How to Safely Relocate Your Pet to Another Country

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We are constantly surprised by how quickly Frijolita, the little street dog we adopted, became the central figure of our household. Before Frijolita, everything revolved around Ozzy the cat. Your dog or cat isn’t just a pet, they’re a family member (and often the most important family member).

When you move internationally, it’s not a question about whether they will come. The question is – what are my options to bring my pet with me when I move abroad, what is safest, and what can I afford?

Unfortunately, relocating your furry best friend internationally has never been harder. Over the past few years there have been COVID restrictions, changes to the airline industry, CDC rule changes, and rule changes on emotional support animals. These have all made international pet relocation more difficult to navigate. Not to mention constant problems like how to transport certain breeds and summer heat.


Luckily, with proper planning and guidance, you absolutely can relocate your pet overseas. Here is everything you need to know to safely and affordably move your pet internationally.

The Three Ways to Transport Your Pet on a Plane

1. In Cabin

This is the cheapest and easiest way to put your pet on a plane, BUT there are a lot of  restrictions. Your pet + carrier will generally have to weigh under 20 pounds. And it’s not just weight – the size of your pet and its carrier also matter. These regulations vary by airline.

2. Checked baggage

With this method, you book your pet’s ticket in advance, then drop off your pet at the oversized luggage counter at the airport during check-in. Your pet is taken to your plane and loaded into the cargo area by the ground transportation crew. Typically your pet will be loaded in the forward cargo hold, where temperature can be controlled by the pilot. You’ll be a passenger on the same plane and might even be able to see your pet getting loaded onto your plane through the window.

3. Cargo

Your pet can also fly without you! The only way to book your pet into cargo is with a freight forwarder (for pets, this will be a pet relocation company). If you’re working with a pet relocation company, they will make sure that your animal is flying in safe conditions on the plane and that your pet gets any necessary care during layovers. Flying cargo opens up more route options for your large pet.


Why is it so Hard to Bring My Pet When I Move Abroad?

1. The weather, and particularly the heat!

This is true every year, but especially right now in the summer of 2022 with record heatwaves, if you want to fly with your pet as checked baggage, it’s going to be an issue, particularly if your pet is flying into, out of, or has a layover in airports in hot cities. Airlines actually have embargos against flying pets through specific airports during summer months – often from mid-May to mid-September. We’re talking airports like Phoenix or Las Vegas. And many airlines will refuse to fly your pets if the temperature is over 85 degrees.


Similar rules apply if it’s too cold – usually it’s a no go if temperatures are below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.


2. Covid

Why would COVID affect your pet while traveling? At the beginning of the pandemic, many airlines suspended their pet travel programs for checked baggage and cargo, and some haven’t resumed those programs. For example, United Airlines used to be a big name in pet relocation, but their pet program has been suspended for over 2 years now.


Additionally, while there used to be many small pet relocation companies who could fly your pets as cargo, the pandemic and lack of travel pushed a lot of these companies out of business. This means you have fewer options today for pets traveling as checked baggage and as cargo.


3. No more emotional support animals allowed

As of early 2021, all U.S. based carriers have stopped recognizing emotional support animals. That means if you want your pet in cabin with you, you either need to meet all of the size and weight rules mentioned above, or you need to have a certified service animal.


4. CDC rules

If you are trying to bring your pet IN to the United States, you’ll have to pay attention to recent changes in CDC regulation. In 2021, the CDC did not allow ANY dogs to enter the country for several months. The problem stemmed from pandemic puppy fever, when lots of U.S. families wanted to adopt puppies and some shady dog importers started forging rabies vaccination paperwork.

 Thankfully, dogs CAN now enter the U.S., but there are limitations – if your dog is coming from a “high risk” country there are some hoops to jump through. Check out the list of high risk countries here.

5. Restricted breeds

Many airlines do not like flying certain breeds. These breeds fall into a few categories:


  • Snub nosed breeds – breeds where there are some concerns about breathing problems at altitude, like pugs, French bulldogs, and Persian cats.

  • Dogs with strong jaws – breeds where there is some risk of breaking out of their crates while traveling. This includes breeds like pit bulls and Staffordshire terriers.

  • Very large dogs – Some airlines restrict the size of the crates allowed on board (can be for checked baggage or cargo) and therefore restrict the size of the animal allowed on board.

What Can I Do About Moving My Pet Internationally?

If your pet is under 20 pounds…

If your pet is small enough to bring on the plane, and is not a restricted breed, not too much has changed. You can do this for usually $100-200 in airplane fees. We recommend this option if it’s available to you. You can call your airline, book tickets for you and your pet, make sure you have an approved carrier, and you’ll be on your way.


You can sometimes take two pets under 20 pounds in-cabin, but you must buy the seat adjacent to your own.

If you can afford to pay several thousand dollars…

If you’re okay paying several thousand dollars for your larger pet to fly cargo, you’re also in good shape. Pet relocation companies have upped their prices recently, similar to how airlines have increased their prices, but they still offer a great service looking after your pets.

If your pet is a restricted breed…

If your pet is a restricted breed, and you have an even larger budget, you also have options. You can often find private charter flights where pet owners and their pets fly together to another country, sharing the cost of the chartered plane. But note – this is pricey.

If you have a large pet and a smaller budget…

Many of us fall into this category! Our advice? Firstly, check out Alaska Airlines. We would personally travel a good distance to get our mid-sized dog on an Alaska Airlines flight as checked baggage. They have a good reputation moving pets, and they’re one of the only airlines still offering these services. Here’s their pet policy if you’d like to learn more.

 There are also some international airlines that allow you to check your pet as checked baggage. If you use a non-U.S. carrier, we’d recommend checking their policies around pet safety and the weather. U.S. regulations do not allow pets to be carried as baggage if the temperatures outside are forecasted to be above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and we recommend you follow the same rules. This might mean getting your pet on a very early morning or overnight flight when the weather is a bit cooler.

What is the Process to Move My Pet Abroad?

If you’ve already figured out how to move your pet to a new country, congratulations! Now you just have to figure out the paperwork.


Different countries have different entry requirements, and they are subject to change, so make sure to check your country’s latest requirements on the USDA’s pet travel page. Regardless of country, you’ll almost always need to visit a USDA certified veterinarian shortly before travel to get a health certificate. We recommend calling vets well in advance of your travel dates to confirm their ability to complete the required paperwork.


Many countries then require your pet’s health certificate to be endorsed by USDA. This may be done online or via a mail service, depending on the country. You also will need to be sure your pet’s vaccinations, particularly rabies, is up to date according to the standards of your new country and, depending on the country, you may need to have your pet microchipped.

Final Thoughts

International pet relocation has become more challenging in recent years, with changing regulations and the end of many airline pet programs. But there are still options to get your fuzzy family member to move to a new country.


If you want more help navigating this challenging space, StartAbroad is here for you! We’re a concierge relocation company helping Americans and Canadians move abroad. We can help you identify the best solution for your pet and walk you through step-by-step what to do and what to expect.

StartAbroad is here to help

Get a free consultation with international move experts at StartAbroad to discuss your situation and learn what’s right for you. StartAbroad provides a comprehensive suite of services to make your move abroad as easy and painless as possible. StartAbroad’s international moving experts have over 20+ years of experience living abroad and helping others get settled. Get a free consultation at to discuss your situation and learn what’s right for you. Ask us about our holistic concierge package, and our medical, visa, and tax solutions!


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