I'm sure that anyone who has ever applied for entry into a foreign country knows how long and tedious the visa application process can be. Applying for visas for five people (2 adults, 3 children) was certainly no picnic, but we did it, and so you probably can too.
A few people have asked what the process was, and what types of visas we applied for, so I will do my best to explain.
What type of visa did we apply for? There are probably one million and one different kinds of visas to apply for depending on the country you are entering and the reason you are going. Because Dallin will be a student in a 1 year graduate program, we applied for Tier 4 Student visas. Dallin was the main applicant, and the rest of us applied as dependents under his visa. We still had to fill out 5 different applications though, and pay 5 different application fees.
How did we apply for visas?
1) We did the majority of it online. First, we filled out applications online (visa4uk.fco.gov.uk) and paid the fee online.
2) Then we set up appointments for Dallin and I to have biometrics done (aka- fingerprinting) at our local immigration office. Because all of our children are under 6 years old, they did not have to do this part.
3) Then we sent off our passports, pictures, proof of biometrics, copies of our applications, proof of student loans, and a postage paid return envelope off in the mail to the British consulate in New York City. One for each person. (Items that we didn't send in the mail because we weren't told to, but were later asked for were our marriage license, and birth certificates for the kids.)
4) Then we waited. We were told that the visas would take about 3 weeks to issue. A few days after sending off our applications, we received an email that they had been received. Then a week later, we received and email saying that 3 of our visas had been issued. The next day, we got one more confirmation. We are still waiting on one more visa confirmation (which we think will come tomorrow).
Overall, the visas issued a lot sooner than we were expecting. It was a very pleasant surprise.
5) After a visa has been issued, the Consulate will put your documents along with your visa into your return envelope and mail it back to you. We are still waiting to receive these, but expect them next Wednesday or Thursday.
6) Then you can book your flight!
Can I buy my plane ticket before I get my visa? I would not recommend it. Just in case something goes wrong, it wouldn't be good to have a plane ticket if you aren't allowed in the country. If you must buy your ticket before you have a visa, make sure that it is refundable or transferable. We are waiting for our last visa to be issued before we buy our flights.
Do I have to have a visa to come visit for a short period? We would love to have friends and family come visit us! As far as I am aware, you do not have to have a visa to come visit if you are in the UK for less than 6 months, and you have a return ticket, and funds to support yourself while you are there. So come hop across the pond!
If you have any other questions about visa applications, ask in the comments. I will do my best to answer them, although, I am by no means an expert.