Taking Pets to the United Kingdom

| July 10, 2024
Pet travel to the UK

Visitors wishing to bring their pets into the United Kingdom should be aware that there are different regulations depending on the destination country in the UK. One set of rules applies to the island of Britain which comprises England, Scotland and Wales. The other set is applicable for the country of Northern Ireland which occupies the northern portion of the island of Ireland.

A history of rule revisions on bringing pets to the UK

In the not too distant past it was not possible to take pets into the United Kingdom from any part of Europe without the need for a period of quarantine. This was ostensibly because of the threat of rabies being imported from mainland Europe which, in fairness, was a genuine concern. Today, isolated cases of rabies still occur from time to time but these are becoming rarer by the year.

Up until Brexit (Britain’s exit from the European Union) taking a pet into Europe from Britain, or from the UK to Europe, was a relatively easy task. Once certain conditions regarding the pet’s state of health were met there was no need for any quarantine period and this is still the case in most instances.

This situation, however, is only due to the fact that certain terms were negotiated between the EU Commission and the British government as part of the Brexit agreement. This may well change in 2024 as the EU is currently rolling out ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) and it remains to be seen how this will affect British citizens wishing to bring pets into the EU. If the current relaxed approach continues then it is likely that British citizens will be able to bring pets to Europe with little difficulty. On the other hand if restrictions such as quarantines are introduced than the British government may respond in kind by imposing similar measures on the pets of European, and other non-British, visitors to the UK when the upcoming UK ETA (Electronic Travel Authorisation) is implemented in 2024.

Current regulations for transporting pets

The current rules regarding bringing pets into the United Kingdom are applicable for cats, dogs and (for some strange reason) ferrets. In order to qualify for a quarantine-free admission the pet must:

  1. Be microchipped
  2. Have a valid pet passport or equivalent health certificate
  3. Be vaccinated for rabies (or have undergone a blood test in certain jurisdictions)
  4. For dogs, proof of having undergone treatment for tape worm will also usually be necessary
  5. All pets must enter the UK by “approved” routes and travel operators. This means the pet must be travelling as cargo if arriving by air unless it is a private charter flight or the dog is a registered assistance dog. Pets arriving by sea must only be carried by companies that are registered for this purpose and this fact should be checked before embarking.

In cases where the animal is being brought into the UK for sale or a transfer of ownership this must be stated on the appropriate declaration form.

Failure to comply with any of the requirements can result in the animal having to spend as long as four months in quarantine with the owner responsible for any associated fees for maintenance and charges.

Pets arriving from Northern Ireland are not required to use an approved route or shipping company.

Additional Rules

Under certain circumstances there are additional rules, called the Balai Rules, that apply.

These include:

  • Pets brought to the UK for resale or a transfer of ownership
  • Animals due to arrive five days before or after the owner’s arrival
  • If a total of more than five animals are being brought into the UK, unless for the purpose of a show, competition or sporting event, then the Balai Rules also apply.

Checks On Departure and Arrival

Depending on the means of transport, a pet may be checked at the point of departure, upon arrival, or both. Pets arriving by boat into Britain and those coming in via the Eurotunnel will most likely be checked before departing for the UK while those arriving by air will be scrutinised upon arrival.

The animal will be scanned for a microchip and the required documentation (passport, health certificate) will be checked. As the animal will travel as cargo when arriving by plane it will go through a different customs station than the owner and will need to be collected after the checks have been completed. This can usually be arranged through the relevant airline or travel company or by making arrangements with the customs agents prior to travel.

This is usually a smooth process but problems can be expected if:

  • The necessary documentation is incorrect, invalid or absent
  • All health checks and vaccinations have not been carried out
  • Failure to comply with the regulations will result either in a period of quarantine for the animal or, possibly, the instant return of the animal to the country of departure.

Rabies Prevention

The British government’s greatest concern regarding incoming animals is the threat of rabies. Cats, dogs and ferrets must be vaccinated before travel by having their primary course of vaccinations and a booster shot if required. The vaccination must be confirmed by a vet and the necessary certification should accompany the animal in travel.

The precise course of necessary injections, booster shots and blood tests varies from region to region across the globe and these have been divided into either Part 1 or Part 2 Listed countries.

Part 1 Countries. Animals arriving from countries listed in Part 1 must have one of the following:

  • A pet passport from the country of origin
  • An Animal Health Certificate (or AHC) issued in Britain within the preceding four months
  • A valid pet passport issued by British authorities
  • A pet health certificate issued in Great Britain

Part 2 Countries. A British pet health certificate is all that is usually necessary with extra documentation required in certain circumstances such as animals arriving from Australia or Malaysia.

For countries not listed in Part 1 or Part 2 a pet health certificate issued from Great Britain is a minimum requirement but there may also be specific regulations regarding blood tests, rabies shots or other vaccinations.

Possible Changes

Rules and regulations are always subject to change and a lot will depend on whether the EU changes its policies covering animal transit when ETIAS comes fully into effect. If any changes affect British travellers and their animals it would be no surprise if the British government also made changes to the rules.

At present travellers arriving into the UK with their pets would be prudent to have animals microchipped at the very least. Once travel plans and dates have been confirmed the precise requirements regarding vaccinations, blood tests and any other regulations should be checked well in advance of travel to avoid delays, unwanted expense and possible refusal of entry into any of the United Kingdom countries.