So you’re moving to London. And you have a dog. That you love...a lot. Maybe so much that your husband periodically gives you a wondering look like maybe you love the dog more than him?
But you don’t—there’s just a difference. This difference is that your husband can book his own plane ticket. He can step onto a plane at Chicago O’Hare (or SFO or, heck, Honolulu) and fly all the way to London in well...not a comfortable seat, but a seat.
Next, the airline will provide food and napping accoutrement and a functioning lavatory for him. Finally, he can get off the plane and begin his new life in London with minimal hassle.
The British government won't insist on scanning his neck for a microchip. Or check that his rabies vaccination is within date. Or insist that he ride in the cargo section under the plane for ten long hours.
For a dog, however, moving to London is not quite so simple. In fact it’s a long and arduous process chock-full of complications and just enough hard-to-find loopholes to keep a semi-neurotic pet parent like me from going completely crazy. The good news for you is, well, I moved to London last week. With the aforementioned husband and our amazing one year-old Shih-poo, Spark.
The better news? Spark rode with us the entire way and is now happily exploring her new home one week on.
San Francisco to London in Three Months or Less...
I won't lie—this process has, at moments, drained me of my sanity and deflated the excitement of moving across the world. For starters, we didn’t expect it.
David, my husband, and I have lived in the San Francisco Bay area for the past several years. He works for an American-based tech startup. It had zero offices and few business interests abroad.
All of this changed in early autumn. David’s company found out that the European market would indeed be a good place to launch its product. David came home from work one day and casually tossed out this information but I knew what it meant.
Sure enough, by mid-October, David's company asked us to relocate to London. This meant leaving the teaching job I loved, the adorable rental house we called home, and the support of friends and family in the same country.
Moving Your Pet to the UK: Major Steps
Though all of these things were incredibly difficult, the biggest point of stress for me was the prospect of getting Spark to London with us.
Going without her wasn’t an option. But upon initial research, I quickly found out how many hoops one has to jump through. Moving a dog from the United States into the rabies-free and quarantine-happy United Kingdom is no quick feat.
And we were on a strict timeline. David’s company had asked us to be in London by early January. That gave me less than three months to get this all figured out.
The following is my experience and a lot of time-saving and stress-reducing suggestions I have found.
Step 1: Microchip
In order to bring your cute all-American doggo to the UK, the first thing to check off the list is the microchip. But wait, there’s more. Firstly, if your dog already has a microchip, it may or may not be recognized in the United Kingdom.
Your dog must have a 15-digit ISO microchip, not the 9- or 10-digit versions that are popular in the US. You should have paperwork or online access to your dog’s microchip information. Or your vet can also scan the microchip for you and record the digits.
Count those digits and—if there are 15 of them—move on to the next step. If there are nine or ten, you have two options:
1. You can have your dog implanted with a second 15-digit microchip (but read below first!)
2. You can purchase your own microchip scanner and bring it with you when you travel. If you opt to buy your own scanner, you will need to know how to use it to read your pet’s nine- or ten-digit microchip. You'll also need to bring it with you every time you cross the UK border.
Step 2: Rabies Vaccine
When entering the UK all dogs must have a certificate saying they’re up to date on their rabies vaccination. Dogs must receive this vaccination at least 21 days prior to their arrival in the UK.
If you have a puppy, you will have to plan accordingly. Puppies under 12 weeks cannot receive the rabies vaccination. If your dog needs a microchip and a rabies vaccine, your vet can do both during the same visit. Just make sure that the microchip is implanted and documented first.
Tip: make sure that your vet records your dog’s microchip number on their rabies certificate. The USDA would not approve Spark’s rabies certificate until we contacted our vet and had the microchip number added. If we had known this we would have saved hours and lots of stress!
Step 3: Find a USDA-Accredited Vet
Once you’ve figured out the rabies vaccination and microchip, the next important step is to make an appointment with your vet. Before you do this, make sure that your vet is USDA-accredited. How do you do this? Oh, if only there was an easier way.
In my case, after scouring the internet for a list of accredited vets in my state to no avail, I contacted the USDA (repeatedly) begging for a list. They finally emailed me a list of accredited vets in my area and I chose one based off of her availability and Yelp reviews. Despite never working with my dog before, she was great. So don't worry—if your usual vet isn’t accredited, you will still be in good hands.
Step 4: Third-country Health Certificate
All American dogs coming into the UK must have a third-country health certificate. This is a set of documents that must be approved by both your USDA-accredited veterinarian and someone at the APHIS Veterinary Services office of the USDA.
You will need to know your travel dates in order to complete this step. That’s because the health certificate must be signed by the USDA within ten days of arrival in the United Kingdom—not within ten days of travel.
Personally, I had a hard time tracking down what a third-country health certificate actually looks like. Both the UK and US governments’ websites on this subject seemed lacking in my opinion so I headed back into my frenzied midnight Google binge.
Finally I found this lovely website where, for a reasonable price, you can purchase a set of travel documents that fit you and your pet’s specific needs.
In our case, we purchased the third-country health certificate package for Britain. This included helpful instructions and even a variety of useful diagrams of various airports in the UK and their animal-related services. Chances are your vet will provide their own copy of the health certificate but I would really recommend having your own copy and reading it thoroughly ahead of time.
Step 5: Tapeworm Treatment
Make sure to factor in layovers and travel time. In addition, the United Kingdom also requires that dogs receive a tapeworm treatment (find a list of accepted brands here). Furthermore, your vet must give this tapeworm treatment and sign off on it on your certificate within five days or 120 hours of arrival in the United Kingdom.
Tip: the best way to make sure your pet gets to the UK is to be his or her advocate. Politely make sure that when your vet fills out your third-country health certificate that they know to use block letters, the UK format when writing dates (day/month/year not month/day/year) and that they sign in blue ink.
Also make sure that they are using their official stamp with their practice’s address and phone number. They probably have a busy day and it could save you both a lot of time if you remind them of these protocols before they begin.
You can book one vet appointment in which your vet will fill out your third-country health certificate and administer the tapeworm treatment (which has a designated section on the certificate).
Tip: make sure your veterinarian signs and stamps all indicated pages. Our vet did not sign on one page and we had to return to the USDA for a second appointment. I would not recommend this as there may not be another appointment within your travel window.
If your travel plans are similar to ours and fall over a weekend, you might have to book two separate appointments with your vet—one for the health certificate and one for the tapeworm treatment—so that the tapeworm treatment still falls within five days of arrival in the UK.
The USDA can sign off on your certificate before the tapeworm treatment. Just make sure that, if this is the case, you have the treatment scheduled and you inform the APHIS agent of this.
Step 6: Appointment with USDA Veterinary Services (APHIS)
Now, for the USDA. Unfortunately this step in the process was more stressful for me than probably any other part of the process. The good news is it doesn’t need to be for you! As long as you keep the following things in mind:
The USDA may not have an APHIS office in your state. The office may be close or far away. Ours was in the state capital about two hours away by car. You can find a list of APHIS offices here.
The USDA APHIS offices do not accept walk-in appointments. You will have to schedule an appointment with your state’s APHIS office for a date that is one to ten days before your arrival in the United Kingdom. Our state office only makes appointments 30 days out so you may have to wait to book your actual appointment.
Choose a date that would be ideal and plan around that until you can book. Call ahead too and just check in to see what their hours are that day and if they will let you book further out.
I would strongly recommend delivering your pet’s paperwork in person. The USDA will accept mailed documents, however, in our case the in-person visit was crucial.
Our agent informed us that, because our paperwork was missing one signature and the vet had not indicated Spark’s microchip number on her rabies vaccine certificate, we would have to drive the two hours back to our vet, have her sign the document and add the microchip number, and return to the APHIS office.
Since APHIS offices can be quite busy, you are not guaranteed to get another appointment. If you add in the time of waiting for your documents to return by mail and then sending them back, you could lose crucial time and ruin your travel plans.
The APHIS offices are government agencies and therefore are unlikely to be open on weekends or outside of regular business hours. Our closest office closes at 4:00 PM. You should plan accordingly.
You will not bring your pet to the USDA office with you. The USDA will simply sign off on what your vet has stated in your pet’s third-country health certificate.
After a day and a half of appointments, driving back and forth to the APHIS office, and dealing with endless paperwork, finally having Spark's stamped paperwork in my hand was the best feeling.
You will get to this moment too and, if you’re like me, you’ll finally be able to relax...at least a little.
Once you've got your pet's paperwork in order, it's time for the actual trip! We figured out the tricks to getting Spark safely to the UK without having to put her in cargo. Read how we did it in our follow-up to this post: How to Get to the UK with an In-Cabin Pet.
Best of luck and, remember, it will all work out! If you have any questions or comments, I'd be happy to share my experience. Just leave them in the comments below!