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4 Tips for Moving Overseas with Pets

By Volker Poelzl
Resources updated 12/1/2022 by Transitions Abroad

Moving overseas with your pet
Moving overseas with your pet.

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 can be complicated and time-consuming, and you should do careful research before embarking on this costly process. Before making your decision, ask yourself several important questions. How long will you be gone? If you are permanently moving overseas, you likely are considering bringing your favorite pet(s). 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. When considering taking it with you, your pet's well-being should be your primary concern. Will your pet travel well within an airplane's cargo bay? How might it respond to sedation, if truly needed? How would lengthy quarantine affect your pet?

1) Before Taking your Pet Overseas

The main concern in most countries when importing/exporting pets is the potential transmission of diseases. The biggest problem is the spread of rabies and Avian influenza, which can spread from birds to humans. Rabies is a particular concern for dogs, cats, and ferrets, and certified rabies vaccination is required in most countries, sometimes even a blood test to ensure 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 the fact that your pet won't live with you during that period. In addition to strict import requirements for dogs and cats, there are widespread import restrictions for other animal species that could transmit viral diseases. Among them are birds, turtles, and many small mammals.

Important note: Please check with the CDC regarding the latest restrictions on the return of dogs and other pets from high-risk countries to the U.S., and any other current restrictions.

Most countries require that you get a health certificate stating that your pet is in good health and free of parasites if you plan to take your pet with you. Many countries now require that your pet's health certificate from your local vet is also certified by a USDA veterinarian. For a list of USDA veterinarians in your state, go to the USDA Animal Inspection Service. Contact the appropriate consulate to get the forms required for your pet. Ensure all vaccinations are current and you fulfill the documentation requirements of the country where you will be moving. This may include translating health certificates to be notarized at a foreign consulate in your home country.

Countries of the European Union and a growing number of countries worldwide 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. Ensure you get the correct microchip for the country you will be moving to 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 your pet's health. Natural predators, such as felines, eagles, hawks, and large snakes, are another concern, especially if you live in a rural area overseas.

2) Transportation for Your Pet

How your pet is transported to your new overseas residency is essential. 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 prohibited. 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. Generally, 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. Also, ensure you get information from your preferred airlines before purchasing a cage or kennel. Some airlines only transport dogs and cats, while others also ship birds and other animals.

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

Finding a pet-friendly airline is another challenge for pet owners who want to take their pets overseas. Here is an article that compares the top 20 pet-friendly international airlines in detail.

If you want to take your pet overseas but do not have the time to figure out all the details, consider a reputable pet relocation service. The service option may be expensive, but you can rest assured that with a reputable organization your pet will be transported safely and professionally.

3) The Cost Factor

Shipping your pet overseas can be an 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 and the certification by a USDA veterinarian. For additional fees, your certificate may also have to be translated and notarized at a consulate. Other items you may need to purchase for your pet include an internationally approved microchip transponder (around US$50-US$80) and a kennel or pet crate (between U.S. $50-200, depending on size). Unfortunately, just like airfares, the cost of traveling with your pet on an airplane has steadily increased over the past few years. The cost to ship your pet 1-way to an international destination can be as low as US$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.

Suppose you do not travel with your pet and decide to ship your pet separately. In that case, the pet may travel as cargo in the pressurized cargo compartment of an airplane. Fees are assessed by the kennel's weight, size, and destination. 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 critical 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 is the only state in the U.S. entirely rabies-free. Birds of U.S. origin can usually return to the U.S. Still, they must be quarantined at a USDA animal import center for 30 days. Importation to the U.S. of birds of non-U.S. origin is often restricted 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 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 export requirements to take your pet from the United States to a foreign country as well as pet travel tips, including animal import regulations for all 50 states as well as a list of veterinarians.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offers important alerts and information regarding prohibitions of return for certain pets from countries considered high risk.

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

Pet Relocation provides information and services to help you to move your pet to many different countries worldwide, often by airplane.

PetTravel.com is one of several private companies offering services to help you move your pet by air, ground, or sea while handling all the details.


Related Article
Moving Overseas: How to Keep Your Pet Safe and Happy

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



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