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How to Choose Your Overseas Pet Relocation Specialist

Published on: September 4, 2018  |  Author: Starwood Pet Travel

A happy couple and their dog having moved overseas using a pet relocation specialist

For many people, moving overseas with the family includes pets. Our furry companions are part of our family, so why would we not take them? In fact, there may be reasons not to, depending on your specific pet and where you’re going. In the vast majority of cases, though, the question is not “if,” but “how.”

Can you do this yourself, or should you hire an overseas pet relocation specialist? If you’re a frequent flyer, you’re a pro at making reservations and navigating airports. You may be tempted to think, “How hard can it be?” If you have a cat or tiny dog, surely you can just tuck them into a tote and carry them onboard, right? Unfortunately, no. 

The first lesson of moving a pet overseas is this: it is considerably more complex than getting the humans in your family to your destination. 

Exactly how complex depends on where you’re headed and also how much time and energy you have to devote to the process. Some countries take the decision out of your hands, by requiring that all incoming pets arrive under the auspices of a commercial pet transport company. If you’re moving to Australia, for example, you will have to hire a professional. 

But let’s assume you do have a choice of DIY or hiring a pro. Before you decide, there are numerous factors to consider. And whatever you decide, the key to a successful, low-stress experience is understanding what has to be done in order to relocate your pet to another country.  


Should Your Pet Make the Move?

How-To-Choose-Your-Overseas-Pet-Relocation-Specialist-Blog4Despite a few frightening news stories, air travel is very safe for pets. Every year, hundreds of thousands of animals of all kinds fly safely to and from destinations around the world. But, as we noted at the beginning, occasionally there are reasons not to take your pet, no matter how much you love them. Perhaps because you love them so much:

  • Many countries have a list of dog breeds they do not allow to enter. Typically these are pit bulls and similar breeds. If this might be an issue, check before moving forward.

    Dogs and cats who have serious chronic health conditions or who are elderly are not always great candidates for air travel. You and your vet can decide if your pet would be safer staying behind. If they are good to go but take regular medications, plan ahead how you will ensure they get them as they travel.

    Sometimes climate can be an issue. If you have an Alaskan malamute, they may be miserable in Dubai or a tropical climate. If you have a whippet, they may not fare well where it is very cold. 

Even if your pet is good to go health-wise, you might want to consider ground transport instead of flying. Brachycephalic dogs and cats (aka snub-nosed or flat-faced) naturally have a tougher time breathing. Although the space where pets travel on the plane is pressurized and climate-controlled, it can still present more of a problem for snub-nosed breeds than other cats and dogs. If you’re concerned about this, ground transport may be an excellent alternative. (Look for a pet relocation specialist that offers both options.) 

You might also consider a road trip for your pet if you’re moving across several states but not out of the country. Of course, if you are literally going overseas, air travel is a necessity. You can still consider ground transportation for the first part of the trip, to get them to the airport from which they will leave the country. 

Even if you will be sailing on a private boat or ship to your destination (or flying in a private plane), your pet will need to meet all of the same requirements as they would need to fly commercially. (And if you plan to make stops along the way, they may not be allowed off the boat or plane.) 

Start Early

Timing is everything, as they say. There is a lot to do to prepare your pet to move overseas, and some of the tasks must be completed within specific timeframes. You’ll need flight reservations, an IATA-compliant travel crate, and official documentation such as a health certificate and maybe an import permit. 

Every country has its own requirements for importing pets. The more complex the requirements, the more convoluted the process of meeting them. You can count on multiple trips to the vet for exams and immunizations. Your pet may need a rabies titer test, which usually has a waiting period after the blood draw. You will likely have to get the health certificate endorsed by the USDA or get the import documents approved by your new country’s consulate. You may have to make quarantine reservations, depending on where you are moving from and to.

Do not wait to get started learning what you need to do. If your pet's paperwork isn’t perfect, they may not be allowed to travel or may be sent back once they arrive. This is no time to make a mistake. 

Surprisingly, it can be darn hard to find the information you need. Many countries put the details right on their official government website, where they are easy to find. But some do not, so you have to search elsewhere. The information you find (even on some official sites) may not be up to date - a potential concern because things do change. For example, recent international concerns about canine influenza have caused some countries to add immunization for that to their list of pet import requirements. 

The best way to ensure nothing slips through the cracks as you prepare your pet to move is to make a detailed checklist, with a timeline, and mark key dates on a calendar. Make a separate checklist for last-minute to-dos. By that point, you’ll have so much on your mind you could easily forget something important. 

Cats and Dogs See Things Differently

Dogs are generally up for an adventure of any kind. They may feel apprehensive, but as long as you are by their side, it’s all good. Cats, however, do not like change. So if you have a cat, you might want to approach getting them get ready to move somewhat differently. Nonetheless, dog or cat, there are several steps you can take ahead of time to reduce your pet’s anxiety when it’s time to depart. 

Two of those things are especially important:

1. Buy an airline-approved kennel as soon as you can. It is unlikely that the everyday carrier will meet the requirements for air travel. Crates approved by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) are very sturdy and designed to protect pets from internal and external hazards. These kennels have smooth, chew-proof surfaces and escape-proof doors. They provide lots of ventilation without providing any spaces where noses, toes, or tails could protrude.  

They are also sized according to each pet’s measurements, and you must get the proper size. By getting the crate early, you’ll give your pet plenty of time to become familiar with it. The more they play, snooze, and even eat in it, the more comfortable it will feel to them when they're on the move.  

2. Try to remain calm. No easy feat, we know, considering the overwhelming task of preparing your entire family for the move of a lifetime. But pets take cues from us, so if you act normal and upbeat, your furry friend will feel confident, too.  

Getting to Know Your New Home

Along with move-related preparations, you will want to learn as much as you can about how pets are perceived in your new country, and what it takes to be a responsible pet parent. In some ways, good manners are the same everywhere. Things like keeping your pet under control in public and cleaning up after them. But pet etiquette also differs from one country to the next, often for cultural reasons. 

Here are some examples:

And here are some tips on what to do on the first day after you arrive to help your pet (and yourself) start to settle in. Try to make time before you go to research local needs such as potential veterinarians, pet supply stores, play groups for dog owners, places to visit with your pet, and – if you may have to travel later on – prospective boarding facilities. 

If you’ve read this far, you now have a good idea of what has to be done in order to move your pet overseas. But there’s more – pitfalls and potential problems you cannot always predict. Yes, in some cases you can do it all yourself. But it’s easy to understand why most pet parents choose to go pro rather than tackling all these details on their own. 

So who can you trust to make your pet's move smooth, comfortable, and safe?  


How-To-Choose-Your-Overseas-Pet-Relocation-Specialist-Blog3Winter poses some particular problems that can affect travel, for pets as well as people. If your overseas move will happen during the winter, you’ll want to ask prospective pet relocation companies how they handle winter issues. Weather, of course, is the biggest challenge. Storms and snow can cause delays. But the cold itself can be a hazard to pets as they are moved from terminal to plane. 

For this reason, most airlines will not accept pets when the temperature is expected to fall below 45o F. Due to the unpredictable nature of weather, these decisions are made on a day-by-day basis. That could throw your pet’s travel plans off. 

Bear in mind that if your move takes you from the northern hemisphere to the south (or vice versa), it could be winter in one location but not the other. The same is true for summer, and if it’s hot at some point along your pet's itinerary, they may also face weather embargoes. Most airlines use 85o F as the heat threshold to cut off pet travel. 

Winter and summer bring another potential problem: overcrowding. Year-end holidays and summer vacations (spring break, too) mean airports and planes are filled to capacity, sometimes over-booked. Chaos isn’t conducive to stress-free pet travel. The biggest issue, though, is timing. You have to plan farther in advance to get the reservations you want, and even then you may have to adjust. 

So Many Questions . . .

Overall, though, the questions you should ask are relevant year-round, no matter where you live now or where you’re headed. Once you have all the facts, you will be better equipped to make decisions about moving your pet as well as choosing the best transport specialist to assist you and them.  

Keep asking questions until you feel comfortable. Your pet is precious, and reputable companies understand how concerned you are. Most of us are pet owners ourselves. Look for a company that will happily answer the questions you have and offers additional advice to answer questions you didn’t know to ask. One key reason to work with a professional is that they know things you don’t. 

Ask About the Pet Relocation Process

While it can be intensely frustrating to uncover all the information you need about moving a pet overseas, professionals have all those details at their fingertips. It’s their business to stay up-to-date with all the latest changes. They have contacts and good working relationships with the most pet-friendly airlines, worldwide. They know what flight itineraries are best for pets, even if they wouldn’t be the reservations you would make for yourself. 

They have the know-how and experience to accomplish things on behalf of your pet that you cannot. And that can make all the difference between a great experience and one that leaves you with worry. A professional pet transport specialist can handle every detail of your pet's move if you want. And that can leave you with the most confidence and peace of mind. It’s something to think about. 

What should you ask?

  • What documentation do I need to obtain?
  • Can my pet get bumped?
  • What will you do if there is a weather delay?
  • Can you help me find an airline-approved travel crate?
  • Should I sedate my pet before they fly?
  • Exactly what services do you provide?
  • What will my pet’s move cost? 

Ask About the Pet Relocation Company

Practical expertise you can trust is vital for a successful pet move. But so are the intangibles – those “little things” that make you confident you’ve chosen the right pet transport company. Will they treat your pet with the same care and loving attention as you do? They should. You want your pet's journey to be as efficient as possible, but you also want them to be physically comfortable, as stress-free as possible, and safe. 

What should you ask?

  • How long have you been in business?
  • How much experience do you have working with pets like mine?
  • How much experience do you have relocating pets between my current home and my destination country?
  • Do you belong to the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association? (They should be. IPATA members meet the industry’s highest standards of pet care and safety.)
  • Where can I read reviews and ratings about your company? Can I speak with past clients about their experiences?
  • Who will handle my pet’s travel planning? Exactly what will that entail? How will they communicate with me?
  • Do you offer any kind of pet travel insurance?
  • Will you keep me apprised of my pet's progress once they are in transit?
  • Do you own pets yourselves?  


You want only the very best for yoHow-To-Choose-Your-Overseas-Pet-Relocation-Specialist-Blog2ur pet. They are, after all, as important as the rest of your family – even more so, in a way, because they cannot advocate for themselves. It’s up to you to make sure their overseas move is as safe, comfortable, and efficient as possible. That can feel overwhelming, especially when you have so many other things to attend to – finding a place to live, sorting, packing, and getting the kids organized if you have two-legged children. 

Why not cross all that worry and chaos off your to-do list right off the bat? If you choose a caring, experienced pet relocation specialist to help plan your pet’s move, they will have two advocates making doubly sure their travel plan is just right and everything goes according to plan. And if there’s an unforeseen snag, you’ll have the ultimate peace of mind of knowing someone you trust has your pet's back if you’re not available to handle the situation yourself.

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