How to move overseas with your pets
Moving abroad with pets can be done; it’s not really difficult, but you need to think this through this very carefully for both you, your family and your pets’ well-being. Pet relocation is not a cheap undertaking, and the paperwork can be an absolute nightmare.
And it’s not something that can be planned at the last minute. Some countries have a process as long as six months in advance of the move, sometimes more if you haven’t kept up to date with certain vaccines.
Moving overseas with your pets isn’t as difficult as you might think. Unless there are concrete reasons why your pet can’t move with you, it’s something you should really consider. Children who have pets settle into their new home quicker if their beloved pet comes too.
It's well worth serious consideration.
In this episode, I’m joined – as usual – by Sumi, my expat cat who has a lot to say on this matter!
Support the show
Welcome aboard the Expatability Chat podcast, helping expat parents navigate the challenges of moving and living overseas. With Carole Hallett Mobbs, Expat Life Mentor and Consultant and founder of ExpatChild.com
Welcome back to Expatability Chat. This is episode 7, but I don't think it really matters because each topic stands alone and you just pick out the ones that you want to know about!
So Saturday, the 8th of August, couple of days ago, was International Cat Day. So, today I thought I'd talk about moving overseas with pets. Not just cats, although Sumi is here as normal, ready to talk to you at inappropriate times, I should think... She's currently circling the microphone.
So do you have pets? Will you be taking them when you move overseas? A bit of ASMR from Sumi... This is often a massive decision to make, especially if you're moving to a country with many rules and regulations about the importation of animals. Is quarantine a requirement? Also, what happens if your pets are old or chronically sick? When I say pets, by the way, I'm generally referring to cats and dogs, although it isn't unheard of for people to move abroad with other pets, including horses, (which must be expensive) tortoises, And in at least one case, I can think of a parrot.
So back in 2006, we moved from the U.K. to Japan with two gorgeous cats. In 2018, we moved back from South Africa to the UK with one dog and two completely different cats.
I've always had some kind of animal around me, but my first two cats were my first normal pets and they helped me through the death of my rather wonderful Dad a couple of years before we moved. Dad had a lot of weird animals around while I was growing up, which, in part, I took care of because nobody else was going to look after his 'creatures', as we call them. They were reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds in the main, very strange fish, very strange amphibians and some rather nutty birds, but as I say so I've always grown up around animals, just not the four-legged furry kind.
When dad died, we had to get rid of his collection, which included, for example, 54 tarantulas; enormous, very peculiar fish; tortoises by the bucket load.
Anyway, while we were in Japan, we got our first dog. We call her our Japanese souvenir. She's a Shiba Inu, an official Japanese national treasure.
She moved with us from Japan to Germany, then to South Africa and back to the U.K. I wouldn't say she's used to travelling, but I wouldn't leave her behind for anything. She's part of the family.
So can you move your pets overseas with you? Anything is possible, but it does depend on where you're coming from and where you're going to. Personally, I couldn't leave my beloved pets behind and I've actually turned down options for relocations to places where I believe the country, climate and quarantine rules would have a detrimental effect on them.
But that's me, though, and I openly admit I am completely animal mad. My four-legged family are just as important to me as my two legged ones. Well, that's the official term, I think they're sometimes more important if you get my drift.
So moving abroad with pets can be done. It's not that difficult, but you need to think it through very, very carefully, both for you, your family and for your pets' wellbeing. Pet relocation is not a cheap undertaking and the paperwork is an absolute nightmare. It's not something that can be planned at the last minute. Some countries have a process as long as six months, sometimes even longer if you haven't kept up to date with certain vaccinations.
However, the benefits of having your furry family in your new home with you and your children are immense, not least because they instantly make a house a home. Your children will settle into their new lives quicker if they have their familiar family pet buddy with them - from the cuddles to the playing and a lot of distraction. Don't underestimate the effect leaving pets behind may have on your children either. People who as children moved overseas without their treasured pet report being utterly distraught at leaving them and some never actually forgave their parents for the decision.
Whatever you decide to do regarding your pets, think very carefully and leave plenty of time to organise everything, regardless of your decision. Sometimes your new home won't allow pets, which is going to make your decision somewhat easier, I suppose. At least more clear-cut. So if you are going to have to leave your pets behind, make sure your children understand why and let them see the process through as far as possible. So unless there are concrete reasons why your pet can't move with you, it is something you should really consider.
Pets are family, too. Unless your pet is old and / or sick or the country you're moving to is inhospitable to your pet there aren't that many reasons for not taking your pet with you. Your destination's climate and possible quarantine regulations may have some bearing on your choice, so make sure you've researched thoroughly. If you do have to make the difficult decision not to take your pet with you, make sure you discuss the situation appropriately with your children to help alleviate potential problems.
For example, I'd definitely be thinking twice about moving to the Middle East with my dog, who found the heat in South Africa quite a trial. She adores the snow and has a really thick coat. And it wouldn't be fair of me to take her somewhere where she was constantly uncomfortable. I also don't think that my very bonded pets would cope well with a stay in quarantine. I'd be constantly worried about them. It was bad enough when they went to boarding facility when we went on holidays. As I say, I'm a bit animal centric.
So how do you move with pets? Let's assume you are taking them. Don't underestimate the mountain of bureaucracy that comes with moving animals overseas. Procedures are different for every country of origin and destination. So do your homework in plenty of time. As a general rule, you need to sort out import and export permits, vaccinations, special crates for the airline, veterinary visits and lots and lots of paperwork.
Certain destinations have more rigorous rules than others, and they can change at any time. It can be a minefield. Other things to note is timing. Importing pets is a very, very calendar oriented business. If you're a day out, your pet will be refused entry into your new country and then they may have to stay in quarantine, incurring quite a cost to you. You often have to do things at distinct stages and there may be a waiting period after the steps are done before you can move.
For example, you may need to get an official rabies titre test. This is a blood test to see how many rabies antibodies there are in the animal's blood. It's not a pleasant test. The blood seems to be taken from the jugular vein, which is a pretty grim visit to the vets. Just so you know. If there aren't enough antibodies in the blood, the whole rabies vaccine schedule has to be started again. And this is why I want you to realise just how long it can take.
If you don't start early enough, you may need to make arrangements for your pet to travel to you at a later date, and that's a scenario that's going to be very tricky. Well, you may have to find they have to stay in quarantine for a lot longer than you hoped or expected. So in addition to reading up on what requirements there are, pay very close attention to the timeline of the steps. For all this and for many other reasons, I recommend using a specialist pet relocation company.
As moving countries is a busy and stressful time, I highly recommend employing a very specialist relocation agent to help you. They are the experts and they know all the rules and regulations relating to the different countries, and it's well worth spending the money to ensure your pet is in good hands. You can do it yourself, you may save a few pounds, but ultimately it's peace of mind you're looking for here. The advice and assistance you receive from a good pet relocation agent eases so much stress at this difficult time.
They can liaise with airlines on your behalf and some even deliver your pet to the door of your new home, which is brilliant. So I've moved across the world and back with pets, and most times the assistance I've received from these professionals has been invaluable. For example, when we repatriated back to the U.K., we had incredible help and assistance both at the South African end and back here in the U.K.. The pets arrived back here on a flight that landed at dawn.
It turned out that there was an issue with one of our bits of paper when they arrived at Heathrow. Our local pet transport people were on the ground at that ungodly hour and sorted it all out on our behalf. We knew nothing about it until they happened to mention it later when they safely and cheerfully delivered our pets to us that day. That's certainly not something I'd like to be working on at four o'clock in the morning.
So as soon as you know when you'll be moving, contact your vet to make sure all your pets vaccinations are up to date. Some have to be done at specific dates prior to the move, so make a schedule and stick rigidly to it. As I say, if you're even one day late or even one day early, this can impact negatively on your pets' move. You should also have your pet completely checked over to ensure it is fit to travel by air. Some dog breeds don't travel well, particularly short snouted dogs such as bulldogs and pugs due to their respiratory problems.
So take professional advice. There are also different times of year you cannot fly your animal to certain destinations, so you can't fly to the Middle East in the summer, for example, and I believe you can't fly to Canada in the winter. But again, check your own destination. I can't emphasise just how important the thorough veterinary health check is before you consider flying with your pet.
As I mentioned just now, I moved from the U.K. to Japan with two beautiful young cats Inti and Raymi, they were called.
However, within a week of our arrival, Inti had collapsed and eventually had to be put to sleep due to a devastating blood clot in his spine. He was only two years old. It turned out that my ex vet in the UK had not actually performed the complete health check I'd paid for, and Inti was declared fit to fly. Post-mortem, I was told my cat had a massive heart condition that could have easily been picked up if properly checked. The vets in Japan were horrified that he had been passed to fly in the first place.
Obviously, knowing this in advance would have saved a lot of distress for both the cat and me and my family.
Research the various airlines for the pet relocation options, they all seem to have different regulations. Once you've decided on an airline, check the details for the crate your pet will need. Again, every airline has slightly different rules, but basically the crate needs to comply with that airline and government regulations and be the correct size for your pet. The crate should be large enough for your pet to stand, sit and lie down in a natural and comfortable position.
It also has to be very secure. You don't want an escapee running around at an airport. You must have places for a little water and food and is generally held together by proper screws. The reason I mention the latter is that many crates are sold in shops claiming to be of airline standard and they may not be. The other thing I've heard is also the wires must be close enough together so that your pet can't get their paws out through the wire.
Anyway, if you get this part wrong, you may face the shock of your pet not being allowed on the plane and you won't know that until you actually get there. Yes, this can happen. So make sure you get the right crate and go a little bigger if necessary. If your animal's are huge sort of Great Dane, Dogue de Bordeaux size, you may need to get the crate specially made for them. Get the crate in good time. This is so that you can get your pet used to the crate and happy and comfortable with it.
Have the crate in your home for as long as you can so that your pet gets used to it. Pop in a favourite blanket, some toys, maybe a few treats, and let your pets explore it at their leisure. Never close the door on them, otherwise you may spook them just enough to make the chances of getting them in the crate voluntarily pretty much impossible. You can get pheromone sprays that may help keep your pet calm, too. So it's worth investigating those.
You're aiming for calm and comfortable. The journey is stressful for them, and that's basically because we can't explain to them what's happening.
And your pet ID as well. Make sure your pet has a microchip. Some countries don't necessarily microchip their pets as standard. For flying overseas, get a microchip sorted and make sure it is readable by the type of reader that Customs at your destination use. There are a few different types of readers around the world. Not all of them pick up all microchips and not all microchips register with all readers. Nicely complicated, isn't it?
Make sure their ID tag is up to date and any online references that you have is also up to date. Also make a label to go onto the crate with their name and details. So include the pet's name, your name, the destination address and a telephone number. That might be a telephone number of your receiving agent. I create a sheet of paper telling any handlers what to expect with each pet. So with the dog, I had a poster, if you like, with a photograph and the following: "I am a Japanese Shiba Inu, girl dog and I am probably very, very scared. It's the noises that I hate most and being away from my family. Please don't be offended if I don't eat any of the treats or food that you offer. I'm stubborn and will refuse everything. Please just get me home as quickly and as peacefully as you can. Thank you".
If your dog's likely to snap, please put that on your crate label. It's really important, as the handlers may need to take the dog out at some point and need to know what to expect.
Make up a file to carry with you containing copies of all the paperwork that you need. All the vaccination certificates and the microchip number. It's also useful to include a photo of your pet. Details of its species, breed, colour and size. Keep a note of any relevant contact details such as your vet and your pet relocation agent. Keep copies online too and keep copies of everything forever! When we moved from South Africa back to the U.K., I needed - for government reasons - to find the dog, Kita's original vaccine certificate for rabies, which she'd had in Japan.
I had quite a job finding the original rabies vaccination certificate in order for the South African and UK import and export requirements. So, yes, keep all animal paperwork forever.
You may find it useful to keep a separate calendar for pet relocation matters: reminders on your phone, etc. So when it comes to packing day, you need to remember to keep your pets safe. It's a completely manic day with people milling around everywhere, lots of boxes in and out, loud noises of the tape ripping and just general upset. With furniture all over the place and strangers coming and going all day, even the most even tempered animal can become highly nervous.
You don't want your pet to get hurt, hurt anyone else or run away in fright and in the confusion, that's very likely to happen and not be noticed. An ideal option would be to have somebody else look after your pets on moving day. Whether it's with a trusted friend or family member or a pet sitter or even putting into boarding for a short time, it will save a lot of stress for you and your pet. Collect your pet once all the trucks have left, if you're staying in your home for a while. If you're leaving straight away, collect your pet at the last minute. Alternatively, most pet relocation services offer boarding near the airport, and this is really quite a useful thing to do.
Because we've had problems with boarding and pet separation anxiety, (or is that Carole separation anxiety?) we always keep Kita on her lead in the house. I take her out for lots of walks if everything's going well on the day and if other people are around to supervise the packers. Yes, hello Sumi, you're back again. The cats, however, never really play ball. Thankfully, they're so well-behaved, they stick around quite nicely, although we do have to haul Sumi to the lorry on at least two occasions. Yeah we do.
If none of these options are available, secure the animals in a quiet room, perhaps in some crates, and warn everyone not to open the door.
Once the pets have cleared customs at the other end, you receive them back into your new home. The first thing you need to do as soon as you arrive and before the pets arrive is to make sure that the house and the garden is safe for your pets.
When we first arrived in Berlin, we were thrilled to discover that we actually had a huge garden for the first time in our lives, but the surrounding fence was only about a foot high.
Our dog would have just stepped over that. Therefore, we had to keep Kita tethered on a very, very long piece of string until we could get the fence around the whole garden rebuilt to a decent size. Regardless of being tied up, she still really enjoyed the new experience of having grass beneath her feet for the first time. When you're confident that it's all secure, make sure all windows and external doors are closed before letting your pet out of the travel crate.
The way we do this is we have all the crates together at the same time. We put water nearby, we don't bother with food and we let out the cats first because Kita has a bit of an issue sometimes with the cats, and we let them do their thing; we show them where the food and the water is. We show them where the litter tray is, and then we let Kita out who completely ignore us and just goes off around the house.
Keep it calm, no screeching, no expecting anything from your animal. The dog may leap all over you, thrilled to see you. Or they may just take off on their own to go and do their thing. For your cats, have a litter tray prepared and show them where it is as soon as you can. If they arrive soon after you simply use soil until you're able to get out and about. And of course, you need to keep cats inside for at least a few weeks if they're an outside cat. Keep your dog on a leash at all times, when outside until you are all confident in your new surroundings.
During unpacking of the removals lorry, keep your pets safe as before, so either arrange a pet sitter or boarding or confine them into their crates in a safe area for the duration. The good news is unpacking is a lot quicker than packing.
And again, make sure you check the lorry before they leave, because certain cats like to get in them, don't they, Sumi?
One of the first things you need to do is to make sure that your pet I.D. is updated with the new address phone number and make sure the microchip information is changed as well.
So to summarise, moving overseas with pets is doable, it's a bit of a pain, but the pets make your family complete. Start preparing a long way ahead of time. Be scrupulously focused on what needs doing and when it needs doing. I've had to run around various cities to get paperwork signed and stamped on specific days. For example, travelling across Berlin at 7o'clock in the morning to ensure I caught the official government vet for his signature. Keep multiple copies of the documentation everywhere. This is one of the things that goes in your hand luggage.
Another useful tip is to set money aside for unexpected fees and problems you may encounter on the way.
You may find the rules have changed even while your pets are in the air and they need to stay in quarantine. It's more likely that there'll be an issue with the paperwork or the receiving airport can't find or the microchip. I've also heard a story of someone in Japan who had problems because one signature on the documentation was signed in the wrong colour ink, meaning your pet may have to stay a night or two.
And finally, have a backup plan in the event that you can't move with your pet as planned. This may be to have friends look after them for a while until they're cleared to fly or rehome them.
And again, don't forget to check the lorry on packing and unpacking day!
And now go enjoy your new life abroad with your expat pet.
As ever, if you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch. I look forward to chatting with you again soon. Take care.
Thank you for listening to the Expatability Chat podcast, please check out ExpatChild.com for more free information and resources and follow me on your favourite social media. Don't forget to join me next week for another episode. Until then, bye bye.