I’ve been covering the live, retire, and do business abroad beat for more than three decades now and there are some questions that come up more than most. Chief among them: Can I bring my pet overseas?
According to 2023 figures, 66% of U.S. households and 60% of Canadian households own a pet. Numbered among them are some 128 million cats and dogs. Little wonder then that it’s such a big issue for North Americans considering a move outside home borders.
The good news is, bringing your pet cat or dog along on your expat adventure is indeed possible in most all cases, but there some exceptions…
Your first step will be to look at your chosen country’s embassy website. This should help you to clarify the latest requirements. Bear in mind that country procedures for transporting pets change from time to time so be sure to check regularly for any updates.
It’s also important to note that some countries have outright bans on certain breeds, notably those deemed “aggressive”, and also restrictions on importing pets who have undergone procedures banned within certain countries such as ear cropping or tail docking.
If your chosen destination involves taking a flight, there are several checks you will need to make with your carrier before purchasing tickets. Some airlines are more pet-friendly than others and all of them have rules about pet travel. Indeed, airline regulations can be more restrictive than that of many countries.
You will need to check if your dog or cat is a permitted breed on board. Some airlines won’t accept certain breeds in the cabin, in cargo, or in either. You are also usually restricted to one pet per person.
Short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds that are prone to respiratory problems are at a higher risk during flights and as a result many airlines won’t permit them on board at all. In addition, most airlines have a set maximum weight for dogs so large breed dog owners will need to check this, too. As a general guide, cats and dogs weighing less than 15lbs can accompany you in the cabin.
There are also weight, dimension, and container specifications for both cabin or cargo. Again, these can change from time to time so make sure to double-check prior to confirming your booking.
Another consideration will be the season in which you are planning to travel. If it’s too hot or cold at either your arrival or departure points, the times of year at which you can bring your pet will be restricted, sometimes to as short a period as just a few weeks a year.
The next step is to ensure your pet’s health requirements are in order.
You’ll need to have an international health certificate (in the United States it’s the APHIS Form 7001, in Canada it’s the Canadian International Health Certificate) prepared by a vet accredited by the governmental entity for import and export of animals (in the United States that’s the USDA, in Canada it’s CIFA). This usually must be issued within 10 days of travel.
For some countries you will need to fill in another health certificate within 10 days of your arrival at your destination and have it signed by a veterinarian. Depending on the country, it may also need to be translated. An import permit may also be required. Each part of this process will incur a small fee.
Your pet will also need a recent rabies vaccination and its corresponding documentation. Your dog’s age will come into play here as puppies under three months cannot be vaccinated against rabies. If your dog is being vaccinated against rabies for the first time then they must be vaccinated at least 28 days before your trip.
It’s a requirement in most countries that your pet is microchipped and some will require a home quarantine request form is filled out. Again, there may be a fee payable likely in cash in the local currency.
In some destinations you may need to meet with a customs official or veterinary authority upon arrival. Check their business hours and try to co-ordinate your flight times to match up with them to avoid delays at the airport.
If you’ve got the resources, a pet relocation service will take most all of the legwork out of the process for you. While expensive—you’re looking at around US$5,000 per pet—a relocation service is by far the easiest option.
If you’re looking to move more than one pet the price will typically be less per additional pet. It’s worth speaking to a pet relocation company and getting a quote based on your personal circumstances.
Do the legwork and manage the logistics on your own, though, and the cost of shipping your pet shouldn’t be prohibitive.
Depending on where you’re moving to, driving may be an option. This option will likely be easiest on your pet and the most affordable, but you will need to make sure your paperwork is precisely timed against your departure and arrival dates and factor in the importation regulations not only for your ultimate destination but also for each country you’re traveling through.
The above process is for dogs and cats. Making a move with other animals will pose more difficulties. Birds require a lot of paperwork, many are protected by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), and quarantine before or after travel is often required. Again, the rules vary from country to country.
While invertebrates, tropical fish, reptiles, amphibia, and mammals such as rodents and rabbits do not need a rabies vaccine they do require a health certificate and will have to meet other requirements, usually quarantine.
If your pet is protected by CITES you will need additional permits. Over 180 countries participate and enforce CITES regulations so it’s vital that you work closely with the authorities in the country you’re moving your pet to.