Moving Pets

Ah, the woes and random issues that become the focus of your life when you’re moving. The latest puzzle for us has been figuring out how to move our two cats back to the U.S. this summer. If you’re in a similar situation, hopefully some of this info will be helpful. It’s been confusing, complicated, and time-consuming so far, and we had a few concerns/obstacles to begin with.

1. We’re moving back at the end of July, and will be flying to Florida, no less. We’re dropping the kitties off with their grandparents for a month while M and I travel around. The problem? July + Florida = serious heat.

2. Everyone we know that’s moved their pet to the UK has said it cost them thousands of dollars. Yes, thousands. It’s a concern. So far, we know that our housing in DC (which is a building in State’s housing program) will be charging us a non-refundable $500 fee per cat, plus $50 per month/per cat. Most. expensive. furballs. ever.

3. There’s a lot of information available online and sent out in cables about transporting pets. The problem is – there’s just too much, and it’s not user friendly or easily searchable. What exactly is this new policy on which airlines we can use?

4. Our cats are psycho. I fully expect poor Chewie’s face to look like this from the point we put him in the carrier, until he’s been in Florida for at least a week.

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I think we’ve finally managed to figure everything out. I don’t claim to be an expert on any other airline besides United – our drug of choice. Actually, I’m not really an expert on them either, but we’ve learned a few things.

United has two programs for transporting animals internationally: United PetSafe, and United PetSafe…for military and diplomats. The first thing to point out, is that you cannot take your pet in the cabin with you if you’re traveling internationally, so rule that out immediately. There are different rules for this and some exceptions, so you can contact the airline if you would like to really pursue that option. (Not that you really want to be that close to your sweet pet when they start meowing, barking, and peeing during hour 7 of the flight, though…). Ok, so that narrows it down to doing the United PetSafe program. We were utterly confused in the beginning, because our travel office at the embassy, which helps organize all things flight related, was telling us one thing, and PetSafe was telling us another. Here’s a few lessons learned though:

1. Diplomats and military are allowed to transport their pets as “checked baggage.” What this means, is that you don’t have to pay for someone to ship your pet for you – a.k.a. a shipping agent, which is what makes the cost skyrocket into the thousands. You’re also not subjected to paying fuel taxes, and a few other fees that they charge in the regular PetSafe program. If you ship them as checked baggage, you pay a fee per animal, which varies based on location and time of year (our fee will be 250 GBP each, or roughly $400), and you have to be on the same flight as your pet. You also have to be booked on the flight before you can book your pets, so be aware of that (meaning, your travel orders from State Department or whichever agency you work for need to have been issued already, so that your tickets can be purchased or at least reserved). This is fun so far, right?

2. If you choose to send pets as checked baggage, there is no possibility for a rest stop for them. They will not be taken out of their cages when/if you have a connecting flight. This may vary depending on where you’re traveling to/from, but we were told that once they’ve been checked in through immigration in the US, they ain’t coming out until they reach their final destination. Bummer.

The full PetSafe program has a lot of perks. If you choose to send them using a shipper, the shipper will drop the pet(s) off for you, coordinate everything with United, and they can travel on whichever flight you would like them to be on (aka the most direct one). The staff will also take them out for what’s called a “comfort stop,” if they aren’t on a non-stop flight. You have to pay extra for the comfort stop if you choose it though. And like I said, in general the program will run you a few thousand dollars.

A general service that the program provides, regardless of whether you’re doing the full Petsafe program or choose the cheaper military/diplomatic option, is making sure that the animals are transported (in-between flights) in a temperature regulated vehicle, which is really important if you’re traveling through the east coast in the middle of summer.

Other random info – you need to have a carrier that’s big enough for the animal to stand up and move around in comfortably (we ordered this one for our relatively normal sized cats), and only one animal per carrier is allowed, unless they’re under 6 months old. There has to be absorbent material in the cage – either litter, newspaper, or some sort of absorbent mat. You can buy the mats on amazon, or there are companies that specialize in products for shipping animals that carry them. You also need to have a food dish and a water dish inside the cage that’s accessible from the outside – a lot of carriers include these. You need metal fasteners, ventilation on the back and sides, and the carrier can’t be all wire. It took me weeks to find what I thought was a suitable carrier. Fingers crossed.

And that, is the official Lisa wisdom on shipping two fat cats internationally. Good luck to anyone else trying to figure this madness out!

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