At the beginning of the year I made just one New Year’s Resolution: to take the summer off and explore France from my home in Sussex, England. The only problem in this otherwise life-changing plan were my four beautiful pet snakes and an assortment of random tarantulas. Sure, I could leave them at home for a few weeks: but what about the four months I was planning?
I could pay a pet sitter but they’re expensive or I could convince a friend. (Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t very successful with the latter.) This just left one good option: take the “zoo” with me – which is exactly what I did. These are my own tips garnered from traveling with three ball pythons measuring up to four and a half feet long, a milk snake called Kermit, and ten different tarantulas.
Check Company Rules And Legal Regulations
As a Brit, there are three main options for getting to France: by air, Channel Tunnel, or ferry. With the snakes and spiders, ferry was the most practical and cost-effective solution. Based in Sussex, this meant a drive of just over an hour to Portsmouth Harbour in order to catch the ferry. I packed up all the animals in my car, drove them onto the ferry, and straight off again at the other end. I chose an overnight crossing, departing around 11pm and arriving into Caen, in northern France, early the next morning. Booking early enough, comfy cabins were available for catching some sleep.
When transporting “exotic pets” there are two kinds of rules that you’ll need to abide by. The first of these are the rules set by each ferry company. Pay close attention to these, as the last thing you want is to be turned back at port. Personally, I traveled with Brittany Ferries. The process was quite simple, and just involved booking online, then contacting their customer service team with my booking reference to let them know what I would be carrying.
As long as the animals remain safely locked in your car during the journey then there should be no issues. I also made to sure to place my pets in my trunk, to avoid startling any other passengers who may not share my enthusiasm for scaly animals!
The second set of regulations to be aware of are import and export rules. Fortunately, traveling within the EU is reasonably simple. Even though some of the species I was transporting are protected – registered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – my experience is that registration should prevent any problems as long as you’re not planning to sell your pets.
Of course, if you are traveling outside the EU, the rules are far more stringent. In those cases you will need to make sure you have the necessary certifications to prove their captive-bred status. I recommend double-checking with the authorities to ensure that you have written confirmation that your pets may leave and enter. This needn’t be too problematic; in the UK, for example, a quick email to Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) should suffice.
I gathered all of these emails into a document wallet, ready for inspection if necessary. As it turned out, the process at both ends went very smoothly and no proof was necessary. Still, it’s better to be over-prepared, especially since port authorities only deal with exotic pets rarely. If a query arises, you want to have the answer ready and waiting for them.
Accommodating Exotic Pets
The good news about holiday properties in Europe is that many are pet friendly. I opted to rent a villa just outside Cognac, checking with the landlady in advance that she was fine about the reptiles. While understandably a little hesitant, I have always found it handy to remind property owners that reptiles are kept shut away pretty much the whole time, and therefore don’t produce the smell, hair and mess that dog owners often leave behind. Snakes also aren’t known for chewing the furniture!
For more difficult properties, consider offering an additional deposit. If you’re keeping your reptiles well, there shouldn’t be a real risk of losing your money.
Remember, the earlier you start planning, the more properties will be available. You may have to try a number of landlords before you find someone willing to accept exotic pets, so be prepared to hunt around. Personally, I started looking at options in late February for a May arrival; even then many were already booked out. Leaving things to the last minute might leave you with only properties that won’t take reptiles.
Preparing Exotic Animals For Travel
Just as with other pets, you’ll want to make the journey as comfortable as possible for your animals. Unlike people traveling with dogs, however, getting your pet out of their cage en route is likely to lead to some odd looks at best, and at worst shrieks of fear. Planning ahead for the journey is therefore critical.
While many people transport snakes in fabric bags, I opted to use plastic containers in two sizes. Large ones that the snakes would live in while at the villa and smaller ones for the tarantulas. To save space in the car and prevent damage to the snakes during transportation, each snake was placed into one of the smaller tarantula tubs for travel. The tarantulas were placed into small plastic pots, and the large snake tubs were then used to pack our belongings.
- Feed After Not Before – Snakes in particular can be quite sensitive after eating, so it is recommended that you hold off feeding your pets for a few days before travel.
- Stay Cool – During transit, try to ensure that your pets remain at a suitable temperature. This means avoiding parking in direct sunlight, keeping them safely shaded at all times, and using your air conditioning if necessary.
The most critical time in the transportation of exotics is arrival at your destination. Your pets must be the primary concern at this point, and getting them suitably housed should be your first action. For this reason, I made sure to have all my pet supplies ready for action the moment we arrived. In this way, within an hour of arriving at our villa every animal had been health checked and successfully rehoused into an appropriate cage.
Finding Supplies, Pet Food, And Equipment
Possibly the most complicated thing about transporting reptiles is finding suitable supplies when you reach your destination. For example, will you be able to buy frozen rodents for your python, or crickets for your tarantula?
Clearly, there are two options here. The first of these is that you can take as much equipment with you as possible. There are, of course, limitations here on how much you can fit in your car. In my case I decided to take with me just the basics, such as a big bag of snake bedding and water bowls for all the animals. This allowed me to set them all up properly on arrival, rather than having to go shopping first. The other solution is to buy reptile supplies in the country you are visiting, but in my experience finding reptile shops abroad can be challenging. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever before to order reptile supplies online; even in a foreign country.
Personally, I spent some time researching French e-commerce sites before leaving home. Use Google Chrome as your browser and you’ll find that foreign-language websites are quickly translated into your native language, allowing you to order online in a new country. If you have a Paypal account you’ll find it easy to make payment. I was also surprised to find that your native Amazon company (in my case Amazon.co.uk) will also ship overseas if you’re willing to pay the shipping fees. This dealt with the longer term supplies.
As a tip, I used a company called Zanimo Exotic to provide my reptile food; delivery is quite slow (order by Friday for dispatch the following Wednesday) and couriers in France are expensive, but the quality and reliability was good. My suggestion would be to order in bulk to save money on shipping fees.
Exotic Pets Don’t Mean You Can’t Travel
Next week, I head back to the UK after a four month stay in France. It’s an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life; the weather, the food, the people, the wildlife. More importantly however, my reptiles are as fit and healthy as ever – indeed I would say the warm weather we’ve enjoyed here has been a benefit for them.
There are two important take-home points from my own experiences this summer. Firstly, don’t let pet ownership affect your travel plans. There are many ways to combine pet ownership and travel, so you don’t necessarily have to compromise. Secondly, don’t assume that if your pet is a little “alternative” you can’t take them abroad. As my experience has shown, it is definitely possible to take a menagerie of animals abroad with a little research and forward planning. In most cases you will be able to handle the process yourself; worst case scenario don’t forget that there are numerous pet travel companies now who will help you complete all the necessary paperwork and guide you through the transportation process.
So, next time you’re on vacation and pull up next to a car with a foreign registration plate, spare a thought for us reptile keepers. You might just be standing closer than you realized to a beautiful python or a tarantula the size of a dinner plate. Bon voyage!
Thank you Richard for sharing your expertise on exotic pets with us! Richard writes much more about the wonderful world of exotic pets, including his particular passion for tarantulas, on his blog Keeping Exotic Pets.