Military Spouse PCSing with Pets – OCONUS (United Kingdom) Edition
A couple of months ago, and completely out of the “wild blue yonder”, my husband learned he’d be PCSing to the United Kingdon. After we got over the initial shock (and he realized it was an accompanied PCS and not a deployment), and our elation simmered to bubbling excitement, it was time for (one of) the not-so-fun parts of PCSing – figuring out the details.
As my husband and I discussed what items should go in which shipment (There are three shipments – 1. Household goods (HHG) – the main shipment of items, 2. Unaccompanied baggage (an express shipment of essentials) and 3. Temporary storage), I quickly made it clear that there was one item I absolutely refused to leave behind – my dog (I would say “our dog”, but my husband insists he’s mine alone).
This Yorkie/Pom came into my life at younger than ten weeks old – before my husband and I started dating, and shortly after a split from…someone who was merely making room for my husband, quite honestly. Suffice it to say, I’ve had him (the dog, that is) for a very long time.
My husband and I don’t have any children – yet. So he’s my psuedo-child (the dog, not my husband). He’s a tiny little thing, with a huge personality. Kind of like…well, me.
On to the logistics.
Usually, transporting pets is super simple. You pay a fee and carry your pet on as excess baggage. As I researched United Kingdom specific travel, though, I quickly realized that the UK imposes a strict ban against pets traveling in-cabin and there are rare exceptions. There was no doubt about it – my pet would have to travel as cargo. If this wasn’t devastating enough, I also learned that the paperwork process and actual logistics could quite possibly be incredibly complex.
There are two primary options for shipping pets as cargo – 1. Hire a company or 2. DIY.
If you want to put everything in someone else’s hands, check out a pet shipper through IPATA. These services usually run about $3,000 or more, but is all-inclusive and can alleviate a lot of stress.
If you want to save money, as we did, and DIY, join one of the following Facebook groups:
- DIY PCSing With Pets Overseas
- PCSing with Pets
- PCSing with Pets to the UK – Run by Silver Birch (a UK based pet service)
As you peruse these groups, you’ll find an assortment of suggestions regarding the best DIY method. Some people fly into other parts of Europe, rent a vehicle and drive into the UK to avoid paying certain costs. We elected to transport our pet via a U.S. airline – American Airlines.
American Airlines offers 50 percent (50 %) off of transport services for military families. Email them at LiveAnimals.firstname.lastname@example.org to get started. They will send you both flight and cost information. Note, however, that travel can only be confirmed within ten (10) days of travel date, and that there are temperature and kennel size restrictions. Other people have used United and British Airways.
Also note that a pet broker is mandatory in the United Kingdom. The broker will usher your pet through customs processing (which can take 3-8 hours) upon arrival in the country. Some airlines, like British Airways, include a pet broker in the price of transport. If it isn’t included, it will be a separate fee. We’ll be using PBS International (Email email@example.com), but there are tons of reputable companies out there.
In addition to the tips above, it’s also highly recommended that you apply for Transfer of Residency (ToR) relief. It was a super easy process.
To expedite your ToR relief application, mail it to the HRMC (the email address is on the form) with the subject line “URGENT – Live Animal ToR,” and make sure to include all required documentation (a copy of your PCS orders, a bill with your current address, etc.). On the form, for your UK address, use your APO mailbox address or the base address, if you do not yet know where you will be living. Note that completing the ToR application does NOT affect your residency as a US citizen, but it does help you avoid paying VAT tax on your pet. If approved, they will provide you with a ToR number that you will in turn share with your pet broker.
The military doesn’t reimburse for pet expenses, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Some groups recognize how devastating it can be when military families are forced to leave pets behind and actively work to keep military families, including pets, together.
SPCA International’s Operation Military Pets is one of those groups. They reimburse military families a portion of the expenses associated with the actual transport of the pet. The following is from their Website:
The Crisis: When military families are ordered to a new base in the U.S. or around the world, moving bills pile up. The military pays for many moving costs, but they don’t help our military families relocate the family pet. The cost for pet transportation can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars. All over the United States shelters near military bases report high surrender rates when military families can’t afford to relocate their dog or cat. Military families are being torn apart.
Our Mission: To keep military families together by providing financial assistance for pet relocation costs. All branches of the military can qualify for grants. Whether being relocated within the United States or anywhere in the world, SPCA International’s Operation Military Pets is here to keep pets with the ones they love.
What an awesome mission! And they have great follow-through. As an example, I estimate my DIY pet shipping total to be at about $1,000. SPCA has agreed to reimburse me half of that. Score! Even better? The reimbursement will come in the form of a direct deposit to my PayPal account. Score x 2!
Make sure to keep an eye on when applications open, as they are only accepted during certain periods. If you miss SPCA’s application period and are pressed for time, check out AE Pets Foundation (Email firstname.lastname@example.org). There may also be other companies out there that award similar grants. Be forewarned, though, you probably can’t receive and combine multiple grants.
While that’s it for now, of course this article doesn’t even begin to touch on the health check ups and shots (rabies is super important) your pet has to undergo, or the paperwork you have to complete (make sure you use either the military base veterinarian or a USDA certified vet, especially for the health certificate). That’s a post for another day (or, you can just click here).
Hopefully, though, the information provided here is enough to get you started. Happy PCSing (is that even a thing?) Cheerio!