Are you thinking of Going abroad with a pet?
While I was toying with the idea of travelling abroad, my biggest concern was finding someone to watch my cat, Luna (Tuna). My original plan was to volunteer with conservation programs or wildlife rehabilitation centres in South America, which would not exactly be a pet friendly environment. I was only planning on a few months away, so finding a cat sitter wasn’t completely out of the question. When I applied for a teaching gig in China and it turned into a year away, I started researching how difficult it would be to take her with me. If you’re thinking of going abroad with a non-service cat or dog, here are a few things to consider.
Definitely not impossible, but there’s quite a bit of research and preparation involved. You don’t want to leave it until the last minute. Plan to give yourself 6-8 months before your departure date to start making arrangements and booking appointments. A recommended timeline from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) that is very helpful can be found here.
Policies and regulations vary both by airline and by country. There are rules for which animals can travel in the cabin and as checked baggage, and certain times a year where travelling is more difficult. Each step from the applications and certifications, to the transport, to entry permits and quarantine all have associated fees, and the process can be expensive.
which airline should you use?
If you have flexibility in which airline you travel with, then it will help to shop around and read reviews of their pet services. Each airline has different policies when it comes to transporting pets, and some airlines don’t allow pets at all. If you plan on taking your pet on a flight, either in the cabin or as checked baggage, make sure you contact the airline and make your reservation in advance. Many airlines will have a limit on the number of animals allowed on a flight, so you don’t want to show up without knowing your spot is secure. You can look up individual airline policies here.
The easiest way to take a pet with you is to keep it in the cabin. This reduces the complications of making connections and takes away some of the worrying. Most airlines have restrictions on which animals or breeds are allowed in the cabin. As a general rule, dogs and cats are usually only allowed in the cabin if their carrier will fit under the seat in front of you. That’s really not a lot of room, so it’s restricted to cats and small dogs.
Though I would be much more comfortable having Luna with me, I also know how vocal she can be. She’s not quite crying-baby loud, but if the people around me aren’t “cat people” they might not find it as cute as I do. This probably wouldn’t stop me from taking her in the cabin. It would, however, cause me some anxiety to think I was bothering everyone around me.
Having your pet travel as cargo may be the only option if you have a medium to large dog. This may sound scary, but your pet will still travel in a temperature controlled, ventilated area. Airlines with pet policies will have dedicated staff at the origin and destination of the trip to ensure animals are well cared for. They often require your pet travel with food and a feeding schedule attached to their crate.
Depending on the airline, there may be restrictions on which animals or breeds are allowed to travel in the cargo hold. Because of the associated respiratory problems, some flat-faced or short-nosed dogs (Pugs, Bulldogs, etc) are banned on all flights. See more about this here.
There may also be constraints based on the time of year or the length of your flight. Due to the weather concerns at both your starting point and your destination, if the ground temperature is too hot or too cold your pet may not be allowed to travel. If you’re travelling to a hot location it is best book a flight that lands at night, and mid-afternoon for cold destinations. Pets may also be prohibited from travelling over 12 hours, including the time it takes to pass through customs at your destination.
You may consider sedating or tranquilizing your pet, but this is discouraged and can be dangerous. You may even be prohibited from flying if you arrive at the airport with a sedated pet. This applies both in the cabin and in cargo. Medication may alter an animals natural ability to equalize during pressure fluctuations and cause breathing problems. If you can’t avoid it, talk to your vet about safe alternatives or all-natural calming solutions.
carrier or crate
Before travel, make sure your carrier is approved for air travel. This applies to both cabin and cargo travel, though guidelines are different for each. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) sets regulations for carriers in checked luggage. This includes having a waterproof bottom, ventilation on opposite sides, spring locked doors, metal fasteners, and enough space for your pet to sit and lay down comfortably. You can find out more about the requirements here.
where are you going?
Depending on where you are travelling to, there will be different requirements for vaccinations and certifications. Strict precautions are taken to reduce the transport of diseases and parasites. Countries may require an international health certificate, translated into the national language and authenticated by the consulate. Rabies vaccination and titer test (FAVN), and micro-chipping may also be required. It’s important to pay attention to timelines associated with the requirements as well as the order they need to be completed in. To get into Japan, for example, the titer test must be competed at least 180 days before entry. In some countries a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) must be completed within 10 days of departure. Country-specific regulations for importing animals can be found here.
If you’re travelling through another country, even if it’s just for a connection, you often also need to pass regulations in that country as well. If you’re planning on returning to your origin, you may need to go through all of these steps again, depending on how long you were away for.
To bring a pet into China, you will need proof of vaccination within a year but at least 30 days prior to departure. An international health certificate from a certified vet (US – USDA, Canada – CFIA) is also required. Once in China, your pet will be placed in quarantine. The quarantine depends on where you land, and where you’re travelling from. Travelling from Canada to Beijing automatically gives your pet a 30 day quarantine at a government facility.
what is quarantine?
If or how long your pet will be quarantines for will depend on where you’re going. Your animal may be held in a government facility, or be quarantined at home for a certain amount of time. This can vary anywhere from a few days to up to 6 months. Depending on how long you’re planning on going away for, it may not be worth the hassle. For dog owners especially, animals quarantined at home could be more of an inconvenience if you can’t take them anywhere. This is not a free service either, and fees to house your animals in quarantine can be hefty.
It it important to remember that quarantine facilities are more likely to be in cities with international airports. Your pet may be required to stay behind at the international airport for the quarantine period if you’re connecting to a smaller domestic airport. Depending on how far from you this will be, and how easy it is to travel between these locations, this could be a major setback.
Who should you contact?
- Certifications services (US – USDA, Canada – CFIA)
- Foreign Consulate
should you travel with your pet?
This is a personal choice. I decided not to bring Luna with me to China. If I had known exactly where I would be staying and didn’t plan on travelling around while I’m away then I would have brought her. Luckily for me I have a fantastic sister who agreed to watch her while I’m away. I also have a list of people who will take her if something happens and my sister can’t keep her. So I know she’s safe.
That being said, it was not easy. I was leaving family and friends for a year, and yet my hardest goodbye was to my cat. The people in my life were used to me being away for months at a time, but Luna had been with me for 6 years, and spent most nights curled up at my side.
Since I’ve been away there has be an enormous guilt weighing on me. After all, I had always known I’d wanted to travel. How could I be so selfish as to get a pet that I would have to leave at some point. Sure, I plan on going back to her, but she doesn’t know why I’m not there. I don’t know what the emotional capacity of cats is, but it worries me that she may feel abandoned. She doesn’t know when I’m coming back, all she knows is that I dropped her off in a new home and now I’m gone. I don’t think the guilt will go away, but at least I know that this situations is easier on her than international travel and quarantine would have been.
If I had been in a situation where travelling meant I had to give her away, I never could have done it. She is my family. I hope that if you are deciding to leave your pet behind, it is with someone you love and trust and not with a local shelter.
Sure, taking your pet abroad is a difficult and lengthy process, but it can be done! If you have any tips or resources for pet owners, leave a comment below 🙂