Rat Health Care & Information
Importing rats – the bits you don’t hear about!
Importing rats from other EU countries using the Balai Directive is not for the faint hearted. There is quite a bit of paperwork involved but that is only the start. I was involved in 3 imports from Holland and Belgium during 2001 and you definitely have to be very strong willed and positive as no-one ‘official’ seems to understand what Balai is any more, all they understand now is PETS, which wouldn’t include rats. Others who had done imports before this had even ended up having to use a different ferry when one company refused point blank to take the rats!
We started planning for the first trip in March quite a few months earlier, getting information on what litters breeders were planning on breeding or rats that had been bred that we wanted. All this side of things sorted, we then looked into the paperwork side of things. DEFRA (then MAFF) like breeders to become registered holdings to do Balai imports and exports, but registering is nothing more than a formality, it doesn’t actually cost anything. You then have to advise DEFRA of the dates and ‘port’ you are importing into no less than 24 hours before the time of import, although it is better to do it further in advance, particularly if you local DEFRA office, like mine, had no experience of what to do with rats being imported under Balai. Every time I rang my local DEFRA, they said they would find out and ring me back! The other thing that needed to be sorted was the crossing – this first trip we travelled with Eurotunnel. I got written confirmation that we could bring the rats into the UK on the train. On this first trip, we had been planning to do both an import and an export, but a couple of weeks before the trip, Foot and Mouth broke out in the UK, so we aborted the export and planned to just do the import this time and even that was on and off until literally the day we left. The other thing that has to be done is a veterinary certificate no more than 48 hours before the import time – it’s usually easier to get the breeder to get that done for you, unless you are planning to stay for a few days.
Off we went to Belgium; we had an enjoyable day at the Rodent Show then after collected the rats and headed back towards the Eurotunnel. We checked in and told them we had rats, went through customs and told them we had rats and then were off, at the completion of the tunnel trip we drove off and drove home, very painless, we could in theory have got away with anything on that trip!!! I will never do Somerset to Belgium via London and back again in just over 24 hours though, it was a tad exhausting!
The second trip was in April to take the promised exports and also collect some rats. We arrived at Eurotunnel, very smug after the ease of our earlier trip but then security stopped us and said we couldn’t take the rats on the train. They were adamant that the rats were not allowed and we were getting nowhere fast – they weren’t interested in our paperwork or anything but as a last hope, I had the number of the lady at Eurotunnel who had told me it was OK and rang her and she told them it was OK, thankfully, so we were off. I was very grateful we had chosen to travel during working hours; otherwise we wouldn’t have been going anywhere! We arrived at the breeders house in Antwerp, this wonderful 16th century terraced house complete with a spiral staircase. This time we were staying overnight so we settled into a nice night on the town in Antwerp, loads of Kriek beer and nice company.
First thing the following morning, it was back on the road to Eurotunnel to come home. We checked in as per the first time, mentioned the rats and were told to turn round and go to the PETS office. There we argued for what seemed like an age with a French lady who didn’t seem to understand English very well. I even rang DEFRA and got them to speak to her and tell her it was OK, but she wouldn’t listen – we missed our train and the next train and eventually a man appeared who I think was her boss; he rang DEFRA again and let us carry on. I think we were there for about an hour, but it felt like a life-time! All the time, we were thinking we might end up having to drive back to Belgium and take the rats back. We arrived at customs and they were doing a full car search; they opened the boot of the car and of course saw rats and then asked me to step out. I said to phone the PETS office and they would tell him we had seen them and all was OK, and eventually he believed us and let us go. That was one very eventful trip and I am very sure that if we hadn’t done both our trips through the tunnel during working hours, we wouldn’t have managed either direction! Our adrenalin was pumping for days after that one!
I think we had it more sussed out by our third trip in August. I rang Eurotunnel to book and found that they had changed the rules and no longer allowed Balai imports and exports on their trains, so we had to look into the ferry companies. P&O Stenaline from Dover to Calais was recommended to us and proved to be very efficient. We were only importing from Holland on this trip and when we arrived at the check in at Calais on the return, a nice man took our paperwork, checked it and came back about ¼ hour later and waved us on. Everything was done by the book and efficiently, although it didn’t stop out adrenalin and stress levels rising!!!!
Other things to consider when importing rats are that obviously you need to quarantine them for a period of time. I did 6 weeks of complete quarantine and after than gradually added some of my non-show and non-breeding rats to them, not putting my quarantine rats in my rats’ room until much of the introductions had been done in my quarantine area. Also because the import is Balai, DEFRA’s vets can pay you a visit at any time after the import. In theory it should be within 2 weeks, but my DEFRA were trying to arrange a time to visit me for nearly 6 weeks after the import, this time lapse was due to their vets’ pressures from FMD. I did point out to the vet that rang me that anything over 2 weeks was bugs from this country, rather than imported bugs!
The up side of all this hassle is I have several new lines of the new varieties I have been working with which does outweigh the problems we have had doing the imports.
Out of all the trips to Holland and Belgium, I think the trip over in September 2001 to the Beestenspul Show at Leiden was the nicest weekend. We did the train and ferry deal from Liverpool Street to Amsterdam and stayed with some really nice friends of Julia’s for a couple of nights and just had a very relaxing time with NO stress of importing and exporting rats!!!
The above article was written by Estelle and published in Pro-Rat-A back in 2002.
Since then things have improved for ease of importing and exporting rats and it is best to check with DEFRA for the latest status regarding this. There are still several things that remain key to any import into the UK as it stands.
I should add that exporting to mainland Europe by ferry is much simpler and can be done simply as a regular animal export or using Pets Passport if you plan to bring them back (i.e. taking them on holiday with you.). Contact your local DEFRA office for more information. Simply speaking to export you need to: -
Article written by Estelle
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Last modified: February 08, 2017