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Taking pets abroad: Pet Passports and animal health certificates explained

11 February 2021

Since Brexit animal health certificates have replaced Pet Passports as the primary documentation needed for most dogs, cats and ferrets travelling from the UK to the EU.

Dog on beach
It's easier to take a pet abroad than it used to be, but it's important to know how the rules have changed since Brexit

Animal health certificates have now replaced Pet Passports as the primary documentation needed for Brits to take their pets abroad. Unless you live in Northern Ireland, your old European Pet Passport will no longer be valid.

Pet Passports are part of PETS, Pet Travel Scheme, which replaced the trauma and cost of placing cats and dogs returning to the UK in quarantine; special catteries and kennels where they were kept for six months in case they showed any signs of rabies or other heinous diseases picked up abroad. Pet Passports cover dogs, cats and ferrets.

A Pet Passport contains owner details, information about the animal’s vaccinations and showed that it had been microchipped and vaccinated against rabies at least 21 days ahead of travel.

Since January 2021, following the UK’s departure from the European Union, things have been a bit different, although many of the requirements regarding vaccinations and microchips are similar. Residents of Northern Ireland still use the Pet Passport, but residents of England, Wales and Scotland will need the new paperwork.

The UK’s new ‘Part 2’ listed third country status under the EU Pet Travel Scheme sees the pet passport replaced with an animal health certificate (AHC). The certificate is also required for travel to Northern Ireland.

Use the AHC to bring your pet back to the country (up to four months after issue). The AHC will be valid for ten days after the date of issue for entry into the EU and Northern Ireland and four months after issue for onward travel within the EU, and re-entry to Great Britain. Your pet will need a new AHC each time you travel to the EU or Northern Ireland.

What is required from an animal health certificate (AHC)?

Animal health certificates are needed for English, Scottish and Welsh pets visiting the EU and Northern Ireland. An AHC must be issued by a vet

  • You must take your pet to a vet no more than 10 days before travel to get an AHC
  • Pets still need to be microchipped
  • Pets need to be vaccinated against rabies
  • Pets may need tapeworm treatment, if required
  • Your pet must be at least 12 weeks old to have the vaccination
  • Owners must wait 21 days after the first vaccination before travelling
  • No more than five animals can travel with you apart from specific circumstances (such as shows and sporting events), in which case you will need event registration

Assuming your pet’s rabies vaccinations are kept up to date repeat vaccinations for further trips to the EU or Northern Ireland aren’t necessary.

Taking a UK pet to a non-EU country

Taking a dog, cat or ferret to a non-EU destination is different. You will be required to get an export health certificate (EHC) and complete an export application form (EXA).

This must be done through your vet and requirements will vary depending on the country.

What about pet owners in Northern Ireland?

Taking your pet from Northern Ireland to the European Union

For residents of Northern Ireland who still require the old PETS system there are different criteria required depending on the destination but within the EU the regulations are standard:

  • A blood test
  • Vaccination against rabies, which can only be done after the animal is three months old. Travel is permitted after 21 days of the vaccination
  • Dog must be treated for tapeworm and ticks, which must be certified by your vet.
  • Written and signed proof of residency
  • An official PET certificate
  • The pet passport has to be renewed every two to three years, depending on the rabies vaccine used. Discuss renewal with your vet if you are unsure about when it will need renewing.
  • Whether you are taking your cat or dog abroad the animal should be chipped for identity as a matter of course. It is relative inexpensive; indeed it’s often free when part of a pet insurance of if you acquire a cat or dog from a rescue shelter or similar animal charity. Check that the microchip matches International Standards Organisation specification 11784 which is most commonly used across Europe. Check with your vet if you are going further afield.

Pet passports can be acquired from certain EU vets, and if your vet does not provide this service they should be able to recommend the nearest vet who does.

Taking your pet from Northern Ireland to Great Britain

Travelling from NI to GB needs to follow EU requirements, and EU Pet Passports will be available from vets. Read more on the specific rules around travelling to and from Northern Ireland with your cat, dog or ferret, and find out which veterinary practices are participating in the Pet Passport Scheme from DEARA.NI.

Insurance cover

Ensure that your pet is covered not only for vets’ fees in the case of accident or illness contracted abroad but that you have public liability cover for any accident or damage your pet may cause while abroad. Your domestic policy should cover such eventualities at home but not necessarily abroad. Ensure that you have cover and that you have it in writing, not simply the word of an insurance customer care person on the phone.

Find out about Saga Pet Insurance


How much does taking a pet abroad cost?

Microchipping costs are negligible or free (usually under £20). Documentation and inoculations etc will be around £200, but will vary depending on the individual costs of your vet. That’s before travel costs come into play.

How to travel

There are variables depending on type of animal, destination, method of travel or whether you are taking the pet with you or having it sent out later.

Many short-haul airlines, particularly the budget airlines, don’t take animals. Those airlines that do take then, with very few exceptions, insist that the animals travel in the cargo hold and have their own restrictions – number of pets they’ll carry on any flight, non-pet travel days of the week. Check with your airline before you travel.

Some airlines will insist on you using a dedicated pet travel ‘agent’. These services will arrange documentation, collect your pet, either from your home address or a dedicated pick-up-point and deliver the pet to your destination address.

For European destinations by specially adapted road transportation, visit pets2go2.co.uk

For long-haul destinations, visit transfuraninals.com

Travelling conditions and pre-journey preparation

If travelling by air, the animals must be comfortable, have been ‘to the toilet’ beforehand and not been fed a heavy meal for some time before.

The pet must travel in a warm, leak-proof secure container with absorbent bedding, good ventilation and preferably with the animal’s favourite toy and bedding/blanket. The cargo hold in which it will be placed will be dark and heated allowing it to sleep on the journey.

Get your pet used to the container in which it will be travelling by letting it sleep in it for a few nights before embarkation.

A week or so before you travel, have the vet check your pet for a final travel all-clear, and have its nails clipped in case they get snagged in the crate.

Have two tags marked with home and destination address attached to the dog or cat’s collar, and tape the same details to the animal’s crate/container. And take a photo of the animal in in the highly unlikely event that it does get mislaid by the airline.

If travelling by road, you can let your dog be free so long as it doesn’t cause distraction to the driver. Try to stop every two hours to let the dog stretch its legs. Cat and ferrets must be held in secure containers at all times.

Taking your pet somewhere hot? Read our guide to caring for a dog in hot weather.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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