Sitting in visa limbo

Big Ben on cycle lane

I’m currently sitting in visa limbo: a fictitious place I seem to create for myself every few years when my visa is up for renewal, and when my emotions and overactive imagination go into hyper-drive.

I’ve scanned the UK visa and immigration website countless times, just to make sure I don’t miss something. I’ve got about a billion passport photos handy and I’m ready to have my fingerprints taken (again). Everyone tells me I have nothing to worry about and, deep down, I’m sure they are right. After all, this isn’t my first visa rodeo…

But inside there is that little visa voice… the one that I try to repress, but which just keeps shouting: “please, accept me!” I’ll admit that Brexit has made it worse this time around. It is both impossible and unfair to try to sum up such a huge decision into a sentence or two but I know feelings of anxiety linger for most foreigners about what is to come. We’re all trying to think a few steps ahead (but can’t).

Being an expat already removes a certain degree of flexibility. Before we get permanent residency, our career paths can be limited. Fewer of us own property at a young age. Some of us are more hesitant to dream about starting our own businesses. This might be because we’re unsure about putting roots down yet, it might be because we’re not sure we’ve “found home” just yet, or it might simply just be that legally we can’t. Usually, I manage to push those bigger life questions to the back of my brain. But during visa limbo, they come roaring out again.

I catch myself wondering if I would even fit in back at home anymore. That “impending doom” feeling lingers when I feel like I might fail, even when I know that the decision has much more to do with bureaucracy and than any of my personal merits. It is like applying for a dream job on paper but never actually sitting down to meet an eventual boss.

When I take a step back and get rational, I know I have it pretty easy. The process is easy for me compared to people coming from so many other places in the world. I’m lucky to have an employer sponsoring me and the advice of friends who have gone through similar processes time and again.

But the truth is – no matter where you come from or where you are trying to stay – visa limbo can make you feel unsettled and powerless. And the ironic part of that statement? It’s the opposite of what living abroad makes me feel like. I’ve chosen to live far away from home. Each time another visa comes through, each time I make another friend from another country, each time I discover something new about a different culture: it is empowering.

So what is to be done about this visa limbo, you might ask?

Take a lesson from the Brits: try to keep calm and carry on… And do a bit of exploring closer to home while I’m passport-less to keep the wanderlust at bay.

Photo by JessOnThames – taken with iPhone 6 and edited with Snapseed.

  • Valerie Gomez

    I get you girl! My visa process HAS NOT been easy. I call myself an in-betweener right now(kinda like your limbo) although my husband is here and is a Brit, I am still going around and around trying to get my visa approved. It is so much harder than we ever thought it would be. I know in the end all will be well. Best of luck to you Jess.

  • Good luck with the Visa application. I’m currently waiting for a business visa for China and that’s stressful enough with only a week-long trip riding on it. I can’t imagine what it’s like if it was my whole future that was hanging on it.


  • Jay

    *raises hand* Also in visa purgatory.

    Fingers crossed for both of us.

  • Kelly

    Good luck!
    After 12 years of various visas, my citizenship was approved last Friday…it took 3 months rather than 6 so have my fingers crossed it will be a speedy process xx

  • I’m sure you’ll be fine

  • The slow pace

    I hope you go from visa limbo to visa heaven very soon ;) Luckily for me, all the countries where I’ve lived were EU members so I haven’t experienced that process but I can imagine how stressful it must be… Well, according to current politics maybe I’ll need a visa to move around Europe very soon. Sad.

  • The whole visa thing is horrible. I finally got indefinite right to remain last year, and from next year I can apply for a British passport, which I feel equal parts excited and terrified about. It’s such a strange situation to go through (and I always hate how easy people seem to think it is!). Good luck with it!

  • Currently living through visa limbo…it’s the worst. Helps to hear someone else experiencing it too!

  • All I can say is “Try to keep calm and carry on”.. :))

  • Big Ben !!! Its such a pleasing sight.

  • VarunaJithesh

    Nice posting…


Twelve years ago, Jess moved to Europe for what was supposed to be a one-year stint. Fourteen years later, life abroad is just as entertaining. She blogs about it here.