Moving Pets to the UK


Cramming a pet in here is not fun.

A friend contacted me this morning to ask me about the many to-do’s that come with importing a domestic pet into the UK. It’s a spiel I run through for people a few times a year, and inevitably, I always delete all of those emails noting the gory details. So, for future reference, here goes!

**Rules change, I did this in 2007/08, and this seems current as of the time of this post. Always confirm w/ the UK DEFRA site (Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs). Specifically, look at the PETS Scheme. I have included links into DEFRA’s site throughout this posting. Also, my notes specifically relate to flying your pets from JFK to Heathrow. (many US airports require the involvement of a Pet Travel Agent – JFK does not) Also, if you have a correction to share, please mail me.

So you want to move your pet to the UK and not put your pet in quarantine..

The most important thing: It will take you a minimum of seven months to complete this process. There are no exceptions.

Step I: Go to your veterinarian and kick off the process.
Tell the vet your plans, ensure they know the procedures. If you say, “pet passport”, they’ll likely know what you mean. A pet passport is an EU thing, but the requirements are the same as for what you’ll need, a 3rd Party Veterinary Certificate.
The vet will do two things:
  • Microchip your pet:
    This is so the vet can be certain that they’re always dealing with the same animal over the course of prep and for customs/agriculture to be sure that they’ve received the same animal that they have documentation for. If your pet already has a microchip, a second one may not be necessary, but you’ll want ot be sure that your pet has one of the approved microchips for this process, because if they can’t read your pet’s chip on arrival, your pet won’t clear customs/agriculture. Some people provide a microchip scanner when they transport their pet, but that seems a little excessive.
  • Inoculate your pet against rabies:
    The UK eradicated rabies, so your pet will receive a rabies inoculation. This is not, as I understand it, necessarily the same vaccination as they have previously received over the course of their lifetime in the States or elsewhere.
Step II: Vet Visit Number II (this occurs approximately 30 days after Step I) – The Blood Test
During vet visit 2, your animal’s blood will be drawn and sent for testing at the only EU-approved laboratory in Leavenworth, KS (if you’re coming from the states). The testing is to ensure there is enough of the titer in your pet’s blood.
**Your pet may travel six months from the date of a passing blood test
So, inevitably, one has to ask- what if my pet doesn’t pass? How can I prevent this in the first place?
  • If your pet doesn’t pass:
    you’ll return to Step I, and your pet will receive a second vaccination and be retested in thirty days.
  • As for preventing the odds of not passing first go: most animals do pass, but younger animals are more likely to require a second inoculation. This is because an older animal will have been vaccinated more historically. My vet in the States said that they would double inoculate on the first go in the case of a young animal where circumstance would not allow for a bit of extra time to complete the process.
Step III: Paperwork time
Your Vet will fill out a Third Country Official Veterinary Certificate. You will need to send this to the local USDA office for signoff as well. The USDA APHIS website has some useful pet travel reference as well, but the key thing will be where to send your paperwork. There seems to be an office in each state, and you can find yours and more details here. I sent mine with a return FedEx airbill, and the turnaround was very quick.
The certificate is valid for four months from the time at which it is signed off, so you should delay getting this until a month or two before you plan to move.

Step IV: Get an IATA Approved Carrier
Your friend will need an approved carrier, and that carrier must be the correct size for your pet based on these rules. I bought mine at the aptly named pettravelstore.com. Make sure you get a pad for the carrier, as it’s required.

Step V: Book transport via an authorized route
  • Planes:
    I flew my moggie on British Airways, and their Pets Desk is very helpful. You can’t make an animal cargo booking until 13 days before takeoff. I had been worried that there wouldn’t be enough room, but when I rang, I was assured that there’s plenty of room. If memory serves, they said a 747 can take 9 domestic pets, there are numerous JFK-LHR flights, and they only fly a few pets per day total. The cost of shipping my old friend was around $850.00, with a cargo fee of $800.00 and a weight surcharge for the rest.
    You have to check your pet in early, I believe we dropped him off at the Air Cargo terminal five hours before takeoff. Your animal cannot fly in the cabin with you, no matter how much you love him/her. You do not need to be on the same flight as your pet, either.
  • Boats:
    Some dogs aren’t allowed in cargo – it seems to apply to those with smushy faces, such as Bulldogs and Pugs, or perhaps you don’t want to part with your pet for a flight. If so, there’s a boat ride for you. Cunard is the token approved sea carrier for pets in the UK, and the QM2 will transport you and your pets in 6-8 days.  They offer a 24 hour supervised kennel, and you can visit anytime you like.
Step VI: Pre-takeoff Vet Stuff
Your pet must (Not less than 24 hours and not more than 48 hours before you check-in) be treated for:
  • Ticks
  • Tapeworms
    *My vet said I could do this myself, if memory serves, but we brought my cat in anyway.

…and it’s Bon Voyage!

So what happens on the other side…

Assuming you fly, your pet is well taken care of by Air Cargo. Upon arrival in London, your pet is taken to a special terminal at Heathrow, specifically for animals. This terminal is not near the passenger terminals and there is no easy pedestrian way to get there.

Your pets documentation will be reviewed, your pet will be checked by a veterinarian, and your pet will need to urinate before it is released. This takes a while.  Bring a book or a very large jigsaw puzzle. You may also want to bring snacks.

Before you know it, it will all be done! I thought our cat would be traumatized by the experience, but he was his usual self from the minute we opened the carrier.
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