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General Care Importing Reptiles into the UK

Written by Gemma in January, 2006

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:

Pet Transportation and Shipping Services | Animal Land Pet Movers
http://www.jets4pets.com/uk.php
pet transport services | Animalcouriers
http://petride.com/worldwide.htm
Pet Transportation | Jet-A-Pet International

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:

Need Help?
http://www.united.com/homepage
http://www.usairways.com/cargo/
http://www.cocargo.com/cocargo/default.asp
http://www.aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/ ... /pets.html
http://www.aircanada.com/cargo/en/
http://www.britishairways.com

(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 ( http://www.cites.org/), 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 ([email protected]).

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).

I contacted both the Bristol office and the vet office at Heathrow who kindly sent me the details in writing that I needed. The latter people can be contacted on 0208 759 7002.

For details on correct shipping containers, go here: http://www.iata.org/whatwedo/live_anima ... ingpet.htm and always ask the airline you book with if they have any special requirements themselves.

The above details are essential to obtain not only because they are your legal responsibility as a pet owner importing your reptile, but also because the airline you book with will need these details to ensure the legality of the transaction.

The next step is preparing to clear your animal through Customs. Because reptiles are incapable of carrying rabies, they do not require a quarantine period (this will be confirmed for you at the number I listed above). However, there is still red tape to deal with as soon as they touch British soil.

There are two documents you will need: a C-5 and a C88 (also called a CATH). The first of which can be downloaded online from the HM Revenue and Customs website: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/home.htm. The second form can only be mailed to you, so you will need to phone customs on their enquiry line: 0845 010 9000.

From here you have two options:

1/ filling in both forms yourself OR
2/ hire a livestock agency to do this for you.

The first option is originally cheaper, as you avoid admin fees, but the C88 form is extremely complex, requiring a series of codes that can only be found in the customs tariff book, volume 3, which can be found at your local library. Another downside is that a paper copy of this form can take up to 3 days to clear, which means that your pet will have to be quarantined for those 3 days; something that you will have to arrange yourself and which can be very costly (the standard fee for reptiles is £103 per 24hrs of quarantine).

Therefore the second option is much easier, and cheaper, as the livestock agency will not only fill in the form for you but will admit it electronically as soon as your animal arrives, meaning that all you have to do is collect your pet, sign a release form, and head on home.

The livestock company I strongly recommend (it's fully certified and has the best prices; they're also extremely helpful) are James Cargo LTD ( http://www.jcslivestock.com/index.html). Their standard fee for a reptile is £210-250, which is paid once you pick up your pet.

Their Gatwick representatives can be reached at: 01293 567 643
And their main office, situated at Heathrow, can be reached at: 01753 682 244

The kind representatives at both those locations will talk you through the process and ensure that you have contacted all the right people.

The only thing left to do after all this is to drive to the airport, and bring your beloved pet home. And please remember to take a form of photo ID with you, as this will be required to legally release your pet into your care.
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