One of the things you have to consider when living and moving overseas is your pet. The State Department won’t directly pay to ship your animals like it will your car and your household effects, but you do get a lump sum Foreign Transfer Allowance to help compensate for additional travel costs likes excess baggage fees or pets.

For most countries, importing a pet is simply a matter of paperwork and application fees. For Belize, our cat had to have a health certificate from the vet and a permit granted by the Belize Agricultural Health Authority. The General Services Officer (GSO) at post helped pass the forms back and forth. Then we had to make a flight reservation for her so that she could travel in the cabin with us. Only a few animals can travel in the cabin at a time, and spaces are granted on a first-come-first-served basis.

However, there are a few countries in the world that have a MUCH stricter immigration policy. Most, if not all of them, are quiet isolated islands that are rabies free. And they don’t want you and your scurvy little pet being the first ones to bring it into the country. England is on one of those islands.

I was hoping to get super detailed information from the embassy in London on how to import our pet. But they basically directed me to the same website that anyone can go to, which is the Pet Travel Scheme page of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

It’s pretty well laid out. But I found it helpful to actually create my own step-by-step list of what to do and when. The last thing you want to do is show up in the UK with your pet and have it put into quarantine because you didn’t follow the steps correctly. The good news is that as of January 2012 quarantine is no longer mandatory!! It used to be a devastatingly long six months no matter what, which would be ¼ of your tour. Now you can avoid it completely if you do the legwork in advance. Here’re the basics:

  1. Have your pet microchipped – Before any of the other procedures for pet travel are carried out, your pet must be fitted with a microchip so it can be properly identified.
  2. Have your pet vaccinated – After the microchip has been fitted your pet must be vaccinated against rabies. There is no exemption to this requirement, even if your pet has a current rabies vaccination. Rabies boosters must be kept up to date.
  3. Arrange a blood test – After your pet has been vaccinated, it must be blood tested to make sure the vaccine has given it a satisfactory level of protection against rabies. The blood sample must be taken at least 30 days after vaccination. There is no exemption from this requirement: If a blood test was carried out without the 30-day interval (which would have been acceptable prior to January 2012), a further blood test will have to be carried out. The length of the waiting period before entry to the UK is three calendar months from the date your vet took the blood sample that led to a satisfactory test result. When calculating the waiting periods between vaccination and blood test, and between blood test and entry into the UK, the date that the vaccination or blood test was carried out is counted as day 0 and not day 1. Send the blood sample to one of two approved labs in the UK.
  4. Get pet travel documentation –You will need to obtain an official third country veterinary certificate. If you’re going to training or on home leave in the States, this will be done by a vet in the US.
  5. Contact the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to find out if you need to make an appointment or if you can just walk your paper work through just prior to shipping. All the paper work that your vet fills out must be reviewed by the USDA and stamped just prior to shipment of your pet.
  6. Arrange for your animal to travel with an approved transport company on an authorised route – Your pet must enter the UK with an approved transport company on an authorised route.
  7. Make sure that if you are using your own pet crate for shipping, that you have acquired the proper crate well in advance of the shipping date. There are strict regulations on what type of crate may be used and how big a crate must be for the size of animal being shipped.
  8. If you are not taking the animal to the airport, make sure that the person taking the animal for you knows where to take your pet. Most airports have a specific location within the airfreight area where animals are taken for boarding. Before your animal is shipped, an air freight inspector will review all of your paper work to ensure that everything is in order.
  9. Pick up your animal at Heathrow. There are several companies that specialize in animal transport in the London area and can make arrangements for your animal to be picked up and delivered, or you can wait the three hours at the airport for your pet to be processed through customs. The cost is between $150 and $350 per animal depending on where you live and what time of the week your pet arrives.

With all that in mind, choose your airline carefully. American flight carriers are usually pretty good about transporting pets overseas…in cabin, as accompanied baggage in the hold, or as manifest cargo. We usually try to avoid sending our pet as manifest cargo because it’s a much longer and more expensive process. If you can’t take them in the cabin, they can at least pop out the other end with your luggage as accompanied baggage.

But if you’re heading to a strict immigration country, the airline might not allow pets at all. American Airlines is one of those. So make sure you check with the airline directly. We’re planning on traveling with United, and they will only accept pets as manifest cargo into the UK.

Also, if you are currently overseas and transferring between posts via the US, don’t forget that you have to have a health permit from a vet in your host country to get back into the US as well.