Disclaimer: I am not a solicitor nor a professional visa advisor - all opinions and advice are drawn from my own experience with the Fiance visa process.
When we decided to get married, we knew that the visa process would be a difficult one. We had looked into a number of visa options in the year and a half before applying, and found that the fiancé visa, which comes under the umbrella of the “family visa” route, was our best option. There are many others (see my post here to learn which ones!), but there were various documentation restrictions and rules that led us to choose the one we did.
We chose not to use a solicitor at the time, because of the costs associated. The visa application alone is £1,500 (roughly $2,000), and many people end up spending hundreds or thousands on solicitors, in addition to the UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) visa costs. We had a fairly straightforward application (no previous marriages, no children, no red flags in terms of felonies or travel to suspicious counties), so we figured we could do it ourselves.
Unfortunately for us, the UKVI site and the visa application’s supporting documents are often slightly unclear and can be quite lengthy and frustrating. We found a site online called ExpatForum, which was a lifesaver for us. Expat Forum was full of people who were applying for visas, just like us, and shared their experiences - what they provided for supporting evidence, whether or not they had to make any amendments to their application, and most helpful of all, a timeline of when they'd sent the visa off to when they'd gotten a response. It gave us peace of mind to know that there were others struggling through the process, as well.
In the end, I mailed off my supporting documents to UKVI in Sheffield from Seattle, Washington. It was mailed off on 10th February, 2015, and I received my affirmative decision and fiancé visa (inserted into my US passport) on 17th March, 2015. Besides the email confirmation that they'd received my documents, there was no other correspondence between those dates.
I am by no means an expert at this process, and each application is different, so there's no "one size fits all" way to apply for a visa. However, for a fairly straightforward application like mine, these are all of the pieces of evidence we included and steps we took to getting a positive decision on my UK Fiance visa application.
This is what was included in my supporting documentation:
Completed Visa Application (you can find this on the UKVI website)
My biometric data (taken at my local immigration office in Seattle)
My American passport
Photocopy of fiancé’s British passport
Two UK-standard ID photos of me (Can be difficult to have done in the USA, see notes below)
Letter of intent from me
Letter of intent from my fiancé
Letter of authenticity from my father and mother
Letter of authenticity from fiancé’s mother
Letter of authenticity from my college roommate
Congratulations cards from family and friends on our engagement
Photo evidence of relationship - dating back 2.5 years (included appx. 30 photos)
Text message snippets dating back 2.5 years
Fiancé bank statements dating back 12 months
Fiancé payslips dating back 6 months
Fiancé letter from work stating salary and permanent employment status
Receipt from engagement ring
Receipt from my purchased wedding dress
Letter from local UK registry office - stating our intent to marry
Fiancé’s flat tenancy agreement
Photo evidence of fiancé’s flat
Any research I had done about local wedding vendors (flowers, cake, reception venue, etc.)
I will be the first to admit that we perhaps went a bit overboard. By the time I was done, I had compiled a massive three-ring binder of evidence, and it cost a small fortune to ship it tracked and first class to England. However, I’m glad we did the job thoroughly, because visa rejections absolutely do happen. In this case, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The main things to remember for this particular visa are that the UKVI are going to want to see evidence of several key things -
You’re not coming into the country to use up public funds and that your partner can support you if you do not immediately find work
You have a genuine relationship with your partner and will marry within the 6 months allotted time
You have a safe place to live in the UK, and that you intend to live together
If you've covered those points, I truly believe it's just about being meticulous on the details of the form, and making sure you read any supporting documents thoroughly before answering. It's a stressful process, but the feeling of getting your visa is unbelievable, and so worth the effort.
Some of the more difficult pieces of supporting evidence to find:
UK Standard Passport Photo:
UK passport pictures differ from American ones in a few key ways, and the UKVI won't accept photos that don't meet their government regulations. I foolishly left this part to the last minute, as I didn't read the instructions and thought the photos were standard US passport photos, but it turns out there are very few places - at least in the greater Seattle area - that can take UK government standard ID photos. For these pictures, you specifically need a photo that:
measures 45mm h x 35mm w (US standard photo is slightly larger at 2inx2in)
is not cut down from a larger sized photo
the distance from the top of the head to the chin must be at least 29mm, but cannot exceed 34 mm
the face in the photo must be 29mm h at a minimum
be taken against a plain, white background that is free from shadows
you cannot be smiling, and your mouth must be closed
For these reasons, it's obviously important to make sure the place you go to is aware of these standard regulations, otherwise you'll spend a lot of time and money submitting a passport photo that will end up rejected.
Evidence of relationship:
We made sure to include several forms of correspondence as supporting evidence for the 2.5 years of our relationship leading up to our application. We used Skype messages and screenshots showing evidence of the length of our Skype calls, text messages from an app we used called Couple, and iMessages. We would take snippets of conversation from the beginning, middle, and end of each month dating back to the beginning of our relationship. Because we're both a bit OTT, we made sure we included a variety of text messages - some lovey messages, some minor arguments, and just regular chats about our days. I'm sure whichever poor person reading our application at the government office really enjoyed that, but I'm not sure it made a huge difference ultimately.
We also sent pictures from all of the times we were together over the period of our relationship, including pictures with groups of friends, and with family members. We sent captions with the photos, telling the location and date of the picture.
Letter from UK Registry Office:
This was a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg situation as we were told that we needed a date of marriage from our local registry office, but the registry office told us we couldn't apply for an official date until we had my visa, so in the end we just had somebody from the registry office give written consent that once we got my visa approved, we would be able to book a date for the wedding.
Once your fiance visa is approved:
I had a six month time frame from the date of my visa approval to permanently move to the UK, get married, and then apply for my Further Leave to Remain FLR(M) visa.
During the period of time that I was living in the UK under my fiance visa, I wasn't allowed to do work of any sort, including volunteering, so it was really important to me that I was able to get my FLR(M) visa approved as soon as we were legally married, because that meant I was able to live as a UK resident.
If you have any questions about my visa process, please feel free to drop me a comment! As stated before, I'm not a legal representative or professionally qualified to advise on the visa process, but I'm happy to share my experience with the process in hopes that it will help others. When I was applying for my visa, there were so few resources and testimonials, and filling out the forms often felt like we were wandering blindly. If I can offer support or advice to anybody going through this process, I'll be happy to help!