14 January 2021

How Pickles Barrington Became British: A Guide to Traveling with Kitty to the UK

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. You can also contact this government department directly via email with any other questions: pettravel@apha.gov.uk.

• 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 & Transit 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 EU/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.


UPDATE JUNE 2023: I traveled in December 2019 a month before Brexit became official. To avoid confusing you with my story, I've deleted those bits. According to the USDA website on France travel, you will now need a Transit Health Certificate in addition to a UK Health Certificate. The UK is now considered a Part 2 Listed Country under EU rules. If you're not sure what to do, always err on the side of caution and contact the relevant USDA APHIS departments in writing for the current requirements. Your qualified USDA-licensed vet should also be very knowledgable about these rules so definitely ask them for clarification. 

• For UK, 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 fiancĂ©e 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, treating me to a fizzy carbonated beverage 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.