The United Kingdom has a general reputation as an animal-friendly country, and most pets in the UK are indeed treated as cherished family companions. The British RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty towards Animals) is the oldest and largest animal welfare organization in the world. Founded in 1824, it has championed a humane treatment of pets in the UK ever since.
However, the island nation is keen on protecting pets, as well as livestock in general, from animal diseases. Animals may not need a UK visa, but every pet is subject to strict import regulations. If you want to avoid quarantine for your newly arrived pets in the UK, you may import them only from certain countries, and under specific conditions. Otherwise, they could be quarantined, re-exported or even put down.
The arrival of pets in the UK is regulated by DEFRA, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Their import requirements largely depend on the country where you and your pets have previously lived and the different types of animals you want to take with you. For most expats, moving with pets probably means taking their dog or cat to an assignment in the UK.
A dog, cat, or ferret can be brought into the UK without quarantine if – and only if – you follow certain regulations. First of all, DEFRA will allow these pets in the UK without having them quarantined if they come from a “listed country”.
The “listed countries” which participate in the European Union’s pet travel scheme (PETS) include most members states and overseas territories of the EU and other countries, such as Argentina, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Iceland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, the UAE, and the US.
If you arrive from a non-EU member state, please remember to declare your pet to HM Revenue & Customs.
If your pets have lived in one of these countries for at least six months, they may enter Britain without being quarantined. However, for the EU scheme to apply to your pets in the UK, there are several more conditions to fulfill.
In practice, the last rule means that you may not keep any pets in the UK that have arrived on a private boat or plane. Moreover, before booking a flight or ship passage, you should check if the transport company qualifies as an approved commercial carrier and if your pet arrives in the correct port or airport.
If your dog or cat has lived in a non-listed country within six months before arriving in the UK, the pet travel scheme (PETS) does not apply. Therefore there are additional regulations for such pets in the UK. In addition to the rules mentioned above, you must wait for three months after the rabies immunization. After that waiting period, a blood sample needs to prove that the vaccination was successful. Only then can you bring your pets to the UK.
If your pet does not meet all these requirements, it will be quarantined, no matter where it comes from. Newly arrived pets in the UK may be kept in quarantine for several months and you will have to pay for all the costs yourself.
Moreover, certain dog breeds may not be imported from any country at all. These dogs can legally be seized and put down. Banned breeds include:
To keep other animals from abroad – e.g. rabbits or birds – as pets in the UK, you need a special import license. These animals also have to spend up to six months in quarantine. However, there are certain exceptions for horses, which can travel under a plan similar to the pet travel scheme (PETS).
For any further questions on overseas pets in the UK, you can contact the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA):
Center for International Trade - Carlisle
Eden Bridge House Lowther Street
Carlisle CA3 8DX
+44 (0)3000 200301
The Animal Health Divisional Office can also provide you with more information if you want to keep imported exotic pets in the UK (e.g. lizards, turtles, snakes, spiders, etc.).
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