World Travel With Your Pets

Here is your primer on overseas moves with your non-human family members.

by Rachel Howard-Collins, Army spouse

Overseas moves are complicated, especially when your family includes dogs, cats or other cuddly (and not-so-cuddly) creatures. Pets often accompany their human family members on PCS orders overseas, which requires planning-and sometimes, a little luck. Does moving to Germany with your German Shepherd seem overwhelming? Here’s the scoop:

The Basics

Do start early. Most destinations require documentation by a veterinarian that the animal is up-to-date on all vaccinations. Some vaccinations have a waiting period before the pet can travel (a pet must receive the rabies vaccine, for example, at least 30 days but less than one year before travel). If you have a puppy or kitten that isn’t old enough for this requirement, you’ll need a waiver. You’ll also need a health certificate from a veterinarian within 10 days of your flight.

Do speak up. When you’re talking to the travel office about your travel arrangements, you should mention that you plan to take Fluffy and/or Fido. Most airlines have restrictions on the number of pets per flight, so the travel agent will need to be aware of your plans.

Do mention your pet’s breed, if known. Does a bulldog hold your heart? Some airlines won’t fly with snub-nosed dogs and cats, like Lhasa Apsos or Himalayan cats, or they may only fly with them at certain times in the year. Even snub-nosed crossbreed animals fall under this rule. These airlines aren’t being snotty: Flying is a higher risk for animals with snub noses, because they have more delicate respiratory systems. So some airlines don’t fly them at all or fly them only when weather is mild.

Do save, save, save. Shipping animals overseas isn’t cheap and the military doesn’t pay to ship your pet. So plan ahead to avoid sticker shock. Each year, animals are abandoned by military families who didn’t realize they’re responsible for shipping costs. Is Fido a big boy? Save even more-airlines generally charge per pound. For an average cat to fly on a commercial flight, plan to spend several hundred dollars.

For a large dog, the costs could exceed $2,000-and that’s for a one-way flight. Also, you must buy a crate that matches the airline’s specifications, which can be pricey. One bright spot: As we go to print, United Airlines agreed to lower its pet travel fees for military in response to a petition from military families!

Don’t sedate your pet. Some airlines will not accept a sedated animal because the effects of sedation at a high altitude are unpredictable. Many veterinarians feel that sedation is risky during flight, according to information from the Army’s Veterinary Command. If you are really concerned about your pet’s reaction to flying, discuss your options with your vet long before the flight.

Do plan your pet’s feeding. The airlines require you to certify that your pet had food and water within four hours of take-off. You must document the date and time of feeding, according to the Army’s Installation Management Command.

They’ll also require a 24-hour feeding schedule attached to your pet’s kennel, just in case the aircraft is delayed or diverted. You’ll provide food and water dishes, which will be securely attached and accessible to caretakers without opening the kennel door.

Adult cats and dogs must be fed every 24 hours and given water every 12 hours; puppies and kittens, ages eight to 16 weeks, must be fed and watered every 12 hours while traveling.


What you need to know:

Begin working on your pet’s PCS to Japan about seven months before you leave, according to the Army’s Japan District Veterinary Command. Pets need a microchip, two rabies vaccinations, and a FAVN (blood test for rabies) before you go.

The rabies vaccinations must be more than 31 days apart, and the FAVN has to be done after both vaccinations. Japan’s quarantine ends 180 days after the results of the FAVN are in; if you plan correctly, your pet’s quarantine can be reduced to 12 hours after arrival.

Pets other than cats and dogs will be quarantined for 180 days after arriving in Japan. You’ll need to contact the Animal Quarantine Station at your pet’s port of arrival 40 days before you travel, sending them notification of your pet’s arrival in Japan.

And add one more “to-do” to those last few crazy days before leaving for Japan: You must have a physical done on your pet by a vet less than two days before you leave to confirm that your pet does not have rabies. You’ll also need the health certificate completed by a military vet or a USDA vet; this health certification cannot expire until after you arrive in Japan.


What you need to know:

Can Fido come? Four dog breeds are banned in Germany: American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and any crossbreed of these, according to the Army’s European Region Veterinary Command. American personnel cannot bring these dogs into Germany.

But for other breeds, Germany is a dog’s delight. They’re welcomed as part of the community in places that may seem unusual to Americans-restaurants, malls, stores, trains, and many businesses.

A note about “dangerous” dogs: Your Rottweiler may be your snuggly baby, even if she doesn’t fit in your lap anymore. But in the German state of Hessen, she’s a member of a dangerous dog breed. Germany has deemed some breeds dangerous, and they require extra documentation. The list of breeds varies slightly from German state to state; contact the veterinary clinic at your new duty station to learn what your state requires.

Want to travel with your pet while living in Germany? You’ll need a European Union Pet Passport, which documents vaccinations and is recognized across the EU. It means smooth movement across the EU, except to the United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta and Sweden. Those countries may require additional information. You’ll also need to have pets microchipped, and your U.S. microchip won’t necessarily work. Some U.S.-based microchips can’t be read in the EU, so you might need to get another chip that’s compatible with EU readers.


What you need to know:

Yes, it’s America. But outside the continental U.S. the rules are different. Non-domestic dogs and cats, and crossbreeds of these, are not allowed in Hawaii; these include wolves, wolf crossbreeds, dingoes, bengals and savannahs, according to Hawaii’s Animal Quarantine Law. As of Oct. 26, 2010, pit bulls (including American pit bull terriers, Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, crosses of these breeds and dogs with similar physical traits) aren’t allowed on Army installations on Oahu.

There is also a quarantine. The Hawaiian Islands are rabies-free, so Hawaii is vigorous in its quarantine efforts. There are 120-day, five-day and direct-release quarantines, depending on your situation. Qualifications for each are listed on Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture’s Animal Quarantine Branch page ( If you wish to qualify for the shorter quarantine programs, you’ll need to start rabies vaccination and blood tests early. To qualify for the five-day program, for instance, you’ll need to start four months ahead for an adult dog or cat; it takes 10 months to qualify a newborn kitten or puppy for the program. The only pets that may be released immediately are those from rabies-free areas. As this issue goes to print, the only areas judged rabies-free were the British Isles, Australia, Guam and New Zealand. If your pet is native to those areas or has lived in them for six months prior to travel, you may qualify for the direct-release program.

And the cost? It can be steep. The quarantine program fees are currently $1,080 per pet for the 120-day program, $224 per pet for the five-day program, and $165 per pet for the direct-release program.

What About Mr. Slithers?

What you need to know about other types of pets:

Not all overseas PCS destinations will accept all types of exotic pets, including snakes, birds and rodents. Many of these regulations are designed to protect species from becoming endangered or to protect the local wildlife. Contact your local military veterinarian or the destination country’s consulate for further information.

Do plan ahead, especially with exotic pets. If your beloved pet is a parrot, it may take extra paperwork to move her to your next OCONUS duty station. This is due to restrictions put in place by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which is designed to protect species from becoming endangered from international trade. She’s family to you, but to customs officials she’s a member of a species to be protected from exploitation.

Do talk to the airlines. Flying with a pet boa constrictor isn’t as easy as putting him in a crate under your airline seat. Some airlines have very strict rules about transportation of exotic pets, and these rules can change. Some may choose not to ship certain creatures, or may require that certain species fly as cargo, not in the cabin or as checked baggage. Check with your airline about the requirements for your pet.

Don’t presume the military will fly Mr. Slithers. If you’re scheduled to take a military aircraft to your next duty station, check with the passenger terminal information desk to make sure you can take your type of pet. As this issue goes to print, the official policy of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command was that dogs and cats were the only pets allowed on AMC aircraft.

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