Editors note: I started writing this in 2017ish. The details should still be correct, but you should double check with your officials and airline. We have also since repatriated back to the USA with Ezra. This has ended up being a semi-organized brain-dump of our experience.
In March 2017 we moved from the US to the UK and decided we wanted to bring our dog, Ezra, with us. We started investigating if we could bring Ezra, and how to do it. After establishing that if was legally possible, we initially believed that we had to use a third party pet shipping organization. As it turns out, you do not need use a pet shipping organization — although you may want to consider doing so.
The following is the process we used to bring Ezra, our three year old American Cocker Spaniel from Seattle to the United Kingdom. We choose to do it ourselves, and although we ended up having an unexpected stay in quarantine, the process is pretty simple once you understand it.
Your needs and scenario will likely vary, but hopefully this gives you a good place to start.
Please note, this only covers taking your dog from the US (specifically Seattle-Tacoma International) to the UK (specifically into London Heathrow).
We have not moved back to the US yet, so while we know it’s possible to bring Ezra back we haven’t delved into the details. (We moved back successfully! Maybe I’ll detail this in another post.)
Additional assumptions that will be made:
- You want to fly with your dog on the same flight
- You are not transporting your dog for commercial purposes
- Your dog is at least 15 weeks old
- You are not taking more than five dogs with you
- Your dog is not a banned breed in the UK
Can I Bring My Pet To The UK?
In short: yes; the United States is a “listed” country and the UK will allow your dog to come. However it won’t be cheap: it was $1629.80 just for cargo fees. Both the US and UK have helpful guides, which is what most of this is based on. The basic requirements to bring your dog1 to the UK are that he/she:
- has been microchipped
- has been vaccinated against rabies
- has had a tapeworm treatment
You will also need to a third-country official veterinary certificate from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The UK has strict rules about how these items are performed and documented, and this is ultimately what caused Ezra to have to spend three weeks in quarantine: his 2015 rabies booster shot was was three-days late. We didn’t catch the problem, nor did our vet or USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
- UK Bringing your pet dog, cat or ferret to the UK: https://www.gov.uk/take-pet-abroad
- USDA APHIS Pet travel from the U.S. to the United Kingdom: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel/by-country/eu/eu-echinococcus/pet-travel-echinococcus-treatments-uk
It used to be that the UK had very stringent requirements that mandated quarantine. This changed in 2012.
How Do I Transport My Pet?
The assumption is you are transporting by plane. Generally speaking, your pet must travel as cargo2. Additionally, only certain airlines and certain airports are allowed to receive your pet. For Seattle, there are only two carriers with direct flights: British Airways/British Airways World Cargo and Virgin Atlantic flying into London Heathrow.
There are three ways you can ship your pet via the airlines:
- Your pet can travel on the plane with you (either in-cabin or in the cargo). In either case, your pet will be considered excess/accompanied baggage and charged accordingly. Most airlines no longer offer this option.
- You can book your pet on a separate flight. In this case, you will be charged the cargo rate, which is considerably more than excess baggage. Some airlines no longer offer this option.
- You can have your pet shipped through a licensed commercial shipper. You will be charged the cargo rate plus the shipper’s fee. Several airlines require this method unless your pet is small enough to fit in the cabin.
British Airways/British Airways World Cargo allows you to book your pet as cargo, either on the same flight or a different one (option 2). It cost about $1500 for us to ship Ezra as cargo, even through he was on the same flight as us.
I did not investigate Delta (at the time, Delta was operating the flight as a codeshare with Virgin Atlantic), however be aware that they only accept pets for international travel from known shipping companies: https://www.delta.com/us/en/pet-travel/shipping-your-pet
However, Virgin Atlantic does accept pets from individuals.
- UK Approved Air Routes: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/pet-travel-approved-air-sea-rail-and-charter-routes-for-the-movement-of-pets/approved-air-routes-for-pet-travel
- US Department of State Pets and International Travel: https://www.state.gov/m/fsi/tc/c10442.htm
- Note: this is targeted at U.S. Foreign Service personnel and families planning an international move, however the information was inline with what I found elsewhere while scrounging the internet.
Licensed Commercial Shipper
You can hire a licensed commercial shipper, which is originally what we started looking at because we thought we had to. I made some inquires with several companies and received responses from between $1500 and $2000. In retrospect, it might have been good to use a shipper if only because we had so much to do to get ready to fly.
I think my primary concern was the Principle-Agent problem: in short, no one cares more about getting my dog there safely than me. This was important enough that I wanted to be involved in everything.
Do It Yourself
We decided to book reservations our self. It was actually pretty easy once we figured out what we needed to do.
First, you don’t book through the normal airline booking, you book through the cargo company…which in the case of British Airlines means contacting IAG Cargo (formerly known as British Airways World Cargo).
Second, the earliest (at least with IAG Cargo) you can book your pet as cargo is two weeks prior to departure.
When you do call them up to book, they’ll have you fill out an “AVI Booking Request” form. It will have a section for what flight you are on thus ensuring your pet will (in theory) travel with you. It’s actually very anticlimactic.
Once confirmed, there’s one more piece of paperwork to fill out that IAG Cargo will send you:
- UK HM Customs and Excise C5 Form (Customs declaration for the pet)
- Page 1: Complete the ‘Personal details’ and leave the ‘Request to clear’ blank. If you know the airway bill number or date of arrival, it in.
- Page 2:
- Questions: Answer Question 1 and Question 2
- Details of Pet: Up to five pets can be on a form
- Description: Breed, color, gender
- Country where and date obtained: which country you obtained the dog and when
- Price paid or present value: leave blank
- UK Import License Number: leave blank
- Declaration: Sign and date
Fax the completed C5 form (with an appropriate fax header) to the organization handling your pets arrival. In the case of IAG Cargo, they contract with JCS Livestock, and that’s included in cost you pay to IAG Cargo.
The day of your flight, you will drop you dog off at the Cargo location four hours before your flight.
IAG Cargo (British Airways/Iberia)
IAG Cargo Seattle Branch
SeaTac International Airport
2427 South 161st
Seattle, WA 98158
Once you land, it takes about four hours for your pet to clear customs. Meanwhile, you will continue through passport control and customs at Heathrow. You will then need to arrange transport for yourself to the Animal Reception Centre (ARC), which is located on the same grounds as Heathrow but not physically connected to it (i.e. you cannot walk to it):
Animal Reception Centre (ARC)
London Heathrow Airport
Telephone: +44 (0) 208 745 7894 and +44 (0) 208 745 7895
In theory, this is where you are reunited with your pet. Unless there is a problem.
What Is Required?
You need a kennel with a food and water dish, but it has to be the correct size. Here is British Airways World Cargo (i.e. IAG Cargo)’s guide: How to measure your pet.
We ended up purchasing:
- Petmate Sky Kennel (36″ L X 25″ W X 27″H) on Amazon for about $70
- It comes with a small tray that locks on to the door to hold food and water, however we upgraded the water to a larger steel pail (see next item).
- Indipets Heavy Duty Flat Sided Stainless Steel Pail (6 inches x 5.2 inches x 6 inches) on Amazon for about $10. I attached it with a small carabiner I had so it couldn’t pop off.
We also replaced the plastic wingnuts on the kennel with metal ones. This was recommended by several sites since some airlines require it. However, I don’t believe that British does.
The UK has very strict rules about who, how, and when your pet needs to be microchipped. Your dog must be microchipped before, or at the same time as, their rabies vaccination.3 You also have to document this fact, including having the microchip number clearly written on the paperwork.4
- Your pet should be implanted with an ISO compliant (11784 and 11785) microchip. ISO compliant microchips are 15 digits long.
The USDA APHIS site has the best information on this:
- Rabies vaccination must occur the same day as or AFTER microchip implantation. Any rabies vaccination given before microchip implantation is considered by the UK to be invalid.
- The first rabies vaccination after microchip implantation is considered the “primary vaccine,” and is ONLY valid for one year.
- If an animal travels more than 12 months after a primary rabies vaccine is given (the first rabies vaccine given after microchip implantation), written documentation that a rabies vaccine booster was given within 12 months of this “primary vaccine” must accompany the pet when it travels to the UK.
- Pets traveling without documentation proving a rabies booster vaccine was given within 12 months of the primary vaccine may be subjected to revaccination for rabies and a 21 day quarantine upon arrival in the UK at the owner’s expense.
- Alternatively, the animal can be revaccinated in the U.S. prior to departure and will be eligible for travel to the UK after a 21 day waiting period.
The UK is very diligent when checking rabies vaccinations and there are two very important things that must be understood:
- There can be no gaps in your pets rabies coverage. If there is any gap (e.g. lack of documentation or booster given after expiration of previous vaccination/booster) then you must start all over with a rabies vaccine again.
- If your pet had his microchip implanted after the rabies vaccination (regardless of any boosters), then the UK disregards the initial rabies vaccination and you must get a brand new vaccination (not booster). There may be an exception if a vet was able to read a defective microchip, implant a new one, and properly record the change in your pets official paperwork.
WARNING: This is what ultimately required Ezra to go to quarantine for three weeks. Ezra received his rabies booster 1 year and three days after his primary rabies vaccine was given. Furthermore, while the the rabies booster Ezra received is considered by some countries to be an approved primary vaccine, it is not approved by the USDA as a primary vaccine. Thus, Ezra had to be re-vaccinated in the UK (and wait three weeks in quarantine).
- Pet Dogs, Step 2: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel/by-country/eu/eu-echinococcus/pet-travel-echinococcus-treatments-uk
This is a relatively easy in principle, but has some important timing requirements:
The treatment must have been given no less than 24 hours and no more than 120 hours (5 days) before you enter the UK. It also must be recorded on third-country official veterinary certificate.
Check the vet has put the following details in the ‘Echinococcus treatment’ section of your dog’s pet passport or certificate:
- the name and manufacturer of the product
- the date and time they treated your dog
- their stamp and signature
Your vet will need to complete the EU Health Certificate, which I believe is legally called the “Model animal health certificate for the non-commercial movement into a Member State from a territory or third country of dogs, cats or ferrets in accordance with Article 5(1) and (2) of Regulation (EU) No 576/2013.”
I’ve also seen this referenced as “SANTE/7013/2016-EN ANNEX Rev. 1” and the UK typically calls it either a “third-country official veterinary certificate” or “Health certificate for pets entering the EU from non-EU countries and some territories”
Regardless of what you call it, it’s all the exact same form.
USDA APHIS has published both an example form and a blank PDF template you can easily fill out:
Note: original sources are listed below.
Once your vet completes this form, you will take it to the USDA APHIS for final review, signatures, and stamping (see below).
You will also receive an Official Animal Health Certificate.
- How to complete the non-commercial Health Certificate (pdf, USDA APHIS): http://www.aphis.usda.gov/pet-travel/eu-noncommercial-hc-first-page-guidance.pdf
- Blank PDF template for Heath Certificate (pdf, USDA APHIS): https://www.aphis.usda.gov/pet-travel/health-certificates/English-echinococcus-with-dogs-over-16wks-owner-noncomm.pdf
With all your paperwork you now must visit the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The closet office to Seattle is located in Tumwater. They will review the forms prepared by your vet and sign everything off.
- USDA APHIS Pet Travel: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel
Dropoff is relatively easy, though a bit nerve wracking. This is where everything comes together and you find out if you’ve done it right, knowing that if something is wrong you probably won’t have time to fix it. No pressure.
Get to the cargo dropoff at least four hours before your flight (make sure your dog has had one last final bathroom break).
They’ll review your paperwork and then you’ll pay. They’ll also do a quick once over of the kennel and your pet. British even takes pictures. Say goodbye and then off you go!
Once you’ve landed, you’ll go through passport control, collect your luggage, and go through immigration. It will take a few hours for the Animal Reception Centre (ARC) to receive your pet and process him. You can hang out at the terminal, or you can you hang out at the ARC.
In theory, once they clear him they just hand him over and you’re all set.
When something goes wrong
If you’re unlucky, as we were, your pet may be subject to quarantine.
This is not the end of the world.
Quarantine for us was just three weeks. ARC will provide you a list of approved facilities (we selected Eyersdown Farm Kennels, since they were the closest to us — they took wonderful care of Ezra).
The facility will arrange transport of your pet from ARC. They will also take care of inoculating your pet and doing whatever else is needed.
Note that while you won’t be able to see your beloved family member at ARC, you will be able to visit and play with him while in quarantine. We visited Ezra at least once a week.
In total, it was about $900 (for three weeks), all inclusive:
- transportation from ARC to quarantine
- medical (including vaccinations)
To put that into perspective: most kennels charge about $30/day for boarding ($210/week). So it’s really not too much more than if you were to go on vacation for three weeks and leave your dog behind.
- 2+ Months Before
- Schedule a vet appointment for 3 days before you fly
- This allows you one day of margin on the tapeworm treatment in case your flight is delayed
- Schedule a vet appointment for 3 days before you fly
- 1 Month Before
- T-14 days:
- Book pet as live cargo
- T-14 days:
- 1 Week before
- T-3 days:
- Visit your vet for the dogs tapeworm treatment
- T-2 days:
- Go to the USDA APHIS
- T-3 days:
- Day of
- T-4 hours
- Drop your dog off at…
- T-2 hours
- Check in for your flight
- T-45 minutes:
- Be at your gate
- T-20 minutes:
- Once you’re settled in your seat (but before the door is closed) ask for the lead flight attended or captain and inform them that you have a pet that is traveling as cargo. Request that they verify your pet has been loaded and to let you know.
- T+0: Take off!
- T+4 hours after landing:
- Pickup dog at Animal Reception Center
- T-4 hours
Things to Know and Keep in Mind
- Hot/cold weather: Many airlines won’t allow pets to travel if the weather is too hot or too cold (I believe this is lower than 45°F or higher than 85°F)
- Make copies of documents to keep with you (since the originals travel with the pet)
- Once you get to the UK, you may consider getting an EU Pet Passport. This allows easier entry into the EU (including the UK…for now) if you decide to take your pet on vacation.
- UK date format is dd/mm/yyyy. So 5/3/2017 will be interpreted as March 5th, 2017, not May 3rd, 2017. This was not a huge issue for us and UK AP understand that America writes dates as mm/dd/yyyy. When possible, I try to write dates as dd/MMM/yyyy (03/MAY/2019) to avoid any confusion.
- When transported as cargo, pets are placed in the “bulk cargo hold”. This is typically aft of the main aft cargo compartment. It’s a place 777 aft cargo hold
- Should I tranquilize my pet? NO! Not recommended by IATA nor vets.
- The vaccination record and third-country official veterinary certificate must show:
- your pet’s date of birth
- microchip number, date it was put in or read, and where it is on your pet’s body
- vaccination date
- vaccine manufacturer and product name, for example Nobivac
- vaccine batch number
- date the vaccination is valid until
- the vet’s signature and contact details
or cat or ferret ↩
There are a few exceptions for guide dogs ↩
If you don’t, they will need to be vaccinated again. ↩
This caused us several headaches because some of the older vet paperwork omitted one of the zeros from the ID number ↩