Importing Reptiles into the UK

Written by Gemma in January, 2006
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Whilst living in America for a year I bought my first pet reptile, a small bearded dragon (pogona vitticeps), which is an extremely common reptile in both the US and Europe. After returning to the UK to complete my degree I obviously wanted to bring my pet home with me, and ran into a lot of confusing guidelines, red-tape, and, quite frankly, incompetent agencies. So I have composed this guide for the importation of pet reptiles into the UK from the US in the hopes that others will not have to go through the weeks of frustrating phone calls and beaurocratic nonsense that I have been through.

The first thing you need to do is decide whether you want to book the flight for your pet yourself, or have a private company handle everything for you. The latter option is obviously the easiest but it is extremely expensive. To give you an idea, my reptile weighs roughly 350g and when within her special shipping container (which is 16x8x30 inches) the entire parcel weighs less than 7lbs. Bearded dragons are also non-CITES reptiles (more on this later) and so do not require special export/import licenses or quarantine periods once on British soil. Knowing all this the major pet shippers I contacted wanted to charge me between £600 (GBP) and £1500; that's as much as 2550 American dollars. When sent an itemised bill most of that cost is er "admin charges", which basically translates to handling charges and their profit margin. Personally, I really consider these companies to be a ible rip-off, but if you are very nervous about your pet travelling overseas this might be the best option for you, as they really will deal with everything.

Some pet shippers who are fully, and legally, certified:

Your other option (which I personally recommend) is to find an airline that allows pets to be brought onto the airplane as carry-on luggage, or ships them as cargo. The latter is a much more viable and easy option for most people, as the majority of airlines will not allow reptiles inside the cabin (for reasons that they wouldn't specify to me, but I'm assuming it's because cold blooded animals require vastly different heating requirements to warm blooded ones).

Here is a list of airlines that ship pets: ... /pets.html

(N.B. There might be more, so always check if you have an airline that you would like to use but which is not on the above list; the above are simply airlines I had contact with when attempting to import my pet.)

Once you have decided on an airline, your next step is to book the flight. When contacting the airline they will ask you to clarify whether:

1/ your reptile is venomous or non-venomous
2/ whether it is listed on CITES
3/ whether an import/export license is required
4/ its weight and length
5/ the kind of container you are shipping the animal in.

CITES (the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora) is the agency that controls the import/export of species on the endangered species list. Pogona vitticeps are not CITES listed reptiles, but if you are shipping another species you can verify whether yours is listed or not at the CITES web page (, by ringing their main department in Bristol (phone: 0117 372 80 17, fax: 0117 372 82 06; when dialling from the US: +44 117 372 80 17, +44 117 372 82 06), or by email (

If your animal is a listed species then CITES agents will instruct you as to how to obtain an import license. If your animal is not listed I recommend that you get confirmation of this, in writing, so that you may take it to Customs with you when you pick up your animal upon its arrival (this helps to speed up the process, and avoids any mistakes on the part of the staff that might cause undue waiting periods for your animal).