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All About Export Certificates

January 23, 2012

What is an export certificate and why do I need one for my pet?

The term “export certificate” can be somewhat misleading. If you are taking your pet abroad it doesn’t feel like you’re exporting it – you’re taking it with you, and anyway “export” is what you do to rice and sugar and computers – not pets.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), the government bodies in charge of this area have, in their wisdom however, decided this is the term which applies. In fact the export of pet animals is a very small branch of the animal export business which is more often involved with farm animals which are (unfortunately or otherwise) regarded more as a commodity.

An export certificate is a means of getting an animal out of the UK; to get into your destination country you will, strictly speaking, need an import certificate. In most cases though, the DEFRA “export” certificate doubles as an import certificate too and you only need the one piece of paper, so the import side of things is effectively invisible.

Exactly what is involved in getting the certificate varies tremendously depending which country you are going to. Some countries require pets to be fully vaccinated, others insist that they must NOT be vaccinated against certain diseases. Some insist on veterinary certification that the animal has been wormed and treated for external parasites with specific drugs at precise times, other countries simply ask for a letter from your vet on headed note paper. Some need to be planned several months in advance and may require several visits to the vet, others only require a quick check a few days before departure. In most cases some form of permanent identification will be required.
An export certificate is a once only thing – it will cover one specific journey only with set departure and arrival times and specified modes of transport. In most cases, if you miss the plane, boat or whatever, you will need a new certificate. Although there is some leeway in more recent times it’s still only a few days.

An export certificate doesn’t always certify your pet as fit to travel either; depending on how you are travelling and which carrier you are using you may need an additional health certificate for this.

Obviously entry into many countries is made easier by the pet passport scheme. If you are travelling with your dog, cat or ferret to a country which qualifies for the pet passport scheme, then you need a pet passport, not an export certificate.

So, how do I get an export certificate?

The main thing is to plan well ahead and get the correct information, these things can take a long time to organise and the slightest mistake can be disastrous. DEFRA (see below for link) is a useful starting point although you need to have a bit of background knowledge to know what you’re looking for. The AHVLA (see below for link) export centre at Carlisle also offer excellent advice on export certificates and pet passports.

Bearing in mind that each destination is different, the stages involved are roughly as follows if you are exporting an animal from the UK to a country which doesn’t participate in the pet passport scheme:

1/ Make an initial contact with DEFRA or AHVLA (by phone initially is best) by speaking to someone in the export section. Tell them what you are planning – what country you are going to, what animal you intend to take, what mode of transport and so on. They will then be able to give you an idea of what is required in the way of export certificates and will probably issue you with initial guidance notes and an application form for an export certificate. After establishing contact by phone then communication by email is often more useful, if only because you have a permanent record of all communications. You should keep a strict log of all correspondences including phone calls to avoid confusion – you will have a lot of information to take in!

2/ Contact the embassy (see below for link) of the country you are going to to find out if there are any other, additional requirements for import into their country which aren’t covered in the DEFRA export certificate. DEFRA paperwork is usually very comprehensive and the certificate is usually accepted as an import certificate into the destination country as well as an export certificate out of the UK but there are exceptions and it’s best to be sure.

3/ If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to contact your nominated Official Veterinarian (OV – usually your normal vet) to put them in the picture, discuss the logistics and practicalities of what you are planning and to let them know to expect your export certificate when it arrives. Vets in practice have considerable experience of dealing with such things and can offer invaluable advice at every stage.

4/ Once you have your departure date fill in the application for the export certificate and send it to DEFRA to process. Once your application is accepted they will send the relevant forms direct to your OV at the appropriate time, which can often be just a few days prior to departure. Your vet will also receive the latest guidance notes and, if necessary, authority from DEFRA to sign certain sections of the certificate.

5/ You must also let your travel company know what you are intending to do as they may need to make special arrangements for freighting your pet. Again the requirements vary considerably – if you’re taking your parrot to Spain by ferry it may just be a case of transporting it in its normal cage in your car on the car deck. On the other hand if you are flying, particularly if you are travelling long-haul with intermediate stop overs then things are much more complicated and, among other things you will need approved containers, fitness to fly certificates and to make provision for water and food to be given during stops.

Two final points: First, animals are not generally sedated for travel as this can cause serious health issues and, second, you will need an export certificate for every country you visit, not just for your destination country. So, if you are travelling to Spain via France then you need certificates for Spain AND France both. And when you consider that export certificates have a duration of only a few days that means getting both certificates in the UK for the same trip and getting the timing right can be quite a challenge!

Bear in mind that we are here to help at every stage. If you’re even thinking of taking a pet abroad do feel free to contact us – we’d rather be consulted early in the process, even if you change your mind later on, than to be suddenly presented with a thick brown envelope from DEFRA, stuffed with highly detailed guidelines 48 hours before your departure time!

Niall Taylor MRCVS Jan 2012



> DEFRA home page
> Popping across with Polly Parrot to Patagonia for the picturesque panoramas which prevail on that particular part of the planet? Then you’ll need this publication: The import and export of captive birds

Embassies etc.:
> How to find an embassy
> AQIS – Australian government export web site
> The Australian high commission, London
> Australian embassy
> Application form to import a dog or cat into Australia

The logistics of travelling with a pet:

For an overview of what is involved when travelling with a pet the Heathrow Airport Guide has a very comprehensive section which you would be well advised to look at first.

Heathrow Airport themselves also have an impressively detailed web-site giving advice on all possible scenarios involving flying with your pet.

Some freight/animal export companies:
(NB I have no direct knowledge of any of these companies so please make sure you are happy with them before committing)
> Jets4pets
> Animal airlines
> Airsupply shipping agents
> Pet exports UK Ltd – an excellent site for those emigrating with pets
> Airpets Oceanic
> Pet air UK


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