I recently took a bold step outside of my comfort zone and took a job in Virginia, USA. This meant a whole bunch of things, namely the epic challenge of packing up my home in Australia, selling everything I owned and working out how to relocate my wonderfully supportive husband and companion cat, Oscar (all within a few months). Pets are family to me, so the move could not possibly happen without Oscar.
Are you looking to relocate your cat or dog from Australia to the United States? I hope that my story might help you to plan the journey yourself as a DIY international pet cat or dog relocation and save a (LOT) of cash along the way. I have intended to write this as the most detailed informative step by step process you can find online. The reason for this is simply that I had SO much trouble myself, I want to empower YOU to take your pet cat or dog internationally. Moving internationally should NOT mean the end of your relationship with your pet. So please don’t feel like moving international is so hard that it means you have to put your pets up for adoption or surrender them to the RSPCA. I hope that you can take my journey and use its insights to your advantage. Travel the world with your cat or dog! See the sights, explore new continents. Live boldly and share the experience with your family as I choose to do.
Travel the world with your pet! See the sights, explore new continents. Live boldly and share the experience with your family as I choose to do. Keep reading below to see the three options I tried and the success I had in relocating my cat internationally from Australia to USA.
Option 1 : Pet Relocation Companies (AKA The Ritz)
Originally I started by contacting many of the pet shipping and relocation companies in Australia. There are limited options that you can contact, in fact I found less than ten who were able to assist in the relocation. Out of those, only 4 got back to me within a week. The quote I requested from all of them was to ship one cat internationally from Brisbane, Australia to Washington D.C, USA. The quotes I got back were all between the price of $2900 – $3100 AUD for a one way relocation trip. This was a lot! But the process they offered was to take care of all of the paperwork, the vet visits, the customs and the flights. If I HAD a lot of money and didn’t mind paying that much, it certainly was the easy option. BUT I don’t have that much money.
This put me in a bit of a pickle and I felt panicked for a bit. Was this going to be what I had to pay? Was the investment worth it? Knowing that I only have a two year working visa and would have to pay about the same again to relocate my cat back to Australia at a later date? I bit the bullet and decided I needed to dig deeper and find a way to get Oscar to USA for much cheaper.
By the way – I want to add, that if you have the money but don’t have the willingness to do all the hassle of the paperwork, these options are still fantastic, and will get your pet from A to B quickly and easily.. but just not cheaply!
Option 2 : United Airlines (AKA The Mysterious Fail)
I’d read a blog another Australian expat had written online about relocating / moving their pet from Sydney via United Airlines. It cost them only a few hundred dollars according to their blog post, and it seemed to sound like a great idea. So I tried to chase that process and phones United in Sydney. Turns out that I had hit a dead end. Perhaps it ONCE used to be the case that you could do this, but United basically laughed in my face and told me it was impossible and that it was never allowed in the past either.
Not sure what happened there, but I even tried reaching out to the blogger who wrote the article to ask their advice but their email address bounced back. (If you know who you are, I’d love to hear from you on if you actually were successful with this option).
Option 3 : Qantas + Virgin America (AKA Winner!)
So the option which ended up being successful was dealing directly with Qantas Airlines Freight and Virgin America. This took a lot of back and forth, many emails and many phone calls. I had the help of my husband (shout out to Sam the man!), my sister (the kind-hearted Helen), the receptionist from my work (the incredibly organised Tara) and the support of various ground staff across two nations. To make this process easier for you to do yourself I’m doing a breakdown below of what the process was and how much it costs.
Step by Step Process
This is a step by step process that I followed on how I relocated my cat from Brisbane, Australia to Washington D.C, USA. Overall, it took me a few weeks of planning, but this was mainly because the whole process was very new to me and there was not a lot of overall guidance. I hope that if the steps below help you that you can do this process yourself in only a short amount of time. Here we go, let’s dive into the steps.
Just so that you’re aware, this was an accompanied flight. If you are sending your pet on an international flight and you are not on the flight yourself (or have someone who is caring for the pet) then you will have to use one of the pet relocation companies, you don’t have a choice unfortunately. But to be honest, the cost of the flight + pet freight means you can have a free holiday to the USA if you can convince a friend and pay a few hundred bucks towards their flight.
FYI – long in advance of any of these steps you should ensure that your pet is healthy and safe to fly. I recommend getting an advance visit before even moving on to step 1 of the below to check with your vet that he will pass the health inspection for international flight. If there are problems you will then know before you book your own travel tickets and be able to push back a bit until your pet is ready to travel.
10 Days Before The Flight
- Research the laws of the STATE and COUNTRY that you are planning to import the cat into. This was a hard part and my sister Helen helped a lot. We found that though the US customs didn’t require anything, the Virginia state, in particular, wanted a Rabies shot for my pet. So you must ensure that your pet is vaccinated well in advance of the trip for anything required to comply with the import laws at the destination.
- Book your own personal flight with Qantas and another with your preferred USA carrier. I recommend that you leave AT LEAST 10 days at least in advance of when you ideally would like to fly. I liked the extra buffer room and to be honest, I needed it to get all the things organised so I left more than 10 days, I left about 15. Note that you should call Qantas and check if they are accepting pets on the flight that you want to go on. They don’t accept pets if there is radioactive material (which I have to question, why are humans on that flight??) or if the pet allocation is full for the flight. There was one other thing but I can’t remember what it was. I phoned Qantas Freight at this point before booking my husbands flights to confirm that the date was OK).
- Booked flights from Brisbane to LAX (with Qantas) – your pet is only allowed to fly Cargo
- Left layover time of 8 hours (suggested minimum for customs process)
- Booked flights from LAX to Washington D.C (with Virgin America) – your pet is allowed to fly in cabin.
- Read the Qantas pets checklist. This list was a helpful guide, but not detailed enough to get me completely organised as I still had to do a lot of fact finding myself to connect the dots.
- On the same day you book your flights, fill out these three forms and return all to Qantas on this email: QFexportlivestock@qantas.com.au
- On the same day, fill in this form and submit it to the department of agriculture for your local state. Note that if you’re not from QLD, Australia this step might be different. In my case it had to be submitted to the QLD Government Department of Agriculture. Note that I did not have to do anything with federal government. I enquired and they had no specific things required to do with them. DAFF / Biosecurity contact came up with dead ends and there was no action required. I found the email to return this to was: email@example.com
- Check the international requirements of the state that you are shipping your pet into. I noted that for Virginia it was a requirement that my cat have a rabies shot so I had to find a vet in Brisbane to administer the vaccine. I also note that this is a requirement to keep up to date for when we return one day. Otherwise its a potential that your pet may get stuck in quarantine.
- Purchase TWO DIFFERENT CARRIERS. This is very important. For flight 1 (the international journey) you will need an IATA (International Air Transport Association) approved pet carrier that was appropriate for the size of your pet. In my situation, I selected a PP30 cage. This gave Oscar my cat enough room to move around while he was on the international flight, stand, move and stretch. For flight 2 you will need a small foldable carry bag that works with the local USA guidelines for sizing. You’ll have to search the website of the airline you are flying with.
- IATA Guidelines for cage measurements
- See the shopping list below for purchase options for both.
- Book appointments for within 24 hours of the flight time for the below:
- AQIS certified VET – to gain a health certificate for your pet (Full list of certified Vets)
- QLD Government – to gain the export permit
- Check your emails regularly and chase up those you sent forms to, in order to confirm that the relocation paperwork and bookings have all gone through. It takes about 2-3 days for initial confirmation to come back. You will get an Air Waybill number which is your important tracking number as well as booking confirmation with the QLD Government office.
24 Hours Before The Flight
- Visit your AQIS certified Vet in your local area for within 24 hours of the flight time. The Vet needs to complete paperwork for health check confirmation. Take this paperwork to your next appointments. (I took my pet twice for two different trips prior to the flight to ensure he was up to date with vaccinations)
- Pay the costs of the vet bill – $150 + $278 AUD
- Go to your next appointment with the local government department of agriculture to obtain the Export Permit. This needs to happen within 24 hours of the flight but AFTER the AQIS appointment.
- If you’re booking late in the day they might want you to fill out QLD Government Credit Card Authorization.
- Pay the $250 AUD Export permit fee
- You will lastly need to take the pet, in it’s cage to the Qantas Freight terminal. At this point you will have to pay the flight cost for the pet.
- Pay the freight fee for the pet, mine was $843 AUD
- Take your pet home again. Give your pet his/her last big meal. Make sure they have plenty of water but not lots of food. Otherwise they will most likely get sick on the flight. Nasty, because they don’t have anywhere to go or anyone to clean their cage.
Day of / During The Flight(s)
- Arrive at least 3 hours before the flight and drop off your pet at the Qantas Freight terminal. Make sure their water bowl is topped up!
- Get on the flight yourself.
- When you land in USA (LAX for my husband), do the usual and exit customs. In my husbands case he needed to collect all the international luggage as well.
- You’ll have to take a taxi with your luggage and proceed to the Qantast Freight international terminal pickup location.
- They will then give you information about a requirement to go the USA customs office (take another taxi) which is in the suburbs of LA. Other airports their offices might be closer.
- At the USA customs office, you’ll need to obtain the paperwork for import of your pet. I made the mistake of putting my own name as a consignee instead of my husbands name on ALL the paperwork. This meant that he then hastily had to get a note in writing from me to verify that it was OK for him to pick up my cat and release it from customs. Customs rang me as well to verify my identity.
- Take your stamped piece of import paperwork back to the Qantas Freight terminal and pick up your cat, dog or pet!!!
- Use scissors to cut the zip ties of the cage, find a cubicle or room you can close the door and let them walk around for a bit. Clean out the cage.
- Head back to the airport. I left a total layover time of about 8 hours for all of this to happen for my husband. In the end he had only 2 hours spare because of all the running about in LAX. Not the best thing for a tired man, or a tired cat, but enough time for oscar to have a break and for the husband to do all the customs paperwork and transferral about of pet cages etc.
- Swap your pet into the smaller carry on cage (for in cabin flight) in a closed room. I would recommend doing this as close as possible to the cut off time for dropping your luggage. My husband then put his carry on luggage from the international flight into the carrier case and checked it in as luggage for the next leg of the journey as a domestic USA flight.
- Carry the small pet case on with you and slide your pet under the seat in front of you or at your feet. Ensure you can give your pet lots of water to help them recouperate as much as possible after the long international flight.
- Fly to your final destination and be met by your EXTREMELY appreciative wife.
After The Flight(s)
When your pet (and in my case husband) land at the other end, take them home and give them LOTS of food and water. Oscar (the cat) was very thirsty, and didn’t like to drink while in the plane, even though my husband tried to give him water as often as possible. It took about 2 days for his bathroom cycle to get back to normal, but he drank a lot of water and food and was healthy and well throughout.
Thank everyone who helped you – in my case it was a LOT of people!
Pet Relocation Shopping List
- PP30 Cat Cage (or appropriate cage size for your pet)
- Water funnel + in cage water bowl
- Pee Training Pads / In cage pee pads
- Zip ties
- Small in cabin foldable cat cage
- Small cat toy (allowed for comfort inside the international flight cage)
Pet Relocation Costs Breakdown
This is how much it cost me to move my pet cat from Australia to USA. This cost was valid in 2017 at the time I wrote this article. It might change based on flights or import costs over time. The exchange rate as well could have an impact on your costs (for reference, the exchange rate at the moment is 1AUD = 0.77USD). Note that there is mixed currency written below since this is noted in the currency that I paid for each item in.
- Qantas Freight Flight (AU to USA)- $842.76 AUD
- Virgin America Flight (USA, LAX > IAD) – $100 USD
- Qantas Landing Fees (Import Fees in USA) – $70 USD
- International PP30 Cage – $0 (I was gifted mine by a friend)
- In Cabin Carrier – $20 (Husband picked up from Gumtree seller locally)
- Vet bills (trip 1, antibiotics, rabies shots, vaccinations) – $278 AUD
- Vet bills (trip 2, flea rinse) – $150 AUD
- Export Permit – $250 AUD
Total = $1763 AUD or $1328 USD.
Now this seems like a LOT, and it is so I will be honest with you on that. But when you compare this to the cost of the pet shipping companies, it’s a saving of $1337 AUD… or 44.9% saving of the total cost. That’s enough to ship a person AND a cat to the USA. I don’t feel bad about this since I know that my whole family is with me now.
Was It Worth It To Reolocate?
Absolutely. I’d do it again any day of the week. I love my cat, he is my family and he absolutely cannot be replaced. It would truly break my heart to leave him behind. A few questions that people have asked me since my cat got here.
- How did the cat go on the flight? He was ok! He was silent most of the time. He recognized my husband at customs at LAX and meowed when he saw him (as if to say (why have you put me on this awful flight).
- Did your cat have extended anxiety and stress from bring in cargo internationally? He was fine even the first night actually. He loved exploring the new apartment, and slept under the bed for the first night. After a few days he roams around like he owns the joint.
- Do cats get Jet Lag? Interestingly I feel like he HAS had it a bit. This is completely un-scientific but at home in Australia he was most wide awake in the evening, running laps of the house. He has taken to doing this first thing in the morning at breakfast now actually. Is this legit? Its my opinion only so your cat or dog will totally act differently.
- How has your cat adapted to the weather change? When he left Australia the temperature was about 30C / 104F. When he landed here in Washington D.C the temperature was about -2C/28F. That’s quite a shocking change! He doesn’t like the outdoor patio at all, and I haven’t taken him for a walk. But the interior apartment is heated with a thermostat all the time so indoors is quite fine.
- How do you justify the cost? I once read an article about a woman who was about my age. She sold evverything she owned, purchased a yacht and sailed around the world with her cat. I decided to be like her and not give a care to what people think of me.
You can email me anytime! firstname.lastname@example.org is my email and I’d be happy to talk to you about the move. I wish you all the best in your move of your own pet from Australia to USA. Cheers, Rach (now hailing from the United States of America).