How to Bring a Dog from the US to the UK (in cabin!)

I’m so excited to finally have Nahla here with me in London. This has been a LONG time coming… basically three years in the making, but all the research, stress, anticipation, and appointments have been worth it to get her here safely across the pond. Everything went much more smoothly than I could have anticipated. Since I know there are so many other dog lovers like me who don’t even know where to begin, I’m going to outline the entire process and reassure you, getting your dog from the states to the UK is SO much more seamless that I had worked it all out to be.

1. OPTIONS TO BRING YOUR DOG FROM THE US to The UK

IN CARGO

When first looking into bringing a dog from the US to the UK, most things I read mentioned only traveling with a dog to Heathrow/UK via cargo (aka in the hold of the plane). This for me was off the table. As much as Nahla had flown in the states, she’s an 11 year old Maltese/ Yorkie mix and I didn’t want to take any potential risks of flying her under the plane and something happen to her so I dig some digging into other options. 

If you’re ok with this route, this is the easiest, most cost efficient straight forward route. You’ll have to check your dog in before the flight and still go through the paper work process then be prepared to wait 3-4 hours after arriving at Heathrow to get your dog from HARC customs when cleared.

Alternative Pet Transport Companies: PBS Pet Travel | Starwood Animal Transport

VIA FRANCE/ CAR SERVICE

Through more online research/ chats with dog owner friends, it seamed like plan B involved flying to France and getting a service to then drive us from France over the channel and into the UK. This not only is VERY costly but also adds on 8+ more hours to an already lengthly transatlantic trip. Not fully sold again, I kept digging for other options that were more cost effective and ultimately less stress on dogs.

Pet Taxi Via Eurotunnel | PET MOVES |

IN CABIN AS ESA ANIMAL

Plan C and the route I chose was flying with Nahla IN CABIN* as a registered emotional support animal from Dallas Fort Worth Airport to London Heathrow. HOW I did all this is super detailed below.

2. FIND AN AIRLINE THAT ALLOWS DOGS IN CABIN ON TRANSATLANTIC FLIGHTS ||

AMERICAN AIRLINES with ESA Animal

Before I even touch on customs and getting your pet cleared from Quarantine once entering the UK, you have to find an airline that will even allow your pet to fly IN CABIN* in the first place. I had done tons of research and I found American Airlines does in fact allow emotional support animals to fly with you in the airplane even on transatlantic flights.

When booking your flight, go ahead and do so over the phone with an agent to ensure they note you will be traveling with an ESA (Emotional Support Animal) on your booking. They only allow so many dogs on a plane in the first place so step #1 is reserving your animal a space.

It’s SUPER important you make sure to book an American Airlines operated flight. British Airways and American often partner, operating each others flights. But because British Airways operated flights DO NOT allow any dogs, even emotional support animals, your flight MUST be American.

Schedule wise, at least as far when I travelled in Fall 2020 during Covid, it’s also EXTREMELY ESSENTIAL you book a flight that LANDS at Heathrow anytime between Tuesday and Thursday. The HARC (Heathrow Animal Reception Center) does not accept animals from Friday 1pm – Monday 6am. I just avoided Fridays and Mondays all together to keep everything as worry free as possible in case of early arrivals/ delays etc.

As of now during Covid cuts, there is only one 5pm flight per day running from DFW to LHR. I took the Wednesday 5pm flight that lands at Heathrow at 8:30am the following day (Thursday)

3. THE PAPERWORK FOR THE AIRLINES

Step one for the paperwork starts with getting everything submitted to the airlines. When booking your flight over the phone, ask the agent to send you everything you’ll need to submit to the airline prior to the flight. I did this and they emailed everything over directly, or you can also find everything directly HERE.

There are 4 documents you will need:

  1. AA rabies Form signed by Vet OR Rabies Certificate (I only submitted the current rabies certificate and this was accepted)
  2. AA Form signed by Medical Professional
  3. AA Sanitation Form
  4. AA 8+ Hour Sanitation Form 

Submit these for your flight NO LESS THAN 48 hours before departure. I submitted everything a week out just to ensure things went super smoothly and gave myself extra time just in case there were any issues

4. HARC aka Heathrow Animal Reception Center

For the next step of paperwork, you’ll need to contact HARC (Heathrow Animal Reception Center) prior to your flight, submit paperwork, process a payment of £399 for ESA animals, and get approval to fly into the UK.

Usually Animal Customs takes 3-4+ when traveling with a pet in cargo, but when flying with a pre-booked ESA, an agent will meet you at the jet bridge as soon as you get off the plane in the UK and the entire process takes about 5-10 minutes then you’re on your way to life in the UK.

Contact HARC AFTER you have booked your flight, sending them flight details and notifying them of your plans to travel to the UK via the US with an emotional support animal. I would recommend doing this about 3 weeks before your trip for good measure. After emailing (CONTACT harc@cityoflondon.gov.uk | harc@philis.co.uk) a member of staff should respond to you in 48 hours and will start you a case file. From here they’ll then require you to submit all necessary paperwork including:

  • Rabies Certificate
  • Veterinary Certiciface to EU— This includes an up to date rabies vaccination that is administered NO LESS THAN 21 days before your flight departure. Make sure to include the batch number, dog’s microchip number, and the name of whoever is traveling not a family member. (My parents took her to a few vet appointments and having their names on the paperwork instead of mine caused some delays in having to reissue paperwork, so if anyone besides yourself is taking your dog to be vet be sure they include the travelers name only and keep an ORIGINAL OF ALL records to show as proof once you arrive.) In your first submission to HARC, include vet appointment details of the tapeworm treatment you intend to give to the dog and the make of the treatment the vet plans on using. NOTE this MUST INCLUDE (the ingredient praziquantel and has to be administered to the dog in a 5 day window of travel.

Ex. I scheduled Nahla’s vet appointment Sept 21 and we travelled overnight Sept 23, arriving Sept 24 to give a comfortable buffer she didn’t exceed the 5 day window. THIS TIMING IS SUPER important!

  • ESA PROOF || Additionally you’ll need some sort of proof letter of your dog as an ESA animal. I had my family doctor vouch that Nahla was an ESA and it was essential to fly with her in cabin on the stated flight including flight date/ flight number. I also had her registered several years ago as an ESA through (NSARCO) so included a picture of a registration card – you can register your dog as an ESA HERE

After submitting paperwork, all was good to go here. The HARC staff were EXTREMELY friendly and helpful and probably put my mind at ease more than anything else. They verify all the information when accepted and will notify you of how to pay the required £399 for the dog to enter the UK in cabin via aircraft and forgo the traditional animal customs route.

This is the only additional fee you’ll have to pay to fly with a dog in cabin. It’s not cheap but much less expensive than the France/ Car service route, and ultimately worth it for the peace of mind to have your dog with you while you travel

5. VET APPOINTMENT // ESA REGISTRY

Now that you know everything you need to submit for travel in cabin, I’ll fill in the missing bits of HOW to get the paper work completed including ESA certification, and what vaccines/medications dogs in the US require before traveling to the UK to avoid quarantine….

VET FORMS || For starters you’ll need to book Vet appointments for both rabies and Tapeworm as mentioned. You’ll need to book via a USDA accredited Vet (I use Dr. Tucker at CityVet Plano who is honestly the BEST) and they will have a portal that has access to all national paperwork you need and be able to get the forms validated (Stamped and Signed) by the USDA prior to traveling. You’ll need to bring the validated paperwork with you

ESA VALIDATION || If you don’t already, I would recommend registering your animal as an ESA HERE from there you can have your general doctor or Clinical Psychologist write you a letter simply stating you are required to travel with “Animal” in cabin from (Departing City) to (Arriving Destination ie United Kingdom)

QUARANTINE

If you follow all of the steps your pet will NOT have to quarantine once arriving in the UK! If traveling during Covid, there is a chance you will however have to quarantine yourself which isn’t ideal but it is what it is. After traveling from the US back to the UK sept 2020 I was required to self-quarantine for 14 days but it’s a good excuse to get your pet acclimated and settled in anyways.

6. THE FLIGHT 

One of the things most people asked was, “Where does the dog pee?” / “How did she actually do on the flight”. WHERE DOES THE PET GO? And DID YOU HAVE TO BUY AN EXTRA SEAT?

Where does the pet sit?

Your dog is required to fit underneath your seat in a carrier or in your lap. If you have a larger dog, I would discuss your options further with the airline directly. Because I travel so much and have acquired status with American, I upgraded my flight to business. So Nahla was perfectly fine in her carrier for takeoff at my feet under the little ledge. Then once I extended the seat out to sleep, she laid at the foot of the bed/ next to me. As long as your dog is well behaved, the airline crew has no issue with the dog being out of the carrier.

Do you buy an extra seat?

No. This extends from my answer above but they sit at your feet/lap. You do not have to pay for their own seat.

How can you upgrade to Business?

I tell everyone this, traveling with a pet or not. First sign up for an AAdvantage account. It’s free and the more you travel, the more miles you acquire for upgrates/ free travel. When booking my flights I ALWAYS ensure I book on a flight that has “Milage Upgrades” available. Most times, when booking from Premium Economy if you do not have status, you can request a mileage upgrade and will be able to upgrade your seat directly to business for $350 + 25,000. If you have status, you can do this from any cabin class at the same charge and mile deduction. 

This is exactly what I did for my flight with Nahla. I booked a regular seat at cost and then paid the fee + miles deduction. Most times business seats are £3k plus. Fares right now if you book In advanced are quite reasonable. And if you don’t have miles, it can be more cost effective to pay the $350 then purchase the necessary miles. Oftentimes, American offers a deal if you buy x miles you get 5,000 fee so ask the agent to help you with the most cost efficient option or you can also purchase miles online HERE. 

I completely understand this is a luxury, but really do advise flying business if at all possible when traveling with a dog. It’s doable but a long flight so feel like it’s significantly worth it.

Where does the Dog Pee?

DFW is extremely dog friendly and they have a “pet relief” room with grass in terminal D18. I took Nahla here right before our flight. We were basically last to board to ensure she went to the bathroom at the very last moment she could.

On the plane is tricker. My family started training Nahla to use a “potty pad” every evening before bed about 3 months out before the flight. This definitely paid off! It took her a while (3 separate trips) to the bathroom before actually going, but once in flight about 5 hours in, I brought disposable gloves and a potty pad and put the pad down in the bathroom. Walked her in several circles on her leash and eventually she went. I brought a plastic bag to seal and dispose in afterwards and the stewardesses were also very friendly and provided a disposal bag.

It’s not ideal but you just do what you can! I like to think of it as like the evening anyways as a night flight. She’s potty trained to not go an entire night so 1 full night of 8-9 hour sleep is basically the same as the flight duration.

*** TMI Dog people will get this, but I would recommend saturating the Potty Pad you’re bringing with a little bit of your dogs urine before the flight and sealing it in a plastic bag. In a weird way having the scent there helps them know it’s where to go as it is a bit distracting with all the noises and movement on the plane.

Once arriving at Heathrow, there are no pet relief stations unfortunately as Heathrow technically doesn’t allow dogs. There are some trees outside, however no grass or mulch, just iron surroundings so this is trickier. Nahla wouldn’t go here, so I had the cab driver stop at the first park we came upon after the motorway and it was fine.

7. Once You’re in London — DAYCARE, GROOMERS, PET SHOPS, RESTAURANTS, ETC

Once I got here, everything was absolutely fine! Nahla LOVES the park, and thankfully London is actually more pet friendly with pubs and restaurants than LA. If you’re need recommendations here are a few of mine

8. TRAVEL WITHIN THE UK

If you intend on traveling throughout the EU with your dog once you’re in the UK, its necessary to get a Pet Passport. Most vets can issue this for a fee of roughly £56. They will just need to document your dog’s microchip number, rabies vaccine batch/type/date, and schedule a Tapeworm treatment depending on where you intend to travel. This will all likely be changing January 31, 2021 due to Brexit. My vet here informed me that Pets will now need a valid bloodwork sample proving the rabies is still valid, and this will inhibit travel for 3 months after the sample is taken. So to be on the safe side, take your pet to the vet 3 months prior to traveling and get the certificate for travel in 2021. For all travel in 2020, you will need to get a passport at least a week before your trip date to be safe. 

9. ADDITIONAL MISC. INFO

DOG JET LAG: One thing I was surprised about was Dog Jet Lag. Honestly it makes sense seeing as I’m always super jet lagged when traveling West to East! Because we had to quarantine with Covid I wasn’t able to do my usual Park walk to acclimate with the time difference, but the cover quarantine actually works in your favor for an automatic 2 weeks of re-acclimation time. For the first 2-3 nights Nahla woke up quite hungry around 3am and a bit restless at different times of the day. To ease her in, I was more lenient about feeding and left her food out all day. But to get her adjusted and back to strict am/pm feeding time, by day 4 I picked up any food in between. It probably took a week and a half but she’s fully adjusted and on UK time now!

I know this was a LONG one but really hope it helps! Best of luck bringing your little one across the pond and if you have any other questions let me know in the comments below & I’ll be sure to answer 

xx Erica (and Nahla <3 ) 

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