(This is the second half of a two part post about flying with cats. If you haven't seen the first half, you can check that out here.)
Part 2: International flights
If you are flying internationally with your cat, you have all of the same concerns as in the prior post, but more so. You will still be able to find airlines that let you carry your cat on with you, but you will need to check that they accept them on the particular route you want to travel. Yep. The airline might take pets in general, but not to the specific place you are headed to, depending on the length of the route and the rules of the country you’ll land in.
For example, I’ve had excellent experiences flying with Aífe on Lufthansa between Seattle and Berlin. So when I needed to move from Germany to Ireland, I was looking forward to booking a flight with them. However, even though they take pets on flights all over the world, it turns out that they won’t take animals on flights to Ireland or the UK. It doesn’t say that on their website, and the first representative I spoke to said it would be fine for her to join me on the flight I was planning to book. But then several other airlines I was comparing said you couldn’t bring cats onto their flights into Ireland or the UK, so I called Lufthansa back to double-check. It took my talking to several representatives before I could confirm that there was a restriction on flights to those islands.
I called the Irish Department of Agriculture to ask why all of the airlines I’d talked to said the Irish government wouldn’t let them carry pets into Ireland. The official I spoke with said that the government didn’t have any ban prohibiting pets on planes, that it was up to the airlines. I think what it is, is that the UK is super-strict about animals, and Ireland has open borders with the UK, so it’s probably the UK fucking things up for Irish travel. I’m not 100% sure on that, but it will be interesting to see what changes come through after the Brexit train-wreck barrels through next year. At any rate, the point is that when you’re dealing with overlapping layers of big, old bureaucracies, you can run into some mysterious, frustrating, contradicting information. Be careful.
You’ll also really need to watch out for the fees. Multiple-leg, multiple-carrier flights are common on long-distance journeys, and almost unavoidable on international flights that aren’t between major hubs. If you book a flight that has different carriers operating different legs of the journey, you’ll have to make reservations and pay booking fees for your cat with each airline separately. So, for example, if I wanted to book a flight from Berlin to Portland on one airline’s website, that flight might have two or three legs, and each might be operated by a different carrier. That would mean making and paying for up to three pet bookings for that one journey! And that’s just to go in one direction; you have to book and pay for your cat’s place on flights out and the return flights if you are returning. Each fee will usually be somewhere between $75 and $200, so they add up pretty quickly, and can potentially double the cost of what would have been a reasonably-priced flight. So if you can get a flight with only one carrier the whole way, even if that flight seems more expensive, it may even out or actually be a better deal, and a lot less hassle.
You could also look into getting a train for one leg of the journey. Or a lift from a family member with a car, if you’re lucky. Some airlines in Europe offer this thing called Rail&Fly, which for €30 gives you a ticket that allows you to hop onto any train going anywhere in your country of destination. Train journeys that would normally cost €50 to €200 at the last minute are all covered by that €30. On my first trans-Atlantic plane journey with Aífe, my mom agreed to drive Aífe and me from Portland to Seattle, then we flew on a budget airline to Frankfurt, and then got a train from Frankfurt to Berlin. It took a while, but not much longer than flying when the layovers were considered, and it was several hundreds of dollars cheaper.
As with domestic flights, it’s likely you will need the certificate of health from your veterinarian, but one that specifically says it’s for international travel. It’s almost identical to the one you use for domestic flights, but for some reason, it’s wildly more expensive. The same vets in Portland that wanted about $25 for the domestic form all wanted around $170 for the international one. One practice wanted to gouge me for nearly $300. Another quoted $120 over the phone, then tried to charge me nearly $190 when I got there. So shop around, and get a quote before you get to the vet’s office.
You may also need additional forms specific to the country you are going to. Check with that country’s embassy for information about what requirements they have for bringing in pets. When I was heading to Germany, I looked at the website for their embassy in DC, and found lots of pet travel information. If you and your cat live in the US, you’ll want to get familiar with a branch of the United States Department of Agriculture called Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS. On the APHIS website, you can select your destination country from a drop-down menu, and they will give you all the information you need about restrictions and paperwork. For entering German, there was a hefty form I needed to print out, have my veterinarian fill out (for a fee) with the certificate of health. I then had the choice of driving or overnighting the documents to my nearest regional APHIS office, to get APHIS to verify and stamp their approval on the documents (for a fee). All of this paperwork had to be done within the 10 days before arrival in Germany. It was doable, but the timing was tricky, and super stressful, and the fees from vets, certification, and certified postage racked up like crazy, even without any extra last-minute express fees added on. So plan ahead!
Once Aífe got an EU pet passport, with a German vet vouching for her, we were allowed to just use the passport to reenter Germany on subsequent flights from America. The only hitch is that all of the vaccines recorded in the passport have to take place in an EU country. So for example, if Aífe’s rabies vaccine expired while we were in the States, and I got it updated by an American vet, the EU pet passport would not longer be considered valid to get us into the EU. So if you’re flying out of the EU, with the intention on returning with your cat, vaccine timing is something to consider, and talk to your vet about. Actually, checking that your cat’s vaccines are up to date before you go anywhere is a wise idea.
Some countries, like Singapore and Australia, require you to apply for a special permit from the government before you are allowed to bring your pet into the country. Even after you are approved for the permit, they will still require a lot of other paperwork, and still require month-long quarantine periods for animals flying in from most countries. When my husband got a teaching residence in Singapore, I did weeks of research into how to get Aífe into the country. The requirements and restrictions and quarantines and fees kept adding up until it got to a point where even I, a fairly seasoned international schlepper of cats, decided I was entirely uncomfortable with the whole thing. I rearranged our travel so that I could take Aífe to stay with my mom in Portland for a few months instead.
Mandatory quarantines seem to mainly be an island thing: Singapore, Australia, Hawaii… Partly because influxes of foreign animals can wreak havoc on island ecosystems, and all foreign animals are therefore treated as potential threats to biosecurity. Supposedly, the main reason for pet quarantines is preventing rabies from entering the country. But rabies is easy to vaccinate against, and the existence of microchips and veterinary certificates and pet passports makes it easy to certify an animal is clean of the disease. Humans can get rabies, not to mention ebola and influenza, and we fly internationally by the millions each day, carrying germs and snacks and lord knows what other biomatter back and forth. And nations all over the world are importing and exporting goods to each other by the metric ton 24/7 year round. Hell, birds migrate around the world all year long, spreading flu. So it seems pretty crazy to me to let slobbery babies and bloody burgers and muddy boots come sliming across borders without any inspection, but outright refuse to even consider being hospitable to a tidy and well-documented little tabby. It’s freakishly archaic, and I hope to see such policy erode in the years ahead.
A Warning About Confiscation
As stressful and expensive and ridiculous as the paperwork can be to get sorted, it’s a lot better than not getting it sorted. Because your cat can be taken away from you. Most countries will state somewhere in their guidelines on importing animals that, even if you are allowed to bring pets across their borders, they reserve the right to ‘confiscate’ and either quarantine or destroy your pet if either they or their paperwork doesn’t look right. Quite a terrifying prospect, isn’t it? It certainly fills me with a certain amount of anxiety every time I fly with Aífe. Can you imagine if everyone who flew with their babies on their laps had to worry about their non-fur-baby getting confiscated upon arrival?
I’m happy to say that we have traveled many times now between the States, Germany, Ireland, and the UK, and not had any problems with the authorities. I’ve had my passport stamped several times while the agent didn’t even seem to register the fact that I was carrying a cat. So if you have a cat who likes its carrier, and chills in there quietly, they may be able to just float on through border control with you. But make sure you have all the right papers anyhow, and take the guidelines seriously.
Wow, I realize that was a lot of running you through restrictions and red-tape and things to freak out about. But don’t freak out. I’ve flown a bunch of times with my cat, and gone through a bunch of border crossings and security checks, and Aífe and I have always arrived at our destination safe and sound together. If you do your research in advance, talk to some good people, and give your cat plenty of time to get used to chilling in its carrier, you should be fine. Don’t let worry hold you back from heading off to see the world.