[Sorry. I had to to misquote Snakes on a Plane real quick. Too tempting.]
Like most naïve pet owners, I thought moving my two cats from the U.S. to the U.K. would be as simple as getting a “fit to fly” letter from my local vet and purchasing a pet plane ticket.
I, like most people who identify as a “pet parent,” would never consider putting my cats underneath the plane, otherwise known as manifest cargo. After hearing countless horror stories about cats perishing below the plane for one reason or another (e.g., anxiety, heat, cold, being crushed to death, etc. [Albeit, this is not common, but still happens and the risk is not something I am willing to take.]), I was determined to bring my cats on the plane as carry-on.
But nothing can ever be that simple, can it?
In fact, the United Kingdom does not allow ANY pet to fly in-cabin, ever. This is a requirement of the U.K. and DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Affairs), not the airlines. There might be some sort of special clause for a service dog, but even emotional support animals are not allowed in-flight (I was going to try this route). Apparently, this is all due to an infamous rabies-related bat incident in 2002. Go figure.
So, after realizing I could not bring Marcellus Wallace and Kiara Mala (scroll to the bottom for pictures of their furry faces) on the plane with my husband and I — I began a frantic search to figure out how to get around this. After countless hours of research, I finally found the best way to avoid putting my cats under the plane is to fly from the U.S. to France*, then hire somebody who is authorized by the U.K. government to transport pets to drive us through the Eurotunnel (you need a car for this; it’s basically a giant underwater train for cars) and drop us off in Folkestone, U.K. where we will stay overnight at the Burlington Hotel (because they allow cats!) before we move onward.
(*In case you’re wondering, “Hey, why not fly to Ireland instead of France? Well, Ireland does not allow pets to fly in-cabin either from the U.S.)
If you do not have somebody who is authorized by the U.K. to transport pets, you will need a EU pet passport (or alternatively, fly your pet as manifest cargo). You can only get an EU pet passport in the EU. Unless you want to head to a French vet immediately stepping off your flight, this will not be possible. I know this is probably making your head spin like it did mine. I pity anybody in this situation. Thus is why I put together this guide, hoping to aide other stressed out pet parents moving their furbabies abroad.
Below are my step-by-step instructions on how to bring your cat into the U.K. by flying to France first, then hiring a DEFRA-liscensed pet transport company.
How to Bring Your Cat from the U.S. to the U.K.
STEP 2: Get your cat a rabies vaccine. This must be AFTER the microchip (very important) and at least 21 days before your flight. Ideally, you will have your cat vaccinated a few months before you travel so you have more than enough time.
STEP 3: Take care of all things flight-related at least 3 months before you travel. There are only a small amount of pets allowed to fly per flight. (Also, refer to Step 7 to book your pet mover now, too. It might be a good idea to check to make sure your pet mover is available on the date you land, before you book your flight.)
- Find an airline that will allow your pet in cabin. I suggest Delta, KLM, Air France or Lufthansa. All have very good pet policies. We chose Delta. It is $200 per cat for a pet ticket to have them fly in-cabin, under your seat. Most likely, you will pay this at the airport.
- Book your flight from the U.S to France. Ideally a non-stop flight if possible.
- Get a carrying case that meets airline requirements and crate train your cat. This is the one we purchased in the large size, one for each cat.
STEP 4: Fill out all paperwork needed. There is a lot of it. This needs to be filled out by your vet and approved by APHIS/USDA no more than 10 days before you travel.
- Check out this link for step-by-step instructions from APHIS/USDA.
- And this link for step-by-step instructions from the European Commission. Please note that your cat does not need the rabies antibody test if coming from the U.S.
- You can access the actual U.K. Pet Health Certificate form here, if flying from the U.S. Or here.
STEP 5: Get all paperwork approved by APHIS/USDA at your state’s local office no more than 10 days before flight. You can either mail this or make an in-person appointment. I vote in-person appointment.
STEP 6: Get a fit-to-fly letter and clean bill of health from your vet and complete all paperwork from Step 4. Check and double-check you have everything correct! This must be no more than 10 days before your flight. Ideally, this would be a few days before your flight so you have some leeway time-wise in case your travel is delayed for some reason.
STEP 7: Book your DEFRA-liscensed pet mover when you book your flight. They will pick you and your pet(s) up at the airport and drive you from France to the U.K. Check out Pets for Pets, C for Paws, Folkestone Taxi or Pet Moves. We chose Folkestone Taxi because they were reasonably priced. They pick me, my husband and my cats up from Paris and drive us across the border.
STEP 8: Take a train or rent a car once you’re in the U.K. to reach your final destination with your pet by your side the entire time.
STEP 9: Congratulate yourself on being a really fucking good person because you just went through one crazy day (or days?) of traveling — and you’re now living abroad! Cheers to that!
A Final Note
As you can tell, this is a complicated but not impossible process. You just need to be extremely organized and vigilant with your paperwork. At the end of the day, though, knowing your cat can travel with you the entire time rather than being shoved under a plane is a great pay-off.
I would also like to mention that it is recommended to stop giving your cat water or food 5 hours before the flight and make sure they use the litter at least once before you travel. This is a very long way to travel for them and be cooped up in their airline-approved travel case. I also purchased a portable litter box so they could use this upon arriving in Paris. I also am going to bring their food in my carry-on luggage with portable dishes. My cats each have a harness and a leash so they can walk about.
I will update you guys with pictures and a blog post once we go through the day-of moving festivities. Our actual move is not until August, but I have gotten so many questions from fellow pet lovers about how this process works, I decided I should post this information ahead of time to hopefully help some people out. Wish us luck!
Have you ever moved your pet abroad? What was your experience like? I would love to know!
P.S., enjoy the cat-spam of Kiara Mala & Marcellus Wallace below.