relocating pets for expat moves

As someone who currently owns (is owned by??) a dog from every continent that we have lived on, I am here to tell you that relocating your pet can be done. Every time our dogs arrive, somehow our new environment seems less daunting, and our new life starts to take shape. So if you thought trying to relocate pets was impossible, think again. It takes a little time, a little effort and a little help, but believe me, it’s worth it.

As with everything relocation, planning is the key to getting the best possible experience, both for you and your furry friends. There are some excellent services and resources out there, and some horrible ones, so here’s what you need to know.
Firstly, be honest with yourself about your pet’s ability to make the journey. 99.99% of the 500,000 pets transported across the US each year make it to their destinations safe and sound, but some higher risk factors include snub nosed breeds, advanced age, and ‘kennel stress’ in dogs that are not used to spending time in a dog crate. It is still possible to move those breeds, but you might have to look a little harder to find willing and appropriate services.

For countries that are rabies free, the entry requirements are complicated, so pay attention to the details. Make sure you have written guidelines to follow from either the pet transportation company or the host country’s department of agriculture, and keep meticulous records. For the rest of the world and domestic transfers, the process is surprisingly straightforward, and if your pet is healthy and vaccinated, you (and they) are most of the way there.

The main challenges that you face are:

  • Time
  • Health Related Issues
  • Transportation.

Time

Most corporate moves want you in your new location as quickly (and quietly) as possible – which works against you when you are dealing with transporting animals internationally. Some countries, including Australia, New Zealand and the UK require evidence of rabies free status for 6 months prior to import, so as soon as you think you might be moving, get the following done:

  • Contact a pet relocation company such as Airpets or Petrelocation for accurate, up to date requirements and advice. Most good services are happy to work with you, both by giving advice, setting task timelines with you and providing whatever supplementary services you need. I always advise having a company you trust as a backup plan, even if you are doing most of the work yourself – it means that if you hit a glitch in your own plans, there is someone who can facilitate the move regardless.
  • Download petrelocation.com’s guide – or the one from your own provider.
  • Microchip with an International ISO microchip.
  • Note the microchip number on all pet records and documentation, current and future.
  • Start taking photos of all the documentation on your phone, and consider setting your pets up as contacts, so that you can share their details quickly and easily via text and email with anyone who needs them.
  • Create an online backup log containing scans of all their documentation. (see the Setting up for Success Guide on the Member Area for a how-to video on digital storage and sharing)
  •  Take care of the Rabies Vaccination with documentation
  • Get the Rabies Antibody Test (RNATT) or Rabies Titre Test (FAVN or RAFFI) done, 3 weeks after vaccination
  • Apply for an Import Permit if applicable

The microchip verifies the identity of your pet for health, transport and import purposes; the rabies vaccination and antibody test (which MUST be documented as per the country requirements, so make sure your veterinarian is accredited by the Government Veterinarian Authority in your country of origin and is aware of the current rules) are the quarantine part.

With the advent of microchipping as a reliable international form of identification, quarantine restrictions are being relaxed, so in many cases, if you can prove that your pet is rabies free, they can serve a certain amount of ‘quarantine time’  at home, or can split it between home for as long as you are there, and just make up the remaining time in quarantine kennels in your host country – many will allow you to visit. Basically, your pet can join you after 180 days following its first clear rabies antibody test, so the sooner you get that done, the less time you will spend apart.

Health Related Issues

Up-to-date vaccinations (and the records to prove it, obviously..) are a standard requirement, especially for rabies, Bordatella and DHLPP. In addition, you will need a Health Certificate issued by your veterinarian, usually about 10 days prior to travel, and you will need to ensure that your pet has no internal (e.g. worms)  and external (fleas and ticks) parasites.

For international relocation to a country with quarantine restrictions, you will need  a second clear rabies test and fecal tests for additional parasites, and very specific – now is the time to recheck the rules with the shipping company – they change frequently.

Transporting Pets

Policies and practices vary from airline to airline, but there are four that consistently give good service and are used by pet relocation companies – Continental, KLM, Delta and British Airways.

Depending on size, your pet may travel as hand luggage, checked baggage or as cargo. A pet transportation company such as Airpets can handle this for you, and my advice would be to let them. Twice, we have had the importation rules change while the pets were in transit, and thankfully, both times the shipping agent was able to get the necessary documentation completed for them to continue their journey within 12 hours. You may not be in a position to resolve any issues as quickly when you have the rest of the relocation to manage, and the last thing you need is your family pet sitting in an airport somewhere, waiting to be rubber stamped…

Whatever route you take, you will need to transport them in an approved container, so if your dog is not used to being in a pet kennel, now is the time to start getting him used to it. Use either hipmunk’s pet travel guide or the petrelocation guide to buy the correct size and type of kennel, and then start by feeding you dog in it with the door open, and working up eventually to sleeping in it. The hidden advantage to all this is that he/she will also have a familiar place to hide out when you start in your new location, and a crate-trained dog is a great deal easier to leave in a rented apartment while you are house hunting.

Which brings me to my final point – timing. In my experience, it is far better to leave pets behind in a friendly, familiar environment that to transport them immediately and try to find temporary accommodation that accepts them, while you are frantically searching for housing. Many boarding kennels – and of course, any pet relocation company – will provide the necessary checks that they need before they fly. We have hosted pets for friends, and provided that there is a very clear list with due dates and good communication, it’s easier to mange than you think.