One of the many challenges Dan & I faced when we decided to move to Maastricht was how to move our cats with us. I know for some people this would be a silly question; why not find them a new home? But Agatha & Einstien have been with us for nearly two years now and we’re pretty attached. Also, when we adopted them we made the commitment to caring for them for life, even when it was inconvenient. If you are thinking about moving cats with you, here’s a run down of what we did. I hope it helps. Keep in mind that the regulations for each country is different.
Paperwork & Appointments
First and foremost, give yourself as much lead time as possible. You’ll need a minimum of 30 days depending on when your cats were last vaccinated. Fortunately, the US is relatively easy to move pets from since it has low instances of rabies and is considered to be low risk for other animal diseases. As listed on their Washington DC Dutch Embassy website, the Netherlands requires:
The rabies shot obviously needs to be done earlier, but the actual veterinarian paperwork needs to be completed no more than 10 days before your flight. That’s 10 days, not 10 business days, so its best to schedule that appointment as close to 10 days from your flight as you can get.
In addition to the above, the international vet who did the final certification and microchipping gave me a USDA form that she said needed to be stamped by the local USDA office. It appears that this is a requirement of some countries to bring your pets in and also may be required for the airline you take. Northwest Airlines (my airline) didn’t seem to care and the Netherlands Embassy website was annoyingly silent on the subject so I bit the bullet and got the stamp just in case. It cost me about $49 for the peace of mind.
Flying with your Cat(s)
When booking a flight with pets in tow you need to worry about two things: 1) whether to fly them in the cabin or in cargo and 2) getting a direct flight.
If you have more than one cat, the first issue will be solved for you since only one pet per person (up to a limited amount) is allowed in the cabin. You might also consider sending your cat in cargo if it isn’t immaculately well behaved or very small. The carrier has to fit underneath your seat and since flying is a traumatic experience, you don’t really know how upset and noisy your cat will be. Most airlines refuse to transport sedated pets since they could harm themselves or tossed around in flight. The second point is a matter of logistics and comfort for your cats. A direct flight prevents the animals from being left at a layover. Also, flying direct is faster; reducing the amount of time your cats are in their carriers without food.
Northwest Airlines requires you to reserve space for your pets on a specific flight over the phone, but you can book your flight via a discount website if you want (that’s what I did). I imagine that most other airlines will allow this as well. It cost $150 per cat to bring them along (the cost of an extra piece of luggage) plus I had to meet all of their carrier and documentation requirements.
All airlines handle pets differently and you’ll want to follow their requirements to the letter and fly during times when it is not too hot or cold. Otherwise, the airline can refuse your pet passage without any compensation to you. I strongly encourage you to carrier train your cats and freeze some water into an attached bowl for them on the day of the flight. This will go a long way to helping your pets cope with an already stressful situation.
In our case, Northwest Airlines was very good with our pets and the plane was only delayed an hour so they did not end up sitting around much longer than necessary. When I arrived on the day of my flight, I filled out a couple of forms certifying that I had all the necessary paperwork completed. Once my pets were loaded onto the plane (5 minutes before we took off) I was brought a receipt verifying that they were aboard. At the other end I picked them up at the luggage station. While it may not be the case for everyone, the Netherlands Customs didn’t even check my pet paperwork despite the hours I had put into it. I say have it done and available, but don’t be surprised when they just wave you though.
Today, my cats are happy in their new digs and we’re happy to have them. Hopefully they will forget their trauma by the time we decide to move again.