UK & Ireland BIVS Tourist Visa for Indians: 2019 Process and Information

I began the application process on the UK Govt's official website last month and eventually got my visa (technically known as Entry Clearance). This post is drafted to help fellow Indians looking to apply for UK & Ireland Tourist visa, based on what I observed and experienced.
Compared to Canada tourist visa I had applied last year, UK tourist visa was a bit complex. But it is possible to follow the instructions and submit on our own- no real need to take help of an agency. For Canada I could upload all documents on the govt website and then go to VFS only to submit passport. But for UK visa, all document upload were to be done on VFS Global's website and the VFS Global website isn't really UX friendly.

Anyways, with some trouble I eventually managed to upload the documents, walk into VFS office for biometrics- fingerprints and photo. And then I had to wait for about 15 working days for a decision.

UK Tourist Visa for Indians- Snapshot
Cost of UK Visa
Timeline for UK Tourist visa
Embassy Fee
INR 8900 (Standard- 15 working days)
INR 25000 (Priority: Decision in 5 working days)
INR 1 Lakh (Super Priority: Decision in a day)

+ VFS Charges (Zero to 15-23k depending on services you avail)
+ cost of documents scanning/Xerox, print etc

So min 9000 INR, max 1.3 lakhs!
Application preparation, Doc upload and VFS Appointment: 2-7 days

Embassy time: 1 day (super priority) to 15 working days normal processing time,
30 working days worst case scenario.

+1 or 2 days for courier/passport collection

Total Time: Min 1 week to max 2 calendar months
Validity: Typically 6 months or more, at discretion of embassy, 6 months per entry (could vary) and effective from 1 day prior to date of arrival mentioned in your application
Documents needed
VFS Additional services for UK Visa:
Varies based on your application- proof of funds/sponsor letters, travel details (ticket, itinerary, hotel), family details, proof of funds and assets

Custom checklist will be provided end of the application
Document scan: 800 Rs
Hold my passport : Rs 5000
Premium Lounge: 2900
SMS alert: Rs 200
Courier: 500
Home service: 10000
Platinum Package: 23000
Silver Premium Package: 4000
* As of August 2019

This post is drafted to help you guide with your UK tourist visa process as Indian.
Decision 1: Do it yourself vs agency
It is best to do it yourself- create an account on the official website, start filling in the sections related to the application, make payment online, get appointment with VFS, go there for biometrics and passport submission.

Alternatively you can take services of travel agents, who will collect all the information from you and fill up on your behalf- you will still have to provide all the documents, inputs and go in person for biometrics, so I don't think this approach is worth, unless of course you're very pressed for time or your company has tie up with an agency or other reasons of your choice. I applied on my own and rest of the post is about this process. I've broken down the process into 4 parts. Even if the agent does some mistake you will be answerable.

Part 1: Application and Payment
Begin your application on the official website, answering all the questions posed. Like any visa application, you will be asked about your source of income, purpose of visit, details of stay.

Few things to keep in mind:
#1 Honesty is the best policy- don't attempt to game the system. Authorities can detect fake bank statements, education certificates or anything you might have manipulated. If such a malpractice is detected, you will be denied visa and might be barred for a period of 10 years from applying again for UK Visa.

Even if you don't have a job, even if your savings are not much, explain your situation in a cover letter, be honest and transparent.

You will be asked your lifetime travel history, address where you will be staying, details of friends and family you might want to meet and other information normally asked in any visa application. Read, understand and fill carefully. Some of the  follow up questions would vary based on input provided in previous question, so information and documents needed from you might be different from that of your friend or family member.

#2 Information can't be changed once submitted.
Each information you enter during application process- be sure to enter it correctly and be sure that it can be supplemented with a document or some evidence if required. Once you submit and make payment these application information can not be changed.

For example, you may have a bank balance of 5 lakhs. But if you're planning to spend 50k over next 30 days (during the course of your application), then better to declare your savings at 4.5 lakhs- this way even if you've withdrawn some money while application is being reviewed, your account will have stated balance if the authorities decide to cross check)

You can save your application and revisit later. I think you've to complete the submission within a month of starting the process, else have to restart from beginning.

UK Visa will need your lifetime travel history- so keep your passport handy to enter details of all the countries you've visited in the past.

Once done with filling up application, you have to make a payment. Standard fee is about INR 8800, for normal processing which is said to take 15 working days. There's a priority service for about 25000 INR, decision will be made in 5 days and super priority service that costs about a lakh rupees- decision will be made in a day. The super priority option is typically useful for business travelers who need to travel in very short notice. Not worth as a tourist.

Unlike US or Canada which may give up to 10 year validity, UK Visa is typically issued for a very short duration-only 6 months or few years max- Again don't go by my word on this- I have no real authority on this- just what I have observed.

Once you make a payment, you will be directed to website of commercial partner, VFS Global where you've to upload documents, fix an appointment and appear in person for fingerprinting and photography.

Part 2: Document Upload and Fixing Appointment at VFS Global
When I applied for Canada visa I could upload documents directly to Govt of Canada's official website and had to go to VFS only to submit passport. But in case of UK visa, document upload is handed over to  the commercial partner, which is VFS global. VFS Global website has several UX Issues

- The document category on VFS Global is not in sync with UK Visa checklist categories. VFS Global offers some generic categories so I was confused where to upload which document.
- VFS Global website doesn't have proper file management utility- If I upload 5 files under a category, I can't see their file names, descriptions, I can't re-arrange the order, I can't selectively delete a file. It is old technology and very irritating- hopefully it offers a better view to visa officers who have to view these documents and make a decision
- VFS Global has a file size limit of 1.5 MB for most files, claims 10 MB allowed for PDFs, but website fails if you're trying to upload multiple files or big size files. Often you will be forced to compress a file or split it unnecessarily into multiple parts, just to be able to upload it- very irritating experience. Compressed files compromise readability, split files spoil continuity.

I had some issue with VFS Global website- I created an account- it only sent a one time password and didn't allow me to set any permanent password. I had to login later as I didn't have all documents handy during account creation- but system wouldn't send me new password or password reset email when I tried forgot password option. There's no helpline to call- sent an email to VFS Tech support, who after a day gave a template reply asking me to clear cookies and restart my computer. After responding to it that it is an issue on their end, eventually they said they have sent it to concerned team. Somehow just a day before my appointment I could reset the password and upload documents, with considerable pain as the tool is not smooth.

If you don't want to scan and upload documents yourself, VFS Global will do it for you, for a fee of about Rs 800. The poor UX is probably intentional, to drive more customers towards premium services.

VFS Global's basic service fee (collecting your passport, taking photo and fingerprint, sending it to embassy) is included in the amount you paid to UK Home office, so you don't really have to pay anything extra at VFS Global. I didn't. But like any business, VFS Global has a dozen different additional services which are chargeable- each step of the process you'll be prompted to avail some of these. VFS Website is cleverly designed to give impression that you've to select at least one of their services, which in reality is not true. Since you've paid to UK Govt, basic service of visiting VFS, giving biometrics and submitting passport is covered in that fee. It is not mandatory to buy any more service from VFS. I vehemently resisted each and every one of it, but if you're interested, here're some extra services:

VFS Global UK Visa Service: Platinum Package:
The most expensive package, but doesn't cover home service or keep my passport etc
Various variations of above services are bundled under different names and priced differently.
You can select if you see a value, but note that it is not mandatory- you can complete your process without availing any of the VFS Global Paid services.

Part 3: Visiting VFS Global
Once you've taken appointment and uploaded documents, you have to visit VFS Global in person.

Note that everything is expensive at VFS Global. A photocopy can cost Rs 10 per page.
Most VFS Global offices won't allow parking, even if there's a space. The Etiraj Salai one in Chennai had roadside parking earlier, now marked as "No parking" and then extra money is made through "Valet Parking available"

Ensure you have appointment time handy- in your mail or a printout. The first page of appointment letter print out I carried didn't have time (it had moved to 2nd page) so I was made to stand in general line meant for people without appointment. Then had to pull out email and show the timing before being allowed in- Lost 10 mins + further delay inside because of this.

SMS Alert at Rs 200:
While I was submitting my passport I was asked if I need SMS alert- It costs Rs 200, only tells you your passport has been dispatched- It doesn't reveal the decision (granted/denied) or anything else. I didn't feel like paying Rs 200 for one SMS. US Home office will send an email once a decision is made and your passport is returned. Till you open the passport and see your visa inside, you won't know if Visa has been granted or not.

Courier at Rs 500:
VFS charges Rs 500 to send passport to your home by courier. Again an overpriced service. Courier within city for a small item like passport costs just around 50.. May be 100 if you consider premium. I opted to come and collect it myself. I was given some instruction that I should come on working day, specific timing, immediately next day after I get notification etc.

Hold my passport at Rs 5000
In case you can't submit your passport along with your application, you can avail "Hold My Passport" service for Rs 5000. This permits submitting your application without passport. You can submit your passport at a later date- say after 10 days- this is useful in case you have some immediate travel. However passport submission is mandatory for final decision on Visa. There's no E-visa and no final decision can be made till you submit your passport.

Home Service: 
Useful for senior citizens or those who value their time a lot- For 10000 Rs, VFS will provide cab service and send an executive to pick you up from home, guide you through the process and drop you back. A more convenient way would have been to have a mobile unit fitted with all essential equipment, go to customer's doorstep, collect documents, do biometrics etc. But for VFS to invest in this, there should be good number of people availing the service.

Premium lounge:
VFS Offices have a small room named Premium Lounge, which can be accessed for an extra fee. You can sit on a more relaxing sofa, have access to photo copy machine etc. If you don't want to be part of the crowd then you can avail this.

Buy UK Travel Products:
Various things related to visiting UK- UK Pass, sim cards, insurance etc are sold inside VFS.

I didn't buy any of the additional services, went at 8 AM as per appointed time, was out by about 9.45- took about 2 hours to get in, submit my passport, complete biometrics formalities.

Part 4: Waiting for a decision and collecting your passport back.
This is the final and crucial part.
UK Home office may call you for a video conference or can ask for additional details if they feel like.  They can cross check anything you submitted- bank statement, sponsor letters, your education certificate etc till they are satisfied about your bonafides and intentions for visiting UK. A decision will be made within the stated SLA, you will get an email and passport will be sent to commercial partner. You can go and collect, or ask it to be couriered. If you've got the visa, all the best and happy journey to UK.

Majority of applications are processed within 15 days but a few may take up to a month. You don't have a way of knowing if your application will take longer, so it is safe to initiate the process with a month or two to spare before your travel date.

Some FAQs w.r.t UK Tourist visa from India
Is cover letter mandatory?
No, but it is always a good practice to include a cover letter summarizing your purpose of visit, high level plans etc.

Whom to address cover letter?
Not very sure but I guess you can address it to "Entry Clearance Officer", British High Commission or a more popular titles like British Deputy High Commissioner, Chennai etc.

Is there a template for cover letter
No. Use your own format. A simple letter format would do.

How soon/late can I plan for UK Visa?
About 3 months prior to your intended travel date is ideal.
Not later than one month before your travel date, unless you're ready to pay premium for priority or super priority processing.

I am unemployed. Can I apply?
You can. Be sure to include proof of funds, assets in India and be very clear in your cover letter why you'd like to visit UK when you have no income.

How long can I stay in UK on a tourist visa?
If you are a tourist traveling with own funds, you can typically cover most of UK in about a month's time. You can plan longer but be ready to explain the reason and funds- typically works fine if you're staying with family member/sponsor who is UK citizen.

Most visas allow 30 days per entry. You may be granted up to 180 days per entry- again I am no authority in this- follow the instructions on your visa.

How much funds should I show?
There's no fixed formula for this. Typically you should have more more funds than what is required to cover your trip expense and to assist you leading a normal life once back in India.

Why visas get rejected?
There're dozens of factors resulting in visa refusal. Not having funds, motives not being clear, documents not in order, criminal background, previous instance of visa overstay, visiting enemy/disturbed countries,  false representations, not having a motive to return to India or any other reasons Visa officers feel you may not qualify as a genuine tourist intending to visit UK for a short duration.

Can I reply if rejected?
Yes, if it is for technical reasons, missing documents or such cases.
If caught submitting fake documents or adopting any fraudulent measures, you could be barred from applying for next 10 years or longer.

What if I need my passport for some other travel?
Option 1: Pay extra for Priority or Super priority service for speedy processing
Option 2: Pay for "Hold My Passport" service wherein you can submit your passport late
Option 3: Don't plan any international trip during the UK visa processing time

Do Indians qualify for working holiday program with UK?
No unfortunately. There's a news that Australia may open up this scheme for Indians soon.

Validity and effective period of UK Visa
Most countries give visa valid from date of approval till say next 3 or 6 months. But UK visa, if approved, will be valid from one day prior to date of arrival mentioned in your application. This means you can't pre-pone your trip after getting visa.

While applying you get to chose if you need 6 month validity or 1 year validity etc- fees may vary depending on what you have selected. Duration per entry could be up to 6 months

What about Ireland? What is BIVS?
There is a BIVS scheme- Britain, Ireland Visa Scheme under which if you have visa of UK you can visit Ireland and vice versa. But you should apply for the country where you'll be landing. This is reportedly applicable for only Indian and Chinese passport holders. If you are entering Ireland first then you need to apply for Ireland visa.

There's no specific process different for BIVS compared to a pure UK visit visa. I didn't see any question that asked if I will be visited Ireland. It helps to mention in your cover letter that you intend to visit Ireland and would appreciate BIVS.

Disclaimer: I am not an authority on UK Visa. I have only shared the process and experience I went through during July/August 2019. Issuing a visa is at discretion of corresponding officials. Rules, process and other details may change over time, please follow official sources for latest information. This post is for reference only.

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