One year and one day after receiving my settled status I officially became naturalised and am now a British citizen.
I’m grateful for having been welcomed here (despite Brexit!) and making it “official” with the country I now call my home and for Portugal to allow dual citizenship.
It is an accomplishment but it was also due to privilege and luck. There are so many other people who will not be as lucky as me and that is deeply unfair.
Six years later, one settled status application, one English exam, one “Life in the UK'' exam, one long naturalisation application and at least £1500 later, I had a ceremony in Wandsworth Town Hall alongside 26 others from at least 10 different countries.
It is unrealistic to expect that everyone can go through this process. I cried a few times and I am fully aware I still had the easiest route. One of the easiest and quickest examples of privilege is the fact that the moment anything has a monetary cost, it isn’t accessible to everyone.
I get asked a lot if I “feel British”. I do… whatever that means. But I am also very Portuguese. This is my home now. I have my house, my life, some of my friends and family here. In a light tone, I love laughing about memes from two countries. I love knowing more than one language. I appreciate feeling a part of both “cultures”.
It’s hard to care about two countries. It’s really hard. Some Portuguese folks have expressed disappointment in me. They see it as a betrayal. I’m met with a lot of emotions if I criticise current affairs that are happening in Portugal. It’s complicated because I don’t fit in the narrative that people expect: the immigrant who wants to go back “home”. This doesn’t mean that I don’t miss many things from the country I was born in and lived 80% of my life. But these 20% have been the best years of my life.
Sometimes I am asked if I would have done this process if Brexit wasn't a thing. The answer is "yes". Maybe not immediately after five years but I would have likely done it anyways.
Here’s a breakdown of my process as it happened to me at the time along with lots of personal notes just like you would find on a recipe website!
This isn’t a guide and isn’t intended to be a guide. This was my experience and you should look up all the latest guidance from the government website.
One way ticket
In March 2015 I moved to London. At the time Brexit was already a topic of conversation but like everyone else, I didn’t think it was actually going to happen. Then the 2015 general elections happened followed by a year of xenophobic campaigns the 2016 Brexit referendum happened. It is now part of my core memories, that morning in June when we woke up (and we were doing holidays in Spain) and we saw the news.
Before I moved to London I had no clue what was happening here politics wise but shortly after my arrival, the Brexit threat was constantly living in my head. So I never really experienced what it was like to immigrate to a country within the European Union and simply live there without the deportation fear.
The last five years of my life have been with a tiny little constant fear that the worst of the worst could happen. I ended up writing about the anxiety Brexit gave me in 2019.
After three years of living in the UK, I applied for the now-defunct residence card. I remember it being a very long form with a lot of attachments of evidence that I live here. At the time I paid around £60 (I can’t remember the exact value) for the application and received a little blue booklet with my photo. It had an expiration date of December 2020.
Years went by and I decided not to apply for pre-settled status and wait until my five year anniversary to apply for settled status. This was backed due to the fact that I got married in late 2019 and changed my name. Then the pandemic began.
I had just changed my name in the Portuguese consulate in November 2019 and that meant that I had to get a new Portuguese passport and a new identity card and the pandemic meant that it became incredibly complicated to renew these.
In March 2020 it was the five year anniversary so technically I could apply for settled status. I tried to do it online but at that point, I didn’t have any identification document with my new name that had the chip (so that we could verify my document with a mobile phone) and they were not accepting identification documents via post (because of the pandemic). I pleaded with the Portuguese consulate as soon as it reopened to give me an appointment to renew my documents.
At last, in June 2020 I was finally able to apply for settled status. Waiting for June also meant that I had five full years of tax returns. We’re very lucky that we were tech-savvy enough for it and that we had one of the phones that were able to read the chip of my passport. I received the approval around two weeks later.
Given the five year mark, I decided to look into citizenship and I had two options: either normal naturalisation application or naturalisation by marriage.
There were some big differences at the time: if I did the normal naturalisation process I couldn’t immediately apply and I would have to wait another year after receiving my settled status. I would also have to provide all my travel history for the last five years. While the naturalisation via marriage I could apply immediately after receiving settled status and only required a three-year travel history.
I was impatient so I picked the option that would allow me to immediately apply. The other reason was that I somehow lost all the emails with the flights I took in 2015 and 2016 (I was flying a lot back to Portugal when I first moved here) so I wasn’t completely sure I was able to provide the correct travel dates.
Despite this being last year, I don’t fully remember why I didn’t immediately begin the naturalization process. I think I was feeling really sad and anxious over the pandemic so I took a little break and searched what I had to do first. And I think it was because things were a bit closed up and I struggled to book the two tests I needed.
Meanwhile, we had a family friend who also went through the same process who very kindly did a video call with me to explain the process. Our friend recommended that I book and apply for everything with the same identification card (in this case I decided to use my Portuguese national ID card for consistency).
Things I did before beginning my application:
- Ensure I had my passport, identity card, bills, paperwork, documents etc with my new name;
- Book the “Life in the UK” test;
- Book the test that assesses my English skills;
- Ordered a copy of my wedding certificate;
Both my tests were in Croydon and in the same week in October 2020. I took the week off work to study and prepare.
“Life in the UK” test
At the time I ordered the whole pack of books to read and practise mock tests along with the official app so that I could test on my mobile devices. I found the mock tests to be very easy and repetitive so there was a shock in the actual test where it was quite difficult. I passed - but I found it very difficult compared to all the mock tests I took during the week. The questions I received were heavily focused on history and politics. I received my results on their website ten minutes after finishing the test (notified via email). I knew that I had some questions wrong but it didn't tell me which. For example, it asked who was the Prime Minister after Margaret Thatcher. I know I replied to that one incorrectly.
While waiting for my test I met someone who was taking the test for the 5th time. This nice old lady told me that she was living with her daughter and she needed citizenship to be able to stay in the country. Because of COVID, we couldn’t stay around but I do hope she passed that day and I think about her often.
Testing my English skills
I personally found the page about booking the English skills tests really complicated to understand. After advice from our friend and from the internet I booked: Graded Examination in Spoken English (GESE) Grade 5 (CEFR Level B1.1). It was incredibly stressful making sure you’re booking the correct test at the correct place. Once I decided on an approved venue, there was a small bit of anxiety about booking something so expensive (£150) not via a gov.uk website. I didn’t buy any of the support materials offered. I only downloaded the “Topic form” and decided to talk about my job (not the most creative I know).
Covid meant that the whole thing was still done in a site but instead of speaking to someone in person, I was taken to a small room where I would be in a video call with the examiner.
We had a small introduction chat and I brought up the topic and carried on talking. I didn’t notice the time going by but eventually, the examiner asked me if there was anything I would like to ask her. I panicked! I didn’t think of any particular questions so I asked something very silly like “have you met a lot of web developers?” and she said “I meet people from all sorts of jobs” and she ended it. So… because I overthink every social interaction I have, I began to be terrified of the idea that maybe I failed because I wasn’t social enough. I left the room and I had to wait one day to receive provisional results via email. I received them 24 hours later and my results were AA (Distinction)!
I waited a couple of weeks and later received the certification in the post (which is necessary for the application).
I began filling the application and I think it took me around a week to finish it. I had to include information like name changes, my parents, employment history, travel history, address history, wedding details, husband’s details as well as two referees. The referees' section took some time because one of them had to be someone of an “approved profession”. Luckily a close friend of ours is a solicitor and lives a 15-minute walk from us so we asked him. The application was during lockdown so we had to find a place to take passport photos for me and to be able to print the referee form.
My application was stressful but straightforward - my life situation at the time meant that I didn’t enter other loops in the application such as dependants, living children, previous marriages or convictions and other penalties.
I was so nervous when I added my card to pay £1349.20 and submit it! I lost track of how many times I reviewed the application. Once submitted it is done - nothing can be amended and a new application (and I presume new payment) would have to be submitted.
After it was done I received an email with the next instructions. The next step was to do my document submission and book my biometrics appointment.
Document submission and biometrics appointment
We’re now in November 2020. I wanted to book that last appointment as soon as possible in case another lockdown happened and things closed down again. I remember I stayed up until midnight to refresh the website to look for appointments.
There was another reason why I was so keen to have an appointment as soon as possible. One of the required documents was:
“Evidence that you have been in the UK lawfully for your 3 or 5-year qualifying residence period. This should be evidence that you were here as a worker, student, self-employed, self-sufficient, retired or incapacitated person.“
It was really hard to find answers for what could qualify as a valid document that would satisfy this requirement until I remembered my residence card. The residence card would expire by the end of that year. I also included all my P60 just in case.
We’re all entitled to a free appointment but if you’re in a hurry you can pay quite a lot for some appointments. I remember seeing slots available for appointments that would be either £69 or even close to £200 but I decided to try and get a free appointment.
I booked it via the UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services and I paid extra to have my documents checked and documents scanned (£72.49 in total because one of them had a 50% discount at the time). This is because I don’t have a scanner and I was too afraid of not doing the scan up to the standards.
In my booking confirmation, I received a PDF attachment that included a QR code that would later be needed to attend it. I’m mentioning this because the day of this appointment was also the day all google services went down. So as I was about to leave my house to go to this appointment I couldn’t load that PDF and until the services came back up I was really stressed.
During the appointment, the documents I brought were scanned and my biometrics were taken. All my documents were returned to me at the same appointment.
The wait and ceremony
I received the decision for my application three months and eight days later. It included instructions for the next steps. I had to wait for an invitation letter in order to be able to book my ceremony in my town hall which took nearly a month to arrive.
I immediately did everything I could to book the earliest ceremony possible which ended up being two months later.
Everyone in my local town hall was super nice and they gave us a passport case (I don’t know if this happens in other town halls). And again, because of the pandemic, we weren’t allowed to bring our family to watch it and the national anthem was played instead of sung.
The day after my ceremony I applied for my first passport (June 2021). I chose to do it all online. It requested again a referee who would confirm my identity so I asked the same friend as before. This time, this step was possible to be done completely online. All they had to do was sign in with the invitation link and answer some questions. I posted the naturalisation certificate that I received at the ceremony and my Portuguese passport the following day. Eight days later I received a message that my passport was approved and two weeks later I had my British and Portuguese passport and my certificate.
I’m not going to lie: I’m truly looking forward to being able to vote!