Yes, so Husband and I have relocated to London! More importantly, our cats have also relocated to London…
Though the process ended up being relatively smooth, there were still a few bumps here and there that I could’ve avoided Had I Known Better. So, as a public service to anyone about to embark on this particular adventure, here’s what I’ve learnt about How To Relocate Your Cats From Singapore To The UK:
*We flew into London Heathrow, but for anyone flying into other airports in the UK, the procedure should be more or less the same
**For dog parents, the procedure should also be more or less the same. However, those with well-behaved small dogs might consider the fly-in-cabin-to-Paris route, as I’ll mention below.
- Hire a Pet Relocation Specialist
The End! Nah, just kidding. There’s still a lot you’ll need to do on your own after you hire the specialist. But getting a pet relocation specialist to do all the paperwork, prepare the cats’ carriers and transport the cats to the airport on the actual day will really take a load off your mind.
The specialist I used, recommended to me by my vet clinic, is Pets Lighthouse. They were super organised, friendly and helpful, and I’d recommend them without reservation.
- Accept that your cats will go in the hold
Accept that your cats will go in the hold. Accept that your cats will go in the hold. ACCEPT THAT YOUR CATS WILL GO IN THE HOLD.
Most pets entering the UK on a commercial flight are required to travel as cargo. They travel in a separate, heated compartment from the baggage. But yes, they’ll be separated from you and they will have to listen to the incredibly loud engine noise for like 13 hours.
The only way to get around this hold requirement is A. if you have an assistance dog; B. if you travel by private jet; or C. if you fly into another country and then enter the UK by car/ferry (note: bringing pets into the UK from the EU might well get more complicated paperwork-wise after Brexit comes into effect… at the time I was making the decision, the UK was still in the EU).
Options A. and B. were not available to me. I won’t lie: I seriously considered option C. From Singapore, Air France flies direct to Paris Charles de Gaulle. Air France allows pets to fly with you in the cabin, as long as the pet+carrier weighs less than 8kg. After getting to Paris, you can hire a pet transport company to take you into the UK by car, and they will handle the paperwork too. One company I found is Pet Moves, which seems quite good (obviously, I did not end up using them).
I was so serious about option C. that I even put fat Mori on a diet (he’s 7.3kg and even with the lightweight soft carrier, he was exceeding the 8kg limit). But in the end, for several reasons, I decided to suck it up and accept that the cats would be best off in the hold. Why?
a. You can fly directly into the UK. Though the driving time between Paris and London is approximately six hours, this of course will vary according to traffic conditions and any hold-ups at the border. At the time that I was making the decision, there was the issue of the ‘Jungle’ at Calais (the most common Channel crossing), with heightened security at the border. Though an extra six to ten-plus hours might not seem much to a human, to a cat who has already spent 13 hours sitting in a small carrier (the carrier will be small, because it has to fit under the seat in front of you), any extra hour just adds to the discomfort. Unless your cat is leash-trained and you can take him out to stretch/use the litter box after the flight, that means your cat could be stuck in that small bag for close to a day.
b. Less baggage to deal with. If you are relocating your cats, it’s probable that you plan to be in the UK for some time. Though most things can be shipped, you’ll probably still need to check in a lot of baggage, enough to last you a month or so until your shipment arrives from Singapore. Imagine juggling your large suitcase/s, backpack, handbag etc, and then one or two (or three) cats in bags as well…
c. More room for the cat during the flight. If the cat flies in the cabin, he has to fit under the seat in front of you. If he flies in the hold, he is required to fly in a carrier that allows him to stand up and turn around without any part of his body touching the carrier. If he pees in-flight, there’s newspaper to soak it up. The pet relocation specialist will be able to supply a suitable carrier that meets all the requirements. They will also fix a water bottle drip and food tray so your cat can eat and drink during the flight.
For these reasons, in the end I decided to fly my cats as manifest cargo. This meant that they flew on their own airway bill (not as my excess baggage), and in fact they ended up flying to London on an earlier flight than mine: they departed a few hours earlier, meaning that at Heathrow, I did not have to wait for a long time at the Animal Reception Centre for them to clear customs.
The minus side, besides the anxiety of being separated from your cats and worrying about their well-being, is that flying your cats as manifest cargo is actually pretty expensive — as if I’d bought them each an economy ticket!
- Make sure you have proof that your cats have been in Singapore for six months, and get them microchipped ASAP
If your cats are arriving into the UK from Singapore, good news — there is no quarantine as long as you have all the paperwork done right and you have all their vaccinations in order. The pet relocation specialist will be able to advise you on the necessary vaccinations to get. However, there is one thing the pet relocation specialist can’t help you with: getting proof that your cats have been in Singapore for at least six months.
My cats are five years old, were born in Singapore, and had lived in Singapore all their lives. Easy to prove, right? Not so. Firstly, I’d failed to microchip them, which means that they could be any old cats, really. Even if you have vet receipts with your cat’s name on them, if there’s no microchip number, that doesn’t prove anything. Just because I once brought a ginger cat named Sir Sirius to a vet three years ago doesn’t mean that that’s the same ginger cat I want to bring to the UK.
Secondly, I failed to establish a regular vet for the cats. For various reasons, I switched a lot between vets, and the one vet we were quite regular with left the country a while back. So I had no one qualified (i.e. a vet) to vouch that the cats had been in Singapore for at least six months. And unfortunately, though the cats have been pictorially well-documented online throughout their lives on Facebook and Instagram, that is not sufficient evidence for UK customs.
At this point in time, we were three or four months from relocating! It looked like the cats might have to follow us later, once I’d managed to hook them up with a vet who’d then have to know them for six months. Fortunately, I ended up going to a vet for the cats’ microchipping and vaccinations with whom I have a mutual friend. This friend was able to testify that I have had these cats for years. Hence, the vet very kindly wrote two letters stating that my cats were born in Singapore and have lived there all their lives. Thus I obtained my six months’ proof.
I won’t name the vet here to avoid getting anyone in trouble, but that vet is awesome! (I want to stress that this method only works if you are a trustworthy person who knows a vet or who is friends with someone who knows one.)
- Get the travel carrier ASAP and get your cat familiarised with it
I bought the carriers through the pet relocation specialist, who came down to my place to deliver them and make sure they were big enough (in fact, Fat Mori turned out to be too big for his, so they had to come down again to give me a bigger one!). I received the carriers about a month in advance, and left them open in the house so the cats could pop in and out as they liked. I also put old smelly clothes and treats in the carriers to encourage them to go in — all the usual stuff you’ll read on other cat-care websites.
Well, these methods do kind of work… but your cats will still end up hating the carriers once they are trapped in them. They will probably paw about quite a bit. If you’re anxious about the carrier bolts breaking off from all the thrashing-around (this happened with the cat of a friend of mine), you can reinforce the seams with cable ties. That said, the carriers provided to me by the pet relocation specialist seemed very sturdy, though I did add cable ties anyway.
The cats will especially hate the carriers after they’ve been in them for 13 hours. Just a heads-up. Not that it matters as you’ll already be in the UK by then, but just be prepared as you’ll probably have to get them back in there one or two more times, for example when moving from your hotel (or in our case, Airbnb) to your permanent address.
I won’t go on with cat-comforting tips as there’s a lot of other blogs out there with better advice than I could give, but one thing I’d say is definitely worth getting is a pheromone spray or liquid, such as Feliway or Spirit Essences. I also really like the Feliway plug-in, which you stick into an electrical socket in any unfamiliar room your cat is in. Sir Sirius is a nervous cat, but he actually took to new environments such as our Airbnb rather well, and I suspect it’s thanks to all those synthetic pheromones!
- Get the number of a minicab service to transport you from the Animal Reception Centre to your hotel or residence — or try Uber
The pet relocation specialist will arrange an agent who will help with the processing of your cats in the UK. This agent will probably e-mail you in advance and ask if you want them to transport the cats for you from Heathrow to an address of your choice.
I did consider taking them up on the offer for convenience’s sake, but in the end I decided to pick the cats up myself as I wanted to A. save money; B. see the cats as soon as possible; C. not get into a situation where the cats might actually arrive at the Airbnb earlier than us (with resultant complications); and D. see what the Animal Reception Centre is like (a friend told me about it and my curiousity was piqued).
So, let’s say you decide to pick up your cats yourself from the Animal Reception Centre. After you land at Heathrow and collect your luggage, you will have to make your own way to the Animal Reception Centre, which is on the Heathrow campus but nowhere near the passenger terminals. You will have to take a cab — there is no shuttle/skytrain etc. I was a bit worried about this — I thought the cabby would not be too happy about driving us for such a short distance — but black cab drivers are pretty professional, and the one we found at the taxi stand didn’t grumble at all. The drive from Terminal 2 to the Animal Reception Centre took about 15 minutes, and I honestly can’t remember how much the fare was, but it wasn’t too much.
However, black cabs are expensive when you go long distances! Also, the Animal Reception Centre is rather out of the way, and there’s no line of taxis waiting there for fares… So, after collecting your cats, it’s worth calling a minicab company to come pick you and the cats up. Minicabs are cheaper than black cabs as the drivers don’t have ‘The Knowledge’, though with GPS these days it doesn’t really matter. (Despite the name ‘minicab’, the cabs aren’t actually mini (just like black cabs aren’t always black…) — ‘minicabs’ are just private-hire vehicles which have to be booked, you can’t flag them down.)
You can ask the Animal Reception Centre staff to help call one for you… or what’s better is to call one yourself, as sometimes the driver will want to call you back to check your location, let you know his ETA, etc. It’s easy to pick up a prepaid sim card at Heathrow after you exit customs — at Terminal 2, there’s an EE shop along the way to the taxi stand. Just make sure your phone is unlocked, of course (not a problem with Singapore-bought phones).
With the sim card, it’s easy enough to google the number of a minicab company… do be sure to tell them you have two cats and a lot of luggage, so they’ll send a big car. Or, though it didn’t occur to me at the time, you could try Uber? Not sure how many Uber drivers hang around near the Animal Reception Centre, but always worth a shot!
And that’s it! I think I’ve addressed most of the key issues involved in relocating cats from Singapore to the UK. This post is by no means an exhaustive list of all the things you should think about when relocating your pet, but there are already a ton of blogs out there that will cover more general aspects of relocation — and as a good pet parent, I’m sure you’ve already found them!
Bon Voyage to you and your kitties!