Bringing Your Pets to the UK

Our pets are a part of our families, which is why so many pet owners in South Africa look into taking their cats and dogs with them to the United Kingdom (UK) when they emigrate.  We’ve gone and done all the ‘dogsbody’ work, so you can sit back, relax and get informed.

Rules for Pets Entering the UK

Only dogs, cats and ferrets can enter the UK with you as pets.  Your pets will be allowed into the UK under the following conditions:

  • They have been micro-chipped (read the UK’s rules for micro-chipping pets)
  • They have pet passports (South Africa does not currently offer these) or third-country official veterinary certificates
  • They have been vaccinated against rabies and should be subjected to a Rabies Titre test at least 3 calendar months (92 days) before travel.
  • They will also need blood tests if you’re travelling from an ‘unlisted country’ (South Africa is considered an ‘unlisted’ country). Read the UK’s rules around rabies vaccinations.
  • Dogs must also usually have a tapeworm treatment.
Pets bring joy and comfort to our lives – they instinctively know when it’s play time!

“A commercial health certificate can be issued for pets who will be travelling unaccompanied, however, owners should note that kenneling may be required in order for the commercial health certificate to be completed. Additional charges will be levied by DEFRA in the UK,” says Chantelle Olivier of Global Paws.

It’s important to know that the UK government may quarantine your dog, cat or ferret for up to 4 months if you don’t follow these rules.  Border officials may even refuse your animal entry if you travelled to the UK by sea.  Even worse, you will be responsible for any fees or charges incurred as a result, so it’s extremely important to have your ducks in a row before making the journey.

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Guide Dogs

There are more rules to consider if you’re planning on bringing your guide dog or assistance dog with you to the UK.  People with assistance dogs can travel:

  • on more routes than people with pets
  • using other forms of transport where other animals are not allowed, for example the aircraft cabin
  • Guide and assistance dogs must also meet the normal rules for travelling with dogs.
  • UK travel companies usually recognise guide or assistance dogs trained by organisations that are members of either: Assistance Dogs International or International Guide Dog Federation
Travelling to the UK with a guide dog may exempt you from certain rules.

It’s important to check with your travel company if the organisation that trained your dog is not a member of either association.  For further information about travelling with a guide dog, you can visit The Guide Dogs Association website.


If you’re bringing pets over with the purpose of selling them in the UK from outside or inside the EU, or you’re planning to rehome them, you will have to follow extra rules.  The UK is also very strict when it comes to bringing ‘banned’ breeds of dogs into the region. 

The UK government warns that they are legally allowed to take your pet away from you – and it could even be destroyed, so make one hundred percent sure that your dog’s breed is not on the banned list.

Choosing the right pet relocation company will ensure your pets travel comfortably.

Arranging Pet Travel

According to the UK government, your pet must arrive in the UK no more than 5 days before or after you, or you’ll have a whole set of different rules to follow.


  • You must use an approved transport company and route, unless you’re travelling between the UK and Ireland.
  • You must fill in a declaration confirming that you won’t be selling or transferring ownership of your pet.

“A pet shipping company should be an active member of The International Pet and Animal Association (IPATA) to be recognised as a trusted animal transport specialist,” says Chantelle.

IPATA members are required to ensure the safe and humane transport of pets and other animals and must adhere to a code of ethics. Proper preparation is essential to ensuring the best possible experience for your pets.

“Most countries require that the veterinary preparations are started at least 4 – 6 months prior to travel. If the correct timeline is not followed, it could result in additional expenses due to tests and treatments needing to be repeated, which may cause delays in your travel arrangements,” she adds.

Cat sleeping peacefully.

How much does it cost?

While the costs of taking your pet with you to the UK will vary depending on the size and number of pets travelling, the routing and airline used, as well as the individual services required, you can expect to pay around R20,000 – or more.

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“The IPATA website lists local pet shipping companies that can quote you according to your specific needs. However, take note that the airfreight and airline handling fees are based on the volumetric weight of the travel crates and the amount of space taken up in the cargo hold. As a result, pet travel is substantially more expensive than human travel,” says Chantelle.

The best pet relocation companies are comfortable managing all types of cats and dogs.

Preparing your pets for the Big Day

It’s helpful to get your pet familiar with its travel crate before you embark on the long haul flight. Starting with ‘crate training’ early in your travel preparations process helps your pet prepare for their journey and will give them an added sense of security during all the hustle and bustle of the big day.

“Global Paws offers a unique service which includes pre-delivery of the travel crates, natural calming products and absorbent travel bedding so that pets have everything they need to ensure their ultimate comfort” advises Chantelle.

Pet owners should also be aware that in order to import their pets into the UK, they would need a Transfer of Residency reference (ToR) number. Your pet shipping company should provide you with information on how to apply.

We couldn’t say no to this pug pup…

Checks for Pet Relocation Companies

The UK government sets out several checks you can test your potential pet relocation company against before booking your pet’s journey to the UK with them.

  • Check that the pet relocation company will accept your pet for travel.
  • Check how many they’ll accept if you have more than one pet.
  • Check on whether they need any proof that your pet is fit and healthy to travel e.g. a letter from a vet or certain information in your pet passport

It’s important to note that your pet can travel with someone else if you’ve authorised it in writing.

Bringing other animals

The rules are different if you’re bringing other animals into the UK.

With your pet travel needs sorted, don’t forget to make sure your own UK visa needs are taken care of!

Get in touch with our experienced consultants for advice on your best route to immigrating to the United Kingdom.

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