I tend to get some rather incredulous looks (from Americans) when I tell people that I brought my cat with me to Berlin. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around about 6 month quarantines and potential death by careless airline. My cat moved with me from Chicago to New York, and I was actually much more concerned about that, as he is old, had never flown before, and I was convinced that he would die of a heart attack on the plane, or at the least pee all over the entire cabin (yes, he goes in the cabin). I so feared that the move would be stressful for him that I nearly gave him away a couple of times. My cat never really seemed very attached to me, so I considered that he might rather be with new people than deal with the stressful move. It turns out I was wrong, both about what he wants and how well he travels. He hates flying, mind you, but he made it to New York and was perfectly fine, aside from some bitching about being in the carrier. The process of uprooting him also changed our relationship quite a bit; when the only thing left which was familiar was me, he clung to me and expressed his love for me in a way that he never had before.
After going across the country, there was no question about whether or not he was going across the world with me. If I couldn’t bring him along, I wouldn’t have done it at all.
The official side of the process is pretty simple:
- At least 21 days before departure, your cat needs to have a vet appointment which will verify he has appropriate vaccinations and a microchip (which can be read in the EU–US ones are different). Anything that’s missing can be dealt with at this time. In Zero’s case, he needed an EU chip and some shots.
- Within 10 days of arrival in Germany, you need to have a small ream of German bureaucratic paperwork filled out by a USDA certified veterinarian. I was lucky enough to find one near my home who knew the ropes. It helps to call around a few places and find a vet who has done this a few times before.
- Also within that 10 days, you need to have the USDA stamp the above paperwork. This can be done either by going to the actual USDA location near you (if one exists) or by mailing it with a return envelope to a state agency. I opted for the former, but if you mail it, I would take every precaution (certified mail, next day delivery, etc.) to make sure it gets there and back to you on time. If you don’t have it, you’re going to have to delay your flight.
Speaking of flight, you’ll also need to get a direct flight which allows pets, and arrange for your pet to come with you, which incurs a fee of course. Do some research on airlines; some are more pet-friendly than others (airberlin and Lufthansa are pet-owner favorites)! Check the airline’s pet policy BEFORE buying the ticket. Buy an airline-approved carrier for under the seat, and I would also call the airline and confirm everything a few days before your flight.
You could spend days searching online for advice on flying with a pet, but I’ve already done this, so here’s what you need to know:
- I have never heard of any airline measuring the carrier at the airport, which is good, because airberlin’s website says that the carrier can only be 10cm high (it’s generally assumed that this is a typo). They will probably weigh it, though.
- You can buy mamakitty pheromone wipes or a collar at most pet stores which makes your cat feel more secure, and theoretically whine less. The extent to which this works seems to vary by pet, but if you can spare $20, it’s worth a shot.
- Unless the above works like a charm, the chances are likely that your cat is going to complain the entire time. Thankfully, your cat probably isn’t louder than a jet engine, and most of the other passengers will barely notice unless they’re sitting next to you.
- You might want to bring some sort of consolation prize (earplugs?) for the unfortunate passenger(s) who are sitting right next to your whining cat the whole flight. Some people are cooler about it than others.
- It’s best if kitty doesn’t eat or drink a whole lot right before you set off. This is particularly difficult, because if your flight is 8 hours or something, the poor thing basically isn’t eating for a day. Rest assured, your cat will not die, but don’t skimp too much on the water; cats get dehydrated on planes too. More on that…
- Line the bottom of the carrier with piddle pads. Unless you’ve been starving your cat for the previous 24 hours (don’t), there’s probably going to be an accident, and you don’t want to be walking around with a wet/dripping carrier. I used three or four of them, but really two would have been fine, even for our long flight.
- Get the airport really early. Like 3 hours early. Your stress will become your pet’s stress, and getting through security with a cat is not fast. I’m also finding that international flights are now demanding that people check in 90 minutes before departure.
- You will have to walk through the security with your cat in your arms; they don’t go through the x-ray machine. Get a harness or leash if they’re the type to bolt, but in my experience, they’re way too scared to make a move.
- Once you are on the plane, you can take your cat with you to the restroom. Turn down the baby changer table and set kitty up there while you clean out any soiled pads and/or possibly a soiled cat.
- It’s probably a good idea to learn enough German to explain to the customs officer that you have a cat.
Shopping checklist: stamped paperwork, airline-approved carrier, piddle pads, harness/leash, collar and pet tag with your name and info on it for both countries, baby wipes, pheromone wipes/collar, and don’t forget your cat!
It is a very good idea to also plan ahead for your arrival in your new home. By that, I mean your cat will expect food, water, and a litter box the minute he/she leaves the carrier, and you’ll want to have this available. If you have friends in your destination city who can meet you with the necessities when you arrive, that is best. Otherwise, you can attempt to coordinate delivery of cat supplies to be dropped off just before or just after you arrive. I used Fressnapf; be warned that they may take days or even a week to process the order, so that same-day delivery option doesn’t mean the same day or even the next day after you order it.
Some other notes:
- I estimate that bringing Zero with me cost a total of about $1000 more than if I would have come by myself, between extra cost for the flight, paperwork, shots, microchip, etc.. I have no regrets, but be prepared to drop some cash in this situation.
- Upon my arrival at Tegel, I could have just walked through the crowded “nothing to declare” area and I honestly believe no one would have even noticed I was bringing a cat in what looks like a duffel bag. Of course, once you’ve done all the paperwork, you are dying to show it to someone. It took about two minutes for them to look at the paperwork, and they didn’t scan his microchip or any of the stuff that the embassy says they’ll do. Not suggesting you risk it, of course, but there’s nothing to get anxious about.
- I brought a few things along to make life more comfortable for Zero in our new home, and he seems to appreciate it. Since he’s an old cat who spends a lot of time sleeping, I brought along a duvet cover and sheets from home, and packed his own bed in my large suitcase, so that he has familiar things to nap on.
If all of this seems overwhelming, there is also an alternate way to get your pet across countries. See Ani Møller’s blog post about hiring a company which will move your pet(s) for you and her experience bringing a cat to New Zealand. She recommended this to me herself, and while I chose to bring my cat on my own, I can definitely see the appeal in having it all taken care of (and it doesn’t seem like it costs more in the long run).