the expat diaries | tips for moving a pet abroad

Welcome to another installment of The Expat Diaries, a place to share expat stories, adventures and travel tips with others! Link up your posts and be sure to visit a few bloggers. For those of you who are new, this blog hop takes place on the first Thursday of each month. The next link-up is scheduled on October 3rd. Today I’m going to be discussing tips for moving a pet abroad.

Moving a Pet Abroad
Most of you already know that we got our beloved Westie, Malcolm in Scotland and moved him to the United States after our year abroad. I often get questions about our two dogs and what we’ll do with them if we take another assignment out of the country, and the answer is: we’ll take them with us. Yes, the experience can be stressful for all parties involved (although I really believe it was more stressful for me than it was for Malcolm because he seemed fine after his long flights), but I don’t know what we would do without our furry children for months and months. Plus they would miss us too.

Because moving a pet will always be different depending on your timeframe, the airline and the country you’re relocating to, you should give yourself enough time to prepare. Like I mentioned before, we moved Malcolm from the UK to the USA and we had many factors to consider. Here are some tips:

1. Quarantine requirements?
When we moved to the United Kingdom in 2011, pets from certain countries were required to stay in quarantine for 6 months. The law has since changed which is great for pet lovers, but if we ever move someplace that requires Malcolm and Ollie to stay caged up for that long, we won’t move them. Yes, I just said we would definitely take them will us, but this is the only thing that would prevent us from doing so. If we move abroad again we will most likely be in a location for 6 months to a year, so it wouldn’t be worth relocating them if they had to spend that entire time in quarantine. In this situation, I’d talk my loving parents into babysitting for a while (you would do that, right parents?!)

2. Plan ahead and know the exact date of your move
I promise this will make your life a lot easier. Make sure you have enough time to prepare and if you can, travel during the milder months. We got stuck flying Malcolm during the summertime, but if we had to do it again, I’d travel during the springtime or fall. One of my biggest concerns was Malcolm overheating — and if we were traveling in December, I’m sure I would have been paranoid about him freezing.

3. How will your pet be traveling?
The most time-consuming part for me was researching different airlines. I had heard horror stories from other expats and wanted Malcolm to be treated properly by airline staff, and I wanted to know he would be safe both on and off the airplane. I decided on KLM after reading reviews on different websites and finding out they’ve transported Olympic horses. I also liked the fact that they required Malcolm to fly to Amsterdam a day earlier than us so he could stay overnight at their pet hotel before the long haul overseas. This was an extra cost but it allowed him to rest, go on walks and eat before another flight.

Some airlines and countries allow pets to ride in the cabin, others require animals to fly as cargo. Malcolm was too big to fly in the cabin so he flew in a ventilated, temperature-controlled, pressurized area in cargo. There are different size requirements and charges associated with this, so check with your airline.

4. Will you be using a third party or contacting the airline yourself?
Since I was worried about messing up paperwork and booking Malcolm on the wrong flight, I used Passport for Pets to relocate him. They helped me with preparations and actually built a custom-made kennel for Malcolm based on his measurements. This kennel had a separate water and food dish (required by airlines), was sturdy, and large enough for him to comfortably turn around and stretch.

5. What are the crate requirements?
Like I said above, Passport for Pets actually built a custom-made kennel out of wood for Malcolm, but most airlines don’t allow these. Most require hard, plastic crates that meet IATA requirements. If I look at KLM’s in-cabin crate requirements, pets must travel in a hard-shell kennel, no higher than 70 cm. Pets must be able to stand up and lie down comfortably, and total weight of pet + kennel must not exceed more than 13 lbs. Research, research, research!

6. What paperwork will you need?
We were required to get a health certificate from our vet so many days before our flight (again, varies between airlines) and also made copies of all Malcolm’s vaccination records. We didn’t need a pet passport but got one anyway just in case we would be coming back to the UK with him.

The airline you’re flying with will be able to tell you about paperwork requirements, and if you go with a pet relocation company like we did, that’s even better. They’ll be able to help you with country requirements.

7. Is your furball ready for the long haul?
– Get your pet used to his/her crate if possible. Malcolm and Ollie are both kennel trained and consider their kennels their safe little dens. This is most likely because they get treats every time we put them in.
– Withhold water and food a few hours before the flight. You don’t want your pet to have a full bladder and be completely uncomfortable the entire time! Also, don’t change their food days before the flight. You know what I’m talking about… when you switch food, sometimes your pets get upset tummies and  diarrhea. Again, uncomfortable.
– Airlines don’t allow toys or a bunch of blankets in the crates (you don’t want your pet to choke on part of a stuffed animal or get overheated from too many blankets) so we put a single shirt on the floor for Malcolm to cuddle with. It didn’t take up much room and it had our scent on it which helped calm him.
– We did not sedate our dog because most airlines don’t allow this if they’re traveling cargo, plus I wasn’t going to give Malcolm a medication if I wasn’t right there with him. Just the thought of Malcolm being “out of it” in a kennel beneath a plane scares me. When they’re sedated they could have temperature and breathing issues!

8. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions
I called Passport for Pets, KLM and our vet to check on timeframes and paperwork requirements all the time. I wanted everything to go smoothly, plus it made me feel a lot better. On the day Malcolm had to travel from Edinburgh to Amsterdam alone and stay at the pet hotel overnight, I requested the pet hotel phone number from KLM. They don’t usually give that number out, but I was able to talk to one of the workers and have him check on Malcolm.

When we were flying from Amsterdam to Washington, DC the next day and Malcolm was booked on our same flight, I asked the KLM workers to notify me when Malcolm was placed on the plane and when he was being taken off. I probably annoyed everyone there, but I wanted to make sure he wasn’t being left in a hot vehicle or on the tarmac.

Relocating a pet takes a lot of preparation and can be stressful, but hopefully these tips will help you if you’re ever in this situation. Let me know if you have any questions!


Filed Under: Dogs, Expat, Travel16 Comments
  • Allison Estoch

    We used KLM to transport our German Shepherd, Ada. They did a great job even though she was flying in the middle of summer to the Philippines! I think we’re going to have a harder time getting her back to the US because I’ve heard there are more restrictions on flying in the heat headed back to the States. We might have to ship her off a few months before we leave post and have my parents babysit!

  • Dee

    I didn’t have a pet when I moved but it was already difficult, so I can imagine how much harder it would’ve been if I did! I think your tips will definitely help those with pets.

  • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

    we’ve actually thought a lot about this since we got a pet here in korea. we have no idea what steps we’ll have to take to bring him back home or if we’ll have to find another home for him here in korea. i would absolutely hate to part with our pet! i agree, having them around makes it so much easier to live away from friends and family!

  • Brittany Ruth

    We bought my French Bulldog in Germany so he hasn’t had to travel yet but when we go back Stateside, we will have to and I am terrified. First, he can’t even travel during Summer months because he is snub nosed and I’m scared he will arrive dead when we get there :(

  • Bel

    I’m lucky to have moved to a country (from France to Morocco) not too far away and that you can drive and catch a ferry to. We brought our Argetin Mastiff over buy car. At customs they were really scared (opened the boot then shut it straight away, didn’t search the car nor ask for the dogs passport). People don’t really keep dogs as pets over here, there are not many big dogs around. Plus some strange law is apparently being voted that any dog that ‘looks pit bull like’ (so all molasses) will be confiscated and put down!! We’re getting a bit scared…

    Something to add to your great and very useful post: airlines don’t accept rodents or rabbits! When I moved 4 years ago I had a pet rat. We rang the airline company 5 times to make sure that they accepted rats on the plane. They said ok as long as they are in a suitable travel cage. The day of the departure, at check in, we were told that we could not take the rat with us, that it was strictly forbidden for rodents to board a plane (because they might escape and eat cables). Long story short (you can read the whole story here : ) after a lot of negotiations they let the rat on board :)

    Sorry for the long comment!!
    Take care

  • Treasure Tromp

    having a pet is one thing that worries me so much about travel. M & I wanted to get a dog last summer but decided to wait since we were heading out to SA for 6 months. The plan is getting a pup as soon as we move back, though!

  • Kate Hall

    This is so handy as I’ve been trying to convince Dan we should get a pug! He keeps saying it’s going to be impossible to move him… well… let me prove him wrong!

    Kate –

  • Jenna

    This is wonderful for anyone who has a pet and is contemplating expat life. If Jurg and I get a dog here and then ever want to move to the states, we would definitely take him or her with us :) I had to leave my yellow lab in California (she was half my parents’) and I miss her every stinking day :/ Bookmarking this, just in case!


  • Ace CB

    When we moved our cats from the States to the Netherlands, we did all the arrangements with IcelandAir – whose staff on all sides was fantastic and caring.

    In the process of researching airlines, I kept running into a weird problem with any flights that would make a change in Ireland. Apparently Ireland is a non-transfer country for animals (at least from outside the EU, though that I can’t confirm), and the cats wouldn’t be allowed to leave the country even for a layover… Luckily, I figured it out and went with the kind folks at IcelandAir instead. I would certainly fly them again if we needed to relocate with the cats again.

  • Gesci

    After having moved our three to and from the UK (and all myself- we didn’t use a shipping company) I want to say thank you for your reminding people to check with the legal sources. I will say, though, to check with the government’s import offices (USDA for the States, and it used to be DEFRA for the UK, but I believe a different office took it over when the regulations changed) because the airlines don’t always track those. We ran into some issues with Delta not knowing DEFRA’s regulations on our move over, and ended up not flying with them, which actually turned out to be a huge relief since they don’t have the best record of delivering your pet in the same condition in which it departed. We (the pets and I) flew Virgin to and from England, and we would only put ours on direct flights, so I drove them from Idaho to NJ for the move over and Paul drove down from N Yorks to get us from Heathrow. On the way back we all drove down to Heathrow together, but Paul was on a slightly earlier flight, so he landed at Dulles first, where his dad had driven up to meet us and he drove all of us down to NC.
    I’ve known many people who’ve moved pets to various overseas countries, and I will say that many of them do allow you to bypass quarantine (which we did moving over to the UK) if you have the proper titer tests and paperwork done in advance. You can skip HI’s completely, Australia (last I checked) had a minimum 1 month but you wouldn’t have to do the whole 6, I believe you can skip Japan’s with the proper preparation, and Guam’s… I do think Norway has a minimum quarantine still, though, but I’m not positive. I haven’t researched in over a year, since once we found out we were coming back to the States it didn’t matter. You do also have to keep in mind breed-specific legislation. It’s an issue in the UK and in Germany, I know.

    Moving pets is hard, particularly brachycephalic (for your commenter with the pug), but it’s definitely doable! We even have expat friends who’ve moved their three turtles to Australia, back to the US, and to England!

    Great post- and again, thanks for reminding people to always double check- I turn into a keyboard-rage when I’ve read articles (ahem, Dogster) that people present their one experience to one country as the blanket fact for all overseas travel with pets (again… Dogster).

  • Stephanie

    Quarantine for 6 months!! Yikes! Yeah, if I was only going to be gone 6-12 months and they had that rule, I’d leave him with my parents. I’d miss Walter terribly, but it would be better than having him quarantined.

  • Jessica M

    Thank you for posting this!!! You answered so many of my questions. I hate the idea of quarantine, hopefully we don’t ever face that.

  • Samm

    I wish upon every single star that someday this post could apply to me. LIKE, EVERY. SINGLE. STAR.

  • Caroline

    I always thought that it was close to impossible to bring a pet in/out of a country unless you’re Beyonce or someone, so thanks for shedding some light on the process! It looks complicated, but definitely doable! :)

  • snapshotsandwhatnots

    I had to leave my dog Charlie with my parents when I moved to the US mostly because he wouldn’t have been able to handle the flight and the adjustment from being a dog with constant companionship (my parents) to spending time alone while I worked. It broke my heart but he’s better with them.

    At first I wasn’t going to get a second dog after moving to the US, but then after doing a lot of research into what it would take to move him back home. I got Boomer. Since then I’ve made sure that he’s gotten the right kind of microchip and the right rabies vaccination and that he’s used to his crate, travelling and being alone. So hopefully that means that if/when I move home we’ll both me ready.

    The tips about the airlines and their requirments are things I haven’t even looked into though – great advice

  • themovetoamerica

    So wish I could bring my dog with me (can’t bring her as she is not really mine – she is my Mum’s – but I spend all my time with her so she feels like mine) :-(

    Molly xo