After the initial excitement of learning that Hubby was offered a promotion with his company and that we would be relocating to Boston, anxiety about getting our four-legged family member to another country began to set in. There was never any question that our beloved pooch, Pinot, would come with us but, at the age of almost 9, I was worried about how stressful such a long flight would be for him.
If I could have taken him in a car or on a boat, I would have. But since flying was the only option, it became a month-and-half-long topic of research (and obsession) for me. I quickly became overwhelmed by all the things I needed to do to get my pup to the other side of the world, and along the way, I found that there was a lot of misinformation about pet travel. The good news is that we have all arrived safe and sound in Boston, our new home.
So here are my top tips, based on my own experience, for relocating your precious pup to another country:
No matter where you’re going, it’s important to start researching and planning as early as possible so that you know what’s required to pull off a smooth pet move. Different countries have different requirements. Some countries, like the U.S., require your pet to have a rabies vaccination at least one month out before they can travel, whilst other countries require your pet to have blood work done.
And of course, some countries require a quarantine period so you’ll need to factor in the additional cost and time. Lucky for us, it’s not a requirement in the U.S., and we were reunited with Pinot soon after he landed in Boston.
The Singapore government will need an export licence and an AVA-endorsed health certificate (which is only valid for 7 days from its date of issue) from you when you take your pet out of the country. Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has more information here.
Some airlines also have their own special rules – like those regarding short-nosed dogs and cats because breathing is generally more difficult for these breeds. So get on the phone to the airlines straight away to get the specifics.
It’s also a good idea to take a trip to the vet as soon as you can to make sure that your pup is in good health and fit to fly.
Engage a specialist
It can be difficult trusting others with the well-being of your beloved pet, but if you have the option to, I would recommend working with an experienced and professional pet relocation company. A good pet relocation specialist will help you maneuver the confusing intricacies of pet relocation, and will usually handle the following:
- Itineraries and flight arrangements
- Ground transportation
- Travel crates
- Vet visits for any necessary vaccinations, blood tests, and check-ups
- Health certificates and travel documents
- Identification and labelling for travel
- Compliance with pet import/export regulations of various countries
- Partner with pet relocation specialists in the destination country to handle customs clearance on the other end
I suggest you speak to a few pet relocation specialists and make sure you feel comfortable and have a good rapport going with the one you pick. They should be willing to take the time to answer all your questions – and, by the way, no question is too trivial or ‘silly’ to someone who knows how important your pet is to you (plus, someone like me has already asked those ‘silly’ questions!).
Now, I expected to be a little nervous about getting Pinot safely to Boston, but quite truthfully, the anxiety I felt about Pinot’s journey was unparalleled, so much so that I was literally sick to my stomach for weeks. Thankfully, my pet relocation specialist was extremely patient, caring, upbeat, and calm throughout the whole process, holding my hand every step of the way, and setting my mind at ease (as much as possible, anyway!).
There’s no denying that relocating a pet is expensive but the bulk of the cost is for the air travel itself (I have a 30kg dog) and the cost of engaging a pet relocation company was pretty reasonable, and in my case, worth every penny for the ‘therapy’ I received!
Choose a pet-friendly airline
For most international travel, having your pet in cargo is the only option. I admit, this sounds terrifying when you imagine your beloved pet being down in the belly of the plane all by himself but take comfort knowing that the compartment is pressurised, temperature-controlled, and dimly lit. Also, the pilot is made aware that there are live animals onboard.
One thing to note is that not all airlines are equally pet-friendly, but those that are will load animals onto the plane last and take them off first, so they spend the least amount of time onboard. Some pet-friendly airlines will train their employees to handle animals carefully.
We had two pet-friendly options to get Pinot from Singapore to Boston – KLM and Lufthansa. We chose KLM for Pinot, mostly based on cost, with a stopover in Amsterdam. KLM also has a pet hotel at the Amsterdam airport (Lufthansa has one at Frankfurt airport), and since Pinot’s layover was less than 4 hours, he was required to stay overnight at the hotel where he was fed and given water, walked, and given a private, air-conditioned room to rest up. They cleaned his travel crate as well. Now, talk about travelling in style!
Also, don’t expect to hear from the airline before, during or after your pet’s journey – my pet relocation specialist told me that no news from the airline is the best news.
The single most important thing you can do to prepare your pup for a move is to help him love his travel crate. First, make sure you get a crate that will pass muster – it must be airline-approved and meet stringent guidelines for strength and safety. There’s even an algebra formula to determine the right sized crate for your pet!
Get the crate as soon as possible so your pooch has maximum time to make friends with it. The more comfortable he is with it, the calmer and safer he will be on his journey. I wanted to make sure I did everything right from the beginning so I engaged Nee Kang (PhD, CPDT-KA) from cheerfuldogs.com, a dog trainer we’d worked with in the past, to help Pinot enjoy hanging out in his crate. Read our interview with Nee here.
Of course, you don’t have to go to the extent that I did – there’s a lot of tips online on how to crate train your dog – but just make sure your pup is comfy in the crate well before the big trip. You might also want to put one of your old, stinky t-shirts in the crate with him – your scent will make him feel more secure on the flight.
When you’re busy preparing your pet for the trip, don’t forget to prepare yourself too! Whilst I encourage you to do as much research as possible, I urge you not to read any of the tragic stories about pets and air travel that you find online – it will just fuel your fear. All you need to know is that, according to statistics, the numbers are in your pet’s favour.
Instead, speak to friends who have relocated their pets safely, and experts, such as, your pet relocation specialist, vet, or dog trainer. And think happy thoughts – I found that thinking about it as a big adventure for Pinot and visualising him in his new home in Boston and playing in the snow helped me tremendously (ok, the wine helped too!).
So, how did it all go for us?
Well, on the big departure day, Pinot took it all in his stride. He jumped excitedly, straight into his crate in the back of the transport van. Woohoo! He was fine – I, on the other hand, was a sobbing mess.
After his marathon 21-plus hour plus flight across 13 time zones from Singapore, plus an overnight stay in Amsterdam, we had a very happy reunion in Boston. It was a long wait for me but all that time in a crate in the sky didn’t affect his personality at all. In fact, he seems more youthful, sprightly and playful – maybe it’s the cold Boston weather. Whatever it is, I’m just happy to have him back by my side. Now, we’re ready for more new adventures!