The US visas were relatively easy to obtain. Then it was time to apply for the UK visas for the whole family. We qualified for the Standard Visitor Visa. I spent hours completing the most comprehensive online visa application forms I had ever done before. The section that took me the longest was the travel history section where I had to enter details of every Commonwealth country that had issued me with a visa in the past 10 years and another section where I had to enter dates and details of every country I had visited in the past 10 years. Fortunately, after 10 entries, the form doesn't allow you to enter any more. I had to hunt for old, archived emails containing flight tickets for the past 10 years and was logged out of the system a few times due to being timed-out. After having to re-enter information a couple of times, I realised that it was a good idea to save the form very frequently.
After completing the forms, we paid online. The fee was 85 GBP per person at the time. At the exchange rate then, it worked out to R1785. I then booked the appointments on the TLS website. If you are going as a family, I suggest that you book all the appointments for the same time slot. We didn't but when we got there we asked if we could still do that and the friendly gentleman at reception said we could.
Before we went, I had to print out the appointment confirmations, application forms and supporting documents. Talking about supporting documents, the Schengen and US visa applications were quite clear on what supporting documents were required. The UK visa website only stated the mandatory items which were the passports and photos and evidence that you can support yourself during your trip then stated that you should bring whatever else you feel will support your application. There are some guidelines on what those possible documents are. We took bank statements, unabridged birth certificates, business registration documents (as we are self-employed), and flight tickets. You are not required to book these beforehand although we did because availability for the peak period we were looking at was decreasing and prices were increasing due to cheaper seats getting sold out and the exchange rate worsening. We also took a cancellable hotel booking confirmation from Booking.com. Here again, you are advised not to book beforehand however the application forms ask you for the name and address of the place you will be staying at.
With regards to the photos, the guidelines say that the background should be taken against a plain cream or light grey background. Ours were against a white background (same as the Schengen visas) and they were accepted. We also had to register on the TLS website in order for our application tracking to be enabled, as TLScontact is the appointed South African agent for UK Visas and Immigration.
At the TLS centre, we were asked for our appointment confirmations and application forms before we were even allowed to enter. Then we were asked to switch off our mobile phones. We entered and went to reception where our photos were attached to our application forms and placed with our passports into a folder. Thereafter we were directed to the waiting area and were called a few minutes later via an electronic screen. An agent asked us for our documents and got us to sign a checklist which indicated which documents and supporting documents we had provided her with. Everything was placed in a sealed bag and we were given a copy of the confirmation checklist for each person. There was no interview as such. It was more of a document handover.
We then went to another cubicle where biometric information was taken from us - ie. Fingerprints and photographs as well as voice recording on camera.
I was glad when the process was over yet still stressed at the possibility of the visas being denied, more so, because I have family whose UK visa applications were denied twice for a family of five. They lost about R20 000 in the process as the fees are non-refundable.
We were kept updated with the movement of the documents via TLS. About 12 days later, we received an email from TLScontact to say that our applications were ready for collection. There was no indication as to whether the visas were approved or denied. We had to take our ID documents as well as copies and the confirmation checklist through and we were given our supporting documents and passports – opened to the visa page. Of course, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.
I do believe that the flight tickets showing that we had onward flights to the US greatly enhanced our applications.
For more information, go to https://www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration
Requirements for UK Visas have since been updated. Click here for the updated requirements.