site thoroughly.  This is important – don’t just read the VAF9 guide, read the Tier 4 Guidance document thoroughly as well – it has relevant information.  Yeah the document is long, but it contains information for all student categories (child students, medical students etc.) so the sections relevant to you aren’t that long.
  • Check the information regularly. The UKBA keep updating the information all the damn time, introducing new rules etc. so make sure you’re on top of any latest changes. I did this by subscribing to their news feed through my feed reader.
  • Make sure all the supporting documents meet the guidelines specified in the Tier 4 Guidance. I attended a Visa seminar organized by the British Council where I learnt that a lot of visa’s get rejected for not having the right supporting documents.  This is true with the Bank Statement – for e.g. it may not be printed on the Bank’s letterhead or the date of the statement might be older than what is required. So don’t underestimate any minor detail – make sure you get everything right.
  • Take a printout of the forms that you need to fill – the VAF9 and the Appendix8 and practice filling it up. If you have any doubts contact your university or the UKBA and get it clarified.
  • The University of York has very useful guides prepared on how to fill  VAF9 and the Appendix 8. They are the same forms used by the UKBA, but with step by step information for each field. Check them out, they could help you as well. (However, note that some information is York specific, so watch out :))
  • Any questions which are CAS related – make sure you get the full details and everything clarified from the University. This is because the information on the CAS should match what you write in the Visa application forms. For e.g. this could be the tuition fees, accommodation fees and English language test information.
  • You can call the UKBA office in the UK from India for any questions on the Visa form. Their number is buried somewhere in the UKBA Contact Us page. However I did find the best source of information to be the Tier 4 guidance document.
  • I applied at the VFS Bangalore centre. VFS is a global company that many countries outsource their Visa processing logistics to. They handled the Visa application fairly smoothly, but there were some quirks that I noticed as well. It basically works like this – VFS accepts all documents from the applicant, does some preliminary verification and takes your biometrics and forwards the whole lot to the UK High Commission. VFS makes some recommendations on the documents you must include – but the ultimate decision on what documents you wish to submit is in your hands.
  • For some reason, the VFS officer with whom I was dealing was particular that the “CAS letter” be included with the Visa application.  Since the guidance nowhere mentions the CAS letter, I hadn’t bothered with getting a printout of the CAS . The CAS is a virtual document and all that matters is that the right CAS number be filled in on the form.  Anyway, I insisted on submitting the application without a CAS prinout and it all turned out to be fine.
  • The other point what I noticed was that all though the supporting documents guidance mentions that a photocopy must be included with all the originals being submitted, the VFS officer didn’t seem to be keen on accepting the photocopy. I did submit the photocopies – but got them back with the originals after I received my Visa. Guess the UKBA isn’t too keen on the whole photocopy thing any more.
  • While applying, I also signed up for an SMS service for 100 Rs which is supposed to informs  you about “every stage” in the application.  I later discovered that the online tracking facility on the VFS website provides the same information. I guess the SMS can be useful if you aren’t the type who wants to check online frequently, but for me, the SMS thing wasn’t worth the money at all.
  • VFS on their website mention that there is no storage place for bags, etc. and strictly advice you not to carry anything. I was travelling by bike so I needed my backpack to put the documents in. I found that they do have facilities to store luggage. Weird. Why inconvenience people by asking them not to get any bags when you have storage place ?
  • Ditto for parking – they mention that they have no parking facilities, but the building did turn out to have decent parking facilities!
  • Regarding visa processing times, UKBA says most of the visa applicants are decided in a maximum of about three weeks, but I was pleasantly surprised to receive mine in about 8 working days.

Overall, I found the UK visa application process to be well streamlined. Read everything carefully, focus on the details and the visa shouldn’t be a hassle. Good luck !