If you’re reading this article, you probably hold an offer of acceptance from a UK university, so CONGRATULATIONS! Applying internationally is a daunting and exhaustive process, and you’ve made it through most of it. In a few short months, you’ll be making the UK your new home (at least for the next four years) and meeting people with lots of cool accents (go you!).
But before you head off, you’ve got one last hurdle: the student visa. The Tier 4 Student Visa is thorough and complex process, but no fear, Prospies, this guide will have you completing it like a champ! (Note: this guide is updated as of July 2015. Any changes to the UK visa process after this date may be unaccounted for, so please read the instructions for any new changes carefully.)
Who can Apply
The Tier 4 visa is for you if you’ve (a) been offered a place on a course, (b) are over 16 years of age, (c) can speak, read, and write English, (d) can support yourself and pay for the course, (e) are from outside the European Economic Area, and (f) meet these eligibility requirements. If this is you, read on. If you do not qualify for these conditions, please e-mail your university.
When to Apply
You can apply up to three months before your course begins. The visa website says that you will get a decision within three weeks, but, with the time it takes for biometrics, application submission, and other various time delays, estimate somewhere in the ballpark of 4-6 weeks at best.
The visa costs £322 per person. The visa will last the entire duration of the stay. You must also pay the immigration healthcare surcharge which will cost about $1,300 before you submit your visa application to the British Consulate for a decision. The courier service to ship the visa application to the consulate will run £38 for return service or £50 round trip. You will be given the courier information after your biometrics appointment.
Where to Begin
When you accept your offer, your university will send you a CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies) number along with some other important information you must input into your visa application in order to be approved. Only AFTER you receive your CAS can you begin your visa application. When you’re ready to begin, visit the Visa4UK site, where you’ll register for an account. Begin a new application.
You’ll need to enter a valid passport and also your dates of planned arrival into the UK. You’ll be asked which type of visa you’ll be applying for, and you should put TIER 4 (GENERAL) STUDENT unless told specifically otherwise by your university. The application will also ask for your prior passports. Enter whatever information you can find.
You’ll also be asked for your main address in the UK. If you haven’t received your dorm assignment yet, just fill in your university’s main address. You’ll then be prompted with a variety of questions about being refused entry, deported, etc., and the answers to most of those should be “No.” You will also need to jot down travel dates for some countries you’ve visited in the past. If you’ve been traveling for vacation, you can put the purpose down as tourism. You’ll also then be asked for certain information such as a “UK National Insurance Number,” which, unless you’ve previously resided in the UK, you shouldn’t have.
The system will then ask you for information about your parents and your travel companions. If your family will be dropping you off at school, list them as well. If they’re only visitors, you can put them down as “Visa Not Necessary” (if you’re from a country outside the US and you’re unsure about this, please check your country’s foreign office for more information).
The Tier 4 Student
“Part Five” is usually the trickiest part. You’ll be asked to give your Tier 4 Sponsor’s Licence Number (which should have been provided to you by your university), and your sponsor’s name (your university’s name). They’ll also ask for your CAS number in this section, so have it on hand. You’ll also be asked for the title of your course, which is the degree you’ve been accepted for, and they’ll ask for the level of the course/qualification. Qualifications vary from region to region in the UK, so check out this helpful chart for more information. You’ll also be asked about your qualifications to obtain your CAS, which should be your transcript (and if you’re from a non-English majority speaking country, you’ll need to submit a TOEFL score).
You’ll then be asked about “Maintenance and Fees.” You’ll need to reference your university’s website for specific tuition fees and maintenance (accommodation) charges. If you’re from a low-risk country such as the US, you won’t need to show proof that you have the funds to study abroad (make sure to check your specific country of origin for what the UK government classifies you as). For other nationalities, you’ll need to provide bank statements proving that you have enough funds to cover your tuition and maintenance for all three to four years.
You should be claiming 40 points in total: 30 for Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies, and 10 for Maintenance.
Your next step will be to make an appointment to complete your biometrics, which are fingerprints and a picture of you to be submitted to the UK Consulate General. Most biometrics are completed at the Department of Homeland Security locations, and the system will allow you to input your zip code to find the nearest location to you. The sheet will say the appointment should take around an hour (you’ll spend most of that time waiting– the actual appointment is less than five minutes long), however, some locations are quite busy, and if you’re unlucky like me you’ll spend three hours plus waiting, so bring a book (they don’t permit electronics). Print out your confirmation receipt to get into the facility, and you’ll need it stamped and signed to ship off in your application envelope.
This will be for your BRP, or Biometric Residence Permit, which you’re required to collect within 10 days of entering the UK. Your university will likely send you a specific address for you to pick it up at, and make sure you go to collect it, or else you’ll run into some difficulties with immigration.
Finally, you’ll be directed to the payment page to pay for your visa and your immigration health surcharge. Some people had issues with credit cards when paying, so if you can, PayPal is the way to go.
Ship it Off!
After your biometrics appointment, you’ll be ready to ship off your visa application for a final decision. You’ll need your passport, application, and other supporting documents, so check out this guide to make sure everything’s in your envelope.
Annnnddd…That’s it! You’ve completed your student visa application. You should receive a decision within three weeks (unless you’ve expedited it, in which case, you’ll get a decision much sooner). Now, you can officially say you’re done with the application process, and you can start worrying about how to ship all your stuff across the Pond!