This year’s annual roundup could barely be any more depressing, and while I understand how our “life of leisure” can seem desirable to some, the longer we live this life of detachment and unpredictability, the more I miss normality. It’s no different to the “grass is always greener scenario” where people envy a life that they really do not understand. But we have now spent 6 years together living on tourist visas, and while we may have our homes in Bangkok, Isaan, and Northern Ireland (UK), we technically and legally can’t “live” in any of them together without a long-term visa. As until now we have been visiting respective countries on tourist visas. So we have many homes, yet at the same time homeless, and the vulnerabilities in this became apparent last year when considering a family of our own, along with personal reasons, which I won’t go into because they’re personal. So we ultimately decided to settle in the UK for a new start. And while we never really considered life in the UK before now, we have been spending more time with my family in Northern Ireland, who to be honest are not getting any younger. Therefore we want to be there for them. But since Brexit our incomes in Asia now go a lot further, to potentially cover the minimum incomes requirement for the Spouse Visa, which would in turn give us two years in the U.K. And it just all makes sense at this stage of our lives. But to do this we would first return to Thailand to complete the visa application in Bangkok.
A Long Time in Preparation (Oct ’16)
This Visa was not something we had taken lightly, as the application alone costs $1,518.00 (I have no idea why the British government use dollars), and a down payment of $762.00 for Immigration Health Surcharge. Then there’s the IELTS English Speaking Exam (17/11/2016), a Tuberculosis test (06/01/2017), and the certified translations of all Thai documents into English. And it all adds up to a small fortune when adding in travel to and from Bangkok (we were based in Isaan during this time). So there is a ridiculous amount of preparation and paperwork to sort out, but the easier for us to prove is obviously the ongoing relationship, having travelled through more than 30 different countries together, shown throughout this blog. Which would no doubt be one hell of a ruse to just get a Visa. Plus we’re hardly the “Thai Bride” stereotype, who marry specifically for Visas, and money, as our wedding was four years ago in Bali, and we have shown no interest whatsoever for life in the UK until now. Instead we are a genuine and honest couple, which obviously doesn’t count for much these days.
A Break from Travel (Feb ’17)
The hardest part of this Visa application was giving up Fanfan’s passport, as our lives kind of rely on travel, and we would be forced to take a break from it all. So on a return journey from Japan in February, which was infinitely the highlight of our year and even all our travels to date (video below), we handed over Fanfan’s passport to the Visa application offices and the wait begins. And while we had the perfect start for the year, our lives then went into a downwards spiral which I really can’t say yet we will recover from. So from the day of the application we expected it to take around 30 days for completion, which is the norm, and we set our proposed travel dates at the beginning of April to the UK. A generous two months. But we thankfully did not reserve flights, as the next contact from the British Embassy was 3 months later in May, when we are told that further checks are required. However the decision was expected in the next 5 working days, and we therefore travelled to Bangkok on the weekend, and waited for contact. Which never came, and was followed by another long period of silence. Meanwhile the Home Office website showed that every Visa application in February was completed within 30 days (83% in 15 days) yet our application was now past 3 months in processing. So something wasn’t adding up, and now we were more worried about our original documents, like birth certificates, and the ownership deeds of our Bangkok condo.
An Unlikely Fugitive
Contact with the offices is almost impossible, where a simple email costs £5.48, and this reaches only as far as contact centre staff who have no access to personal details. Which would be more money wasted. So we have no option but to wait, and wait, and wait. However we did have earlier complications with Fanfan’s previous tourist Visa, when in October, she received a message from the British Home Office, saying that they “believe you have not left the UK. You must now leave the country”. This is because of a more direct flight we booked to Thailand, via Dublin Airport, in Ireland, after realising Fanfan was pregnant. And she never boarded the proposed flight out of London, so was never recorded as leaving the UK. And she was more or less now a fugitive in the U.K. Although this situation was almost guaranteed to be cleared back in November, when we sent specific details of the flights leaving Dublin, along with copies of entry stamps to Macau in November, and Laos in December from late last year, and a number of other domestic flights in Thailand such as a Chiang Mai in November. She even sat her IELTS English Speaking exams in Bangkok, run by the British Council, and her Tuberculosis test was taken at a specific Home Office approved clinic. So this issue was likely long gone.
A Life in Limbo
So our lives otherwise sat in this agonising limbo, and I can honestly say that these months were the hardest that I can remember. But no doubt it was much harder on Fanfan, who was checking her phone and emails throughout every day, only to be disappointed for months. And she just became fed up, drained and disillusioned about the whole situation, not knowing why the UK would go to such lengths to scrutinize her application? Meanwhile we were forced to turn down once-in-a-lifetime projects, and while I could have travelled and worked alone, we have always been together as a team. I would never leave her behind in a time like this (plus I’d probably be useless without her). But that didn’t stop us committing to projects ahead, expecting the visa issue to clear any minute, but this never happens. And instead we are forced to cancel projects and plans, which just made us look ridiculously unprofessional throughout. And then we just gave up. Meanwhile I would still have to jump borders, every two months, as I renewed my own tourist Visa to continue this wait in Thailand.
The Minimum Income Requirement (June ’17)
It isn’t until early June (02/06/2017), near four months from the original application, when we finally received contact via email saying that the Home Office had paused decision-making on some applications “to enable the Home Office to consider the implications” of failing us on the basis of financial requirements. Which was just very ominous. Although the minimum income requirement did always worry us, and while the post-Brexit exchange rates swayed in our favour, they can also change at any time. So we did resort earlier to selling links and advertising on the websites to ensure that we were over the threshold (in blogging we will only ever take what we need, as we’re not greedy folk). So our joint incomes came to around £22,400, although many incomes were transfers between accounts for travel, and pretty much all this money goes to Fanfan as well, as I can’t legally work in Thailand when on a tourist Visa. And being location independent many of these incomes are through online accounts. Anyway, it was all a bit iffy to be honest, so to supplement the income we listed our Bangkok condo on the market (worth around £150,000), which is more than double the savings requirements, but again it too is iffy.
However it did sound like they were looking closer at individual circumstances, and here our application was strong, given we planned on moving to a bought and paid for family home in Northern Ireland, where other than our contribution to weekly groceries and overheads, our money is pretty much entirely disposable income. Then there is the money from the sale of the condo, which would of course depend on the success of the visa application, as we’re hardly going to sell what little security we have from under us. So this would of course all be inward investment to the UK, and while it’s not quite Saudi gun money, every little helps. We are also debt free, and with the numerous negative stereotypes of Thai relationships, Fanfan would never let herself mooch off others. It’s a Thai middle-class thing. But our overall lifestyle, documented throughout this website, is far from grim, and at times can look deceptively lavish. Education-wise, we both hold university degrees and higher. Fanfan has a GPS of 3.7, and continues to study a new degree in law through distance learning. All of our incomes and opportunities are self-made and, in short, I really don’t feel we would be dead weight. But what may go against us is our independence, and being ‘off the grid’, as we don’t exactly ‘toe the line’ when it comes to the nine-to-five and social conformity.
A Temporary Distraction
At least thousands of others were in the same boat, as anger and bewilderment were firing all over the immigration boards, as people were sincerely pissed at the British government for “tearing families apart”, “harming their children” and “playing with their lives”. Which, to be fair, they were, and have been for a while now. There too were rumours, one saying the threshold had been increased to £24,000, as well as the idea that decision would be held off for the upcoming General Election (08/06/2017) where the Labour Party proposed to scrap the minimum income rule for foreign spouses. But we were in no mood to stick around, and flights were booked to Chiang Mai within hours of the email, so we would at least have new scenery to distract us. However one positive did come from this email, as Fanfan could now retrieve her passport to travel again, only not to the UK, which is where we were scheduled to be house-sitting for my parents in July (sorry again parents). But our motivation for travel had too deteriorated, as our lives had been in a downward spiral through the past months, and now we honestly felt weak. Almost depressed. Because we are so used to pushing ahead in life, and looking forward, but now we were merely trying to distract ourselves from the ongoing saga with the British government.
Your Application has Been Refused (Aug ’17)
Well at least we got an answer. After seven months of waiting, we are told that the application has been refused due to insufficient evidence of incomes. Again, our finances were iffy, and I accept this. But otherwise it is hard to accept the Minimum Income Requirement in the first place, as it really is complete nonsense, a figure pulled from a Tory hat, with no exception for individual case or circumstance. For example, the average wage in Belfast (£21,836) is less than two-thirds of that in London (£34,473), and the cost of living would likely follow suit (so the threshold may be closer to £11,500 in Belfast). But we of course have no interest in living in London, and if we could afford to live in London, then we would be living in Tokyo, or pretty much any other destination in the world. As the purpose for this move was to reunite our family in Northern Ireland, which looks now to be little more than a pipe dream. And while we would have been moving to a secure family home, with almost a full wage of disposable income and £150,00 in the bank, we are instead lumped in with those eking through life, in debt and destitute, in overpriced central London rental apartments. It is just bizarre. And even if I did one day scrape from the country’s coffers (for whatever reason), my family, the Wilsons and the Campbells, have been paying taxes on these islands for about as long as taxes have existed. But, again, this means very little these days.
I’m Due a Dig
In hindsight, this was very much a backward move for us, as the UK is hardly the land of opportunity these days, with its austerity, miserable weather, and insular and xenophobic outlook. It’s just not the most desirable of places to be in the world right now, and were it not for my own family and upbringing, I would never look twice at a life there. Because there are otherwise better opportunities, wages, and quality of life in Australia, for example, where we sent our criminals. The British Pound is now 60% of what it was when I first put money into Thailand (9 years ago), and as Asia rises the British government, and its backward policies, continue to drag the UK further into an increasingly isolated society. It currently ranks 54th (of 65) countries in which expats like to live and work after slipping 33 places in just three years (now 4 behind Russia, and just 1 above China and 3 above India). And this is before Brexit hits. Thank God the British speak English or they’d be screwed. The next hermit kingdom. And this does feel good for us abroad, as every day we feel that we made the right decision to leave when we did. But this is not me gloating, as it honestly hurts to see my homeland in such a state, it’s embarrassing, and these words are in fact very hard for me to say. As forever I will be proud of my British heritage and upbringing, just not the current state of the United Kingdom, and more so the British government. But there will always be a delusion of greatness within the UK, although the only “Great” part of Great Britain I can think of these days is the NHS, and it seems to be on its way out as well. And instead of challenging the real problems of the country, it just seems easier, and more comforting, to blame them on the foreigners.
Down, but Far From Out
I’m writing this now from Saigon, Vietnam, four days after receiving our refusal letter, because life goes on. And one thing our lifestyle has taught us, is resilience, and the ability to adapt, and now we are just glad to put an end to this depressing chapter of our lives. However our refusal was a big blow for everyone, and the responsibility was solely on my shoulders, so I admit that I have failed my wife and family. But ultimately my homeland failed us all. And while I may seem to take the decision somewhat flippantly, it is because, unlike others, I can, as we have many more options and opportunities in life. Meanwhile British families are torn apart daily through similar issues, and British people are being forced to live in exile due only to their choice in marriage (even iconic actors from Only Fools and Horses). It’s really quite horrible. Anyway, for us, life is back to normal, and miraculously we feel stronger than ever, as we had accepted a possible return to “life in the real world”, and became more involved with the local tourism authorities here, and even joined a press/media trip to Malaysia (despite promises of remaining independent in blogging). As we did sacrifice a number of principles for this move, but these sacrifices at least gave us some much-needed confidence through this time of torment, and we are now looking again to the future.
Our Future Life in Exile
I will forever choose my wife over my homeland, that is a no brainer, and other than losing 2 grand, a year of our lives, and any respect for the British government, we still have plenty of positivity ahead. Our minds are also set for a new start, and potentially a family, so this is not going to change. We will continue with the sale of our condo in Bangkok, which would be too cramped for a family anyway, and we will be looking to buy a house in the hills of Chiang Mai, an apartment in the city, and a second-hand car to get between the two. So if any good did come from the past year, it was that month in Chiang Mai, and I personally feel we have dodged a bullet. And we of course will always have our home in Isaan, so we’re really not in a bad situation. However we will inevitably look again at the spouse Visa down the line, as I honestly could not bring up my children in Thailand, which is not so much against the education system here, but the inbred nature of corruption and money worship in this part of the world. Where people are valued on what they own. And while I can easily ignore this in adult life, I would never risk bringing up a child in such an environment. Because I am otherwise from a humble and accepting British background, a background which I am very proud of, and I only wish my own children could have the same values. It’s not a lot to ask.
We May Have Been Blacklisted?
But life goes on, and we are due again to be in the U.K. in the coming months for Christmas and to house sit while my parents are off on a round-the-world cruise, and this time I was determined not to let them down. So again we are applying for a tourist visa in Bangkok, just after returning from Vietnam, and to keep the application quick and simple my mum invited her to visit, and offered to pay for everything throughout her stay with finances that would easily cover even the spouse visa. So she posted these details while we were in Vietnam, we picked them up on our arrival in Thailand, and we had the application sorted September, the papers submitted in October, and our flights were booked for 2nd November, despite being advised not to. But what could really go wrong with a tourist visa, seriously? So it is October when we arrive to pick up the visa, when Fanfan was sitting her Law Exams (distance learning) in Bangkok, only to find that she had been refused because they’re not satisfied that she is a “genuine visitor” and that she “will leave the UK at the end of your visit”. And while I’m really not one to swear, but what the absolute fuck? So the nightmare continues, only now it was 10 times worse than ever, where it felt we had been literally blacklisted from the UK, and banned from seeing my parents. Our flights were set to leave in 10 days, and our family Christmas was now in tatters. I was literally sick for the days to come, where I’d drink myself to sleep at night, and throw up in the shower in the morning when I had to realise it all again. What the actual fuck. And we could just not comprehend what was going on for days to come, Fanfan inevitably dropped her Law Exams with her brain in total shock, and now every aspect of our lives were falling apart. This spouse visa was by far the biggest mistake of either of our lives, and what started as a process to give us easier access to the U.K, and potential security for a family in the future, was turned into monumental mess.
Refusal of the Tourist Visa
There was one legitimate reason for the refusal of a tourist visa, where we had forgotten to include proof of Fanfan’s studies, which was just an oversight by us given the rushed application. Otherwise the refusal was based completely on the settlement refusal, as they quickly picked up that Fanfan’s comparable incomes from travel were not the same from the past six months, when they held her passport, and our lives were set in this limbo, the bloody numbskulls. They also questioned two irregular amounts to her account on the day of the application, where we had sorted our finances on the same day of the application, after Vietnam, and one was ironically the Immigration Health Surcharge refund from the original spouse visa. Which she subsequently towards a drone and made the awesome video below for our local temple in Isaan. But this was completely irrelevant anyway to the application, given my mum was sponsoring the entire stay, and the only reason we included finances was to strengthen the case in the first place. Despite it being almost certain. And, while I am not one for being paranoid, but I am starting to realise that the less the British government know about you, the better. As now they just seemed to be clutching at straws to keep us out of the country, for some extremely hard to comprehend reason. Fanfan was being treated like a criminal, but i was no doubt a person of interest, as they over “Mr. Wilson’s circumstances”, something which is again completely irrelevant to the application and invite from my mum to Fanfan. As apparently British citizens are screened before entering their homeland and for joining family in the U.K.
It Feels like Witch Hunt
This is what made me sick more than anything, as I felt there was a black mark by my name? Am I under surveillance? Are they watching me? However I do admit that my life looks deceptively lavish at times in Asia, which is due to the cheapness of everything (our full monthly costs in Isaan are 10,00 Baht or £200), and occasional hosted travel (a grey area, like the off shore banks of our Prime Ministers and Royals, so it’s hard to feel like a crook these days in the U.K.). And of course I have that fancy Bangkok condo, which I worked my ass off for to get a legitimate foothold in Asia, to escape the nine-to-five, and to ensure I have security so I don’t have to chase money anymore. Things I have repeatedly shared on this blog, along with my continual refusal to make money from sponsored content, and advertising on my websites. Which is partly due to the smug satisfaction of being able to make lots of money but choose not to, which is awesome, but also to avoid the unnecessary hassles of professionalism, grey areas and taxes. I really don’t want to complicate are current life for ‘more money’. So these principles I was always proud of, before I was literally forced to make money for the sole purpose of this settlement visa application, and I’ll let you question the ethics in that (this also highlights the ridiculousness of the Minimum Income Requirement to begin with). Anyway, we no longer needed the incomes and money following the application, as we can easily cover our cost of living in Asia, and so we of course quit, to go back to being your friendly spam free bloggers. However I do continue to work my ass off daily with this website and in creating advertisement free media, and just self-published my a book I’ve been working on since 2014, through Amazon. So far it has made me less than a fiver, which I’m fairly sure isn’t taxable. Otherwise what money we have goes straight to travel, and into building value in our media, and ourselves, and our future, which are otherwise worthless to the U.K. Government.
We Never Give Up
That’s a lie. We did give up. As I felt bullied, powerless, and weaker than ever, and the only thing giving me some sense of strength at the time was writing here. And while Fanfan searched for another escape to Chiang Mai, I was trying to come to terms with life apart, as I could no longer back out of promises made to my family. So, after 6 years side-by-side, the British Government had finally split us apart. They had won, although I really don’t understand what they had won, or why, and it’s all just ridiculously un-understandable. However my parents are both former mayors, aldermen and politicians in Northern Ireland, with many political friends, which is something I don’t wield like some privileged pip squeak. In fact I think I have only mentioned it once in 5 years blogging, as it really is irrelevant otherwise. But they had just refused a legitimate application from my mum, who was now more pissed than I was. So she was on the blower to the local MP (which anyone can do) and we were advised to apply again for a tourist visa, then to forward this new application number to their offices, and they will endorse us. So we did this on the exact same day as the refusal, as we now had 10 working days until our travel date. So we were forced to get a Prime Time application slot, and even considered the Fast Lane option, which would come to another 400 quid in the process. But this meant more hassles in Bangkok, and we had a ridiculously packed week ahead with two kittens needing neutered at our home in Isaan, along with a 5 day road trip along the Thai-Lao borders, and Fanfan really had no desire in handing any more money over to the British Government. So instead we gave it to Oman Air, by rescheduling our flights until late November, which cost around the same amount. Otherwise the application was in including official documents from her university, an endorsement from an MP and we debunked absolutely everything that they refused us on to begin with. Otherwise they will be stuck to find new reasons for refusal.
The Final 10 Days
These 10 days were hell regardless, with the drinking and the throwing up, and our travels were a bit of a blur with this uncertainty hanging over our heads. But we did seem to be getting somewhere, as Fanfan received a phone call from the Embassy, for the first time ever, which really could go either way. As Fanfan is a ridiculously stubborn and principled person, and if someone wrong her she will no doubt let them know. For example she would always confront queue jumpers, even if they were behind her. But it was weird that she was speaking to them in a mild, friendly manner, so much so that I didn’t realise it was the embassy until she had hung up. Although she did have this sound of sincere disbelief as well as she really couldn’t understand why they thought she was so desperate to live in the UK. As again the original spouse visa application was a backward step pushed by me, and other than the cold weather and sheep, Fanfan really has little interest in life there. But they did ask if I was with her during the call, and told her she was not allowed to speak to me at the time, yet they were again prying into my own circumstances. They asked if I was planning full-time employment in Thailand, and if she is able to provide my job applications, and this is when she turned. “I am sorry, but what has this got to do with my tourist application”. And they admitted that she didn’t have to answer, and so she didn’t. Otherwise she was professional, as she’s a Law student after all, and not some country bumpkin as they likely expected, or hoped. Anyway, we were covering the Thai city of Khon Kaen at the time, and the photo below shows her on the exact call to the embassy, although I didn’t even know it was them until she had hung up. The next day we were then notified of the collection of her passport, and I chose to travel alone, as Fanfan really has had enough by this point. So after more than a year of visa applications, and unfathomable mental anguish, we will finally be reunited with our family. We were given the tourist visa and on the 20th November we will be travelling to the UK. I want to say I am excited.