Pets are extremely important members of expatriate families. They form part of the mobile baggage that becomes a steady reference point and are fully involved in the adventure of discovery and adaptation to a new country. This chapter is for those who have a pet or who are about to acquire one, and anyway in the belief that even if you do not have a pet, to help you understand the anxieties inherent in relocating your pet, especially when the transfer involves long hours of air travel, many stopovers, and an arrival at a destination with challenging living conditions or, for example, a particularly harsh climate.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that choosing a new destination is partly influenced by the living conditions for our animals on the spot. For this reason, the first thing to do is look for a contact who can answer these important questions comprehensively:
- How are general living conditions for a pet in the country?
- Are pets welcome and well considered by local people? Can they move freely?
- Are there specific diseases in the country that could affect the health of our animals?
- Do landlords generally accept families with dogs/cats in their apartments/houses?
- Are there vets? Local, foreign ones? Is animal health care expensive?
- Can you find pet products? Are food and medicines readily available? Are they expensive?
It is important to get as much of this information as possible before relocating your pet because it can help us in the pre-departure phase, for example, by enabling us to prepare an adequate supply of particular medicines not available locally, or vaccinate our dog/cat against diseases specific to our next country.
Once this is done, we proceed to the preparation of the necessary documents for relocating your pet. The essential rule at this stage is GIVE YOURSELF PLENTY OF TIME. Each country has its own rules, each airline its regulations, and there are also variables related to the health of the animal or to your personal situation. So start gathering information to plan your journey as soon as you can.
In general, wherever you are and wherever you go, to relocate your pet you will need to contact:
- The vet
- The institution in charge of the animal when leaving your present country
- The institution responsible for allowing pets into the new country
- If necessary, the embassy or consulate of both countries
- Your airline
All dogs and cats in transit for Europe must now have an ISO microchip (a serial number inserted under the skin of animals, usually between the shoulder blades) and a passport that shows the number. Once you have taken this step, the rest is fairly simple. Warning: if you are relocating your pet for the first time in Europe with a document/passport issued in a non-EU country, immediately contact your vet to transfer all the data about your four-legged friend to the European passport, and above all, its medical history and the list of vaccinations.
We draw your attention to the importance of the rabies vaccine, which is essential for relocating your pet from one country to another and the booster dose is given every year. For those whose pets have never been vaccinated against rabies, remember that vaccination requires a booster and that the whole business (including developing antibodies after the booster) can take up to 3 or 4 months. You should keep this in mind when planning trips and departures.
We also recommend not to let more than 365 days elapse between one vaccination and the next: only in this way, the count of the antibodies (which will be required the first time that the dog is introduced to a new country – via a blood test) will be valid for the animal’s entire life. If you fail to do so, however, and give your pet the booster dose even just one day later than the 365 days of duration of the vaccine, you will have to redo the antibody count, which is not easy in all countries.
If you are in a country where there is no lab for this test, your pet’s blood will be sent to a neighboring country which has one, and this, in addition to the time required and the already high cost of the examination itself, will add a further financial burden to the procedure. You can find the list of all the laboratories in the world who can perform the examination here: https://ww2.defra.gov.uk/.
Documents that the animal must always have with it, apart from the microchip and the passport, are:
- The count of antibodies against rabies (for the first transfer and all the successive booster proofs)
- The vaccination booklet (which should always be updated with appropriate references) if it is not part of the passport
- A certificate of good health issued by a vet of the public body responsible for the movement of animals (Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture, ASL, etc..)
- Some countries require a certificate of export and import
When relocating your pet, it would be useful to your next vet if you prepare a folder containing all the documents concerning its life, especially with regard to medical visits to various countries, drugs administered in each case and any examinations and X-rays.
Assuming that you are relocating your pet by plane, the first thing to do is to consult the airline: some do not allow pets in the cabin, or allow them only on certain legs and to certain destinations.
Some airlines might stop transporting animals during the summer or winter, when the excessive heat/cold become dangerous for the animal. This happens in many countries with tropical, warm and humid climates.
Relocating your pet in-cabin or as accompanied baggage in the hold
Generally airlines transport pets as cargo. In this case the staff that manages the departure and arrival of the aircraft will be informed accordingly.
Depending on the destination, some airlines allow you to have cats or small dogs in the cabin, as long as the weight including animal + cage does not exceed the cabin baggage allowance.
The cage must fit at your feet and therefore must be really tiny.
Alternatively, some airlines allow you to buy a separate ticket to have your pet on the seat beside you. In this case you would pay a child’s fare.
However, please consider that if your pet is particularly agitated, being shut in a cage in an environment where passengers and flight attendants circulate constantly, can make it even more nervous than if it were placed in the “tranquility” of the hold. Your travel companions might become very irritable if the cat/dog barks or meows during the trip. Airlines generally limit the number of pets allowed in the cabin. If you want to travel with your animal at your side, you must notify the airline when you book your flight in plenty of time.
If you are relocating your pet in the cargo hold be aware that it will be treated as baggage. If its total weight (animal + cage) exceeds the 20 or 30 kgs allowed, you will have to pay the excess baggage rate of around 40 euros per kilo.
From a practical point of view it is much better to have your pet traveling on your own flight and collect it at the baggage claim at your destination (if traveling in the hold). You will then check out with the person responsible for checking animals, as if you were checking out a suitcase. If you have all the papers, and the host country does not require a quarantine period, your pet will leave the airport with you and, depending on the country, even pretty fast.
Excess baggage or shipment as cargo on a different flight from yours
Depending on your destination and the airline that you choose to use, you can have your pet traveling with you as excess baggage. This means you will be paying the kgs exceeding the 20 or 30 allowed by the airline, including those of your suitcases + the dog + the cage.
Some airlines treat pets as cargo, which must therefore be sent as unaccompanied luggage. In some cases they cannot even travel on the same flight as the owner. This is not too pleasant for the animal, not is it for you, as it is expensive since you’ll need to use a cargo transportation agency, from the departure airport to destination.
If possible, and if you have a very big dog that requires a heavier cage, you should send the animal as cargo on the same flight, buying it a ticket. Bear in mind though that many countries tax the animals that enter as cargo.
The cost varies from country to country and takes into account factors such as the weight of the animal, its breed, age, and the cost of airline ticket. In some countries this can amount to 30% of the shipment cost. We reiterate the importance of getting organised in plenty of time and considering all possibilities.
If you and the animal travel on the same flight with one or more stop-overs, ask whether the pet is being shipped directly to its final destination or if you have to collect it and check it again between flights (which is rarely the case).
The disadvantages of sending the animal as cargo on a flight other than yours are numerous. There is the anxiety of not having it with you and being unable to closely monitor the process of loading, etc… Shipping and receiving procedures take much longer. In many cases you must make a written request to the airline in advance, informing them of your intention to ship the dog. You must be at the airport several hours before the departure of the flight, obliging the animal to spend even more time in the cage, and also the clearing process can be long and complicated in some countries.
Sometimes, however, you have no choice. In some countries dogs can only enter as cargo separately, or you can bring them with you: you will need to get this information in advance
Some good airlines for shipping dogs as cargo are British Airways and Lufthansa in Europe, and Kenya Airways in Africa. In Latin America very good experiences have been reported with Copa and Taca.
Important: whichever way you choose to make the animal travel, contact with the airline is essential and must be done in plenty of time. This is particularly true when it is shipped as cargo. You need to get in touch with the airline or your travel agent, and send the measurements and the weight of your pet’s empty cage. Give the airline all the details of your itinerary (especially if there are several legs and you are using different airlines). It is unthinkable to arrive at the airport with a dog without prior contact with the airline. This is also valid for short continental distances and even if the dog or cat travels in the cabin with you as hand luggage.
Do not forget to reconfirm your flights at least 48 hours in advance.
Prepare your dog for the trip
First of all make an appointment with your vet! After a thorough check-up he can administer all necessary vaccinations which may be required by the new country. This is a process that must be started at least two months before the departure date. Some vaccinations preclude dogs from travelling for several days or a month and should be administered before arrival in the new country. Depending on the circumstances, it may also be necessary to provide the results of a blood test.
Warning: If your dog is a puppy, keep in mind that prior to travel it must have developed sufficient antibodies in the immune system, and it is not always the case in a young dog. Some countries do allow young animals who have not attained the required levels to leave the country, others suppress them upon arrival. The level of antibodies is established with a blood test: if your puppy does not have enough, you must wait and take the test again three months later. For this reason ask your vet well in advance if you are moving with a puppy.
If your dog is travelling for the first time, try to get it used to its cage several days before departure, so as to minimize the trauma of finding itself locked inside it. Buy the cage in advance and leave it open somewhere in the house, or where the dog spends its time, perhaps putting in a cover or an object like a ball or another toy. Let the dog get close to the cage at its own pace, give it time to get to know it and to regard it as a familiar object. Ideally, close your pet in the cage every day for a little longer. This way it will be able to face the journey with more peace of mind, having learnt that it’s not locked up for ever.
The purchase of the cage is something you cannot do at the last minute: the sooner you buy it, the more chance you have that of your dog getting used to it. It must be sufficiently strong, fully waterproof, with a safe door and locking system and adequate ventilation. Be sure to buy a cage with the right measurements! IATA rules are strict: your dog must be able to stand up in the cage, move through it with his head high. If you buy a cage which is too small, the airline may refuse to transport the animal.
Leave yourself plenty of time. If your dog is traveling with you, be at the airport at least 3 hours before flight departure. If it’s shipped as cargo, arrive even earlier because the procedure is more complex.
- Remember that animals cannot be exposed to extreme temperatures. Some airlines refuse to have them traveling during the hottest or coolest months, while others accept the booking, but may reserve the right not to travel with the animal in the event that weather conditions have changed considerably. Be prepared for this eventuality, and always keep a plan B ready.
- Place on the cage, in a very visible position, a sheet in a plastic protector with your details (name, address, phone, etc..), the name of the vet, the dog’s breed, possibly the type of food you give it and the frequency with which it is fed. Mention any health problems.
You can also add a second sheet with clear indications such as “careful, do not open the door of the cage unnecessarily”, or anything else you feel should be noted.
- Find a way to fix a water pot inside of the cage door. In this container you can put some ice that will melt slowly and will take away the thirst of the dog in the first part of the trip. A good idea is to connect a bottle to the container and have it remain outside the cage, so that staff in charge of the transport of the dog can fill the container without opening the cage door.
- Prepare the cage before you place the dog inside: you can put an absorbing pad on the bottom (an incontinence pad which will absorb any liquid is perfect) and a pillow (better than a blanket which moves and bunches).
- You should not necessarily sedate the animal. Remember that the sedative can have side effects at high altitude (breathing problems). Obviously you’ll listen to the advice of your veterinarian, and if he does not propose it, tell him you want to test the sedative a few days before the trip.
- Ask your vet when you should feed the pet for the last time, to avoid discomfort associated with nausea from altitude (less food in the stomach reduces the risk of nausea) without keeping it too hungry if the trip is very long.
- If there are two dogs travelling together, ask to have them placed opposite each other: seeing each other will help calm them down.
- Do not put padlocks on the door of the cage!!!!!! In case of emergency it cannot be opened quickly. Instead, use the duct tape provided at check-in to seal the door.
- Insist on watching while the dog is loaded into the hold. If you cannot watch the operation ask that they confirm to you that the dog was loaded and positioned properly.
- Check that there are no coffins with corpses traveling on the same plane. It is forbidden to have living animals traveling with human remains, but many airlines turn a blind eye to this. Better make sure because the presence of a corpse could really upset your dog.
If the country of destination requires a quarantine period, ask beforehand how and where this is done.
Should you not be there to receive the dog, make sure in plenty of time that the person who acts for you has all the details of the arrival flight and for the dog.
If the dog is traveling with you, the procedure to clear it in most cases is faster.
Now that your dog has arrived at the new destination, remember that it needs a period of adaptation: it takes time for the animal to adapt to climate, visual, sound changes, etc.. Do not rush it into a routine of daily walks, give it time to understand that this is its new home.
Try and get it to a vet immediately so that he can get to know the dog. It is important to establish contact in case of emergency. Keep on hand the number of your new vet.
Find out about registration procedures for dogs in your town.