Vet checkups, seemingly endless cargo costs and at one point waiting in the airport security line with my nervous fur-ball in my arms…turns out moving your pet to another country isn’t as difficult as it sounds.In 2013, I spent 10 months in Belgium without my cat and although my sister took great care of her, I hated leaving her behind. If you have a pet, you can imagine how awful it was.
Our little student apartment wouldn’t allow pets, so there was just no possible way to have her with us. For me, the hardest part about living abroad wasn’t just leaving everything behind, but it was not having anything familiar to cope with leaving everything behind. I love to travel and I embrace change, but I need at least one familiar thing to cling to. For any pet-owners out there, you will totally understand the connection built with one’s pet – and for anyone who struggles with anxiety or depression, you understand just how much that connection means.
I am one of those people who takes adorable holiday photos of their pets, and my cat is one of those cats who loves that attention.
So in 2015, when I moved back to Belgium; I knew we had to make it work and bring her with me. And although it was super stressful for me, she handled the trip like an absolute champ, and the whole process was so much easier then I imagined!
BEFORE YOU START
There are a few things you need to do before you even start the process:
- visit your vet and be sure your animal is healthy and in good condition to be on a flight
- purchase an airline safe animal carrier (I purchased the PetMate Sky Kennel pictured below and absolutely love it…sturdy, reliable and easy to use.)
- ensure the country you are arriving in allows your type of animal (some countries have specific policies regarding which animals can enter their country)
- ensure you have funds (getting your animal to your destination may even cost as much as your own flight, so be prepared to spend money)
- research the procedure of traveling with an animal (the airline you are looking to fly with, as well as the country you are flying to, will have rules/guidelines and advice on their websites.)
THE PROCESS OF TRAVELING WITH PETS
You will most likely need to go to the vet at least 3 times.
1st vet visit:
Before you book your flight you need to go for a check-up, and at this time you need to ask the vet if the animal is healthy enough and able to make your flight.
Explain your plans to your vet, as they may need time to gather the right information and papers before your next vet appointment.
2nd vet visit:
This will be after you book your flight, and you’ll most likely be given instructions by your vet. There will be papers you need to have signed by the vet clearing your animal for flight, and in some cases there may be another place you need to go to get a stamp of approval (a government office in most cases).
You will need your pet to be up-to-date on their vaccinations. You will also need an international microchip. (Some animals are microchipped the first time we take them to the vet, but your pet’s chip may not be international – so be sure to ask!)
3rd vet visit:
This is more of a formality – one final checkup before take-off.
This usually needs to happen 3 days before your flight.
After your pet has been vet-checked and cleared to fly, you will want to call the airline to ask the next steps and confirm your pet’s flight information.
Most airlines ask you to call back within 3 days of your flight with the following information;
-your pet’s weight
-your carrier weight
-your flight information
-emergency contact information for your pet
There are a number of products you can purchase to calm or assist your pet in the transition to a new house or with the moving process – the ones we used are listed at the end of this post!
Arriving at the airport, Tessa had more travel documents than I did!
Being a bit of a nervous pet mother, I had called the airline ahead of my flight to see what I could expect. I was told that my pet would be checked through a separate security, could be searched by an airport vet and her cage would need to be x-rayed. To ensure there are no problems, they asked me to arrive 4-5 hours early. Really not knowing what I was doing, we arrived 5 hours early to the airport.
Well, as a frequent traveler, I should have known my airline kiosk wouldn’t even be open for 3 hours prior to our flight. We killed some time, got Swiss Chalet, fed her little bits of chicken to keep her calm and waited. As soon as the desk opened, we were first in line. They told me her paperwork looked great and she wasn’t going to be checked by a vet, but that her cage would need to be x-rayed.Holding my cat in the middle of airport security was strange, but in that moment I really realized that my feline-sidekick was definitely moving to another country with me!
THE PANIC MOMENT (I may have over-reacted…) I was told I’d need to collect my luggage first and then find a security guard who would show me to where my cat was unloaded. Out of breath, I reach baggage collection and wait. I tap my toes impatiently as the bags come sliding down onto the carousel. Looking around for my bag, I notice a small cage on the ground at the end of the carousel. I get to the cage and realize it’s my cat. For a brief moment, I’m flushed with relief that we made it!Then comes the anger and confusion – why is she just sitting here on the ground by herself!?
I know it’s a bit of an outrageous thought, but anyone could have just walked off with my cat! Not really sure who would want a stranger’s cat, but there are some strange people out there and you never know. Minus the whole “cat kidnapping” possibility, we had a safe and easy flight and are settling into our new home.
SOME TIPS FROM EXPERIENCE:
- Not a necessity, but I highly recommend purchasing a “calming collar” or “calming spray.”
For anyone who has never heard of this, it is a LIFESAVER. A calming collar or spray releases a natural calming pheromone (the same pheromone that mother cats release to their kittens). It worked wonders – within moments of putting the collar on, my cat’s whole demeanor changed. She went from nervous and scared to calm and sleepy.
- Do “test runs” with your pet. Purchase your airline-safe pet carrier a few months before your flight and allow your pet to sleep in the cage. Take your pet on errands with you (to the grocery store, to get the mail, etc) allowing them to get used to being transported in the cage.
- Research puts your mind at ease! Maybe it’s just me, but first time traveling with a pet was making me a bit nervous, so I researched and connected with a few of our readers who had traveled with their animals. All of this re-assured me that other animals have traveled safely and that this was a fairly normal situation.
- You need all the paperwork. As annoying as it is, you need to fork out that extra cash to have all the paperwork for your animal. When we arrived at the airport, the airline attendant barely glanced at our paperwork before making a copy of it and handing it back to us. They may not even pay much attention to it, but better safe than sorry! It would be terrible to not have to leave your pet behind after doing all the work to get ready for your move!
Don’t stress – your pet will be fine! Lots of animals travel. You are most likely more nervous then they are because they don’t really understand what’s going on and animals don’t have the same sense of time as we do. I was thinking an 8-hour flight with a 4 hour wait time was a long time for her to be in her cage, but she did very well!
THE PRODUCTS WE USED:
We purchased our flight-safe carrier called PetMate by Sky Kennel and I love it. It’s made specifically for flights, so it’s approved by almost every airline, It’s easy to open, but sturdy and won’t open on accident. It’s very spacious for a cat, and I loved the bars on the sides and back – I could talk to and pet my cat on the drive to and from the airport.
- Image via Amazon
We use the SENTRY Calming Collar (Lavender) and although each one only lasts 3 months, Tessa still loves to sleep with it next to her. I noticed a change in her mood within a few minutes of wearing it – I really believe it helped calm her throughout our travels.
Due to Tessa’s previous health/digestive concerns, our vet recommended we purchase Feliway calming spray for our arrival into Belgium, as some cats have trouble settling into new homes. It’s worked really well for getting her used to the new house.