Expat Pets: Bringing along Fido

Published 2011-04-06 14:52:04

Animal Travel © Kevin Woodrow - FotoliaMoving abroad is scary. Moving abroad without your pet is terrifying.

Pets can offer a stronger sense of comfort than anything else; when your cat chooses to take a seat on your lap, the happy wag of the tail of your dog, the singing welcome of your canary. For many people a pet is not just a pet, they're family. Luckily, taking your pal abroad may be difficult, but with a little bit of planning (and some cash) it is entirely possible.

Be Prepared

The Worst Case Scenario

First, let's assuage fears of the worst case scenario. Some countries, especially island nations, may not allow import of animals. This is to prevent the introduction of disease, such as the much feared rabies. Rabies continues to kill over 55,000 people annually and the best prevention is to not allow the disease in.

Other restrictions may only pertain to certain kinds of pets. While dogs and cats are the most frequent travelers, birds, reptiles, and more unusual pets may have more difficulty going abroad. Specialty pets may need a license to enter a country, or permission from the department of agriculture.

If you absolutely cannot leave your animal behind, you cannot move to a country that does not allow import.


Much more likely, "worst case sceneries" would include the dreaded Quarantine. And while quarantine is still required in some destinations, many more places (like the UK) now offer quarantine free pet immigration from qualified countries for certain pets.

Quarantine is unpleasant for both the pet and owner, it is a manageable situation. Be knowledgeable about what the country's requirements are. A country's customs department does not want visitors to be unprepared and almost always offers complete information about the process, prices and length of quarantine.

Common Requirements

While requirements differ from country to country, there are some common preparations no matter where you and your pet should go.

Microchip - Verifies pet's identity. All microchips conforming to the ISO standards are easily readable.

Vaccination - Vaccinations range from country to country, but in general every pet older than 3 months must be vaccinated against rabies. The vaccination usually must be administered at least 21 days before arrival. However the vaccination cannot be older than 12 months from the date of arrival. Dogs may also get full shots for Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parvo, and DHLPP. Cats may also be vaccinated against Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calcivirus, and Panleukopenia.

Certificate of good health - Issued by a vet after an exam. You will need to get an official form from the consulate or embassy of the country you are moving to. It is usually available on-line from the customs website.


Some airlines allow pets to travel in an airplane's cabin, provided their cage is small enough to fit under your seat. The cage may need to be approved by the country of departure's department of agriculture (In the US this would be a USDA-approved shipping crate). Small birds may also be able to travel in the cabin, but tropical birds such as parrots are usually not allowed.

If your pet's cage does not fit under your seat, you will have to ship it as checked baggage. 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. 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.

Most airlines require you to make a reservation for your pet. After doing your research online to find your airlines procedure, contact the airline 48 hours before the flight to make sure they are prepared an there are no other steps to take before leaving.


The cost to ship your pet 1-way to an international destination usually ranges from $80-200 US. Fees are lower for pets traveling in the cabin. 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.

This does not include the costs of the carrier, vet visit, shots, and micro chipping. If your animal goes through quarantine, those costs are also addressed to the owner and can reach hundreds of dollars very quickly. Be prepared for these costs and plan ahead.


There are many pet-friendly airlines. Some of the best include: Virgin Atlantic Airlines, JetBlue, AirTran, and Frontier Airlines.

Seat guru offers the easiest way to compare pet policies among airlines with their directory. Search by airline on the left.


  • Before leaving, acquaint your animal with the kennel or container. Add some familiar toys or some of your clothing items, so your pet has a sense of familiarity during the transport.
  • Label your luggage and your dog
  • Use a collar with your address. Also put contact info on the box.
  • Line the crate bottom with bedding - shredded paper or towels - to absorb waste.
  • A small amount of food and water should be provided depending on the length of travel. Dishes should be attached to the inside of the crate. Freeze the water so that it will not splash until the pet is thirsty.
  • Do NOT lock the door on the crate. it should be securely closed, but not locked, so that airline personnel can open the crate in case of emergency. For trips longer than 12 hours, attach a plastic bag containing dry food on top of the carrier with feeding instructions for airline personnel.
  • Having a well-trained dog will help you avoid any issues along the way and when you arrive at your destination.
  • Try and pick a hotel that just doesn't allow pets, but welcomes them. They will be prepared for the pet and make a much more enjoyable experience.
  • Know the location of a vet in your departure and arrival city.
  • Sedation of your pet during the trip is generally not recommended and should only be used as a last resort.

Pet Relocation Services

Pet relocation services take care of all the details, delivering pets for a fee. In general, these services are expensive, but in a stressful move the relief may be worth it.

Relocation services are particularly useful if you are not able to move with your pet. They will arrange shipment and deliver your pet at your door.

Pet Apps

Like the rest of the family, pets now have their own apps. New apps are out everyday, many of them geared to aiding the travel of our furry friends.

  • PawTrotter – This app includes more than 130,000 pet-friendly sites in the United States, including parks, beaches, hotels, grooming, vets, boarding and pet stores.
  • Camp Bow-Wow - An app for Canada and the US, Camp Bow Wow is a dog boarding and day care center. The most clever aspect of this app is that owners can check on their throughout the day and watch them play.
  • Off Leash - Uses GPS support to find the 5 closest parks, and then gives directions on how to get there.
  • Pet Notebook - Allows owners to manage important information related to each of their pets. The app supports finding vets near you, storing multiple vets for each pet, and creating vet appointments. Owners can even enter detailed information on their animal best friend including medications, dosage information, pet allergens, and notes.
  • PetMD – The pet version WebMD, this app for both dog and cat emergencies. It covers everything from broken bones to allergic shock…but you should probably still call a vet.

Country's Requirements

White hamster with globe. © Puchikumo / Klara S - FotoliaAustralia

Quarantine is mandatory for all animals entering Australia. There is only one post entry quarantine facility for dogs and cats, located in Melbourne. Post entry quarantine for dogs and cats is for 10 days. You must apply at least five months prior to departure with the AQIS office. Upon approval, an import permit will be granted.


Pet cats and dogs can be imported into Canada for any period of time without quarantine from any country; however, there are different requirements for cats entering from either rabies-free countries or from those countries that Canada does not consider to be free of rabies.

Pet cats and dogs must be accompanied by a valid rabies vaccination certificate. Canadian Customs does not require you to have a health certificate for your pet, but if the animal is traveling to Canada by air, the commercial airline may require a health certificate.

Ontario, Canada has a ban on the import of Pit Bulls.

European Union (EU) Member States (except for Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom)

Pet dogs, cats, and ferrets traveling from the US to member states of the EU other than Ireland, Sweden and the UK are required to have a Veterinary Certificate. This certificate must be accompanied by supporting documentation, originals or certified copies, of the vaccination record and, for dogs and cats, the blood test result, both bearing the animal's microchip number. Blood tests are not required for pets from the USA.

Hong Kong

Quarantine for pets varies from 0-6 months subject to their history and vaccination records. It is much easier to import from a Category I or Category II country. Animals from a Category III country must go through quarantine at the owner's expense. For importing your pets to Hong Kong, you need to obtain in advance a special import permit from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. It usually takes 5 working days to process the application from the date of receipt of permit fee to the date of issue, subject to provision of all required information. Overseas applicants may nominate a person or agent in Hong Kong to apply for the permit on their behalf to minimize inconvenience and to expedite urgent applications.


Domestic pets like dog, cat, birds, etc. can be brought in, but it is strictly governed. Health certificates must be obtained from a veterinary officer authorized to issue a valid certificate. Dogs must be free from Aujossky’s disease, Distemper, Rabies, Leishmaoiasis and Leptospirosis and cats cannot have Rabies or Distemper.


On arrival in Japan, dogs and cats must undergo import quarantine for a set period to screen out rabies (and in the case of dogs, rabies and leptospirosis). When trying to import dogs or cats, you must submit advance notification of the planned date of arrival, number of animals and other items to the Animal Quarantine Service which has jurisdiction over your intended port of arrival at least 40 days prior to arrival in Japan.


US visitors to Mexico may bring a dog or cat by presenting the following certificates at the border:
a pet health certificate signed by a registered veterinarian in the United States and issued not more than 72 hours before the animal enters Mexico;
and a pet vaccination certificate showing that the animal has been treated for rabies, distemper, hepatitis and leptospirosis.

Certification by Mexican consular authorities is not required for the health or vaccination certificate. A permit fee is charged at the time of entry into Mexico.

New Zealand

Live animals may not enter New Zealand without meeting specific conditions. A Permit to Import may be required and animals may have to undergo Post Entry Quarantine at a MAF approved facility. If your animal does need to be quarantined you must, before applying for a Permit to Import, contact a quarantine facility in New Zealand to reserve a space for your animal(s). When you book a space the quarantine facility will send you a letter of confirmation, and this must be included with your permit application.


To import your pets you must first obtain an import permit from the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) within 30 days prior to the date of arrival.

South Africa

All dogs, cats, reptiles, primates imported into South Africa need to have been implanted with a microchip.

  • The following documents are required:
  • The original veterinary import permit issued by the Directorate of Animal Health in South Africa. Application to Import Pets to South Africa
  • A valid rabies certificate obtained at least 30 days prior to your departure. This certificate should not have been obtained more than 12 months or less than 30 days prior to exporting. The vaccine used must be a strain of anti-rabies conforming to a potency standard recognized by the World Health Organization.


A veterinary rabies vaccination certificate is compulsory, stating that the vaccination took place at least 30 days and no longer than one year before crossing the border. The 30-day waiting period need not be observed if there is proof of revaccination.

United Kingdom (UK)

The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) is the system that allows pet dogs, cats and ferrets from certain countries to enter the UK without quarantine. It also means that people in the UK can take their dogs, cats and ferrets to other European Union (EU) countries, and return with them to the UK. They can also, having taken their dogs, cats and ferrets to certain non-EU countries, bring them back to the UK without the need for quarantine. The rules are to keep the UK free from rabies and certain other diseases.

Pets entering the United Kingdom from any country that does not fall under PETS are required to spend six months in quarantine in the United Kingdom.

United States (including US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico but not Hawaii)

CDC regulations govern the importation of animals and animal products capable of causing human disease. Pets taken out of the United States are subject upon return, to the same regulations as those entering for the first time.

The CDC does not require general certificates of health for pets for entry into the United States. However, health certificates may be required for entry into some states, or may be required by airlines for pets. You should check with officials in your state of destination and with your airline prior to your travel date.

Dogs must have a certificate showing they have been vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days prior to entry into the United States. These requirements apply equally to service animals such as Seeing Eye dogs.

Cats are not required to have proof of rabies vaccination for importation into the United States. However, some states require vaccination of cats for rabies.

United States - Hawaii

Dogs and cats meeting specific pre and post arrival requirements may qualify for 5-Days-Or-Less quarantine or direct release at Honolulu International Airport after inspection. Dogs and cats not meeting all of the specific 5-Day-Or-Less program requirements must be quarantined for up to 120 days upon arrival In Hawaii.

[UPDATE 18 Apr 2017: Australia update with one port entry in Melbourne, 10 days quarantine]

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