New rules mean pets can travel freely without a passport between Great Britain and Northern Ireland

A new agreement between the EU and the UK will allow pet movements between Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) and Northern Ireland to continue easily, recognising the UK’s rabies- and tapeworm-free status.

The agreement aims to make crossing the Irish Sea easier for pet owners as well as travellers with assistance dogs.

Since 2021, Northern Ireland has stopped pet border checks with Great Britain but the new agreement removes any uncertainty surrounding pet travel rules between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Now under the agreement, ‘The Windsor Framework’, for pet owners visiting Northern Ireland from Great Britain but not travelling on to Ireland (the Republic of Ireland), the only requirement will be to confirm that the pet is microchipped and will not move into the EU (where the same EU certificate and health requirements will remain).

This will be in the form of a travel document issued for the lifetime of a pet, available online and electronically in a matter of minutes; or an equally seamless process built into the booking process for a flight or ferry.

This means that if a pet owner travels to Northern Ireland from England, Wales or Scotland, then they do not need to show the same documents that they would if they were traveling to the EU.

However, the document would include a declaration of a commitment by the owner or authorised person that the pet animals entering Northern Ireland from other parts of the UK will not be moved subsequently to a member state (this includes the Republic of Ireland).

“We will work with ferry companies to ensure that their online guidance reflects these new arrangements and gives travellers confidence to travel once again with their pets,” the UK government stated. “Also as part of these arrangements EU Member States, including Ireland, will be required to ensure appropriate deterrence for pet owners moving animals into Ireland from Great Britain via Northern Ireland in contravention of the terms above. The operation of checks North-South on the island of Ireland will, though, as with Great Britain-Northern Ireland movements, operate on a risk and intelligence-led basis.”

“Under the old Protocol each movement of a pet into Northern Ireland would have required an individual certificate and new, needless rabies jabs and other treatments for animals, despite Great Britain being rabies-free for more than a century,” the government stated. “While these requirements have been pragmatically enforced, many pet owners have felt bound to seek out these expensive treatments to the detriment of animal welfare.”

The new rules clarify pet travel between Great Britain and Northern Ireland (image: Pexels/Mathias Reding)

Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, told Parliament, “A pet owner travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland just needs to make sure that their pet is microchipped and then they will simply need to tick a box when booking their travel.”

Meanwhile, for Northern Ireland pet owners, there will be no new requirements of any kind. Pet parents can come and go from Great Britain without ever having to think about any paperwork or process.

Northern Ireland pet owners will of course continue to be able to move their pet to Ireland and the rest of the EU with an EU pet passport, though unlike internal Great Britain-Northern Ireland movements this will continue to include requirements such as the rabies vaccination.

A spokesperson for the UK charity Guide Dogs, said, “The plans to remove the need for paperwork as part of the Windsor Framework is welcome news for assistance dog owners in the UK as it ends the time consuming and costly process of travelling with a dog to and from Northern Ireland. Guide Dogs has been campaigning for the removal of time-consuming and costly checks and paperwork so people who rely on their assistance dog can travel freely in the UK.”

As for when these changes to pet travel will take effect, the UK government stated that plans will be approved at the next meeting of the UK-EU Joint Committee, which is expected to take place next month. However, it may not become law until autumn 2023.

Under new plans, animal health certificates are not required for travel between Great Britain and Northern Ireland (image: Rocky the Traveller)

Veterinary Medicines

The Framework also mentioned the transport of veterinary medicines into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

The original Protocol required a range of onerous authorisations and movement conditions for veterinary medicines entering Northern Ireland.

“These failed to take account of the overwhelming reliance of Northern Ireland on veterinary medicines from Great Britain, putting more than half of product lines at risk,” the government stated. “As part of the agreement, we have put in place a grace period arrangement until the end of 2025 which enables veterinary medicines authorised or approved in the UK, or which are moved via Great Britain, to continue to be placed on the market in Northern Ireland.”

According to the government, this safeguards those supplies, while providing time to establish a long-term solution which maintains the uninterrupted flow of veterinary medicines into Northern Ireland from Great Britain as is the case now.

In so doing the government said it is clear that the only practical solution will be a solution, as with human medicines, to ‘guarantee the existing and long-established flows of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland on which so many people and businesses rely.’

For those pet owners wishing to travel to Northern Ireland, the ferry remains the primary option for traveling with a pet from Great Britain. One of the ferries that travel there is the Stena Line. As of this writing, there are still no checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The video below shows what it’s like to take the ferry to Northern Ireland.

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