Saying good-bye to our cats before their flight to London.
If you ask people who have moved internationally with pets what the most challenging part of the whole moving process was, I'm guessing a solid majority of them would say, "Moving our pets." Moving our stuff was a lot of work, but it wasn't nerve-wracking in the way that moving our pets was. Stuff is just stuff. If the container falls off the ship, guess what? IKEA! That's what. We got insurance for that stuff for a reason. It's all replaceable. But our pets are irreplaceable; they are members of our little family, and I was incredibly nervous that I'd get one step of the process wrong, and then our cats would end up in quarantine for months and die before making it to our new home. That didn't happen, and I'm here to tell you why; it's because we hired a pet relocation company to handle the details for us. It's not a cheap thing to do, but in my opinion, it is worth it.
Moving pets from the USA to the UK has gotten easier in recent years, but there are still very specific steps you must follow in order to qualify for the PETS Scheme and to ensure that your pet(s) will not have to spend time in quarantine once they arrive in the UK. The first steps, I felt confident I could complete on my own, but I was not confident that I would fill out all the paperwork correctly, and the last few steps would have been challenging to complete without help. I understand how someone might look at the cost and think it would be better to do everything on their own, but I just didn't want to take any risks with our precious pets.
After reading reviews and getting a few price quotes, we chose Air Animal, and we opted for their Origin Pet Express service, in which the cats would be picked up from our home and taken to the airport by a pet courier, and then we would pick them up at the airport in London. While I still had to do some of the legwork, I was able to leave the very important detail work to the professionals, and I am very happy that I did so. Here are the steps of our process (including the part where we didn't actually arrive in London before our pets and had to deal with that):
1. I checked the regulations for flight containers for animals and ordered one for each cat in the correct size so we could have them in the house, and the children could play in them. I mean, so the cats could get used to them. They were huge, not at all what we would use to transport the cats otherwise. According to the regulations, the pet must be able to stand upright, turn around, and lie down comfortably. There are also other regulations regarding ventilation and how the container hooks together, so we confirmed with Air Animal that we had ordered the correct carriers. Ours were PetMate brand and were purchased on Amazon.com.
2. I scheduled a vet appointment for the cats to have health checks, have microchips inserted, and have a fresh rabies vaccine. It's very important that the microchip be the international version (ISO), and that the microchip be inserted prior to the rabies vaccine. If a pet already has an international microchip, then a fresh rabies vaccination is required at this visit. The vet must fill in a document called the third country veterinary certificate, stating the microchip number and the date of the rabies vaccination, as well as other information about the vaccine. Ours was provided to the veterinarian by Air Animal, and they also checked to make sure that our veterinarian was recognized with the USDA. After the rabies vaccination, the pet must wait 21 days before traveling, and since we had booked this appointment as soon as we knew we were moving, this was not an issue.
3. We determined our date of travel and decided when to book the cats travel. Air Animal took care of booking the cats' flight for us. To enter the UK from the US, pets must travel on approved carriers, on approved routes.
4. Within ten days of travel, the cats had to have a health check and receive an international health certificate. We booked this with our vet, and then USDA veterinarian had to sign off on the paperwork. The paperwork was provided to our vet and then delivered to the USDA vet via arrangements made by Air Animal. The paperwork was then delivered to the person who would be picking up our cats from our home and taking them to the airport.
5. Air Animal let us know the time that the pet courier would arrive to pick up the cats. She arrived promptly, and she confirmed that all paperwork was in order. She assured us that everything would go smoothly, and that both she and British Airways would take good care of our pets.
6. Because our visas were delayed, our cats flew into the UK seven days before we did. This is no longer allowed - the maximum time difference between human arrival and animal arrival is five days. We originally intended to arrive the day before the cats and pick them up at the airport ourselves, but when our visas were delayed, we decided to send them on ahead since changing the plan would mean that we'd have to reschedule flights and re-do the final vet appointment. We opted to contact the company that would be receiving our pets in London and ask them to deliver them to our new home, as we did not know anyone who would want to pick up three cats from the airport.
7. The aftercare specialist from London Relocation Services was on hand to collect all the pet care necessities we ordered from an Amazon.com collection point, then to meet the cats at our new home. She also checked in on the cats throughout the week to refill food and water and, as well as to change out litter when necessary. As much as we were grateful for the help finding and securing the lease for our new place, I was just as grateful to have this service available to us.
8. We arrived in London to find our cats waiting for us, a little bit thinner from the stress of travel but in overall good shape.
Now the pets are fully settled into our London home. You'd never know that they took a long haul flight and spent the first week here on their own, and we are so happy that our whole family - human and feline - is here together.