8 years after the Czech Republic joined the European Union and after its citizens were allowed to enjoy the benefits of free travelling and working all over the continent, one would expect that moving to the United Kingdom should be pretty easy. Well, it is, in case you are not a rabbit owner. Even though it is important to say, that things are not as difficult as they used to be just few years ago…
When my boyfriend got a job offer from London in August 2012, I thought that I will just buy a flight ticket, board the plane with the rabbit in a crate and in less than two hours we will land in London. My bunny is a real traveler. She was born in the Czech Republic then moved with me for 9 months to Strasbourg, France, where I was studying, and later for another three months to Germany for an internship. We were always travelling by car and as there are no border controls, the rabbit never needed any documentation whatsoever.
There are few differences though in the case of UK: first, UK is not in the Schengen area and there ARE border controls; second, as the Brits still proudly drive on the opposite site of the street than the rest of Europe, I decided to sell my European car before moving to the islands (also considering the fact that London is not really within a comfortable driving distance from the Czech Republic).
Thank god I hadn’t bought the flight ticket right away and listened to the inner voice telling me to check the airliners’ pet policies first! Soon I learned that no way can I and the rabbit fly to UK with my usually first choice London-bound airliner. Easy Jet doesn’t transport any animals whatsoever.
At an online forum I discovered that up to 8 kilos of weight Lufthansa and KLM allow transporting small animals inside the cabin of the aircraft. British Airways only let you transport pets in a special dedicated area. I preferred to keep an eye on my rabbit through out the flight so KLM and Lufthansa seemed like a better option (even though it meant the flight won’t be direct).
Well, further research of the pet policies of the respective airliners proved me wrong again. Yes, up to eight kilos together with the crate. But only cats, dogs and ferrets. The policy doesn’t discuss rabbits, which means they are excluded from air travel. The only airliner I found that allows rabbits to be taken to the cabin was Czech Airlines. This good news made my day but the joy didn’t last long…
Only minutes later I discovered that Czech Airlines cancelled all the UK connections two years ago. The situation was getting more and more complicated.
Suddenly, a solution occurred to me! Let’s go with Czech Airlines to Brussels and than board the Eurostar train to London! Wrong again. Eurostar doesn’t transport any pets with the exception of assistance dogs. I was getting increasingly nervous. Is it actually possible to import animals to UK at all?
When reading the website of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs I felt relieved and lucky. Just few months ago the policy has changed and the animals don’t need to undergo a 6 months quarantine to come to UK anymore (what would I have done had the old policy still been on, I really don’t know). The other good news was that no special restrictions apply to travelling with rabbits. As they don’t carry rabies, they are not even required to have any vaccinations.
Another means of mass transportation I explored were the buses. Maybe Eurolines or Student Agency would be able to bring me and the rabbit to London? Two phone calls and my new hopes were lost. No animals on international lines.
So what were the options left? Once the rabbit was permitted to enter UK by the authorities, I ruled out the possibility of leaving her behind with some of my relatives in the Czech Republic. My car was already sold. The most convenient of the inconvenient solutions seemed to be persuading my stepfather to drive me and the rabbit some 1300 kilometers from Prague to London, stay few days and then drive back.
He agreed. Instead of a comfortable one and half an hour flight we were now bound to travel 18 hours. My mother decided to join us, to keep my stepfather company on the way back. It reminded me of my first trip to London with my mother and my sister some 15 years ago. As proper poor Eastern Europeans we didn’t have the money to buy flight tickets, so we went by bus. At the borders, being obviously suspicious individuals, we had to prove we intend to return back home and that we have enough money with us to do so.
A lot has change since, for the better, so undertaking a similar journey several years later; our only concern was for the car not to have any technical failure (one never knows with the Skodas). It was the end of September and we set off toward London at 8 a.m. We had approximately 11 hours to get to Calais to catch the ferry. Because the decision to go by car was made rather spontaneously and very last moment, the tickets for the Eurotunnel were already rather expensive (and as a proper Eastern European I have decided to go by ferry which takes longer but costs half the price).
The more to the west we went, the worse the weather was. In the Netherlands it was so windy and rainy that just leaving the car and going to the bathroom was a struggle. We were lucky to avoid traffic jams around Brussels and arrived to Calais just in time. Well, it wasn’t really hurricane Sandy, but the weather was obviously bad enough for the traffic across the English Channel to be disrupted. And if you ever got stuck in the Port of Calais, you probably know there is not much to do. Especially when the weather is bad, you can mostly sit in the car and wait. The worst thing is you don’t even know how long you are going to wait as there are no information boards around. I don’t know who was more annoyed, whether it was us or the rabbit raking the litter out of the transportation crate.
More than two hours later we boarded the ferry. I left the pissed rabbit in the car and went for a warm cup of coffee in the café aboard. As soon as we left the port I started regretting my decision. To us, inhabitants of the inner continent, the waves seemed really huge. It was impossible to walk straight. With the ferry moving up and down and right and left, you felt you are losing the ground bellow your feet every few seconds. And as I am lifelong motion sickness sufferer, I really prayed to get to Dover as soon as possible…..
England welcomed us more than stereotypically with mist and rain. After the roller coaster-like ferry ride, we really felt we had enough and looked forward to reach the destination. The biggest challenge was still ahead of us though. As long as we were on the highway, we didn’t even realize that we were driving on the opposite side of the road. Once we reached London, the confusion started. Suddenly we were happy the ferry was delayed as it meant we reached London so late that very little traffic was in the streets, meaning our incorrect turns weren’t too dangerous.
It was almost 2 a.m. but we made it. I promised my bunny that she is not going to travel anywhere anytime soon. Actually, I promised the same to myself and my stepfather. I am not completely sure the bunny will stay English for the rest of her life but I hope she will for at least some years.