Pets Abroad: Moving Overseas With Pets

For many of us, whether we have children or not, our pets are like our children. And, right, wrong, or indifferent, the thought of leaving them behind when moving overseas is unthinkable.  Fortunately, in recent years airlines seem to have taken pet transport seriously, and moving Spot from Kinshasa to Kalamazoo may not be the perilous journey it once was.  But it isn’t cheap, and it requires a fair amount of planning.

One thing we can say with certainty is that having the pets with us has made all the difference in the world.  When we first arrived and didn’t know anybody, the pets gave the new apartment a sense of home. When we staggered home from a day of cross-cultural idiocy (ours and other people’s) our pets from “home” were waiting for us.  Believe me, it helped.

When we decided to move from Indiana to Ireland we were lucky to have about seven months before we needed to be in Dublin.  I say we were lucky because, at that time, the paperwork and vaccination schedule to move dogs and cats from the U.S. to Ireland was six months.  I got cracking right away.  For various reasons, our dog failed her first rabies titre (a test of the level of vaccine in her system).  The cats were fine because they were on a different vaccine schedule than the dog.

Lesson#1 – Don’t assume that vaccine and documentation regulations are the same for all pets (even going to/from the same country).

Long story short, we got the dog re-inoculated and she passed.  But now she was a month behind the cats (thank God for the seventh month in our schedule).  I spent several hours a week over the next six months doing research, making calls, faxing forms, driving samples around, buying kennels, freezing water dishes, and making plans.  In the end it was all worth it because things went pretty much according to plan. And in the few instances when they didn’t, they went according to my B, C, and D backup plans.

Yeah, I’m that guy.

Once we were settled, having pets helped us meet people.  No, I’m not talking about using cute little Fido to pick up chicks in the park.  When you have a dog, you meet other dog people.  You trade dog talk.  Where are the good dog walks?  Who are the good/bad vets?  You meet people and you learn.  You make friends.  At the vet I met a guy who was into a hobby I’d always wanted to try.  I was nice to his dog, so he trusted me and took me along the next weekend.

When planning a move, do your research early.  The Internet is a huge help, but double-check everything.  Look for blogs or forums where people discuss their experiences.  The official regulations might say one thing, and practical experience might reveal something slightly different (or useful tips like “the shortest lines are Wednesday afternoons.” etc.).

Airlines, Air Travel, and Pet Transport Companies
It’s also worth considering using a pet transport company to help you wade through the morass of regulations.  And some airlines will require you to use a pet transport company.  It can be worth the money.  We used one because Aer Lingus requires it. Pet Express, the company we used, was excellent.  They sorted out a host of issues, tolerated my OCD and talked me off the bureaucratic ledge any number of times.

Other airlines (like Continental) don’t require you to use an outside pet transport company, but they have a dedicated in-house pet transport department and an excellent reputation for pet safety. That said, there are some things you can do to make life easier on your pet.

Knowing that many/most planes that transport pets have dedicated (pressurized, climate-controlled) cargo compartments for pets, the real danger to pets is not the air travel, but the ground time.  Most pets get lost, dehydrated, rained on, chilled, overheated, etc. when left on the tarmac or in an un-air conditioned area before/after, or between flights.

Lesson#2 –Do everything possible to limit the number of flights.

We drove five extra hours to Chicago to put our pets on a direct flight.  That may not be an option for you, but…

Lesson#3 – Make sure that on the way to/from every flight they are the last thing on the plane and the first thing off.

Lesson#4 – Make sure that on the way to/from every flight they are kept in an appropriately climate controlled room or vehicle that is monitored constantly.

Records and Documentation
Keeping good records now makes the process easier when the time comes.  You’ll already have much of what you need. And, secondly, if you’ve already developed a filing system you’ll be less freaked out by all of the paperwork requirements.

Lesson#5 –Start keeping records now if you only suspect you might want to move your pets overseas. Work with your vet and keep a record of rabies, and other important vaccinations.

Microchips for Pets
Most governments require microchips for pet immigration.  Do this as soon as possible wherever you live. We’ve now seen several animals get reunited with their owners this way.  It’s painless, and the system is very effective at tracking and reuniting pets with owners (as long as the owner keeps their contact information updated). Don’t be freaked out if you have to have it done again before you move.  There are different standards in various places, and there’s a chance your chip won’t be recognized in another country.

If you do have to have your pet re-chipped, make sure the vet puts it somewhere obvious, but well away from sensitive organs.  We had to have all three pets double chipped (they can’t remove the old chip), and it caused problems when the dog’s new chip got in the way of an MRI of her spine.  Normally they put the chips in the shoulders, so our vet put the new chip further back on the same shoulder to avoid interference with the first chip (higher up on her shoulder).  Unfortunately, months later, it blocked the view of the exact vertebrae we needed to see when she threw her back out.  We’d have been better off asking the vet to put the second chip in her other shoulder.

Lesson#6 – Get your pet micro-chipped.

Lesson #7 – Update/verify your contact information every year with the company that holds the registry for your pet’s microchip.

Lesson#8 – If you have to have your pet chipped a second time, make sure the vet does it on the opposite side (and away from sensitive organs) so it won’t interfere with X-rays or body scans.

Fortunately, excessive quarantine restrictions seem to be easing a bit as improved vaccine regimens and standardized documentation become the norm.  So don’t let fear of quarantine worry you until you have to confront the issue.  Do the research and find out what’s real and what isn’t. This seems to be everyone’s greatest fear, and, it can be a major problem.  But it doesn’t have to be.

Veterinary Care in a Foreign Country
Just as you have to find sources for the things you like, and adapt to a new way of life, you’ll have to do those things for your pet(s) as well.  You’ll have to source food, drugs, clean water, toys, treats, and find a new vet.  And, sadly, all of the niggling “being in a new culture” snafus you experience for yourself will come up for the pets as well.

Shortly after we arrived, our dachshund threw ruptured a disc in her back.  It’s very common in this breed, and, as likely as not, had nothing to do with her air travel experience or her brief stay in quarantine.  Fortunately we already had a vet we were happy with.

Yet, when we took her in, they told us, “Your dog is giving out.”  “My God” we replied. “We didn’t think it was that serious.”  It turns out that “giving out” is Irish slang for bitching and complaining.  They meant she was being really vocal about her level of discomfort.  Once we cleared up that little cultural hurdle, we got the dog tended to, and she is fine.

Lesson#9 – Be aware of idioms and other culturally specific terms when talking to your vet (or vet technician).

We’ve also discovered that many drugs (for people and pets) are labeled differently, or not at all available in our new home.  For this reason, the pets have been put on different, but comparable local substitutes.  Also, be aware that the change in physical environment for your pets may mean that there are new bugs, and diseases to be aware of.  These may replace or augment the list of things you treated them for back at home.  Be open with your vet about what your comfort level of care is.  Any good vet will try to make you comfortable as long as he/she feels your pet is being well taken care of.  By this I mean, if you are one of those folks who believe pets mostly care for themselves if you give them food water and shelter, your vet may suggest a slightly more aggressive regime than you are use to.  But if you are a hypochondriac on behalf of your pet, he/she may recommend less. Try to trust them. They know the local environment.

Case in point, it would never have occurred to me that licking slugs and/or eating fox crap could be problematic.  Apparently they can be in Ireland.

Leson#10 – Be aware that standards of care, and drug availability vary from place to place.  For example, rabies may not be an issue in your new home, but lungworm might be a huge problem.

Food and Pet Supplies Overseas
Additionally, finding the proper food and supplies for your pet may be difficult.  Even brand name products may be made with different ingredients in your new home.  We found one brand name food product that is made with 40% more filler in Ireland than in the U.S.  For that reason and others, we found it easiest to source most food, cat litter, and other products online, through a company called Zoo Plus.  Their service and product quality have been excellent, and shipping is usually free.

Lesson#11 – Learn to read labels, and be prepared to source food, litter and other pet supplies online.

Pets are a valuable part of their families, and, within reasonable limits, modern travel, vaccines, and record keeping make it possible to bring them with us.  So, for the mental, social, and psychic benefits they give us, I heartily recommend emigrating with pets.

Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
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About Glenn Kaufmann

I'm an American freelance writer, photographer, and web publisher. I specialize in writing about travel, food, arts, and culture. I also write dramatic scripts for stage and screen. I'm based in Ireland.
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7 Responses to Pets Abroad: Moving Overseas With Pets

  1. Pilar says:

    How can you make sure they are the last thing to put in the plane and the first to be dropped off? And how can you make sure the climate where they are kept on their way to/from the plane?

    • Hi Pilar,

      Ask questions of each company regarding their pre-boarding, inflight, and post trip procedures.

      Also, most modern airlines are built with climate control pet cabins, but you can find that information online, or on the airlines’ websites.


  2. Kevin says:

    Hi Glenn,

    Did you and your pets fly directly to Dublin? We’re working with Pet Express now and learned from them that our pets would go through Frankfurt, Germany and then onto Dublin (we will be departing from D.C).


    • Kevin,

      We did fly direct (from Chicago). but we specifically drove four hours to an airport with direct flights to make that happen.

      Can you drive to Newark or NYC and fly from there on United, etc.?

      But I though that some carrier was soon going to have direct flights from DC to Dublin.

      Or what about Philly? U`s Air has a big Dublin presence, and I usually fly through Philly (direct) every time I take US Air.

  3. Kevin says:


    We’re speaking with Pet Express again on Monday. Sounds like we have some tough choices: if the closest direct flights for us are from Newark and NYC, we’re looking at a 7+ hour drive from Richmond, VA. It would be nice if I could sit down with our four cats and just ask them: “Which do you prefer? A direct flight to Dublin after a 7 hour drive? Or flying out of D.C to Dublin with an overnight layover in Frankfurt? Raise a paw if you prefer the first option…” 🙂

    What sounds like the least bad option to you?

    • Well then what about Philly on US Air. Direct is ALWAYS better than the multi-airport thing. The biggest danger for pets is not the air time, it’s time in transfer. There are too many things that can go wrong then (left in non-climate controlled circumstances, etc.)

      As a veteran of several cross country with cats pilgrimages, as long as they are kept close to each other for unity/security, if the roads are good they eventually settle down and sleep. We also went to the thrift store and bought two old bedspreads. We cut it up into four pieces each (8 total). Rather than trying to “clean” travel crates if they got sick or peed in them, we just threw out the old and put in a new piece of bedspread. Works like a charm.

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