Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad  FacebookTwitterGoogle+  
As seen in the Transitions Abroad Webzine October 2008 Issue
Related Topics
Health Insurance Options Abroad

Ask the Expat Q&A

Moving Overseas with Pets

By Volker Poelzl
Living Abroad Contributing Editor

An important issue often overlooked by people planning to relocate overseas is the question of what to do with their pets. Should you bring them with you, leave them behind with friends or family, give them up for adoption, or drop them off at the local animal shelter?

Taking a pet with you to another country is often a complicated and time-consuming process, and you should do careful research before embarking on this costly process. Before making a decision, you should ask yourself several important questions. How long will you be gone? If you are moving overseas permanently, it is definitely worth considering bringing your favorite pet(s), but if you are going overseas for a year or less, it might be better to entrust your pet to a relative or friend until you return. Your pet’s wellbeing should be your main concern when considering taking it with you. Will your pet travel well in the confines of an airplane’s cargo bay? How might it respond to sedation? How would lengthy quarantine affect it?

1) Before Taking your Pet Overseas

The main concern of most countries with importing/exporting pets is the potential transmission of diseases. By far the biggest concern is the spread of rabies and of Avian influenza, which can spread from birds to humans. Rabies is a particular concern for dogs, cats, and ferrets, and a certified rabies vaccination is required in most countries, sometimes even a blood titer test to make sure your pet is free of rabies. Make sure to find out if the country of your future residence requires a lengthy quarantine—which could last up to six months. The problem is not only the high cost of quarantine, but also the fact that your pet won’t be living with you during that time. In addition to strict import requirements for dogs and cats, there are widespread import restrictions for a number of other animal species that could transmit viral diseases. Among them are birds, turtles, and a number of small mammals.

To be able to take your pet abroad with you, most countries require that you get a health certificate stating that your pet is in good health and free of parasites. Many countries now require that your pet’s health certificate from your local vet is certified by a USDA veterinarian in your state. For a list of USDA veterinarians in your state, go to www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/area_offices/. Contact the appropriate consulate to get the necessary forms required for the importation of your pet. Make sure that all vaccinations are up to date and that you fulfill the documentation requirements of the country you will be moving to. This may include translation of health certificates that may need to be notarized at a foreign consulate in your home country.

Most countries of the European Union and a growing number of countries around the world now require dogs, cats, and ferrets to carry an implanted microchip transponder, which identifies them and can be linked to vaccination and health certificates you file when entering the country. Make sure you get the right microchip for the country to which you will be moving, since the radio frequencies and encryption codes vary.

Before making arrangements to take your pet with you, consider the possible health threats to your pet overseas. While pets can be protected from rabies by vaccination, there is no immunization against Avian flu and other potentially dangerous diseases or parasites that may affect the health of your pet. Natural predators, such as felines, eagles, hawks, and large snakes are another concern, especially if you will be living in a rural area overseas.

2) Transportation

How your pet will be transported to your new overseas residency is an important issue. Some airlines allow pets to travel in an airplane’s cabin, provided their cage is small enough to fit under your seat. While some airlines allow small birds to travel in the cabin, tropical birds such as parrots are usually not allowed in the cabin. If your pet’s cage does not fit under your seat, you will have to ship it as checked baggage, which raises a few health concerns for your pet. Since the outside air temperature also affects the temperature in the cargo bay, airlines may restrict the transportation of pets during certain times of the year. Make sure you get detailed information about the temperature and air pressure in the cargo bay before booking a flight. In general, the shorter your flight and the more direct your route, the better it will be for your pet. Airlines have special requirements for containers in the cabin and cargo bay. Make sure you get detailed information from your preferred airlines before purchasing a cage or kennel. Also keep in mind that some airlines only transport dogs and cats, while others also ship birds and other animals.

Make sure your pet gets acquainted with the kennel or container well ahead of your flight. Add some familiar toys or some of your clothing items, so your pet has a sense of familiarity during the transport. Sedation of your pet during the trip is generally not recommended and should only be used as a last resort.

Finding a pet-friendly airline is another challenge for pet owners who want to take their pet with them overseas. Virgin Atlantic Pet Travel Scheme stands out as one of the most pet-friendly airlines, and they even have a Flying Paws Club, which entitles passengers to airline miles and gifts for their pets. Virgin Atlantic provides shipment of pets to many destinations around the globe, including to/from the USA, London, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Dubai, and other destinations.

If you would like to take your pet overseas, but do not have the time to figure out all the details on your own, you might want to consider a pet relocation service. This will be expensive, but you can be assured that your pet is transported in a save and professional manner.

3) The Cost Factor

Shipping you pet overseas is a quite expensive undertaking. Make sure you get reliable cost estimates before booking a flight. In addition to paying for the transportation of your pet, you also have to pay for the health certificate and vaccinations, as well as for the certification by a USDA veterinarian. Your certificate may also have to be translated and notarized at a consulate for additional fees. Other items you may need to purchase for your pet include a microchip transponder (around US $50) and a kennel or pet crate (between US $50-100 depending on size). Unfortunately, just like airfares, the cost of traveling with your pet on an airplane has been steadily increasing over the past few years. The cost to ship your pet 1-way to an international destination can be as low as $80 if you transport it in the cabin, and as high as several hundred dollars if you check it as baggage. Some airlines charge excess baggage fees for transporting a pet as checked baggage (based on the size and weight of the pet and kennel), while others have a fee system based on the distance traveled.

If you do not travel with your pet and decide to ship it separately, it will be shipped as cargo in the pressurized cargo compartment of an airplane. Fees are assessed by the kennel’s weight, size, and by destination. Keep in mind that this option is far more expensive than traveling with your pet as checked baggage or in the cabin.

4) Taking Your Pets Back Home

The repatriation of your pets is another important issue. Depending on the prevalence of rabies in the foreign country of your residence, your pet might need to be quarantined upon returning home. Cats in general are not required to have proof of rabies immunization upon reentry into the U.S., but regulations vary from state to state. Cats and dogs entering Hawaii, for example, have a mandatory quarantine, since Hawaii in the only state in the U.S. that is entirely rabies-free. Birds of U.S. origin can usually return to the USA, but they need to be quarantined at a USDA animal import center for thirty days. Importation to the USA of birds of non-U.S. origin is restricted from many countries, due to the threat of Avian influenza.

For More Info

IATA (International Air Transport Association) provides information about air transportation of live animals, and information about travel containers for pets.

IPATA (Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association International) is an international trade association of animal handlers, pet moving providers, kennel operators, veterinarians and others who are dedicated to the care and welfare of pets and small animals during domestic and international transport. The site provides information about how to find a pet shipper online.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service  provides a list of countries and specific pet importation requirements as well as pet travel tips, and animal import regulations for all 50 states.

The United Kingdom Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs offers information about Bringing pets to the UK. 

Volker Poelzl is a Living Abroad Contributing Editor for TransitionsAbroad.com. His housemates include an African Grey Parrot, a Love Bird, a cat, and a dog.