Carlie: Welcome to another episode of the Expat Focus Podcast. I’m your host Carlie, an Australian expat living in France, and today on the program we’re talking all the things you need to think about when you take your pet with you abroad.
Joining me is Bethany Tucker, who has shipped thousands of pets around the world for petrelocation.com. Bethany, welcome.
Bethany: Thanks, Carlie. Glad to be here.
Carlie: So Bethany, let’s start, I suppose, with some of the few key concerns that pet owners might have when it comes to relocating their animals abroad.
Bethany: Yeah, definitely safety is at the top of that list of concerns. I mean, they hear a bunch of horror stories about cargo travel, and so they don’t want to put their pets on the plane, because they think the cargo hold isn’t pressurized or climate-controlled, when in reality it is, and even most pilots know when pets are on the plane with them, and some will even announce it. So safety is a huge concern that we have to address with each and every pet owner we work with.
Carlie: I think that’s something that I’ve always been a little bit dubious about as well. When I think of the hold of a plane I think where all the luggage goes, when there’s an action movie and there’s a bad guy down there, fighting someone, it doesn’t look like the safest or warmest or most secure place. But that’s not the case.
Bethany: Exactly. We’ve found, with a lot of cargo holds, that the pets are really in a better place than the cabin sometimes, because it’s a dimly-lit area, and they’re not hearing all the noise and chaos that the cabin might have, they’re just hearing the hum of the engine, of the plane. So in reality, it’s kind of a nice place for pets to travel, as opposed to the scary, bad-guy thing you see on TV, where it’s maybe open outside, and somebody could fall out from it. That’s definitely not how it is.
Carlie: Are there any instances where you can in fact take your pet with you, as carry-on, in the cabin?
Bethany: Yes, there are instances, but we’re finding that more and more countries are actually locking that rule down, where cargo is mandatory. So for example, United Arab Emirates will only allow cargo travel; same thing with the United Kingdom. And it’s mainly because with cabin… while you think it’s great to have your pet there with you, it’s actually more stressful for them, because they see you but they can’t really interact with you, and they’re – to put it quite frankly, they’re shoved under a seat, [chuckles] and there’s not much space there for them, whereas in cargo they have this nice, roomy kennel with a bed, and they can just sleep the whole time, and not have to worry about you being right there, and all the noise and chaos of the cabin.
Carlie: I know there’s some debate about whether you should sedate your pet for that sort of journey or not, and should you be speaking to your vet about whether the animal should be sedated or if that’s a good thing to do?
Bethany: So actually, sedation is not recommended, and even some airlines don’t allow it. And that’s because the way pets regulate stress is by panting. You’ll notice they don’t sweat like we do. I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed I tend to sweat a little. [laughs]
Carlie: A lot of slobber with my lab. [laughs]
Bethany: Yeah, exactly – they slobber and they pant, and that’s how they regulate their stress, whereas sedation kind of inhibits their ability to regulate their stress. And it also puts them out of it. So if there’s any turbulence on the plane, we want them to be able to brace themselves and be aware of what’s going on. We’ve found that, over time, sedation is just really not recommended or allowed. However, if you do have an extra stressed out pet, like separation anxiety or something that you’re worried about, there are natural remedies that can help with that, natural sprays or calming pills, things like that, that are not necessarily considered sedation, they’re just adding that… like chamomile and things like that. Of course acclimation is what we find really works and keeps the pets calm.
Carlie: So when it comes to getting your pet ready for going in the hold, I know my dog Bear, he’s absolutely terrified, just of being in the car, and cowers and freaks out. Like even a small trip to the vet is just so difficult. What if your pet’s not a very good traveler? How are you going to prepare it for this really daunting journey?
Bethany: Poor Bear. My pets freak out going to the vet too. It’s just natural for them to want to have a place to call home. So the best way to address that is to actually get them used to their travel kennel. Make the travel kennel their new home. So you can do this by feeding them in it, giving them treats when they’re in it; certainly don’t use it as a punishment or a form of punishment. Just really making sure that they’re comfortable with… friendly smells in there, a blanket maybe, or an old t-shirt that smells like you.
Carlie: And how far in advance should you introduce this cage or travel kennel and start getting them acclimatized?
Bethany: I would recommend at least a month before their travel. However, it’s completely up to you and what you know about your pet. So if Bear is a little more anxious than other animals, it may be best to start even six months in advance. It’s whatever works best for your animal. We’ve had some people take apart their kennels, and they’ll put a bed in there, so it’s a little more open and the pet gets used to the bottom half of the kennel, and then they add the top half without the door, so it just becomes like a little cubby for them. So it can be a process to acclimate your pet to the kennel. We’ve even had some really dedicated pet owners take their pet in their kennel and the car, and go over railroad tracks and things like that, or a carwash.
Carlie: [laughs] Simulator.
Bethany: Yeah, exactly, it’s like a simulation, just to make sure that no matter what, they feel safe and secure in their kennel. It’s their safety net, it’s their blanket, so to speak.
Carlie: So along with actually preparing your pet for the journey, there’s a bit of paperwork involved, and I suppose it really does depend where in the world you’re taking your animal. I see on your website, for example – and it’s something that I didn’t realize – you need to consider even the rules set by the country that you’re leaving, along with the country that you’re moving to?
Bethany: Exactly, exactly. So, say we’re moving a pet from the US to Australia, that’s about a six-month process, and most of it happens on the US side of things, where you’re getting microchipped, vaccinations, blood tests, parasite treatments, things like that, to get your pet all ready to go to Australia. But also the USDA wants to check over the paperwork and make sure everything is good to go before the pet even gets on the plane. So that’s kind of what we mean about export processes – is making sure that the government is okay with your pet leaving. And then on the other end, the government in Australia is okay with your pet arriving, unlike Johnny Depp’s situation that happened recently. [laughs]
Carlie: [laughs] I know that hit world headlines and was pretty hilarious. Johnny Depp and his then wife of course brought a couple of their pups into Australia, I think just from their private jet, and smuggled them through the airport.
Carlie: As much as you can I suppose. But they were allowed in and they didn’t go through that typical import process. So it’s not the case that you could rock up at the airport and just collect your pet generally, the day that it lands, is it?
Bethany: For Australia, no. For a lot of rabies-free countries, that’s the case, because they want to make sure that your pet isn’t bringing any of these contagious diseases to their country, that is so far healthy, with how animals are. But in other countries, for example the UK, it may only take four hours for your pet to clear at the airport, and you can pick them up from the animal reception center there in Heathrow.
Carlie: That’ll be such a nice reunion! [laughs]
Bethany: Yeah, exactly! [chuckles] The pets do get jet-lagged though, so I think what shocks some pet owners sometimes is they didn’t realize that their pet’s tired actually, after travel. So it’s kind of interesting to see both perspectives, of the time in quarantine versus picking up the day of arrival.
Carlie: When it comes to time in quarantine – you said it could be a six-month process – is that including the time in quarantine for some destinations, on the other end?
Bethany: For Australia, it’s a six-month process leading up to arrival in Australia. But then, post-arrival in Australia, it’s a ten-day quarantine. But some countries like Taiwan have up to 21 days in quarantine. So it really just depends on that country’s regulations. It’s making sure that, A, your animal is healthy and good to go, and B, that it’s not bringing any contagious diseases to the country that is free of them.
Carlie: So what’s the best way for a pet owner to minimize this separation time, if they are travelling to somewhere with some pretty strict rules?
Bethany: It’s hard to minimize the separation time, because those rules are in place for a reason. However, the best way to ensure that you’re getting your pet as soon as possible is to make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, that you have more than enough details behind what steps you took in the process to get your pet there. Oftentimes we find that customs clearance and things like that can take a little longer because pet owners don’t have all of the details behind the vet work that is required. So for example, the UK requires that pets have a microchip prior to a rabies vaccination. And the health certificate even asks for that date on it. However, some pet owners will still show up without a note of when the microchip was implanted. So we find that it’s best to have over-documentation, to make sure that there’s no way they can hold you up in customs clearance and things like that.
Carlie: Bethany, one thing I haven’t touched on is the cost. Obviously, moving anywhere is expensive. But what sort of output are you expecting to move your pet overseas?
Bethany: Oh, gosh, you know, it’s really funny – we get some people who call us, and they’re expecting the plane ticket to cost $200 or something like that – US dollars I’m speaking in – but it can be thousands of dollars to move your pets overseas when you take into account the government endorsements which you have to pay for, the vet visits which you have to pay for, the plane tickets, the customs clearance, sometimes you have to hire a broker. We find on average, moving from somewhere like the US to the EU, it can be around $4500, for just one pet.
Carlie: That’s even more expensive than assumed, actually.
Bethany: And it’s kind of funny, because we had a response of “Well, I can move my whole house and myself and my kids for that much.”
Carlie: Yeah, exactly. “This is just one dog!”
Bethany: Exactly! But you know, your couch doesn’t need extra screening [unclear] [laughs] it goes abroad.
Carlie: [laughs] Shots and… exactly.
Bethany: Yeah, exactly. So it just – we’re moving living creatures, so there’s a lot of safety precautions that have to be taken.
Carlie: And is there insurance involved as well?
Bethany: We insure you, up to the cost of your pet’s move. But as far as beyond that, there are places that you can contact to get insurance.
Carlie: Moving cats and dogs around the world must be pretty common for you, but what are some other animals that pet relocation has moved?
Bethany: Cats and dogs are like our bread and butter here, but we have moved things like baby zebras, we moved a pair of baby zebras to Los Angeles to the UK. We also moved some geckos, some snakes, a few birds here and there. And it’s really fun actually to move those kind of animals, because cats and dogs, it’s very well regulated across the world, so you can easily understand the process most of the time, especially if you do it like us, as often as we do. However, with the snakes and the birds and things like that, that’s when you get CITES permits and things like that thrown in there, where you have to figure out if it’s in Appendix I or in Appendix II, and figure out if you have all the right paperwork you need. So those are actually the fun animals, I think, to move across the world.
Carlie: Are there instances where your animal might be denied entry into the country you’re trying to go to? You talked about paperwork before – is that the main reason why you may find you can’t get your animal in after all?
Bethany: Oh, certainly. That’s the number one problem we see, is – sometimes we get those panic calls from pet owners who have arrived and their pet has arrived, and it’s almost too late at that point, because what’s done is done. So we’ve had a few instances where pets have been shipped back – not of course our clients, but people who want to try to do it themselves, they’ve had their pets shipped back, and we’ve had to take over the move for them to make sure that it’s done correctly. Because the paperwork was what denied them entry into the country.
Carlie: So it’s obviously why using a relocation company is the best way to go in the first place.
Bethany: Yes, for sure. It’s even great to give us a call and have us consult with you on what is needed for the move. And we do that for free actually, so it’s pretty great.
Carlie: Do you find there are instances where your pet shouldn’t, in fact, be joining you?
Bethany: They’re rare, I’ll say that to start – those instances are pretty rare. And we pretty much want to make sure that it’s a safe trip for your pet, and because we’re not experts on pet health, we really rely on veterinarians to make that judgement call for us. So if you’re concerned about Bear’s anxiety or things like that, we highly recommend going to your veterinarian and discussing the move with them, and making sure that they are willing to sign off on Bear leaving, or whoever your furry family member is. But also, in other countries, certain breeds and species just aren’t allowed. For example, Australia will not allow rabbits, unless they’re from New Zealand. It’s a rare case though we get that. But sometimes you simply can’t take your animal with you because it’s just not allowed.
Carlie: That’s something I didn’t appreciate actually, but yes, in Australia a rabbit is considered quite the pest, unless you –
Bethany: Oh, really? [laughs]
Carlie: Yeah, because they were an introduced species, and they can be harmful to our natural wildlife, so they… I guess that makes sense, they don’t want to introduce any more if they [can help it].
Carlie: Do you have any frequent flier customers, Bethany? Animals that you’ve moved quite a few times around the world?
Bethany: Oh, yes. We’ve had several of our clients, they’ll relocate for work, so they’ll go to one country for two years, and give us a call, go to another country for another couple of years. And those are the clients we really enjoy working with. Because by the time they’ve done it once, so they’ve learned the process, so they just call us and they say, “Hey, we need you to do this again!” And it’s kind of fun to hear what’s happened in their lives in that time that they’ve been in that country, and hear the comparison of the different countries. So it’s kind of a fun geography lesson, and cultural lesson at the same time.
Carlie: And your website does have so much great information from both your relocation experts and customers themselves. One of them noted, for example, that they didn’t realize how unfriendly Qatar was going to be for their dogs due to cultural values and dogs being not that very highly regarded. So they even found it difficult, for example, to find somewhere to rent that would accept their dogs. Are there countries that you know that you just don’t recommend people move their animals to if they can help it?
Bethany: Again, I think it’s up to the judgement of the pet owner. I do think there are some places that are a little more strict, when it comes to animals, than others. Here in the United States and of course in Australia and UK and places that are more westernized, animals are a little more humanized than other countries. But some countries are still learning how to treat animals properly. So it may be a cultural shock when you get there, but there’s no real country where it’s completely unsafe to move a pet. We’ve even moved pets to some African countries for missionary people. So it’s up to the pet owner. And at the end of the day also, it’s really good to educate yourself on where you’re moving to and what kind of pet problems there are there. So for example, in China, they require dog licenses. You can’t bring more than one dog per person or per passport. It’s important to read up on things like that to make sure that you’re making the best decision for your pet. Another example is in Malaysia, they have different tick diseases than the rest of the world. So we, oftentimes, will tell our clients, “Hey, make sure you get a few more tick and parasite treatments before you arrive in Malaysia to make sure you’re doing the best that you can to protect your pet.” But overall, there’s not really any country that I’m like, “Ooh, stay away from that country!”
Carlie: Bethany, once you’ve reunited with your pet, how can you best help them to acclimatize and settle in, and get over, as you mentioned, the jet lag that they’re likely to have?
Bethany: Yeah. We highly recommend, at first, hydration. That kind of helps calm them down and regulate their stress levels, and then beyond that you kind of want to make sure there’s something familiar for them. If it’s a blanket that they love, or maybe it’s that old, ugly chair that’s sitting in the corner of your living room that they love to sleep on – something familiar that they can stick with. And then, moving forward, it’s important to establish a routine with your pet, because pets really rely on a routine, and so the sooner you get them into a standard routine in your new country, the better.
Carlie: So I guess the biggest takeaways from this are really to prepare early, to have your paperwork in order, and just expect to follow the rules of not only the country that you are going to, but also the country that you’re leaving.
Bethany: Exactly. We always encourage pet owners to do their research, because it may be a different regulation moving from a certain city versus another. It’s that way in China – Shanghai versus Beijing is very different. So make sure you do your research, follow the rules as best you can. If you get scared along the way, give us a call, and we’re happy to discuss it with you, and make sure that you’re doing the best thing for your pet’s wellbeing.
Carlie: Well, Bethany, thanks so much for taking the time today to chat with me about moving your pet overseas. It’s really appreciated.
Bethany: Yeah, Carlie, I appreciate talking with you as well.
Carlie: Well, that’s it for today. If you’d like to discuss this episode, ask questions, or share your own experience moving your pet overseas, please head over to expatfocus.com, and follow the links to our forums or Facebook groups. Also, remember to check out our previous episodes at expatfocus.com/podcast. They’re also on iTunes. And I’ll catch you next time.