Northern Ireland is a fabulous destination to visit with your dog, whether you’re visiting family or friends or touring the beautiful countryside. But due to being situated across the Irish Sea, and following the end of the Brexit transition, it’s trickier to visit than other countries of the United Kingdom. Read on for answers to all the questions you may have about the logistics of taking a dog to Northern Ireland.
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Can I Take My Dog to Northern Ireland from Great Britain?
From 1st January 2021, once the Brexit transition ended, the rules to travel with your dog from England, Scotland or Wales to Northern Ireland changed. Previously, there was no need for a pet passport or any other special preparations, but this is no longer the case.
In 2021, Great Britain became a “Part 2 listed third country” for the purposes of pet transport to the European Union. This includes England, Scotland and Wales, along with the Channel Islands and Isle of Man. There was no change in the status of Northern Ireland, which is effectively classified as still part of the European Union for the purposes of pet transport.
This means that dogs travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will required preparation similar to visiting any other country in the EU. Your dog will require a microchip, a valid rabies vaccine (at least 21 days before travel), worming treatment (done by a vet, between 24 hours and 5 days of travel) and an animal health certificate (within 10 days of travel). For more information see the DAERA website.
Pet passports issued in EU countries can be used, in place of the animal health certificate. Pet passports issued in Great Britain cannot be used to travel to Northern Ireland, nor can old-style Northern Ireland pet passports, only a new-style being introduced in 2021.
The UK government does admit that “pet owners and assistance dog users will need time to adjust to these changes”, and that it is working with DAERA on “an enforcement approach that takes these challenges into account”, while it “seeks a permanent solution”. My guess is that the new rules won’t be fully enforced in early 2021 (it has been stated routine compliance checks will not occur until 1 February 2021), and that further changes may occur.
There have been reports in mid-2021 that the new rules are still not being enforced, and this may continue for much of 2021 due to the disruptions from COVID-19, but I always recommend being prepared.
Additionally, when travelling to Northern Ireland you’ll need to use “travellers’ point of entry”. This includes Belfast Port, Larne Port, Belfast International Airport, Belfast City Airport and City of Derry Airport.
Returning to Great Britain with Your Dog
While there are numerous changes to travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland with a dog, there are no changes travelling in the opposite direction.
Technically dogs travelling to Great Britain need to be microchipped and vaccinated against rabies, but there is no requirement for a pet passport or health certificate (that would prove this) for travel from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
Dogs travelling from Northern Ireland to Great Britain are also not required to have a worming treatment, nor are they required to travel on an approved route. For more information, see the UK government website.
Dog-Friendly Ferries from Great Britain to Northern Ireland
When catching a ferry from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, there are currently three ferry options to choose from, offered by Stena Line and P&O Irish Seas. (Irish Ferries doesn’t offer any ferry routes to Northern Ireland.)
These are the three routes, ranked in order of dog-friendliness, based on my own evaluation. (As virtually all UK airlines only allow pets to fly as cargo, I recommend taking dogs to Northern Ireland on the ferry, rather than flying.)
Following the end of the Brexit transition period, and the introduction of paperwork requirements for travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland with a dog, make sure you allow extra time to check-in, or double check with your ferry company about when you should check-in.
Stena Line Ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast
After taking this ferry with my dog, I selected it as the most dog-friendly ferry to Ireland (whether Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland). As well as being a quick crossing (2 1/4 hours), small pets in a pet traveller case are allowed to travel on the passenger deck by your side.
Larger pets can either be checked into a kennel or left in your car, all at no cost. The Stena Line dog policy allows foot passengers to also transport pets.
P&O Ferry from Cairnryan to Larne
I’ve narrowly selected this route as the second most pet-friendly ferry crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, with some caveats. I’ve primarily selected this route as it is the shortest (only 2hr).
However, pets are only allowed inside vehicles (at no additional charge), with no kennels on offer, and foot passengers are not allowed to transport pets.
As there are up to 7 daily crossings, both during the day and night, I would recommend selecting a cooler time of day for a crossing with your dog during summer. Also, it’s possible to ask a staff member to visit your pet during the crossing, if you are concerned.
Add up to four pets to your booking when selecting the number of passengers.
Stena Line Ferry from Liverpool to Belfast
While I’ve ranked this crossing in third place, this is still a very pet-friendly option. As well as being able to transport your dog in your car at no cost, there is also the option to book a kennel in the “Dog Lodge” on the promenade deck, for an additional £15.
This option is available at the Onboard Extras step in the booking process, and is required for foot passengers with a pet.
I recommend selecting the Stena Line Dog Lodge, as then you can access your pet during the crossing and also exercise them. (Note, however, that the kennel size may be a little too small for larger dogs.)
The crossing is 8 hours, with both a day-time and overnight option available. If leaving your pet in your vehicle, I recommend choosing the overnight option.
Taking Your Dog from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland
Prior to Brexit, it was easy to take your dog in a car across the border from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland. This should still be the case after the end of the Brexit transition period, as Northern Ireland is still classified as part of the European Union for pet transport purposes, and the DAERA website clearly states that there is no change to the requirements.
You are technically required to have a pet passport for your dog, including microchip and valid rabies vaccination, as for crossing any country border. However, this was not previously enforced, partially because the likelihood of rabies is so low. (Read more here.) Additionally, there is no need to worm your dog travelling between Northern Ireland and Ireland, so proof of this is not required.
Travelling Directly to Northern Ireland with a Dog
Prior to the end of the Brexit transition, if you were planning on travelling directly to Northern Ireland from outside of the UK and the Republic of Ireland with a dog, you needed to apply for Import Authorisation for your dog.
An Import Authorisation was required to be obtained at least 10 days in advance. You were also required to engage and pay for the services of an approved quarantine establishment to check your pet’s paperwork on arrival.
This was because this was not an approved route under the Pet Travel Scheme. The approved routes were for pets to firstly enter Great Britain or enter the Republic of Ireland, then travel onwards to Northern Ireland.
However, it is not clear if this requirement still applies following the Brexit transition. The DAERA website states that if you are transporting pets directly to Northern Ireland via air, you should email [email protected].
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