Talking to Pet Owners: What Was It Like to Move Abroad?
Moving countries can be difficult – but fortunately, the days of having to leave your pet behind are over.
You can take your favourite fuzzball on your adventure abroad – there’ll just be some restrictions and regulations to follow.
We talked to pet owners who have successfully transported their pets across the world about the challenges they faced, and how best to navigate them.
Kristina Manente and Basil
Kristina rescued her Maltese dog Basil while she was living in Seoul, South Korea, in March 2017. In January 2018, she put the one-year-old dog on a flight to the US, in advance of her returning home.
Here’s their story.
Basil travelled thousands of miles from South Korea to the US
Before the journey
Choosing a company
“I felt the packing up of the apartment and everything might just add to the whole stress of the move for Basil, and I wanted to make sure he was safe and secure while I was doing some final trips in Asia.
“In Seoul, there is a massive US military presence and as such, military dogs and civilian dogs frequently fly in and out of the country as deployments start and end.
“A company called Shin Dogs Air is the most trusted pet transportation service in Korea. The expat and immigrant community there all suggest it, and so it was a no-brainer to book with them.
“While I could read and write in Korean and understood some, I did not feel comfortable doing important documents in the language as I didn't want to mess anything up in regards to Basil's transport.”
“There were certain requirements with the crate and everything he'd need to have with him. I got the crate from Shin Dogs, as I didn't want to risk getting one too small or too big and it not being accepted.
“Thankfully Basil loves his home crate and in general being in enclosed spaces, so he would hang out in it no problem.
“I paid the deposit for his travel, and then someone very kindly paid the rest of his bill. A lot of people were invested in his journey home – it was nice to have the support from the get-go.
“Truth be told, it was a lot of waiting. I had to wait until the week of travel for a lot of the forms.
“Thankfully, getting pets into the USA is not difficult. I only needed a clean bill of health signed by the vet within three days of the flight and proof of a rabies vaccine and other vaccines.
“That was it. The vet filled it out, signed it, and I handed the paperwork over.”
“The journey felt stressful, but it really went off without a hitch.
“Jin from Shin Dogs handled everything from picking him up from my apartment (a rather teary affair), taking care of him the day and night before the flight, bringing him into quarantine and customs, handing over the paperwork, and remaining with him up until the point he was loaded on the plane.
“I got photos and constant communication the entire time he was in their care.
“Once he was on the plane, I had the tracker up on my computer and stared at it for 14 hours.
“My sister was picking him up in the USA, and I had given her authorisation to do so (more paperwork).
“When she got to the animal quarantine she texted me ‘I can hear him!’ and she sent a photo of this little crate on the other side of the office, which I recognised.
“I just burst into tears.
“When researching this stuff, it's always horror stories. Even though everything had been done right, I was still so terrified of something going wrong in the air. But it was okay. She video called me as soon as she had him in her car.
“She was probably at quarantine/customs for about an hour or so. She had to fill out some paperwork and show she was authorised to pick him up, but they handed him right over and she was on her way.
“It wasn't terribly difficult to be honest. I imagine it is quite different going the opposite direction or to/from a place with more restrictions and requirements.
Basil with Jin, who dealt with his paperwork
After the flight
“He had thankfully met my sister before, when she visited me in Seoul, so he recognised her and I imagine that was a comfort to him after what was surely a scary ordeal.
“He definitely needed to be washed afterwards, as they aren't let out of the crate at all for safety reasons, but he settled down really well with her when she got him to her home.
“He made BFFs with her cat. Basil is incredibly adaptable. He got a lot of attention and cuddles and absolutely adored my sister's boyfriend/now fiancé, as well as their cat Pamplemousse. He did very well with them and is still incredibly fond of them.
“All in all, with transport, paperwork, supplies, and the things I sent ahead of him to my family, it cost around $1,600. It was worth every single penny.
“Basil is my son, and there was never a question of me bringing him home. Shin Dogs’ expertise was well worth paying for, and that bill was only $1,300.”
“I was worried that after three months he wouldn't recognise me, but that was very much not the case, and the reunion was full of many tears and kisses.
“He is a full-on travel dog now, he goes with me to so many places, though only in the car, subway, or bus. I haven't flown again with him and probably won't unless I can have him in the cabin with me. My anxiety can't take it!
“Do your research when it comes to pet transportation companies. Make sure it's about the animals with them, not the money. Vet them, talk with them, and if you have any doubts, look elsewhere. I never doubted Shin Dogs, and felt so secure in their service.
“Also, make sure you have all the paperwork you need, in the language you need. I had to have forms in English filled in by my Korean vet, which was a bit of a process, but I couldn't send Korean documents to the USA – they wouldn't know what to do with them.
“If you're sending them ahead of you, have someone you trust pick them up, obviously. If you're going yourself, make sure you know exactly where animal customs and quarantine is.
“It's usually in a different building from the airport all together, so you'll need to make sure you have a way to get there.
“Also, know the quarantine rules for where you and your pet are going. Some places require up to two months of quarantine for pets. That's a really long time, and even two weeks can seem like eternity.
“The USA doesn't require that, so it was easy for me, but all places have different rules. Make sure you're prepared for them.”
Elinor G. Howell and Zeke
Elinor took her medium-sized, five-year-old grey cat Zeke with her when she flew across the Atlantic from Baltimore to London in 2015, to do a Master’s in Human Geography at Queen Mary University.
Here’s their story.
Elinor holding Zeke just after they arrived in London
Before the journey
Visits to the vet
“He’d been with me since he was a kitten, so I decided to take him with me, because I didn't know how long I'd be in London.
“My first step was making sure his rabies vaccinations were all up to date, as the US has rabies, and the UK does not.
“I had to take him to a USDA-certified vet, so that meant scheduling a special appointment with my practice for when its one USDA-certified veterinarian was available to give him an exam.
“Then they just verified that he had all his vaccines and that he was in good working order, you know, as a cat. That was the point when I learned he had a heart murmur.
“The woman who told me did not have a good bedside manner – she was like, ‘Well this could kill him on the plane. The stress of the plane could kill him.’
“I was like: ‘Sorry? Excuse me?’ But at that point I was three weeks from moving, and I had booked everything. So I just decided: ‘Okay, gotta take the risk.’”
Preparing Zeke’s travel arrangements
“The other major step I had to take was finding him a kennel big enough to put in the cargo hold of a plane, because he couldn't ride with me in the cabin on an international flight.
“He was a medium-sized cat, but I had to buy a big dog kennel, because he was supposed to be able to stand up and turn around without touching any of the sides. Imagine two big suitcases stacked flat on top of each other – that was how big the kennel was.
“I booked him into cargo, and decided to fly direct from Baltimore to London, because I didn't want to worry about him changing planes at Reykjavik and getting shuffled around.
“That was the most expensive part, actually. His flight cost $500, which was pricier than my own ticket. It was done by weight, and he was an 11lb cat.”
“Both airports were stressful. When I got to the airport in Baltimore, I had to drop him off at cargo three hours before the flight, and then I had to be at the gate two hours before the flight.
“And then the flight was delayed for a couple hours, so he was just sitting in his box for hours and hours before he even got on the plane. Then it was an eight-hour flight to London.
“The staff were very good about him, though. They had transported pets before, so they knew what to do.
“They told me to set him up with food and water, though he didn't drink or eat anything in the 15 hours, because he was so stressed.
“If he’d been travelling with me, I might have sedated him.
“But because he was in cargo, and nobody was going to be able to check on him, they recommended not sedating him, as we wouldn't know whether it was too high a dose until it was too late.”
Zeke quickly recovered from the stressful experience
After the flight
“When we touched down, he went to the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre, and I had to leave the terminal with all my stuff and walk down the road to go find him.
“I sat in the Centre for a couple of hours, waiting for them to go through his paperwork. When it got to the end of the day, I checked in on him, and showed them I had multiple copies of his paperwork.
“But because I didn’t have the original copy with the vet’s wet signature, that meant they had to get a local vet to look at him the next day.
“So I had to leave him overnight, for £40, and go to my friend’s house, where I was staying for the week before I moved into my flat.
“But I came back the next day, after he'd been checked out by the vet and had got a little cat passport.
“It was very stressful for those hours when I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was calling my mum, and saying: ‘What do I do?’
“They weren’t going to send him back without me, but my parents had already moved out of town, so I didn’t know where we were going to stay.
“But the staff handled it. They just did his paperwork again in a way that satisfied them, so in the end it was fine.”
“He didn't have to do a quarantine. It wasn’t an issue in the end because neither country required it, and because I had a USDA-certified vet sign off on his paperwork, so they knew he was healthy.
“I don't think I would have taken him if he’d had to do a multi-month quarantine, because I didn't know how long I was going to be in London.”
How did Zeke react to the experience?
“He hid under the covers for like three days. He was so stressed by air travel. When I finally got him out of the Animal Centre, he had totally destroyed the blanket he was sitting on.
“He was pretty upset, and meowed the whole way back to the flat. Then he slept in the bed with me, under the covers, which was pretty unusual – normally he would sleep at the foot of the bed – so he was clearly very freaked out.
“But he didn’t have a heart attack and die, so it was okay.
“Getting the paperwork right the first time would have been nice. And expect that it's going to be stressful – you just have to breathe through it.
“But remember that the animals will survive this, as long as you’re with them.”
Adelle Kehoe and Poppy
Adelle moved to Gibraltar and ended up adopting an adorable kitten called Poppy. So when she wanted to move home to the UK in 2016, she had to plan her new pet’s flight as well.
Here’s their story.
Adelle adopted Poppy in Gibraltar
Before the journey
“There were two options available to me for taking Poppy home: one was flying, and one was a car service.
“I went with the flight because it would be over much sooner – the car ride would take a couple of days, and I felt like it was better to get it over with quickly – and because I wouldn’t be able to be in the car with her.
“We went on one or two trips to the vet, to check that she was in good health, to get her wormed, and to get her a rabies shot about 10 days before flying.
“As long as you’ve got a good vet, and you’ve planned ahead by booking them in in the right time frame, it’s actually quite hassle-free.
“I had to get her a cat carrier that fulfilled the airline’s criteria – they had exact dimensions online. The price for her flight was about the same as mine.
“Getting her ready to fly was pretty awful, though.
“I saw some things online about sedating your pet for the journey, but all the vets I spoke to recommended against it.
“They said that if they wake up mid-flight, they can panic because they don’t know what’s going on, and that can cause heart problems. So it’s better for them to be aware throughout, instead of suddenly waking up in a new situation.”
“I flew with British Airways because that was the only airline that would take pets to the UK from Gibraltar. Check the airline options available to you, to see if there’s an option for your pet to go in the plane with you.
“Poppy went in the special hold for animals, and for me it was a really worrying experience not having her next to me. For me, that was a really stressful part, and flying with them in the plane seems like a much nicer process.
“In future, I would rather fly from Manchester Airport if it meant I could have Poppy with me in the cabin, rather than a London airport, so it’s definitely worth investigating your options. It may not always be the closest airport that’s the best one for you.
“When we landed at Heathrow, she got taken to the Animal Reception Centre.
“By the time I’d got my bags and headed over there, they’d already checked her over to make sure she was okay from the flight, and hadn’t brought in any diseases, so I picked her up and we went home.
“The airline knew what they were doing, and they don’t make you jump through hoops anymore, where you have to quarantine pets for ages on arrival. It’s more humane for the animals now.
“They recognise that it’s a traumatic experience for owners and pets, and they do try to make it as easy as possible.”
“Poppy was obviously a bit traumatised, but by the next day she was purring and sleeping soundly, and quite happy again. She was still a bit jumpy and twitchy, but it wasn’t a long trauma afterwards, so I think it was a good decision to fly instead of take a car.
“I packed treats in my hand luggage so I could give her a treat as soon as I saw her, and I kept all of her food bowls and litter trays, so that when we got to the new home there were lots of familiar things.
“I would advise people to take some of those things with you, because it’s good for your pet to have familiar objects around them after that experience.”
Would you recommend moving with your pet?
“Yes, I’d definitely recommend it. The alternative is that you either leave your pet behind or you drive somewhere yourself, which is usually going to take days.
“That means your pet will be cramped up for an extended period of time, so I’d say going by plane is the most painless option.
“Just get everything sorted a couple of weeks in advance; make sure you’ve got your carrier ready; make sure you’ve got your vet appointments booked in, and maybe book in one or two additional appointments just in case.
“You should also regularly cut their claws, so when you’re getting them into the crate they’re not sharp.
“And I think as an owner, just be calm. Pets are more resilient than you give them credit for.
“It feels like a big experience, but if you can just be calm, it’s over in a matter of hours, and they prefer if you’re calm. Take some treats, too.
“In the years since I travelled, it’s become cheaper, the routes have expanded, and the number of people moving with pets has increased.
“It’s definitely worth doing instead of giving your pet to a family member. It’s much more accessible to have an animal now, and moving shouldn’t be an issue.”