Friday, June 27, 2008

UK Visa and Flight to Heathrow

It's summer now and soon I'll be boarding a plane headed for London. To do that though I need a visa. Now, lucky readers from EU member nations can disregard this as they do not need visas to study in the UK, but the rest of us riffraff do.

So late last month I went to apply for a UK visa here in Tokyo. The Visa application process was quick and painless actually; a nice change from the horrible process that my fiancee and friends went through to get visas to study in the US. All I needed to do was write an application, print or copy a few documents and head to the visa office.

Notice I wrote visa office, not embassy. Instead of having to trek to the British Embassy, which is not in a convenient location in Tokyo, the British government is kind enough to office a special visa application office conveniently located near a major train station.

So, I made an appointment (mandatory), got up early on the appointed day and went before going to work. The visa office requires that you bring all documents that you think are important, with copies of everything. No copies means originals will not be returned. In my case, I brought the application form (very long but easy to complete), my passport, my letters from LBS stating that I have been accepted, my transcript from my undergraduate, a recent payslip from my company, and copies of my loan documents. All of these things were recommended by the visa office. I handed these items over, paid the application fee (99 GBP or about 20,000 yen) and had my fingerprints taken electronically (required). No interviews was required, although the embassy (which processes the application) can all you for an interview if they choose. The whole process took perhaps 20 minutes. The office warned me that they usually require a recent bank statement as well and they would contact me if needed (consider bringing one); luckily I didn't need it.

They gave me a receipt with a tracking number to be used on the visa office website to inform you of your status. About a week later a quick status check revealed that my application was finished. I went back to the office and picked an envelope with the originals of my documents and my passport with a UK visa stamp. Note that I could have opted for the envelope to be be delivered to me by courier for an extra fee; I chose to pick it up in person.

A big step in my preparations was now complete.

Next step, airfare. Cheap international one-way airfare is never easy to find due to the way airlines price their tickets. In Japan though, there are many small travel agencies that one can find on the internet. Yahoo Japan has a travel page where you can search the agencies for the lowest fair depending on destination and date of travel. I used this type of service and found a small agency that offered one-way flights on Asiana, a Korean airline, to London for less than 100,000 yen, including all fees and fuel surcharges - a good deal. So I called the agency and booked a ticket for August 20, about a week and a half before the start of the program. The agency sent me an invoice and I made a bank transfer a few days later, done.

My arrival at Heathrow is fast approaching.