How We Moved Our Dogs From the US to the UK

Hi friends! Last week, most of you saw that we welcomed Fish and Chips to the UK, which was four looong months after I moved here. This was, of course, because of Covid and a few other minor details that I explained in THIS YouTube video. If you’ve followed me since 2016, you may remember my 6-month stint in London and that Fish came along with me. Since then, I have gotten questions about how to move your dog from the US to the UK and always kicked myself for never putting a blog post about it together because, if I’m honest, the answer isn’t exactly a simple. There’s a lot to it. So, this time around, I thought I’d go ahead and knock it out being that life is a little slower these days and the information is fresh.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I thought I’d [naturally] share a little disclaimer. Please keep in mind that I’m sharing my lived experience and that might look different than yours and, therefore, might alter what is required for your pets’ travel. Also, as time goes on, government requirements for pet entry into the UK may change so it’s extremely important to NOT use this post as the basis for ALL decisions you make while planning. This post is meant to serve as a helpful starting point as well as a bit of encouragement that it will be okay as I know how stressful this experience is. It is also not all encompassing. There could be more information out there that may suit / be helpful for your particular situation that this blog post does not cover. Below, you will find a short list of the most helpful government websites that you should be giving the most weight to:

DEFRA [Department of Environment Food & Rural Affairs]: This is the UK version of the USDA.

APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services] – This is an agency within the USDA that helped me tremendously.

One last thing, the regulations outlined below pertain to dogs, cats, and ferrets and is referred to as the Pet Travel Scheme. If you’re wanting to import other animals, head HERE for guidance.

Okay, now let’s get started!

Helpful Tidbits Regarding …

THE METHODS OF ENTRY

Dogs, cats and ferrets largely come into the England, Scotland, and Wales via air cargo. On international flights, most airlines coming into the UK do not allow animals in the cabin no matter their weight and, therefore, must travel as manifest cargo. However, assistance and guide dogs are an exception to this and you can find all you need to know about that HERE.

• Approved routes for airlines and airports [commercial and private] your pet can come in on is HERE

• Approved routes by sea and rail for your pet to come in on is HERE is the approved routes by sea and rail.

Traveling to Ireland? More info HERE.

Have an emotional support dog? I do know that you can somehow import your animal in the cabin with the declaration of your dog being an emotional support dog, which is different than an assistance and guide dog. However, I am not seeing ANYTHING about that on DEFRA’s website and since I have never traveled with either of the boys under this distinction [because neither are emotional support dogs], I can sadly provide no guidance on how to do this. You may want to do a little digging on Google but, I’m sticking to what I can find on government websites in this post.

THE REQUIREMENTS FOR ENTRY

The U.S. is considered a ‘listed’ country and, therefore, has certain requirements that are slightly different than unlisted and EU countries. The requirements for entry into the UK for your pet coming from the US:

•.RABIES VACCINATION: Pet must be 12 weeks old prior to administration of the Rabies vaccine and they must wait 21 days from vaccination to travel. The day of vaccination is counted as day 0. Their Rabies certificate needs to accompany the health certificate. Make sure it includes their microchip number. The UK prefers to see a 1-year Rabies vaccine versus the 3-year booster. The boys needed their Rabies in March so we gave them the 1-year but Fish has traveled with the 3-year prior to that, I believe, and there wasn’t an issue. More information on the Rabies vaccine requirements HERE.

MICROCHIP: Pet must receive a 15-digit microchip and must be implanted BEFORE the Rabies vaccination has been given.

TAPEWORM TREATMENT: The treatment must have been given no less than 24 hours and no more than 120 hours (5 days) before you enter the UK. Your dog can be refused entry or put into quarantine if you do not follow this rule. It must contain praziquantel or an equivalent proven to be effective against the Echinococcus multilocularis tapeworm. Make sure your vet stamps the tapeworm treatment page.

THIRD-COUNTRY OFFICIAL VETERINARY CERTIFICATE: This is also referred to as the ‘health certificate’.  There are two types outlined below.

• You must arrive in the UK no more than 5 days before or after your pet. If not, you’ll need to use a specific health certificate. You can elect a designated person to travel with the pet but it needs to be authorized in writing. On DEFRA’s website, it also states that, if you are not traveling with your pet, you will need to confirm you will not be reselling the animal, however, I will admit … I did not catch that before the boys’ traveled and no one made a fuss about it. It couldn’t hurt to include it, though. I’ll link that HERE.

THE PAPERWORK

In order to prove that your pet complies with the above requirements, you will need to have your veterinarian fill out a health certificate. There are two types of health certificates:

ANNEX IV: This is required if you or a designated person is traveling within five days of your pet’s travel date.

ANNEX I [commercial]: This is required if you or a designated person is not traveling with your pet.

Once it is filled out, it will need to taken to a USDA office for an Accredited Veterinarian to endorse it. They will sign it and stamp it. To find your local USDA office, head here.

It is worth noting here that the U.K. [England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales] allows your health certificate to be filled out by your veterinarian electronically [through the VECHS portal] and sent to the USDA to be endorsed. However, the Veterinary Medical Officer’s at the USDA, who review and endorse the health certificates, are NOT allowed to do so digitally. They will need to physically print the health certificate, ensure everything is correct, sign it with wet ink and stamp it with an embossed seal.

Typically, when there isn’t a global pandemic going on, you would just make an appointment at the USDA, bring your paperwork to be endorsed, and then leave with your paperwork and be done with it. However, our local USDA office was closed for appointments and walk-in’s due to COVID so, you will need to electronically send everything over to them with a pre-paid shipping label so that they can mail you the packet back.

Have a pet passport? Sadly, the UK does not accept pet passports for entry of your pet into the UK from the US. More information HERE.

REMEMBER: Airlines may require additional paperwork on top of the government documents. Once you book your pets’ flight, the person confirming your booking and providing their airway bill number should also provide you with those document requirements.

THE VET VISIT(S)

The first step in this whole process is requesting your dogs’ vaccination record from the vet so you can look it over. I’d do this two or three months prior to the move [if you have that much time] so that you can take a look at their last Rabies injection date. I would read everything HERE and HERE [scroll down to where it says “The following information applies in the United Kingdom:” >> click on Dogs, Cats & Ferrets >> click on Step 2: Rabies Vaccination] to make sure you have everything covered. If your dog needs a microchip, make sure you get that done BEFORE you update the Rabies vaccination.

Once you’ve ensured their vaccines are up to scratch, you’ll need to select a date for their health certificate to be filled out. You’ll need to do this within the time guidelines based on the health certificate you need for your particular situation. Most of the time, if you’re flying with your pet, everything has to be done and signed by the USDA within five days of travel but, if they’re flying as commercial pets, it all has to be done within a very short 48-hour time window. I would speak with your cargo agent when booking your tickets about this to ensure you get this right. If they don’t make you feel confident, the BEST place to go with questions is APHIS. Email them and they will certainly help you. This could always change with time so be sure to go by what you see on their website versus what I’m telling you here, especially if you’re reading this years after the post has been written!

But, I thought it might be helpful for me to share the checklist I went by on the day the boys’ went to get their health certificates:

• Ensure microchip number is on all pertinent paperwork outside of health certificate [fit-to-fly letter and Rabies certificate]

• Make sure the microchip is scanned to ensure it still scans properly

• Ensure the health certificate is the correct type [annex I or annex IV]

• Ensure the health certificate has been completed correctly [my vet sent it to the USDA to have them look it over and let her know if anything needed to be changed before she signed it and completely sent it through to be signed by the USDA through VECHS; I realize that might not be the case for your vet so I would just make sure you look it over if they’re filling it out manually against a red-lined version that you can find on APHIS’ website]

• Rabies certificate needs to accompany the health certificate + microchip number on it

• Bring a fit-to-fly letter with you as the airline requires it from the vet [sometimes the airline will supply you with one but I drafted my own based on one I had gotten from Virgin Atlantic; happy to send along to you … simply request it via email]

• Ensure your animal receives their tapeworm treatment [they should as it all has to be documented on the health certificate anyway]

THE AIRLINE

Somewhere between the first vet visit and the health certificate vet visit, you’ll need to choose an airline for your pet to fly on. This brings about a whole other set of questions, doesn’t it?

Airlines flying into the UK are the biggest reason why pets have to come in via cargo, even if they’re little. Most airlines don’t allow pets in the cabin as you can see from this list. BUT … there are so many airlines who have so wonderful with their pet travel services and realize that pets flying in cargo is a stressful undertaking for both you and your pet. Something you need to remember is that pets fly underneath planes every single day, all over the world. The pet travel industry is HIGHLY regulated, especially international. It is scary but, I promise, the people who work in the pet travel industry and on the pet travel side of airlines are people who [99.9% of the time] are doing everything they can to ensure they get this right for you and your pet.

Now, I wouldn’t say I know much about which airlines are best but I was extremely impressed with Virgin Atlantic when Fish flew with them via cargo in 2016. They were SO organized and so friendly upon check-in. The boys’ flew British Airways this time, as Virgin Atlantic’s international pet travel services were closed due to Covid, and they weren’t AS good as Virgin, in my opinion, but I do believe they were well taken care of. Stacy, my assistant who drove the boys down to their flight in Miami with her husband, said everyone was so friendly at check-in and ooo-ing and ah-ing over the boys as well as very organized so that was good. BA lost a few points mainly because our main point of contact leading up to the flight always responded very tersely to us [which, I totally understand she probably has a very busy job] and [potentially] misinformed us on our timeline when I was unsure if we were going to be outside of 48-hour time window or not. [I shared this whole story in an IG story highlight on my profile titled ‘BOYS TRAVEL] When we asked APHIS, after she told us we would be fine, we were told we definitely would have had an issue if we had not caught this ahead of time. And, you know … maybe it would have been fine. Maybe she was saying that because she really thought it would be. Maybe she has backend information that they’re not AS strict on that timeline as it seems like they are BUT … what if, you know? That would have been a huge blow if she had been wrong and Stacy & her husband drove the boys all the way to Miami the day of their flight and then had been told we botched the timeline when we were told we would be fine. So, that wasn’t impressive to me but everything else she was on top of and they made it safely so, really, I can’t fault them more than that.

In my experience, and from what I’ve heard and seen from Instagram accounts I follow with dogs who travel internationally a lot, I’ve heard that Virgin, British Airways, Lufthansa, and Air France are all amazing in regard to pet travel. Please let us know in the comments below if you’d like to add yours in, as well. Lufthansa flies large animals all over the world so, I’ve actually heard they are the best but, that wasn’t an option for us but I hope that is helpful to someone.

THE KENNEL

Once you book your pups flight through the airlines’ cargo office, they will supply you with LOTS of information including very specific information about the travel kennel’s you must purchase before their flight. The boys traveled in THIS one [they each got one; for safety reasons, animals must travel in their own kennels] that comes in multiple sizes. You will need to measure your dog based on the instructions the airline will give you. It’s super easy to do using one of THESE.

HOT TIP: Get the kennel as soon as you can and try to get your dog to get accustomed to being in it. Fish has always loved his kennel and my dogsitter simply replaced the normal kennel with this one and she’d sometimes find him in there because he felt safe in there. The safer and more comfortable they feel before the flight, the better they’ll feel during it.

For travel kennel supplies, we used THESE water bottles and THIS water bowl right below it. I was worried the boys wouldn’t understand how to use the dispensers so that way they had access to the water that would inevitably drip out of the water dispenser on the door. Grab a small-ish pet blanket or mat to put inside [they can’t have excess in there for safety so make sure it’s plush but not massive]. They also HAVE to have an absorbant puppy pad at the bottom of it for if and when they soil. They’re not supposed to receive any medications for anxiety, so I’d put a little bit of lavender essential oil on the blanket and maybe throw one of your recently worn t-shirts so they have something that smells familiar to them close during travel. Lavender essential oil is safe for dogs but is strong so I’d put a few drops in with some water in a spray bottle so that it’s a little diluted.

THE FEES

This is a rough list of things that you will pay for and an estimate of my total cost for TWO dogs.

You’ll pay for vet visits [potentially multiple: one for vaccine update & one for health certificate and fit-to-fly exam and letter], travel kennel(s), travel kennel accessories [water bottle to attach to door, small blanket for comfort, puppy pad], airfare [based on weight and other miscellaneous charges for the airline], the USDA health certificate charge [paid to the USDA when they check your paperwork] and customs clearing agency charges upon arrival into the UK.

I did a rough total of our overall cost of all of these things and it came out to a little over $3200. Keep in mind that’s for TWO dogs. I realize that that’s still a very pretty penny but I never said this was a cheap venture. What I didn’t pay when I got them [as they were free rescues], I surely made up for in international travel fees, ha!

Other Things Worth Noting + A Few Tips

• Start at least two months before travel. Take a look at your pets’ vaccinations, first and foremost, and make an appointment with your vet to get anything that is required updated as soon as possible. Remember: if they need their Rabies shot or booster, they have to wait 21 days to travel.

• There is a list of banned dogs that are not allowed into the UK that you should be aware of before making plans.

• Choose a veterinarian who is comfortable with health certificates. The boys have always seen the same vet. I used to work at this vet’s office when I was finishing up nursing school and I literally trust him with everything, except health certificates. He likes to focus on helping the pet’s with what they need for their health and, being that health certificate requirements are different for every country and are always changing, I can completely understand how they can be seen as a bit of a bother. The truth is, you need a vet who will work closely with their tech to get a lot of the information for the certificate ahead of time so that the day of their health certificate appointment is a breeze! I worked with Dr. Kelley Batten, who you can find at Atlantic East Animal Clinic in Atlantic Beach, Florida. I’ve known her for years and she does health certificates all the time! She will make it way less stressful, I promise!

• If you’d like the fit-to-fly letter I drafted, which is based on the one Virgin Atlantic gives their pet parents for travel, email me.

• Make sure the vet scans the microchip on your pet [on the day of their health certificate appointment] to ensure it DOES come up.

• On the day of travel, try and keep your pup up and awake. Take them on quite a few walks so that they are tired for their flight that evening. They may be a little stressed but if they’re tired, they can easily sleep through it.

• Being that I wasn’t on the boys’ flight with them, I worried about the pilot’s flipping whatever that ‘switch’ is that needs to be flipped when they have pets in cargo. That is basically a switch that turns on the heat and air conditioning in the cargo hold. It’s always pressurized. One of my sweet readers reached out to me the day before the boys’ flight letting me know that her husband is a pilot. She said ‘there are MULTIPLE pilots on board flying that big plane over the ocean and they are ALL checking the lists to ensure they don’t miss anything that’s on that plane so, rest assured, those boys will be completely fine under there’. It was so sweet and just the reminder I needed. You have to trust that this industry knows what it’s doing!

• Apply for your Transfer of Residency before your move. Once your application has processed, you will receive what’s called a ToR number and, whenever you ship anything that you’ve stated will be moved from your previous residence to the UK, you will use that ToR number in order to receive VAT [value added tax, which is a standard 20% here in the UK] relief. This is helpful in moving over dogs because you can put pets on the list of items that will NOT be taxed if you have a ToR number when they come in to the country. Any live animal that comes into the UK will need a value assigned to them by their owner and you will then pay the VAT of that price to the customs clearing agency that either you select or your airline selects for you. I had to do this with the boys because I have yet to apply for mine. If you don’t have this by the time your pets move, it’s okay … you can assign a value [which, I realize all of our pets are priceless but they just suggest you say £100 as that’s what most people do], pay the VAT and can have it reimbursed to you within a year if you provide the ToR at some point in that first year they are in the country.

There is probably more, if I’m honest, but I cannot think of anything else at the moment. There were tons of questions that came in about this and, in order to keep this post as short as possible, I thought I’d do a YouTube video to cover those so I’m going to tackle that next week and I’ll update this post with it when it’s done so everything is in one place! I hope this post was helpful. Please leave anything you learned from your pets’ international move that maybe I didn’t experience or forgot to mention in the comments below. KIND REQUEST: I just ask that you please do not promote making your dog an emotional support dog just because you’re nervous about them going In cargo. To each their own … if that’s what you want to do, then fine but I just ask that you don’t promote it on this blog post. I realize it’s stressful to have your very-much-loved pet go in the cargo hold. Believe me, I’ve experienced the stress but doing that has the potential of taking away an opportunity for an actual service dog [for someone who cannot get around day to day without them, not just emotionally] to be on your flight. I’m not throwing any judgement anyones’ way if that is something you’ve done and can, therefore, speak to but, I personally don’t support it [unless it’s actually legitimate] and would rather this not be a place of encouragement for it because I have been on quite a few flights where it’s clear people are abusing it. Thank you!

Thanks for stopping by, guys! xo.

thoughts?

5 Comments

  1. Madeleine wrote:

    This may not be relevant for most folks who read this blog post because it has to do with bringing a dog in a cabin, not in cargo, but since you mentioned AirFrance I’ll leave this here.

    We have flown with our French bulldog between the US and France several times now, always on AirFrance. The breed is not allowed in cargo because it is too risky for the health of the animal, therefore they must travel in the cabin. However, the animals traveling in the cabin must be under 8kg including the carrier, which for a Frenchie is basically impossible. They’re so dense lol! The agents on the AirFrance service line told us to mark her weight as 8kg even though with the carrier she is around 12kg, and we followed this advice every time we flew with her w/o issue. She’s comfortable in the carrier and absolutely loves traveling – it’s hilarious! As soon as she sees our suitcases she freaks out and runs to the door every 5 min!

    However, traveling on AirFrance within Europe turned out to be a different story. We went to Prague in Feb before Covid hit. On the way back to Paris, the agent weighed her, saw that she was over 8kg, and refused to let us board the plane. We had to rent a car and drive all the way back to Paris (around 12 hours, but we took much longer to eat, let the dog out, etc.)! It was a terrible experience and we are still seeking a refund 7 months later. Previously in Spain my husband had encountered an agent who saw the weight but then said that she was clearly comfortable in her regulation carrier and let her fly.

    I would highly discourage flying with an animal on AirFrance unless you meet all their criteria to the letter. Even though they told us to break the rules, later on we paid (a lot) when someone decided to enforce them.

    Sorry to be whiny but it really was an awful experience, and I’m so frustrated at how airlines are not friendly to certain breeds. The weight requirement effectively bans the breed, because a Frenchie wouldn’t weigh less than 8kg unless it’s a puppy, and puppies aren’t allowed to fly either. Sometimes we have to travel with her for various reasons and now this is an extra layer of stress that we’ll have to leave her behind now.

    Thanks for letting me bitch – this topic doesn’t come up very often. 🙂

    Oh and thanks for including your view on emotional support animals! We of course thought of doing that, because she truly does help my husband’s mental health, but we did not want to steal a spot from someone who truly can’t function w/o their dog. I agree with your thoughts on the matter.

    Published 7.24.20 · Reply
    • AlysonHaley wrote:

      Thank you for sharing your experience and I’m sorry to hear it was far from ideal that one time earlier this year. There is an Instagram couple who have three Jack Russell’s and a large Golden, who are originally from France, and live in Miami. They fly all the time with their pups and always always speak so highly of AirFrance so, like you said, just make sure you fit all of the criteria. And, I really feel for you and fellow squish-face-baby-mama’s because they are often not allowed to travel in cargo and I KNOW that has it’s own set of challenges and stress on top of everything else. Big hugs to you, and thanks again for sharing! xo.

      Published 7.24.20 ·
  2. Alexis wrote:

    I don’t even have any pets, but I still am so glad you shared the boys’ story. I got emotional watching your story when you were reunited! xx

    Published 7.24.20 · Reply
    • AlysonHaley wrote:

      Aw thank you so much! xo.

      Published 7.25.20 ·
  3. Nicole wrote:

    WOW….no wonder this process was so stressful! The boys are lucky to have such a great mana who took care of all of this for them!!

    Published 7.26.20 · Reply