Pets Without Borders: How to Prepare for an International Move
No matter which language you speak or which sunny patch of the globe they curl up in for a nap, pets have an established place in our lives. From Alaska to Zurich, home is where you are.
But what happens when you move that home — overseas? Or you fall in love with a stray dog on vacation and want to bring her back with you?
Aside from the practical preparations that apply to any move, there's an extra layer of rules and regulations when it comes to moving a pet internationally.
Even as the world shrinks, and we become a more global society, pets are still subject to different travel requirements in different countries — and it’s not always an easy path to navigate. So we decided to look at what any pet owner needs to know for three common scenarios that involve crossing international borders with a furry companion in tow.
Scenario #1: Moving Abroad
Congratulations! You just got word that you snagged that promotion in Paris, or you're finally realizing that dream of relocating to Australia. But before you can even start to think about how to transport your beloved pet with you, you need to first investigate what’s required to import your pet into your new homeland.
Your first port of call for this information may be the U.S. consulate for the country that you’re moving to, or the relevant government organization that oversees animal imports, which is usually a division of customs or a quarantine service.
Keep in mind that these regulations may differ depending on where you’re moving from — rules for importing a pet into the United Kingdom from the U.S., for example, are different from those for importing a pet into the U.K. from Australia.
“The biggest challenge most people face is sorting through the huge amount of misinformation about traveling with pets,” says Rachel Farris, director of operations for PetRelocation.com, which helps pet owners take care of everything from pre-move paperwork to airport delivery and customs clearances. “Trying to determine which airline is the safest, what travel crate they should purchase or what the customs process is in another country can be completely overwhelming.”
That’s why her company's website offers a free, downloadable eBook on the process — along with detailed information about regulations for exporting pets from the U.S. to a laundry list of countries. Although it's a good starting point, you should always make sure that you verify these details with the government service in your destination. A list of embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions can be found on the Department of State’s website.
Most countries require that your pet have a microchip, a health certificate issued by a vet and proof of a current rabies vaccination. But certain countries — like Australia — have more stringent rules: As of March 1, 2012, a new requirement was introduced mandating that all dogs imported to the country also have a Bordetella vaccination. Numerous countries also require that you leave your pet in quarantine for a set period of time upon arrival, and some even have restrictions on the types of breeds allowed into the country.
Bottom line: Do your homework — and check it twice. You (and your pet) don’t want to encounter surprises once the journey has already begun.
Scenario #2: Moving to the U.S. From Overseas
Just like all those other nations, the U.S. has specific regulations for importing animals mandated through Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
You can visit cbp.gov and search for "importing pets" to get the most up-to-date information on requirements.
There are specific paperwork requirements for importing a purebred pet from another country, for example, and all birds from a non-U.S. origin must spend time in quarantine upon arrival in the U.S.
In general, pet cats and dogs must be “free of evidence of diseases communicable to humans when examined at the port of entry,” and dogs need to have been vaccinated against rabies — unless they are puppies who are under 3 months of age or the dog is arriving from a region designated by the U.S. Public Health Service as being rabies-free.
If dogs are being brought into the U.S. to work with livestock — such as shepherds and other herding breeds — they are subject to quarantine upon entry into the U.S.
As is the case when you're moving a pet abroad, there are many variables, so you should treat every requirement as fine print to study carefully before you start packing. It's also a good idea to contact the specific state or county where you'll be residing to see if there are requirements unique to that area — rabies vaccinations are required in many cities, for example, to get your pet’s registration license.
Scenario #3: Bringing Home an Unexpected Friend
Some of us return from a trip to Mexico, Morocco or the Caribbean with souvenirs that can sail through a U.S. customs check — clothing, artwork, knickknacks. Others come home with a furry friend in tow.
But how exactly does this work?
First of all, bringing your new buddy home means complying with the overall rules already discussed for importing animals into the U.S., but you should also check if the country where you’re vacationing has specific export requirements — preferably before you’ve fallen too hard for that adorable pup or friendly kitty.
Some countries have pet adoption organizations that can help you with the move and export/import requirements, such as Potcake Place, which works to find U.S. homes for "potcakes," the stray dogs of the Turks & Caicos islands. They place around 500 potcakes a year and assist adoptive pet parents in bringing dogs back to their hometowns.
Check if the country where you’ve found your new friend has an organization that's similar to Potcake Place to help guide you through the process — or even match you with the perfect pet.
In all of these cases, varying rules apply to the way you move your pet into the United States. Airlines, for example, have requirements for the type of pet carrier you can use, as well as health considerations that may include vet certificates and proof of vaccinations.
Important Measures for Any Move
You should always start the process of gathering the necessary paperwork, setting up appointments for vaccinations and talking to your vet as soon as possible. In some parts of the world, the process may take only a few days. In others, it could take months.
Farris also emphasizes the importance of crate training pets as far in advance of travel as possible: “A crate is a pet’s home during transport. Getting them used to it early can help relieve stress.”
You may also wish to contact a vet in the country where you’re moving, so you’re starting your pet’s new life on the right foot. Crossing all of your T's is essential, but nothing is more important than making sure that your pet is healthy and in good shape for the adventures ahead.