12/12/2018 3 Comments
When my girlfriend Jo and I started to think about uprooting our lives on the tiny island of Koh Tao, Thailand, and transplanting ourselves to Scotland, one of our biggest concerns was how we would get our four Thai cats to the UK. Note that I said how, not if. There was never a doubt in our minds that if we left, we left together; if they couldn't come, we wouldn't go. What followed these initial thoughts were many, many months of time consuming, overwhelming, confusing research and planning. It was all worth it, though; as I sit here typing and sipping coffee, Moo, Chili, and Lou, and Bagheera are curled up next to the radiator, snoozing. They are happy, healthy, and have adjusted supremely well to their (chilly) new environment.
I am going to tell you exactly how we got here: every step we took to bring our family across oceans so we could stay together. I want to do this because, as I mentioned, the amount of research we had to do was incredible. We could not find a single source that took us through the process from start to finish. So, we had to piece together bits of info from government websites, numerous agencies and companies, and countless forums. By writing this, I hope to simplify the process for anyone else who wants to make a similar move. While I'll be specifically describing our experience moving cats from Koh Tao to Scotland, I'll also include information that will apply to those moving their pets away from Koh Tao (or Thailand) to any destination, importing animals to the UK from places other than Thailand, and traveling with pets in general. My hope is that this will help keep families together, because no pet should ever be left behind. I'm also going to break down the exact costs; because I want you to be realistic. If you are abroad and you find a cute fur baby and decide to adopt it and assume you'll bring it home, I want you to know how much of a financial commitment that will be, before that little furball falls in love with you. Without further ado, let's get into it... we've got a lot to get through.
Oh, wait! A disclaimer: I am not a professional pet mover. Also, laws and regulations change all. the. time. So, you are 100% responsible for following up on the info I give you to make sure it's still accurate whenever you plan to put it into action. Okay? okay.
Warning: This blog is reeeaaaallllyyyyyyy long. I tried to be concise but there's lots to say. So, I broke it down into three parts to make it easier:
Part 1: Planning and Preparation
Part 2: The Journey
Part 3: Summary of Expenses
part 1: planning and preparation
6 months before you travel
If you want to move pets, particularly to the UK/EU, you need to start planning early. The UK is one of the more challenging places to import animals to. It’s a little harder than the rest of the EU, and much harder than Canada or the USA. It’s easier than Australia or New Zealand though, which are extremely difficult. The differences among countries are largely due to biosecurity. The UK and Aus are isolated environments free from many communicable diseases, such as rabies. They want to keep it that way, so are very particular about letting animals in. While Australia has a pretty intense quarantine requirement, fortunately the UK no longer requires quarantine (as long as everything is done correctly).
Head to the government websites for the countries you are leaving/ entering, and check requirements. Here is the site for importing pets to the UK. The Thai government website doesn’t really have great info (not shocking), so here is a better site with current information.
The first thing to do is get your pet microchipped (if not already done). This is a requirement for exporting animals from Thailand, and is also required to import animals to the UK/EU. It’s not required to import animals to Canada, so depending on the export rules for the country you are leaving, this might not be necessary if you go to Canada. However, it’s still good practice to have your pet chipped, since it’s the best way to reunite lost pets with owners. I don’t consider this to be a travel-related expense, and all our cats were chipped when spayed/neutered, so I won’t include that cost here.
Next your pets need their rabies vaccinations. The UK requires the rabies vaccination to take place after the microchip implantation. Rabies vaccines are also not needed to import animals to Canada (told you Canada was easy) but are necessary for export from Thailand, anyway. As with microchips, rabies vaccinations are part of responsible pet ownership so the cost isn’t a specific travel expense.
4 months before you travel
The rules for bringing animals into the UK depends on where you are traveling from. It’s easy to enter the UK from the EU, a little harder to come in from a ‘listed country’ such as Canada, and much harder to come in from an ‘unlisted country’, including Thailand. Because we were coming from an unlisted country, our cats needed to not only be vaccinated against rabies but also have a blood test done to confirm immunity. You need to wait at least 30 days after the rabies vaccine to take the blood samples for the test, and the pet cannot travel for 90 days after the day the blood sample was taken. This is extremely important to know, and is why you need to start planning well in advance if you want to go to the UK or EU with your Thai pets.
In our case, our cats were vaccinated against rabies in early March 2018. They had their blood drawn on September 1st (more than 30 days after the rabies vaccination). They were then able to fly after December 1st (90 days after the blood test). Our vet drew blood samples from each cat, made a serum solution, then sent the serum to Germany (the test must be run by an EU-approved lab). The lab ran the test, and wrote to our vet to confirm the cats all passed the test. They then mailed the official documents back to our vet, and we received them in early November. Because the blood gets sent to Europe, the test is expensive. It cost 8 000THB (£194) per cat, for a total of 32 000THB / £776.
Now is also a good time to research flights. Flying to Canada or the States is straightforward, and flying to the EU isn’t too tricky either. But, flying to the UK is special. Why? Because if you fly pets into the UK, they are required by law to fly as manifest cargo (unaccompanied baggage). This means they must fly in the hold (under the plane) rather than in the cabin. It also means it’s extremely expensive (much more expensive than flying as excess baggage in the hold). Additionally, pets arriving by air to the UK are subject to VAT, as well as import fees. They can also only fly on certain airlines, to certain airports. If we had flown to the UK, we would have gone with British Airways or Thai Airways to Glasgow. But, the flights + tax + fees would have been something like £1000 per cat (this is a ballpark estimate from what I researched, but if anyone has more specific info, please comment below). That’s a ton of money, for just the flights, plus we didn’t want all our cats to fly in the hold. So, we pursued different options:
If you enter the UK by ferry or train, from elsewhere in the EU, there is no VAT or import fee (currently, but who knows what affect Brexit will have…). So, many people importing animals to the UK will fly to either Amsterdam (with KLM*) or Paris (with Air France*) and then cross into the UK. We researched both options. If we flew to Amsterdam we would have to take a ferry into the UK, and drive from there. The ferry, however, is 18 hours long, and cats are required to stay in carriers, in a vehicle. Dogs are allowed in the ferry cabins, as foot (paw?) passengers, and can walk around on the boat, so if we had moved with dogs, we probably would have done that since the drive from the English port to Scotland would have been only around 5 hours.
Instead, we decided to fly Air France to Paris, and then cross into the UK via the Eurotunnel. Air France allows small pets, including cats, into the cabin of the plane, under the seat. So, Jo and I could each bring 1 cat into the cabin, leaving two to fly as excess baggage in the hold. How to get through the Eurotunnel, though? We found a couple of pet taxi companies that specialise in moving pets and their people from the Paris airport to England. Pet Moves was recommended by a friend but I didn’t love their email correspondence and they charged ~ £1500 for the four hour drive to Folkestone, England, so instead we went with Folkestone Pet Taxi who were very friendly and replied quickly to each of my emails. They charged £525 for the drive, including 4 pet tickets through the Eurotunnel (£19 each). We then planned to stay the night in Folkestone, and Jo’s dad and brother, who are absolute legends, agreed to drive from Scotland to Folkestone to pick us up and take us back to our new home.
So, that became our travel plan. Figuring that out took several weeks of constant research. You're welcome.
*Note: Air France and KLM are partner airlines so any info that I give regarding pet travel on Air France also applies to KLM.
1-2 months before you travel
Make your bookings & Reservations
Flights: We'd already decided on Air France, and their direct flight from Bangkok to Paris. As I explained, Air France (and KLM) allow passengers to bring small pets into the cabin (1 per passenger, 8kg max including the carrier). Since we have 4 furries, Jo and I could each take one in the cabin, and the other two would fly in the hold. Planes have a maximum quota of animals per flight. It is usually around 4-6 per flight. So, it was important to ensure early that our cats all had spaces on the plane. This is how we did this:
1. Book flights for the humans online, directly with Air France. For payment, we selected to pay by bank transfer, which gave us a couple of days to complete the transfer. This gave us a booking number for the flight, but meant we hadn't financially committed (in case there wasn't room for the animals and we had to pick a flight on a different day).
2. I called Air France's Thailand office (+66 (0) 2610-0808) to book the cats on the flight. I gave them our reservation number, and told them Jo and I would have 2 cats in cabin and 2 in the hold. They put me on hold, and came back a few minutes later to confirm there was space available. They then asked me to contact the Livestock Authority at the airport to confirm their health documents were in order, then to call back to confirm payment.
3. I called the livestock authority. We did not understand each other. They told me to email, so I did. I didn't hear back. Two days later I asked our vet what to do and she said call Air France and tell them everything is fine.
4. I called Air France and told them everything was fine. They said okay, and I gave them our credit card info to pay for all 6 of our flights. Got email confirmation for all. The cats' flights cost: 4150B (£100) per cat for the two in the cabin. 6640B (£161) per cat for the two in the hold. Total for four cats: 21 580THB (£523). Much cheaper than flying into the UK directly. I won't include the human flights into the expenses, because we would have spent that money anyway. Pro tip: Buying return flights (BKK-CDG-BKK) was 10 000THB cheaper than buying only 1 way flights. Why? Dunno.
Boat Tickets: We booked the Lomprayah catamaran from Koh Tao to Chumphon. They charge 200THB per pet for travel, and the pets must stay outside on the deck. We didn't pay for the cats tickets until the day we travelled, but for the sake of organisation I'm keeping this here. Cost for the cats to go on a boat: 800THB/£20.
Taxi to Bangkok: Our vet booked us a private driver and van to make the long drive from Chumphon to Bangkok, which cost 7000THB (£172). We didn't actually book this until a week before the trip, but we talked to our vet in advance to be sure she could do this for us. Another option would have been to take the train from Chumphon to Bangkok but we definitely didn't want to wrestle with four cats and our luggage on a loud train. Nope. Note that animals cannot travel by bus in Thailand.
Relo4paws: I came across Relo4paws during my extensive research, and came highly recommended by a few people I knew who had moved animals out of Thailand. They are based in Bangkok, and facilitate as much or as little of the export/import process as you need. At first we didn't think we'd need them, but eventually decided we needed all the help we could get. I spoke on the phone to the owner, James, and he said he could take our cats to the Livestock Authority at the airport to get their export papers, help us check in for our flights, make sure our documents were organised correctly etc.. He charges 6000THB for the first pet and 1500B for each additional pet so that was a total of 10 500THB / £260.
Pet Taxi: Super easy, just a quick email and online payment of £525. This was for a private driver in a van to come to the Paris airport, pick us up, drive to the Eurotunnel and facilitate the border inspection of the animals, then drive us to the hotel of our choice in Folkestone.
Hotels: We needed to spend 3 nights in Bangkok before leaving Thailand, to go to the airport to get the cats' final health checks and export papers (I'll talk more about this soon). We decided to stay at Villa Volpi, which has lovely rooms and would let us keep 4 cats in 1 room at no additional fee. The cost was 8000THB (£194) for 3 nights. There's another hotel in Bangkok, near the airport where you can stay, called Ploykhumthong Boutique Resort. The base price of the room is cheaper, but they charge per pet, so for us it would have been more expensive than Villa Volpi, which was nicer anyway.
We also needed to stay in Folkestone, England for 1 night before driving to Scotland. We stayed at the Burlington Hotel, which charged £10 per pet, plus £97 for the room = 5650THB/£137. Note that I include hotels as a pet-related travel expense because we wouldn't have had to stay in hotels otherwise.
Buy things you need
Cat carriers: We needed two hard-sided carriers for the two cats going in the hold, and two soft-sided carriers for the cats going in the cabin. Look up your airline's requirements for carriers. Here are Air France's. I spent a long time online shopping for cat carriers. In the end I bought two Sleepypod Air carriers for in-cabin. They are super expensive but also extremely high quality and I didn't want to cheap out on something so important. They meet all airlines' in-cabin requirements. I actually found them on Lazada for 6650THB each, which was cheaper than Amazon UK, which is cool. We also bought our cats' hard-sided carriers on Lazada, for 800B each. Our vet helped us choose the correct size. So, total cost of carriers was 6650 * 2 + 800B * 2 = 14 900THB/£370. Once the carriers arrived we started training our cats to like them... we left them open, and gave them treats in the carriers every day. After a week or so, we started closing the cats in the carriers for a minute or two, and gradually built up the time they spent inside until they could chill for an hour or two relatively comfortably.
Feliway: I spoke to a vet friend who recommended Feliway to help the cats during travel. Feliway is a pheromone that helps cats feel calm, happy, and at-home. We bought two diffusers, and two bottles of spray. The cost was £67.
Other stuff: We bought four collapsible travel bowls off eBay for basically nothing. We also bought puppy pads to line their carriers. We also bought a portable litter tray and small bag of cat litter and had it delivered to the pet taxi office in the UK, so our driver could bring it to us when he picked us up in Paris so the cats could have a pee break after the long flight. Total cost of these items was about £20.
1-2 weeks BEFORE YOU TRAVEL
By now everything should be organized and you should be ready to go. It's still a good idea to double check your reservations, and make sure your paperwork is all in order. For cats going from Thailand to the UK, the paperwork we needed to have in advance was: microchip certificates (showing the cats had been microchipped, and each cats' chip number) / vaccination booklets (showing the rabies vaccine, dated after the microchip implantation date) / rabies blood titre test (the papers you get from Germany). I borrowed our vet's microchip reader and re-scanned the cats to make sure the microchips were still reading easily, and that the correct number was on all paperwork.
Aside from that, we just spent lots of time drinking cocktails on the beach and crying. Not really related to pet travel, but still an important part of our last days on the rock.
PART 2: the journey
Koh Tao to Bangkok
Christ, I've been writing for forever and I'm only now getting to the actual trip. Told you there was lots of planning involved...
Anyway, on the day of travel we stopped feeding the cats a few hours before we left home. When the time came, we loaded them into their carriers and our friends helped us put them in the taxi that would bring us to the pier. I was bawling, and cats were howling. Not the best start of the trip but that's how it went down. At the pier I went to check us all in/pay for the cats' tickets and Jo stayed with the cats in the taxi. The Lomprayah staff were very friendly and they let us board first and helped us with our cats and bags. The cats were really good on the boat, actually, and we were blessed with calm seas. I lay on the ground next to them, talking to them, which helped... I got up to take a photo and they started meowing. So I lay with them for the 90 minute boat ride.
Once we arrived at the Chumphon pier we had to make our way down the very long pier with our luggage and four cats. It sucked, but we made it. Our driver was waiting for us with his van, and we loaded the cats... this part was terrible. There wasn't really enough space so the cats were being jostled like crazy while we Tetris'd them in. They were howling, I was very stressed. Once we started driving they all panicked, and went pretty frantic. Chili in particular went wild, panting and her eyes glazed over. I was terrified. Jo texted our vet who suggested we take them out of the carriers which seemed nuts, but we did it... and it worked. We spent the whole 7 hour drive holding 3/4 cats in our laps... Lou was the only one who would stay fairly quiet in her carrier.
We eventually arrived at our hotel in Bangkok, exhausted and frazzled. The staff all came to welcome us while our driver unceremoniously dumped (!!) our cats' carriers on the ground (one of them landed sideways and I was RAGING!). Fortunately, the trip got better from there. The staff helped us to our very nice room and I immediately plugged in a Feliway diffuser (luckily I brought a socket adapter!). The cats started sniffing and exploring, and all drank a lot of water. Jo and I were delighted at how quickly they got over the stress of the car ride. They are indoor cats who had only ever lived in our apartment so we didn't know if they'd be scared of the new room. I don't know if it was the Feliway or just the fact that we were together, but they were totally chill. Thank God.
James from Relo4paws had brought litter trays and a bag of litter to the hotel prior to our arrival. He brought us really nice organic wood pellet litter... which our cats did not understand. So we spent most of our first night awake, watching them try to work out the litter. They all eventually peed (after lots of meowing) so the next morning Jo went to Tescos and bought the litter they were used to. The cats were very grateful! We had brought their usual food from Koh Tao, both wet and dry. We fed them mostly wet food to help them stay hydrated. The cats were honestly amazing in Bangkok. They were relaxed and happy, ate and drank well, and were their usual selves.
The morning of our first day in BKK, James came to pick us up and take us to the Airport Authority to get the export papers done. We didn't have to go with him, but wanted to. We brought all our paperwork and each cat had their temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate monitored. Everyone passed their health check on the first go, and staff were very friendly. It was hugely beneficial to have James to take us, as we never would have known where the office was, otherwise. The export papers and health certificate also take a long time to be ready (I spoke to a woman who had spent 7 hours waiting for the papers for 1 cat), so James took us and the cats back to the hotel and said he'd pick up the papers later. We spent the rest of the day, and the entire next day, just chilling... we booked 3 nights in Bangkok so that we'd have a rest day before the big flight, and so that we had a buffer just in case anything went wrong with the health checks. Since our vet and James had done such a good job helping us be organized, we got to spend our last days in Thailand drinking beer in the pool, and working our tans one last time.
Our flight was at 11:30am on December 8. James picked us up at 7:30am and drove us to the airport. He had all of our paperwork perfectly organized, including export papers, health certificates, etc.. I would 1000% recommend using Relo4paws; as organized and well-prepared as we were, I still think we couldn't have done this without him. He helped us check in, and the airport staff were super friendly. We had to weigh all the cats in their carriers... Chili was exactly 8kg, which is the exact weight limit! We had thought we wouldn't be able to sit together on the plane, since we were told by the airline on the phone that animals need to be in different parts of the cabin. So, we were delighted to be given seats next to each other!
James took us to the oversized baggage check in, where we had to part ways with Moo and Bagheera, who were traveling in the hold. It was heart wrenching and I honestly hate thinking about it right now. But we stayed strong for the kitties.... mostly. Then Jo and I said goodbye to James and took Lou and Chili to go through security. It was a pretty painless process. The cats meowed a bit but it wasn't bad. When we went through security, we had to take the cats out of the carriers and hold them in our arms while the carriers went through X-ray and we walked through the body scanners. I held on tight to be sure the cats didn't escape but honestly they clung to me like little trembling koalas. I was glad to have the chance to give them some cuddles and kisses before tucking them back in the carriers. We found a quiet bit of the airport to rest a little before the flight.
Once our gate opened we went down and I asked the staff to check on the cats. They did, and said the cats weren't loaded yet as they wanted to do so last to be sure they didn't sit on the plane for extra time which I appreciated. I ended up seeing the cats get loaded... staff were gentle, and I was emotional (an ongoing theme, to be sure).
Next we got on the plane, and staff were super kind; they arranged it so we had a whole row of 4 to ourselves. There were electric sockets at the bottom of our seats, so I plugged in the Feliway diffuser again. I was worried for the cats in the hold, but talked to staff and they checked on them and ensured me they were fine.
The flight itself was hard. Lou was pretty quiet, but Chili was not. She hated being in her carrier... she's not a small cat and I think she was just physically uncomfortable in a little carrier on a 13+ hour flight. I wished I could take her out and cuddle her, but obviously that's not allowed. Our flight attendant was a dream, though, and checked on us a lot and was so, so kind. She definitely didn't subtly suggest I take Chili out of her carrier and onto my lap for a bit of a break, though, because that's against the rules. So that's definitely not what happened. Nope... not at all.
The next part was possibly the worst part of the whole ordeal. The landing. I never really noticed how bumpy planes are when they land. But they are. They're also loud... so, so loud. Chili and Lou were so scared, and I could only imagine what Moo and Bagheera were going through, alone, without us. It sucked. But we made it, and some other nice passengers helped us get through the swarm of people who inevitably all try to get off the plane first. We rushed through immigration as fast as we could, and hurried to the baggage area, desperate to be reunited with Moo and Bagheera. Jo waited for the luggage while I took Chili and Lou to find their siblings. It took quite a while, but eventually the airport handlers brought them in... and my heart broke. Bagheera was so scared he had buried himself under the towel in his kennel, which was vibrating with his fear. Moo was trying to meow but had lost her voice, presumably from meowing for the past 15-16 hours. But, they were okay, and we were together.
I had a WhatsApp from our driver saying he'd be 45 minutes late due to tunnel delays, which was actually a blessing, as Jo and I found a baby change room with a solid, lockable door. We went in with the cats and let them loose. There was a lot of sniffing and they were all very thirsty. As soon as they were out of their carriers they settled down immediately and I was once again so impressed at their resilience.
paris to folkestone
Our driver arrived at about 8pm, Paris time. We quickly loaded the cats into the (thankfully spacious) van and proceeded to speed through the streets of Paris during an epic downpour. I didn't even consider keeping Chili in her carrier, and took her out to be in my lap. She was exhausted after the flight so stretched out and went to sleep. Lou sat with Jo and Moo and Bagheera were blessedly quiet in their kennels. The drive was uneventful. We made it to the Eurotunnel and I brought the four cats in to the pet check office. It was late and pretty empty. Each cat had their paperwork looked through carefully, and their microchip read. It was a quick process since everything was perfectly organized. The Eurotunnel ride was easy, we all stayed in the car, and before we knew it, we'd arrived at our destination in Folkestone.
The Burlington hotel staff were very friendly, saw how tired we were, and checked us in efficiently and helped us to our room. Once again, the cats were able to shake off the stress of the travel and were just excited to be exploring a new place. We set up the portable litter box the pet taxi driver had brought and all cats were desperate for a pee. I drank airplane wine in the bathtub. Moo was walking really stiffly and I was worried, but the next morning she was fine. Everyone slept very soundly, our first night in the UK as a family.
folkestone to scotland
When we first left Koh Tao and took the taxi up to Bangkok, I honestly didn't know how we were going to make it. The cats hated the vehicle so, so much. I never would have imagined that the last leg of the trip, a 10 hour drive north from Folkestone, would be the best part of the trip. But, it was.
While we were flying over from Thailand, Jo's dad and brother drove their motorhome down from Scotland. They spent the night camping near our hotel. The next morning, they picked us up bright and early... it was so good to see friendly, familiar faces after such a long trip (5 days of travel at this point, if you've been keeping track). We loaded our belongings into the motorhome and explained that, despite our best efforts to get the cats to love their carriers, they hated them. So we agreed to just let the cats roam free in the motorhome, with the stipulation that Jo and I had to be sure they didn't wander into the front, where they could cause trouble if they lodged themselves under the pedals. It worked perfectly... the cats each found a place they felt comfortable traveling (Chili next to me, Lou next to Chili, Moo stretched out on the sofa, and Bagheera under the bedsheets!), and off we went.
We left our Thai home at 9am (Thai time) on December 5th. At 7pm (UK time) on December 9th, we arrived to our new Scottish home.
It's been two months since we arrived in the UK. I've put off finishing this blog because frankly, I didn't want to relive the experience. Having said that, it wasn't really that bad. The cats have all been super happy since we arrived, and settled in beautifully. They're dealing really well with their first winter, and found out really quickly what radiators are, and why they're awesome. I think this whole experience has brought us even closer together. The six of us have always been tight knit family, but now, we're inseparable. We thought the cats would like to have the extra space afforded by our Scottish house... there's even different rooms, unlike our one-room Thai flat. But, the cats are never apart from each other, nor us. All four are currently curled up in a basket meant for two, next to my feet. If we sit on the sofa, they do, too. When we go to bed, they all come (that part's not so comfortable... we need a bigger bed...). Moo and Bagheera, who always got along but weren't particularly close, are now total besties. I think the time they spent together on the flight changed their relationship.
Getting them here wasn't easy... but it was worth it.
PART 3: summary of expenses
Okie dokie, I'm going to wrap this up with a summary of our expenses. I kept careful track of how much we spent (but didn't add it up till just now because I knew it would be scary). Since most people don't have four cats, I'll also summarise how much the identical journey would cost with only 1 cat. Math alert: it's not just 1/4 because some expenses were per-cat expenses (e.g. blood tests) but some were per-trip expenses (e.g. hotel rooms). If you have only one cat you can save substantial cash by, for example, taking the train to Bangkok rather than a private van.
Well, there we have it. The longest, most intense blog post I will ever write (I assume). I truly hope this is useful to you. Please let me know if you have questions or comments, additional resources that could be of use, or your own experience to share. Let's work together to make sure no pet gets left behind.
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