It’s been 2 months now since we bought Jimi to England. He is so completely settled now and really seems to love it here. All the confusion, stress and money was worth it to see him so adorably happy every time we go for a walk in the woods. But, make no mistake, bringing a dog to England from Vietnam is not quick, or simple. And, in our experience at least, it is so easy to make expensive mistakes.
While a lot of the process is still rather mysterious to me, I hope this blog can serve as a guide to others looking to bring their own Vietnamese furry friends to the UK.
First things first, let’s talk about costs.
When we approached a vet in Hanoi before we got Jimi he quoted us around $1,000 dollars. It’s not a small amount of money, right?
We ended up paying over $2,000.
This included his microchip, all his initial jabs, the EU rabies certificate, the cage, the flight, transport to the airport, the health certificate and pre-trip medication, customs in both Vietnam and the UK, a UK agent and fees for the Animal Reception Centre who held him on arrival.
There is a lot that goes into both leaving Vietnam and arriving in the UK as a dog…
Let’s start from the beginning.
4-6 months before travelling from Vietnam to the UK with a dog
Before we got Jimi a few people recommended Asvelis in Hanoi so we went with them for his initial vaccinations as a puppy and they then helped us to process him for the pet travel scheme.
I have also heard wonderful things about Happy Pet, especially regarding the export of dogs.
The first thing to consider in the pet travel scheme is getting your dog microchipped. You’ll need to get an ISO standard microchip and this must be done BEFORE your dog is vaccinated.
Your dog must be vaccinated against rabies in order to arrive in the UK. The rabies vaccine must be administered after 12 weeks old. The Pet Travel Scheme website states that this should be done no less than 21 days before you plan to arrive in the UK, but should be done earlier for Vietnam as it is considered an unlisted, third-party country in the scheme. More on that later. Again, the rabies vaccination should be done AFTER your dog has been microchipped.
Rabies Serology Test
As Vietnam is an unlisted country on the Pet Travel Scheme, the rabies vaccination needs to be verified by an EU vet. This means having a blood test taken at least 30 days after the rabies vaccination and then having it sent to France to be tested. This was one of the most expensive parts of the process, costing around $500.
At least 3 months must pass from the blood sample date before you can consider arriving in the UK. So, this means you’ll need to start the process at least 4-5 months before you plan to leave. The vets in Hanoi recommend starting the process 6 months before to allow time for any complications.
If you end up doing the above and then staying in Vietnam for a few years before heading back to the UK, you’ll need to make sure you keep up to date with your dog’s rabies vaccinations. Asvelis administered a 1 year vaccine and we left after 8 months, so we are getting the rabies booster in the UK. If you do not keep up with the vaccine dates, your rabies serology test will be invalid.
Once you’ve decided the date you’ll bring your dog from Vietnam to the UK
Transfer of Residency Relief
Again, as Vietnam is outside the EU, you’ll also need a Transfer of Residency Reference. We were told this could take up to 6 weeks but we got ours within a few days.
It is easy to apply via filling out the postal form here and emailing it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll need your pets microchip number and the date of arrival in the UK in order to complete the form. They will then email you with a reference code that you’ll need for customs in the UK.
At least 2 weeks before travelling from Vietnam to the UK with a dog
Your vet cannot book the flight for your dog without the dimensions of the cage in which the dog will travel. They also need the combined weight of the dog and the cage. The cage must be large enough for your dog to move around comfortably in, with room above the ears when the dog is sitting up and enough room lengthways for the dog to turn around fully.
The cage must be a flight approved travel cage. Asvelis quoted as an insane 4.5million VND for their cage based on the dimensions we gave them of Jimi (these dimensions were also used to quote on the flight ticket). We bought a cage at Pet Mart off of Nghi Tam in Tay Ho. This is a fantastic pet shop and the cage only cost 1.8million.
BUT when we took it to Asvelis for the weigh in, we realised the cage was slightly bigger than the original dimensions. When they adjusted this for the flight ticket we ended up having to pay $200 more for the flight ticket!!
We couldn’t take the cage back as they don’t accept returns… it was a very stupid and unnecessary mistake. Having said that, Jimi had plenty of room in the cage and we didn’t have to worry about him being turned away because of the cage size (which can apparently happen).
So, the lesson here is to get the cage size right (and buy it!) before your vet quotes up the flight ticket so you have no nasty surprises.
Doggy Flight Tickets
Currently the only flight out of Vietnam direct to the UK is Vietnam Airlines to Heathrow (from both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh). Our vet quoted us approximately $600 for the flight ticket.
This seemed a lot to us so we tried to figure out doing it ourselves. On the Vietnam Airlines website, you’ll find a page about pet travel that gives prices less than $250. But, here’s the trick: In order to comply with the UK Pet Travel Scheme, your dog must fly as manifest cargo. I have no idea what this is exactly and neither did any of the Vietnam Airlines staff who I spoke to directly to try and get a cheaper flight ticket.
In the end we let Asvelis book the ticket for us, knowing they had done this so many times successfully before. I still think that Vietnam Airlines would have let us book a $250 ticket but I didn’t want to risk any issues on the day with customs either in Vietnam itself or all the way over in the UK.
This was the general feeling during the whole process: Throw money in whenever we didn’t understand the bureaucracy in the hope that it would lead to no issues.
UK Clearing Agent
There is conflicting information online about the need for a clearing agent when bringing a dog into the UK. The City of London page for the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre says you may be able to do it yourself with the help of the airline but when I called the centre on Skype they told me point blank that we 100% needed an agent.
I emailed a few and the cheapest quote was PBS at £400. I was told this would include customs entry, Animal Reception Centre Fees, and any airline handling fees. In order to pay them, you need to have the airway bill number which your vet will receive after booking the flight ticket.
Your vet in Vietnam will then liaise with the agent to organise all the necessary documents for your dog to get through customs in the UK.
My vet sent an Annex IV health certificate (this is the non-EU equivalent of the EU pet passport), the Rabies serology test, the airway bill, an animal health certificate for export and a copy of his vaccination card to PBS via email. I sent them the ToR reference.
Seems simple, if expensive. But, despite all their good reviews, I cannot recommend PBS for reasons you’ll read about soon.
On the day of travel from Vietnam to the UK with your dog
Currently the flight from Hanoi to Heathrow with Vietnam Airlines is at 1am. Sadly, we had to part with Jimi a full 12 hours before this departure.
Hanoi customs closes in the afternoon and therefore the vets need time to go to the airport and sort everything out before that. Usually, they would then leave the dog at customs until the flight. They have a nurse with them, but they cannot leave the cage.
We were already worrying about Jimi experiencing flying, let alone staying in a cage for 24 hours. Asvelis were wonderful when we expressed our concerns and on the day they organised customs, then took Jimi to a holding area where they could safely let him out to run around and pee. They even sent us pictures of him.
It’s still a long and very intense experience for the dogs but Asvelis did everything they could to help make it comfortable for Jimi and for us which we really appreciated.
The same cannot be said of PBS who neither myself nor Asvelis heard from to confirm Jimi’s arrival.
On arrival in the UK
We travelled on the same flight as Jimi (more on that next) and I called up the Heathrow Reception Centre to check on Jimi when we were waiting to collect our bags. They were surprised to hear from me and couldn’t find Jimi’s details on the system. Thankfully the woman reassured me that they’d dispatch someone immediately to go an pick him up from the plane!
We then travelled to the Reception Centre ourselves and checked in with one of the staff. We were told it could take up to 6 hours (which we already knew having looked on their website) but they’d know more once they began processing. They told us to go away and they’d call with a more specific time frame.
We drove to McDonald’s, got a coffee and 45 minutes later they called to say it would be 3 hours. We had nowhere else to go so we went back to the waiting room.
After 3 hours and nothing, we flagged down one of the busy staff going in and out of the no entry doors. Apparently Jimi’s paperwork hadn’t been found and therefore the process had not even begun. I was pretty pissed at this point as I had copies of the paperwork on me for this very reason and had told them that when we arrived.
When we called PBS (who still hadn’t been in touch) to figure out what the hell was going on, and what the hell we were paying them for, the guy we spoke to was incredibly dismissive, telling us they were busy and that everything was in order. No reassurance whatsoever.
In the end a courier arrived with Jimi’s paperwork and he was released a couple of hours later.
I still have no idea what went wrong and who was to blame, but we waited a gruelling 9 hours to get him. Really, we should have left and come back. But throughout the whole process we had no idea what was really going on. The only consolation was having the staff tell us how lovely Jimi was and how well he was doing – when we managed to get them to stop and talk to us!
When I asked one of the staff at the Centre what we could have done differently, she told me that JCS Livestock actually share their office. She said that while they work very independently, if anything does go wrong (like our missing paperwork) it is much easier to communicate with them just upstairs.
I still don’t understand the clearing agents role but if you do have to book one then I would go with JCS.
Booking your own tickets from Vietnam to the UK
For some reason, Oli and I were under the impression that we had to be on the same flight as Jimi when bringing him to the UK. This is not the case! Vietnam Airlines is great and flying direct is amazing but their flights are usually expensive.
Because of the lengthy wait you’ll likely have to pick up your dog from the Animal Reception Centre, we’d recommend you book the cheapest flight you can and get in a few hours after your dog lands. This will cut your waiting time and also combat the expense of getting them home! You can then have a family member or friend call up to check on everything when the dog arrives..
One final thing to note is that bringing your dog into the UK from Vietnam is via the Pet Travel Scheme. While many people use the term Pet Passport in Vietnam, the official Pet Passport is an EU system administered only by EU certified vets. If you wish to travel with your dog again after coming into the UK, you’ll need a UK vet to organise an EU Pet Passport.
We just figured all this out when getting Jimi’s rabies booster in England and it cost around £32.
Wow. I think that is the longest blog post I have ever written. Congratulations if you made it through!
I wanted to outline not just the necessary steps for bringing a dog into the UK from Vietnam, but also the mistakes we made to so that hopefully you can learn from ours and sail smoothly through this confusing and stressful process.
Good luck! And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.