Today marks one year when the UK first went into lockdown

I have so many bittersweet emotions around it all, but it mostly just makes me feel despondent for the death and lost time. After all, in 2019, I had worked myself ragged and saved, saved, saved for six months back in Virginia to be able to take a long sabbatical filled with British adventures, stories, and reclaimed independence. Three months into that trip, COVID-19 rumbled onto the scene and turned everything upside down.

With exception to the couple of months in Virginia to await my fiancée visa and one week in Bermuda to get officially engaged, it's just been one perpetual restrictive limbo where life has stalled. The sole redemption of the past year is that I have spent it with my best friend and my light. Mr. B's once-in-a-lifetime kind of love averted my complete breakdown. 

I remember having to wean myself off of my anxiety medication last May because I didn't know when I would get a safe flight back to the States and couldn't get my American prescription refilled here. Let me tell you that going off of your anxiety meds in the midst of a brand new pandemic is not recommended, especially for an empath. My anxiety pierced weeks and manifested in digestive problems, insomnia, migraines, exhaustion, weight gain, and illogical tears that appeared out of nowhere. I felt mentally stuck, fearing not knowing how long I would be separated from Mr. B once my visit visa expired. How often would borders close? How many more flights would be canceled? Will my loved ones be okay? Can I stay healthy without the safety net of medical insurance?

For those who haven't had to live through nine consecutive and nonconsecutive months of stay-at-home lockdown orders, who can't even remember when your legal wedding day or future anniversary is because it has changed so many times, or who have had to navigate immigration protocols and move across an ocean when the world was closed, it's safe to say that your spirit is chipped.

As a new immigrant, my brain will forever straddle my birth country and my new home country in all aspects of my life. And it is heartbreaking that both poorly handled the pandemic with unconscionable high death tolls and cases. I left one country who finally changed leadership for the better, and I'm now in a country where it eerily feels like the broken one I left. 

There have been beautiful moments of people coming together, supporting each other, honoring those frontline workers who sacrificed so much for the good of all, and speaking up for inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, but sadly, it's all under the shadow of "we wouldn't even have had to do this if xyz happened." From a top level, there were at least two effectively positive things that did happen in the UK. One being the NHS' success with the vaccine roll-out as it really is one of the best in the world. And second being the furlough scheme that saved Mr. B's transportation sector job along with millions of others in traditional employment.

On this very day for people in England, legal marriage ceremonies are still banned (unless you are on your deathbed), financial support still doesn't reach everyone, and non-COVID patients still aren't getting the life-saving medical treatments they need because the healthcare system has been overwhelmed by the pandemic.

I hope when I reflect on Two Years On that we won't even recognize what 2020 and 2021 looked like. That I'll only remember how my entire life changed for the better because I met Mr. B, that we eventually got married, and that we built the foundation for our future together in arduous times.

As someone whose entire career for the last 12 years has been the wedding industry and as someone who has also been married once before, I have gotta say that dang, England, getting married here is insanely more complicated than it is back home. I'm not even talking about the visa process for a foreign national like myself. I'm strictly speaking about the logistics of saying I Do in ole Blighty.

Mr. B and I were supposed to have our "make it legal" wedding ceremony on February 9, 2021 (with our more meaningful wedding day with no more than 22 of our loved ones in May and a Virginia wedding picnic for the American side in calmer pandemic times), but due to the current lockdown, it was canceled. There is still hope though as our ceremony is rescheduled for March with another backup date in April.

As I full-heartedly believe everything happens in its perfect timing, it's still a bit of downer, especially knowing that it would have been beyond easier and far more affordable to tie the knot in Virginia. In a non-COVID world, that's exactly what would have happened. Mr. B could have entered the States as a visitor (no special visa even needed!), we could have gotten hitched at the courthouse, and then had separate memorable celebrations with loved ones in both UK and U.S. as most international couples are wont to do.

While I'm dreamily smitten with the idea that I get to marry my best friend in the land of Jane Austen, my more realistic, practical side is grumpy that we weren't even able to consider the option of a U.S. ceremony because of the current pandemic-related travel ban against British citizens.

Alas, there are things out of our control, I love our love story even with all the pivots, so instead, I'm going to share exactly how getting married is different here in England compared to Virginia because the what the huh moments are real.

Difference #1: The Marriage License

In my hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia, acquiring a marriage license is easy. You go to the courthouse, pay a small fee, and sign some paperwork. Every city has different requirements and validity terms, but a Virginia license is valid for 60 days. Showing an official divorce decree is not even required. You can go get hitched on the same day at the same courthouse if you want -- no appointments or witnesses needed!

In England, the equivalent of a marriage license is "giving notice." This appointment must be made at least 28 days before your scheduled wedding ceremony date at a Register Office -- a dedicated local government office that handles birth, death, and civil partnership/marriage records.

At the giving notice appointment, you tell the local government when and where you’re getting married, give your identification documents, answer a few questions about your spouse-to-be, and then after 28 or 70 days, you are approved to get married for up to one year.

(Because I entered the country on a government-issued fiancée visa and already went through a vetting process, it was only 28 days for our approval to marry. 70 days is for those who require more extensive background checks or immigration reviews.)

Your giving notice in England is venue specific, so no changing venues after you do this, or you have to give notice all over again. During our appointment, I asked about COVID couples having to cancel or reschedule to a new venue, and our local county said they have been able to sometimes waive the fee if venue had to be switched. It won’t be our situation, but because giving notice is a ridiculously expensive process, it hurt my heart for the couples whose weddings get postponed or canceled.

It also bears mentioning that having religious ceremonies have a few different shades of "giving notice" rules to follow depending on if it's a Church of England ceremony or another house of worship. At least when it comes to weddings, there is a very clear separation of church and state in the UK which is an interesting and different cultural aspect than what I've experienced in America.

Difference #2: Your Officiant

In Virginia Beach, the officiant of your wedding ceremony can be a qualified minister/pastor, any judge, or a person appointed by the court. That last one means that your friend, relative, neighbor, anyone can officiate your wedding with the court's permission. In some of Virginia's cities, all it takes is a little paperwork, a small filing fee, and a visit to the courthouse to be hailed as a "one-time civil celebrant." Your officiant then receives temporary court authorization to perform a single ceremony for a specific couple and then after the ceremony, they send off the signed marriage certificate to be reported to the courts.

Hold all of that with English weddings. In England, you have to have a government official (or registrar) from the register office to make your marriage legal in the UK. You can have a celebrant (aka officiant) or someone more personal to you leading the ceremony, but the registrar still needs to be present or you need to have a separate legal ceremony before your planned wedding day.

Traditional British weddings also set aside time at the end of the ceremony for the couple to sign the official marriage register book in front of all of their wedding guests (aka the "witnesses") with the registrar. It always reminded me of Jewish weddings where signing the ketubah is also done amongst loved ones. Different document meanings entirely, but both traditions are photographed and expected to be in post-wedding photo albums nonetheless. This, of course, doesn't happen if the couple has their legal ceremony prior to their big day.

Difference #3: Where You Can Marry

In Virginia, you literally can get married anywhere. Literally. Anywhere.

In England, nope. Just nope. There are restrictions. You have to marry in a Register Office (e.g., the equivalent of an American courthouse but without the judges and speeding ticket hearings), a venue that is licensed and approved by the local council authority, a religious house of worship, or a military chapel.

Now let's expand on the licensed venue idea... for a venue to be approved for a legal marriage, the premises have to be open to the public and must have/be a permanently built structure. No beach weddings, no private backyards, and no boats here, Coastal Virginia friends. And if it's a new public venue, ceremonies can still potentially happen, but the owner or trustee of the building has to apply for approval to host licensed civil wedding ceremonies there first before any rings can be exchanged.

Difference #4: How Much Everything Costs

A marriage license in Virginia Beach is $30 (about £20). If you want a courthouse wedding, it would be $50 in cash for the marriage commissioner to legalize your marriage. No appointment even needed. 

If you wanted to have a licensed Virginia officiant conduct your wedding at your preferred location, their fees can be anywhere from $0 to $1,000. Depending on if it's a personal friend to an in-demand local favorite, pricing varies, of course. To receive certified copies of your Virginia marriage license and certificate (which are together on the same document) after the wedding, you would pay $2.50 per copy.

Now in West Sussex, England, it is £35 per person to give notice and then an additional £50 just to look at notarized foreign divorce papers. So to give notice, it was £120 for us (about $165). This does not even include anything related to ceremony services. It’s literally just to notify and receive permission to marry.

In West Sussex, the cost for a registrar to attend and legalize your marriage off-site at your preferred venue can range from £466-£693. And if you wish, this is in addition to a separately hired independent celebrant who would conduct the same ceremony in a more personalized format. This British professional's pricing can be anywhere from £300-£900 based off of personal research.

If you choose to have a ceremony at one of the register office's official ceremony rooms where the registrar doesn't have to travel off-site, these costs still greatly range from £271-£992 depending on location in the county and which day you decide to tie the knot.

All Register Office ceremony fees include two official statutory marriage certificates, but if you need additional copies, it would be £11 each (about $15).

Now if you're like me and Mr. B and have a more meaningful wedding planned on another day with an independent celebrant, we wanted the least expensive "make it legal" option that was available. So for £74, we could get the most bare bones, basic statutory registration of marriage ceremony that can only happen on the second Tuesday of every month at the primary office in East Sussex with two witnesses required. (Due to COVID, there were no available ceremonies in West Sussex when we were booking, so we had to schedule with the next county over.) 

In the end, we will have paid close to £800 (about $1,100) just to legally and formally call ourselves husband and wife to the UK government and our loved ones... which doesn't even include the actual wedding day details like venues, catering, attire, rings, photography, florals, et cetera. That stuff all is pretty similar to an American wedding and isn't quite as interesting as this particular topic. 

Final, More Succinct Thoughts

So, England, I repeat, dang, why is so much more complicated to get married here?! 

Our Wedding Details in the Photos
Wedding Ring: Brilliant Earth and Blue Nile •  Shoes: ASOS •  Bridal Accessories: Emilia Rae via Etsy  •  Velvet Ring Box: Your Heart's Content via Etsy

Some of the above product links are affiliate-linked and purchasing through these links helps support this website at no cost to you! You can find my full affiliate disclosure policy here.
How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

It's not often that a cat has more air, car, and train miles than most humans, but most humans aren't Miss Pickles Barrington, an expressive 8 years' old anthropomorphic feline with a personality full of cattitude and cuddles. In her time here on Earth, she's already converted many a non-cat lover, brought smiles to the masses with her shenanigans, and has an established Instagram hashtag.

There was no way I could leave PB in the States while I had my sabbatical for 6 months on a standard UK visitor visa, especially since bringing her along was a realistic option. I have raised her since she was a tiny kitten, and before and after my divorce, she has always been the one constant, purring companion who saw me through some dark times. (As to not take away from the main purpose of this article, you can read more about our personal journey here.) Knowing how adaptable and pretty laid back she is, I knew she would handle the travel quite well with her human alongside her.

So my biggest logistical question became "How do I travel internationally with a cat in the most streamlined and stress-free way?" I knew I couldn't personally/emotionally put Pickles in cargo for her first big 3,000+ miles adventure, and since the UK doesn't allow in-cabin pets to enter the country, I was determined to find an alternate route. The glimmer of the "travel into Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) and take a train over to England" concept gave me hope. Once I had done a massive amount of research and sorted out the logistics, I knew it was the right way to go for us.

Concurrently and to this day, I was receiving many Facebook messages from fellow cat parents about how to fly with a cat to the UK via the France entry route, so my former classroom teacher's heart wanted to pay-it-forward with this blog post of my experience.  

Backstory Disclaimer: I traveled in November/December 2019 with Pickles. Our intention was to return back to the States in May 2020, but then COVID-19 happened, I unexpectedly met my Mr. B, we realized we were each other's happily ever afters, he became a first-time cat dad, and Pickles became a permanent British resident. This was all pre-Brexit, and while I've done my best to include some information so it is post-Brexit-friendly, things may change after writing this. Please follow the relevant government and travel links for the most up-to-date information! It also goes without saying that prices shared in this post may have changed and should only be used as a general budgeting guideline.

How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

Step 1: Research your Logistical Options

It's black-and-white animal import law: you cannot fly into the United Kingdom from the United States with a pet in-cabin. Unlike the U.S., even when medically-approved, emotional support animals (ESAs) do not currently have the same legal recognition in Great Britain. To skip straight to the point, your furriest family must fly via an airline-approved animal transport company in the cargo hold if you choose to fly directly into the UK. 

But as inconvenient and frustrating as it may be, once upon a time, all animals arriving into the UK had to be put into a government-run quarantine center for 6 months, so imagine having your little love away from you for that long. It was terrible. Thankfully since 2012, we are living in better days with the advent of modern rabies vaccinations and saying bye-bye to an archaic British law from 1897.

Requirements and compliance sometimes change, so when you know you'll be relocating or visiting the UK with your cat, research, research, research for the most current information to determine what is best for your situation. My worst nightmare was getting to the border and Pickles being denied entry because I didn't do my homework. (And why I'm doing this blog post because it really should be much easier to understand!)

Some find out traveling with a cat in-cabin is not the right choice for them and choose to fly their furbaby in cargo directly into the UK. Some learn that they have the budget and want a once-in-a-lifetime adventure on the Queen Mary 2 by Cunard Cruise Lines and travel by sea with their kitty via New York City to Southampton, England. Or they definitely realize that in-cabin kitty to France and private pet taxi to the UK is their preferred route.


• For the most current UK Government guidelines for bringing a pet into the UK, please see their primary info website and also their dedicated website for post-Brexit pet travel. You can also contact this government department directly via email with any other questions:

• On the U.S. side of things, the USDA APHIS website has your action steps in clear terms. 

• For updated Post-Brexit information specifically when traveling through the Eurotunnel, be sure to use their pre-travel pet compliance checklist

How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

Step 2: Get a Rabies Shot, Microchip, and International Health Certificate Information

Your cat's microchip should be implanted well before filling out any government documents because the numbers associated with that microchip become your cat's official identification across borders. This microchip should also be an ISO-compliant version which means it has 15 digits. If it has only 10 digits, your kitty will need another microchip to meet EU/UK requirements. ISO-compliant microchips are quite common, but have your vet double confirm with their microchip scanner.

Since Pickles was casually adopted from a friend's barn and then life kept happening (namely her breaking her kitten leg one week after bringing her home because she got into $5,000+ worth of emergency surgery mischief), I had never gotten around to getting her a microchip, so I was glad to finally get this for her. The microchip cost me $38 plus her vet visit fee at PetSmart's Banfield Pet Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia. (Side note: The staff were amazing every step of the way for us and truly cared for their furry patients!)

The rabies vaccination must also be given at least 21 days before entering the UK, so she got her rabies shot the same day as her microchip for about $25. We did this about 4 months before our trip's departure.

This is also the time to ask your vet office who the USDA-licensed vet on staff is. If you already know your flight dates, book your kitty's health exam/certificate appointment with that specific vet because your cat's EU/UK health certificates must be issued no more than 10 days prior to entering the UK. 

You can also ask where the local USDA office is because after your kitty's health certificate exam, her papers need to be stamped/endorsed by a USDA APHIS office before your departure.


Because of Brexit, it is recommend to have both UK and EU health certificates filled out and certified to eliminate any potential for border confusion. At the time of writing this, there is currently a limited time window where EU health certificates are acceptable for UK pet entry, but err on the side of extreme caution and pay to get both forms certified by USDA. Do not risk an unknowledgeable border control agent when trying to enter.    

• For Great Britain, download your form here
• For France/EU, download your form here.

How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

Step 3: Get your Travel Pet Carrier and Other Travel Things

Before booking your kitty's flights, you will need to know the exact size of the carrier being used. Check the chosen airlines' websites for size restrictions. The only consistent I saw across the board of airlines was that the carrier must be soft-sided to allow for some flexibility.

With the 24+ hours of travel I had and Miss PB not being a small cat, I had a rolling soft-sided carrier that met both Delta Airlines and Air France's underseat size restrictions. The wheels were removable (and placed in overhead storage) so it fit perfectly underneath both airlines' seats.

Thanks to my loved ones who wanted to help me with this transitional/adventure process, I was gifted poo bags, portable travel litter box, collapsible water bowl, and soft cat harness (if I did need to take her out of the carrier in a non-secure area).

Because heck yeah, to help announce her UK adventure, her Union Jack bandana (in size small as seen in the first photo) was a must have.

A few days before my trip, I purchased a few small baby swaddling blankets from Target to drape over her carrier's mesh windows. I had read this helped cats feel more safe in constantly changing environments and provided a bit more warmth in cold airports.

Don't be surprised when your kitty doesn't use the litter box or eat/drink en route. I was an overcautious cat mom and brought all the things, but Miss PB used none of it. This is normal. Cats don't usually eat or poop outside of their normal territory when under stress. (Though PB did really well traveling, any time you bring a cat outside their known safe environment will inevitably cause some amount of stress.) My vet said cats are resilient and can safely go without water and food for a couple of days, but it doesn't mean they should. That's why it's best to get your furbaby to their destination as soon as you can.

Carrying around clean litter and a bag of dry cat food wasn't ideal, but I still wouldn't have changed my preparation. There is always the possibility of an unexpected delay and the dreaded "overnight at a hotel" experience.

How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

Step 4: Book Your Cat's Flights

There are very few airlines that fly internationally that will allow pets in-cabin. Delta Airlines was my go-to for the domestic U.S. flights, and Air France was for my JFK-CDG flight. Every airline limits the amount of in-cabin pets per flight, so it is prudent to call the airlines and ask in-cabin pet availability before booking your own human ticket.

When you're ready to book your pet's ticket, you will unfortunately have to call the airlines again to book in-cabin pets because they have to ask questions about your cat (e.g., weight, color, cat carrier size, etc). This is merely a reservation as you do not pay for their tickets until you arrive at the airport on your departure day. (They treat in-cabin pet tickets as baggage, so to speak.) You can carry on one cat per booked passenger.

Both Delta and Air France charged me $125 per flight for PB, so I paid $250 in total for her in-cabin tickets since I flew from Richmond, Virginia (RIC) to New York City (JFK) to Paris (CDG).

A few days before my departure, I called the airlines again to confirm that they still had Pickles' reservations for each flight (and they did).

How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

Step 5: Book Private Pet Transportation

Once you are confirmed on your flights, research UK private pet taxis that offer CDG airport pickup and door-to-door drop-offs. Since this travel plan isn't as uncommon as one might think, there are a couple of British companies who offer this pet-friendly taxi service and are very experienced with customs and border control. After reading reviews and the great customer service I experienced via email, I went with Folkestone Taxi (also doing business as Pet Travel Abroad).

At the time of booking in August 2019, I paid £550 for door-to-door Sunday service from CDG to Brighton/Hove in southern England. This did not include Eurotunnel train tickets as these tickets vary in price depending on time of day and date. I ended up paying around £658 in total (including a 3% credit card fee due to my card being a foreign-issued card).

The company sent me Eurotunnel pet travel requirements, my driver's information, and had me completely at ease that I was prepared to bring Pickles into England.

Step 6: Ship Cat-Related Things to New Home

For my 6 months' sabbatical, I rented a long-term flat that allowed me to have Pickles as my sidekick. Before my AirBnb host headed off to Asia for her own adventure, she was amazing and also let me ship Pickles' new litter box, cat food, cat litter, food and water bowls, and some new toys before I arrived. I had everything ready to setup when I got there. 

How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

Step 7: Have Your Cat's Health Certificate Exam and Get Endorsed Paperwork

Within 10 days before our departure date, I took PB to our vet to have her health certificate exam paperwork completed. At Banfield, this exam cost me $96. They filled out multiple forms for me and gave Pickles a loving best wishes send-off for her transatlantic adventures.

The following day, I drove up to Richmond to get my paperwork endorsed at the local USDA office. It was $38. Like any government office, payment types may vary, so call ahead to the office you are going to and ask what they accept.

How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

Step 8: Traveling with a Cat

Since I'm not a vet or at all qualified to give medical advice, I can only share what I did with Pickles after chatting with our vet and doing some independent research on traveling with kitties (aka what would make both of our lives easier in a long journey).

As with any human, pets like to stretch out whenever possible, so I researched ahead of time if JFK Airport had a family restroom that I could use to set up the travel litterbox and safely get her out of the carrier for a few minutes. They had a few amongst the terminals. Even though she didn't use the litterbox or eat any kibbles, roaming in the private bathroom gave her a chance to stretch her paws in a controlled environment.

When going through airport security with a cat, ask for a private screening room. Show them your cat carrier and insist. I had a frustrating situation with people at JFK getting annoyed that I wasn't going through the security line like everyone else, but hold your ground. You're not like everyone else; you have a live animal to protect. There was no way I was going to open up a cat carrier with a cat who was complacently inside but definitely preferred to not be in it. I eventually got our private screening room, the TSA agents loved Miss Pickles' precocious personality, they scanned her carrier, and we moved along.

Pickles didn't meow much once she settled into travel mode, but she did bring a lot of smiles and comments from passing kids. I also had a couple of people stop me to ask about her rolling carrier, that they were traveling soon with their cat, and thought it was brilliant. Amazon to the rescue for that one! It's still the best thing I had for the trip.

We had a long layover at JFK, and it was so noisy for both Pickles and me. Even though I had a baby blanket over her carrier to soften the overstimulated environment, it was a bit much. Figuring the worst they could say was no, I went into an ExpressSpa and asked if they had a quiet room that I could rent for an hour just to be away from the travel chaos and unveiled the kitty underneath her carrier's blanket. With a smile by the staff, we were immediately escorted in to a quieter spot with a massage chair.

They didn't have a dedicated private room, but let us sit away from the busyness of the airport. The staff were so kind, turned on the massage chair for this tired cat mom, and allowed me to let PB poke her head out for awhile. Like the security agents, the women loved Pickles, too. Everyone does, really, and frequently gets the "I'm not even a cat person, but she's so cute!" comment.

How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK
How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

Step 9: Crossing the Border

Once our private pet taxi picked us up at CDG, we drove for 2 1/2 hours to Calais where we would catch the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle into Folkestone, England. I napped for the first time in what would be a 24-hours' trip knowing someone else was in charge of getting places. That alone made the private transportation worth every penny.

Upon arriving to the UK border control area in Calais, our driver pulled into the Pet Reception Centre to get my documents and paperwork approved for entry. The staff scanned PB for her microchip, made sure it was the same number as on her paperwork, and we carried on.

At this time of travel, I did not have a ToR (Transfer of Residence) number since I wasn't permanently staying in the UK (ha, life is funny), and I also did not pay any taxes or VAT to bring Pickles in. I don't know if this was because I was on a visitor visa and originally only staying for 6 months or because I was arriving through France. Typically, you would have to pay something for your pet's import into the country and having a ToR number would prevent your being charged. If you're intentionally moving into the UK on a settlement-related visa and bringing in a furry friend, then you may experience this.

Helpful Tip: It's super easy to apply for a ToR number, and it's free to do. Since life decided to give me a major pivot and my very own Hollywood rom-com love story, I returned to the States to apply for my fiancée visa and also for a ToR so I could start shipping my personal belongings to Mr. B and not get charged duties or taxes. If you happen to ship before you have a ToR and you get charged, you can apply for a refund once you have your ToR number. You can apply and find out more information on the UK Government's website

At the official UK Border Control kiosk, I was asked the typical "why are you here?" questions, gave my passport and paperwork, and we were allowed to get in line (or more appropriately queue up) to board the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle for our scheduled train departure into good ole England.

How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

Step 10: Arriving in Ole Blighty

Once we arrived in the UK, I booked a local vet visit for a post-travel checkup 5 days after getting settled into our new flat. PB still hadn't pooped yet in her new litter box, and while I knew this was normal for traveled cats, I wanted to make sure everything else was still normal. (For this foodie cat, she ate her favorite wet food immediately upon arrival, so absolutely no concerns there).

Miss PB was climbing all over the office exam room like she owned the place, and everything was great for a cat who just traveled over 3,000 miles. Seeing a vet put any worries I had to rest and also gave me the opportunity to ask if I should get her an EU Pet Passport. Her words: "I would wait because it could become a very expensive piece of paper!" Glad I didn't apply; they are invalid now in post-Brexit world.

How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

Where Is Pickles Barrington Now?

After a Christmas in Wales with a bunny and thorough pampering from a cat sitter while Mummy was on her own UK adventures all in pre-COVID times, Pickles Barrington now enjoys a quiet, non-traveling life in West Sussex. She never completed her journey back to America. With giant windows overlooking the neighborhood (aka CatTV), having a bed in front of the fireplace plus every single radiator, and enjoying some supervised garden time, she has properly acclimated to British cat life.

If You Wish To Donate a Thank You

As a cat mom, I wrote this guide because no one should feel like they have no options when it comes to traveling with their furbabies. It can be a dang difficult process with government regulations along with the emotions of transatlantic travel/moving to a new place.

It took quite some time to put all of this information together, so if you're able and found this guide helpful for your own journey, a small donation of any amount via CashApp ($ChelseaLaVere), PayPal or Venmo (@Chelsea-LaVere) certainly won't be turned away and would be greatly appreciated!

Some of the above product links are affiliate-linked and shopping through these links also helps say thank you at no cost to you! You can find my full affiliate disclosure policy here.

Copycat Gluten Free PF Changs Fried Rice Recipe

What's an American to do when there is one P.F. Chang's in all of the United Kingdom and you don't live anywhere near it? You go to the internet to discover copycat recipes, but then realize that those copycat recipes are geared towards U.S.-based home chefs because of the listed ingredients. It's me. I'm that American.

Since West Sussex was in Tier 4 with the latest "stay at home" lockdown restrictions in England during the holidays, I was trying to figure out ways to make New Year's Eve at home different from every other day spent between familiar walls. If we were finally able to tell 2020 to bugger off from the comfort of our couch, then at least we could eat in style while we were at it.

I always loved going to P.F. Chang's with friends to celebrate occasions because it was one of the few casual-chic American chain restaurants that accommodated for gluten allergies and consistently exceeded in knowing how to handle dietary restrictions. A phenomenal allergy-aware or GF-friendly restaurant in Coastal Virginia is still sadly not commonplace in comparison to the UK where everywhere here understands food allergies and I never lack restaurant options... except in a pandemic.

Between P.F. Chang's and my favorite Thai restaurant in my hometown area, they were my fried rice go-tos. Two very different flavor styles, but delicious every time. I still haven't managed to find fried rice in southern England that makes me want to talk about it all the time, so for now, I've stumbled upon a dish I can replicate to satisfy the craving for American-Chinese cuisine (aka justify the limited cupboard storage space for buying a small kitchen appliance dedicated to cooking rice aka I love rice aka we have a new rice cooker convert in Mr. B now).

Copycat Gluten Free PF Changs Fried Rice Recipe in the UK


[Serves 2] 


Plain Rice:
• 1 cup of uncooked jasmine rice
• 1 3/4 cups of water

Fried Rice Sauce:
• 3 tablespoons of gluten-free tamari soy sauce
• 1/2 tablespoon of yellow or dijon mustard
• 1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
• 2 teaspoons of black treacle

Final Fried Rice Dish:
• 3 teaspoons of sesame oil
• 2-3 eggs (per your preference)
• 1/3 cup of carrots, julienne cut
• 1/3 cup of frozen peas
• 1/4 cup of spring onions, sliced
• 1/3 cup of fresh beansprouts
• Your prepared fried rice sauce
• Your already cooked jasmine rice

• Stovetop

Sesame and eggs. If you have a sesame allergy, you could also swap for rapeseed/canola oil which is equally good for frying, but with a more neutral taste. The "stir fry oil" you find in UK grocery stores are oil blends and have sesame in them, so avoid these. For those with a gluten allergy, I personally made this recipe with GF soy sauce, but if you have no gluten allergy, you can use regular soy sauce.

PF Changs Fried Rice Recipe


The easiest way to make your rice is to use a rice cooker, but if you prefer to cook your rice on the stove or have no rice cooker, then do the method that works best for you. Using either stovetop or rice cooker, for jasmine rice, it is a 1 cup to 1 3/4 cups "rice to water" ratio, so if you are doubling the recipe, use the ratio accordingly.

One cup of uncooked jasmine rice will make about 3 cups of cooked jasmine rice.

HELPFUL TIP: Cook your rice a day in advance. Day old rice from the fridge always tastes better for fried rice recipes because cold rice helps prevent clumping and mushiness. Traditionally, according to a Japanese friend, fried rice was always made from leftover rice the night before. Tried and true wisdom here, folks!

With a whisk, mix together soy sauce, mustard, ginger, garlic, and black treacle. Set aside until ready to stir fry your fried rice. (You could also make this in advance and store in the fridge until needed.)

1. Set your stovetop to high heat and add 1 teaspoon of sesame oil to your wok.

2. Crack your eggs into the wok and scramble.

3. Once eggs are scrambled, add an additional 1 teaspoon of sesame oil to wok and then add julienned carrots, spring onions, peas, and beansprouts. Stir fry for 3 minutes.

4. Add another teaspoon of sesame oil and your cooked jasmine rice to the wok. Mix with veggies and eggs. Stir fry again for 3 minutes.

5. Spread out the rice around the wok and pour fried rice sauce all over the rice. Stir and fry for an additional 3 minutes.

6. Serve immediately or allow to cool for storage in the fridge. This dish tastes especially nice reheated when all of the flavors have settled together! 

Copycat Gluten Free PF Changs Fried Rice Recipe

I prefer P.F. Chang's vegetarian fried rice, but you can stay on menu by adding cooked chicken or shrimp to your wok creation. To go off menu, add yummy fried tofu to your stir fry.

For appetizer options, I always love the saltiness (and gluten-free-ness) of edamame with any type of Asian dish. It's easy to please, and with exception to those with a soy allergy, most everyone can eat it! You can find edamame in Tesco and Sainsbury's, but it might already be shelled in the fridge section (or sushi counter if applicable). I have sometimes found frozen edamame in their pods, and they have also sometimes been called "soya beans" if not edamame. 

(Imagine an American woman confusing the dickens out of a British teenager stocking Tesco shelves when trying to figure out what edamame is called in the UK. "You know, they're really soybeans, but you find them at Japanese restaurants and you just pop them out of the shell!")

You could also do a hot and sour soup or any other Chinese-inspired soup that can be found in most grocery stores if you prefer not to make one from scratch. If you don't have a local Chinese or Asian restaurant to locally support for additional meal options, Marks & Spencer offers quite a few Chinese takeaway options in the fridge section to complement your fried rice.

Copycat Gluten Free PF Changs Fried Rice Recipe


Through the palate of diverse Asian cultures, we know every community has their own spin on fried rice, so take this with a grain of rice, so to speak. And depending on where you're from in the States, you may also have only known or prefer fusion-style fried rice. P.F. Chang's fried rice is definitely an American-Chinese hybrid as you'll know right away if you've ever had authentic Chinese fried rice, but this is really to say, opinions will vary greatly on this fried rice debate. There are many delicious ways to make it! 

Due to my many food allergies -- namely gluten/wheat, seafood/fish, beef, and colored peppers of any kind -- I rarely could eat Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other Asian cuisine in the States or in my travels, so my own experiences are limited to the dishes I was able to devour. I'm relying on friends' experiences for some of these reflections!

When you visit any large UK grocery store, you'll see "egg fried rice" in the ready-meal fridge section as well as the shelf-stable Asian section... and admittedly, I cringe. It just looks unappetizing as if they just threw rice, peas, and questionable egg bits into the package and called it a day. Great Britain is clearly the land of savory pies, not rice. And mind you, this is coming from someone who eats like a small child because of very sensitive tastebuds (or what's also called a "supertaster") and prefers softer, more balanced flavors.

Now we know potatoes reign supreme when it comes to the carb here, so rice doesn't always get the spotlight it deserves. This truth is also seen by the tiny uncooked jasmine or basmati rice boxes available for purchase. (Where are the giant body bags of rice on the bottom shelves that could feed an army?! Well, Tesco Extra apparently understands because I did eventually find a 5kg bag of jasmine rice for £8 in Crawley, and there was no way I was leaving the store without it. Thankfully, Mr. B had driven the car for that particular episode, or I would have strapped that puppy onto my back in total pride for my find only later to suffer with a hot water bottle soothing broken muscles... but it would have been worth every kilo.)

The two Asian cultures that are globally very accommodating to dietary needs have always been Japanese and Thai... and they both have very deliciously simple fried rice dishes, so I have eaten these a lot across the continents, and I look to fried rice as being the "basic option" on menus. However strangely, a ton of British Thai restaurants don't even offer khao pad. (You'll find a lot of hybrid Thai food with Indonesian, Malaysian, and Chinese flavors depending on the British restaurant owners/chefs, but when you have forever been spoiled by your Thai friends' restaurants in Virginia and had taken an actual Thai cooking class in Bangkok, you can't help but feel homesick for simple home-cooked fried rice and pad see-ew when you're presented with different dishes than you're used to. Moving boxes to another country is hard, but missing now-unavailable comfort foods is harder.)

And if you don't live in a large city, then Japanese food tends to be sushi from a grocery store, not even a cousin to hibachi fried rice or Yakimeshi with cooked lettuce. (P.S. Living in Brighton while I was on sabbatical was a highlight because the culinary diversity was incredible! Bincho Yakitori was particularly yummy.)

Restaurants, grocery stores, and takeaway spots, of course, adapt to local preferences and demand, but I feel America is much more diverse in the immigrant-influenced restaurant department, and menu options reflect this. The search forever continues for memorable fried rice that I don't have to make from my spot in Haywards Heath, England. So if you see more Asian-inspired recipes pop up in the future from this very white American woman, that's why. I just really miss home and my diverse friends who shared their tables, meals, and new flavors with me.

This recipe is adapted from Heather Johnson to account for personal taste and ingredients that are available and easily accessible in the UK.

Some of the above product links are affiliate-linked and purchasing through these links helps support this website at no cost to you! You can find my full affiliate disclosure policy here.


American buying eyeglasses in England

It wasn't in the plan to get glasses so soon after my moving here. I had had my current pair for almost 5 years, and they were just fine. I think I might have jinxed myself though when Mr. B and I wandered into our local Leighton's in Haywards Heath to ask if they could tighten my sliding acrylic frames. It's like my gut knew I better be introduced.

A few weeks later, I committed the cardinal sin of precocious-cat-and-prescription-glasses ownership and left them atop my nightstand one night. The next morning, my glasses were found on the floor and had been bumped in the perfect storm kind of way to leave a deep enough scratch that created a perma-fuzzy dot in my direct line of vision.

I returned to the high street with my scratched glasses in hand and asked the Leighton's staff if they were fixable. They were not, of course. While it was great that they could pull my prescription from the lenses themselves and fit them to my current frames, I hadn't had an eye exam in forever and couldn't do without my glasses since I had no spare pair. So in the name of integrating into British optical culture and staying on top of my eye health, I thought it prudent to get an update. Thankfully being considered an essential service in COVID times, booking a standard eye examination wasn't too difficult at the price of £40. 

Experience buying prescription glasses at Leighton's Opticians in England

When my eye test appointment rolled around, it was all very straight forward, but I found it far more thorough of an exam than I ever had in the States. There was the standard eye exam equipment, eye chart on the wall, air puff right in the eye machine of dread, retinal photographs, but also old school methods like a reading test booklet and plastic spectacles with lens slots to determine your prescription (re: in total Luna Lovegood style). 

Beyond amusing this American and holding up the vintage booklet for a photo because I loved it, my optometrist was wonderfully kind even when she had to break the news that I have a permanent pterygium growing on my left eye caused by my previous sunny UV-rich life in Virginia. 

We both had to laugh because that’s likely not ever going to be the case again here in rainy cold England! However, I do have to wear sunglasses any time I’m outdoors so the pterygium doesn’t have a chance of growing. Surgery is the only way to remove it, and I'd like to keep sharp pointy objects away from my face, thank you.

Eye exam at Leighton's Opticians in Haywards Heath England

The Basics of British Opticians

All UK optician shops offer eye tests for glasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses, so you can get whatever you need in one place. All cities and towns will have at least one optician option whereas village dwellers might have to travel into their nearest town for an appointment.

Buying glasses operate much like in America: there are very few available discounts (though I did get a £50 refer-a-friend discount at Leighton's because it’s Mr. B’s optician, too!), same prescription format, and similar product offerings. Frames feel more European to me here, but they also have the classic familiar styles. While not the case with all British optician shops, one store layout difference I found at Leighton's is that the eyeglasses are not categorized by gender. I loved this. You just go to the design you like without thinking of the subconscious obligation to only consider female-marketed styles.

If you wear contact lenses, most opticians also offer a direct mail "subscription" type of program where you get your contacts delivered on a frequent basis. 

Unlike American eyeglass shops, British opticians offer hearing services in addition to eye care. You can get a hearing exam, ear wax removal service, and hearing aids. As someone who has had ear issues her whole life (aka hearing aids are definitely in my geriatric future), it's kind of cool that I don't have to make an appointment at an specialized ENT doctor if the need comes up. I would have options!

Experience buying prescription glasses at Leighton's Opticians in England

Where to Get Prescription Eyeglasses in Great Britain

There are options galore for getting eyewear, and it's all a very familiar process to any American who has had to get glasses before on the other side of the pond. Whether you want online or in-person, you'll find a bit of everything. When choosing an optician, customer service, easy ordering, and frame diversity were priority for me. Brand name designers weren't personally important to me, but like American optical stores, each shop has their own contracts with various brands, so if you are looking for a particular style or brand, it's best to do your research. Glasses are about the same price if not more than the U.S. and varies widely depending on your prescription strength needs and brand name of your frames. 

• Specsavers - Free NHS-funded eye tests are available here for qualified persons. The NHS may also help cover a portion of the cost of glasses or contact lenses.
• Boots Opticians - To avoid confusion, these are separate brick-and-mortar locations from the main Boots Pharmacy locations. They tend to be close-ish together on the high street or general shopping area though. 
• Leightons - If you go here for your eye exam, ask them about their recommend-a-friend program and tell them "Chelsea LaVere" referred you! You will get £50 off your first services and products like I did by being referred by my Mr. B (and double bonus I would get a gift card thank you!).
• Glasses Direct (online only) - You need to get an eye exam and prescription at your preferred local optician and then order from this company. They do have a "try at home" feature for finding your perfect frames.
• David Clulow Opticians - If you like the luxury name brands like Prada and Cartier, then this shop might be your choice.
• Vision Express - Free NHS-funded eye exams are also available here for qualified persons.

Some of the above product links are affiliate-linked and purchasing through these links helps support this website at no cost to you! You can find my full affiliate disclosure policy here.

I saw dried oranges everywhere. The moment Christmas busted on the retail scene in November, they were everywhere at garden centers, Etsy, holiday adverts... and I was loving it. It matched my own natural Christmas aesthetic, and I wondered why I didn't see more of this high level of "dried orange love" in my hometown in Virginia. (Colonial Williamsburg is always full of this stuff as you'll read in the history section below!) 

I actually tumbled into this DIY project. Two weeks before, Mr. B and I had purchased a set of different style orange slice ornaments from a local maker for gift decorating, but then the order was canceled due to the maker potentially having COVID and sadly was not well enough to create the ornaments. It was too late to order from another Etsy shop, and I was not ready to concede defeat in my first foray with dried oranges.

Away I immediately went into Google and discovered drying oranges really isn't difficult. Operation Handmade Christmas Details was still on!

How to Dry Oranges for Christmas Decorations

[Makes about 5-7 slices per orange]


• Large navel oranges
• Oven


1. Preheat oven to the very low temperature of 250°F/120°C/100°C with fan. A low temperature will help prevent burning the fruit and allow for more consistent results.

2. Turn each whole orange onto its side and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. By turning, you will get that classic "orange slice" cross section look. If your oranges have any seeds, remove them before baking.

3. Gently pat orange slices with a tea towel or paper towel to absorb excess juice.

4. Place oranges on a metal roasting rack on top of a baking tray. The two-layer rack and tray setup will allow the oven air to circulate underneath the oranges and prevent sticking. 

5. Put slices into the oven for about three hours until the rinds have hardened and the fruit flesh has dried out. Flip your oranges every 30 minutes for a more even bake. The thinner the orange slice, the quicker they will dry out. Slices may still be slightly sticky when they are done.

6. Even though the slices are ready for immediate decorating after baking, it is recommended that you allow your slices to air dry for a couple of days. This will make them more everlasting as they continue to dry out any leftover moisture. 


Dried orange slices can last for years if properly dried and stored in an airtight container. Since moisture causes mold, there should be an absence of moisture if the oranges have been completely dehydrated. Based off of some articles I read, dried slices can last for 2 years or even 7 years. Mileage may vary depending on how you store or use them!


• Limes, grapefruits, blood oranges, lemons, other citrus fruit, and quince can be dried in this same way and make for beautiful Christmas decor color and size variety!

• For a truly natural Christmas display, add whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, whole star anise, and rosemary sprigs to your orange slices.

• Use waxed cotton thread and a thick heavy-duty needle to make your dried orange slices into ornaments or gift packaging details. Wooden beads, tassels, and knotted ribbon can add a lovely touch, too.


Great Britain is the birthplace of a lot of American holiday traditions, and Christmas is no exception. Thanks to Queen Victoria's immense social influence and her husband Prince Albert's German heritage, that's why we have had a Christmas tree in the living room since the 1840s. And with the Christmas tree, dried fruit has also been a part of Victorian holiday decorating.  

Back when I lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, Colonial Williamsburg's annual handmade wreaths were my most favorite part about the local winter holidays. Every year, the floral designers would create gorgeous themed wreaths with oyster shells, pineapples, antlers, paper scrolls, pheasant feathers, pears, and more. One year, I even spotted a series of "Star Wars meets 1700s" wreaths that were so cleverly made within the CW aesthetic that you would have never known it was Star Wars unless you knew the subtle movie references. Though CW only started doing these decorative displays since the 1940s, their inspiration comes from those days of yore when only what you had is what you decorated with.

At one time in history, oranges (like pineapples) were considered a luxury and an ultimate gift since they were imported from more faraway hot climates. (In the 16th century, early Spanish explorers -- likely Ponce de Leon -- planted the first orange tree in what is now known as Florida, and well, we all know how that went. A glass of OJ, anyone?) During the Great Depression in America, families obviously didn't have much, so receiving an orange in one's stocking became a rare wonderful treat.

So, since it's no longer the same expense due to just a few tiny (big) improvements in trade over the centuries, I think bringing back the mainstream idea of oranges as gifts is lovely. Food insecurity and malnutrition are ever more relevant these days in an exhausting pandemic. Perhaps consider donating some clementines (or also known as "easy peelers" in the UK) to your local food bank this holiday?  

To find your local British food bank for help or to give, The Trussell Trust is your community search go-to. (Or if you need to share a helpful resource with a new American, Feeding America is a good starting point.)

Some of the above product links are affiliate-linked and purchasing through these links helps support this website at no cost to you! You can find my full affiliate disclosure policy here.
Gluten free British fruit scone recipe from Royal Pastry Chefs

My first attempt at British scones was a sad story. I tried to make my own buttermilk with lemon juice and milk because I couldn't find buttermilk at my local M&S or Tesco Express, I overworked the dough, and I didn't have the proper temperature conversion for a fan oven. Mr. B and I called them scone cookies to try to salvage the disappointment. I swore off trying to make scones again until a couple of months later I saw a simple video recipe by the Royal Pastry Chefs on Instagram. It rekindled my confidence. They made it look so easy!

Until I saw that their recipe used weight measurements. I had yet to acquire a kitchen scale or do any baking in grams, so the initial panic of having to relearn things lingered for a few days. Well, reader, thankfully it didn't last long, and my stubbornness pushed me forward. I screwed it up with my typical measuring cups, so I might as well try again with a new perspective!

Using kitchen scale to make fruit scones


This recipe is why I bought a kitchen scale. I have known it's been a recommended baking tool by pastry chefs for years, but I have obstinately stuck to my measuring cups and spoons. After now using a scale, I'm a convert. It is much more straight-forward, and now being in the UK and having to already convert from American measurements to British ones for some recipes, the scale gives a bit more consistency.

There are analog and digital scales available, but when it comes to odd weight measurements, I wanted the black-and-white of a digital read. After hefty research, I learned Salter scales are a well-loved British baking favorite because of their precision and design variety. And when it's been a brand since 1760, then you pretty much have to assume it's passed the test of time.

If you don't have a digital kitchen scale, you can find common weight conversions on Food Network.

Gluten free British fruit scone recipe from Royal Pastry Chefs


[Makes about 12-15 scones]

• 500g of all-purpose (gluten-free) plain flour
• 28g of baking powder
• 94g of unsalted butter
• 86g of white granulated sugar
• 2 eggs
• 140mL of buttermilk (a little less than 2/3 cup)
• 100g of raisins
• 1 additional beaten egg for an egg wash on cut scone dough

• Plastic wrap (clingfilm) or beeswax wrap

Egg, milk. For those with a gluten allergy, I personally made these scones with gluten-free flour because I have Celiac, but this recipe was originally written with non-GF flour by the Royal Pastry Chefs.

1. Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C/160° Fan.

2. Mix the flour, baking powder, butter, and sugar together in a bowl until a crumb is formed.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk two eggs and buttermilk together.

4. Add the liquid mixture to the crumb mixture.

5. Continue to mix the dough until it is combined and thick.

6. Add the raisins, and mix until evenly distributed.

7. Remove the dough from the bowl and gently flatten the dough on a cutting board or kitchen surface using your hands. Cover the dough with plastic wrap/beeswax wrap, and leave the dough to rest for about 30 minutes.

8. Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1 inch and start to cut your scone dough with a circle cookie/biscuit cutter. Avoid twisting the cutter while piercing the dough if possible as this can affect rising when baking.

9. Let your cut scones rest for another 20 minutes on your baking sheets.

10. Separately, beat one additional egg in a cup. Using your pastry brush, brush egg on the top of the scones.

11. Place scones in the oven and bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown.

12. Allow to slightly cool before serving with clotted cream and strawberry jam. 

You can make this recipe with or without raisins/dried fruit, but adding anything else starts to go into American scone territory (as you'll learn below)! For your cream tea or scone-eating experience, I highly recommend making your own strawberry jam, and shameless plug, my Refrigerator Jam recipe is one of my long-time favorites.

Scones are best served when warm. If eating later, place your scones in the microwave until they have completely warmed through. Like any bread basket, wrap the scones in a cloth napkin to preserve their heat if needed.

Gluten free British fruit scone recipe from Royal Pastry Chefs

Gluten free British fruit scone recipe from Royal Pastry Chefs

Gluten free British fruit scone recipe from Royal Pastry Chefs

Gluten free British fruit scone recipe from Royal Pastry Chefs


Without getting into the full transatlantic debate of which scones are "better," there are very significant recipe differences between the American scone and the British scone (also commonly pronounced skawn as in rhyming with John). From the amount of butter to shape to flavor additives, these pastries essentially speak two different languages.

For shape, the American scone is a large triangular wedge whereas the British one is always round and more petite. For baking ingredients, the American scone has more butter and sugar along with various fruit additions like pumpkin, orange, cranberry, chocolate, coffee, and so forth. And don't forget the sweet glaze topping! The British scone is literally either plain or fruit (aka with raisins or other dried berries like currants or cherries) with either a powdered sugar dusting or egg wash topping. 

The British scone is meant to be eaten with condiments such as clotted cream and jam, so its base ingredients are quieter whereas the American scone tends to be eaten without any extras, so the scone packs its own flavors.

Now if you want to integrate in a truly important local debate, learn the eternal hot topic: the order of how one puts clotted cream on said scones. Clotted cream first and then jam aka the Devon way? Or jam first and then clotted cream aka the Cornish way? And you better be prepared to have an opinion.

Gluten free British fruit scone recipe from Royal Pastry Chefs

And of course, give your cat a dab of clotted cream so she feels included in the scones and tea experience.

This recipe is adapted from the Royal Family's official Instagram.

Easy to make gluten free British fruit scones

Some of the above product links are affiliate-linked and purchasing through these links helps support this website at no cost to you! You can find my full affiliate disclosure policy here.

the backstory

I rode my first train in England when I was 21. Led by our British native professor, a group of us English majors ventured across the pond ...