I recently saw the following question on an expat forum:
“Hello all! I’ve been in South Africa for 3 weeks and expect to work here for approximately 18 months on assignment. My husband will be joining me from the US in 1 month. The most difficult decision regards our dog…do we bring her or not? Has anyone heard of issues with customs? How is the process returning to the States?”
We don’t have a dog. If I ever sneaked a dog into the house, under cover of night like I’ve practically done with the succession of cats we’ve had, Noisette would probably kill me. And the dog.
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What we did have, prior to moving to South Africa, was a bunny by name of Oreo. Huge and black and white and also pretty dumb, if you ask me. Since I could only find information about dog and cat relocation but nothing about rabbits, it was decided that he was best left behind with another loving family. Or wait – he actually might have gotten left behind because he had the nasty habit of peeing all over the carpet when he was excited, which he was every time he spotted one of us, even if we kept him in his cage. I might not have mentioned that tidbit of information to the loving family. Maybe they are not quite so loving anymore.
So I’m not the best person to ask when it comes to the very important question on how to best get your pet from the United States – or pretty much anywhere else – to South Africa. And yet it crops up every so often on my blog and elsewhere, so that I wanted to provide some answers.
I decided to ask a few friends and fellow expats their advice.
I got a lot of responses. A ton of responses! I think I got more responses than on any other topic combined in the history of my blog. Pets, it seems, are dear to the expat’s heart, possibly dearer than her children. Every expat I know seems to have brought a pet with them. And every one of them has a story to tell. (And, I might add, every one of them seems to have jeopardized their retirement nest egg by paying for Fido’s travels.)
I decided to go ahead and collect the relevant excerpts from all these stories and print them here for you. Maybe hearing personal accounts (and hopefully some success stories) is what people appreciate most. Or maybe I just didn’t feel like wading through all the information and shortening it into a reasonably sized blog post.
“We brought our two dachshunds in March when we moved to Joburg from NJ. We hired a pet relocation company to help with all the paperwork and processes. It is a very expensive proposition. It went very smoothly but I do not know if it would be worth it for a short term move.”Also check out Darlene’s entertaining blog post about her dogs Lou and Serge’s experience.
“$5k EACH direction….and then inevitably when they travel, they must pay to kennel. Most relocation services fly them through Amsterdam. For an added fee, you can have them groomed and cleaned before arriving to your home. I love a spa day right after that trip, so I’m sure dogs do too.”
Hmmm. If I did survive getting a dog without Noisette killing me and I did convince him that the dog must now be relocated for a small fortune, I know for certain that he would belatedly kill me when finding out I had splurged for a dog spa day to make little Fufu feel better after his flight.
“It’s complicated! And expensive. It cost more for us to bring our dog than our three kids combined. The required tests cost about $1200, the flight from MIA to DC was $300, then DC to Joburg was about $800. Also, you have to send or take paperwork to a USDA Office. SAA is the only carrier allowed to bring dogs in and the dog has to be examined by a state vet so you have to watch the timing of the flight arrival — if its after 4:00, SARS wont be open to sign off nor will the vet be able to see the dog. It’s also traumatic — our dog has never quite been the same. Personally, if its only for 18 months, I’d try to find a nice friend or relative to take care of their dog.”
“I agree with Stephanie, very expensive for a short term assignment and preferable to find someone to take care of your pet. If you do decide to bring your pet, our research found that if your pet arrived in Joburg by Tuesday, goes straight to quarantine, the state vet only takes blood for tests on Wednesday and if all clear they can be out of quarantine by Friday or you have to wait for the next Wednesday. To return to USA, there are a few pet relocators in Joburg. The one we liked the best was Aeropets. Mikki and her colleagues were very helpful and gave us lots of information.”
“We brought our West Highland Terrier, Chipper, to Johannesburg in 2010. We used Animal Land Pet Movers. They have 6 offices worldwide – Atlanta, Los Angeles, Sydney, London, Hong Kong and Johannesburg! Chipper flew from Charlotte to Atlanta (where he was met by an employee of Animal Land Pet Movers). He played in the office that day before his evening flight to Amsterdam (where there is a dog hotel) and then he made his way to Johannesburg. I loved working with Animal Land Pet Movers. I handled the shots and some paperwork but they booked the flight and sent me all of the necessary documents that Chipper needed. They walked me through everything. I would not attempt to move a pet to South Africa without the use of a company. Animal Land Pet Movers was able to secure all of the paperwork from the Dept. of Agriculture on the SA side. I can’t even imagine trying to do that from the US. You definitely need someone on the ground in SA helping you. It was the best decision we ever made to bring him along. He was great company for the boys when we first got here. No funny story or harrowing experience – other than my dog has been to Amsterdam and we still have not made it there!
This picture was taken right before we handed him over in the US. Inside his crate were 2 water bowls attached to the front gate with frozen water in them, a blanket that he slept on every night, a t-shirt of one of the boys and a Dry Fur Pad to absorb anything. When Chipper got to Amsterdam anything that was soiled was thrown out and replaced with dry newspaper. Chipper came through all the way to Johannesburg with flying colors and was delivered straight to our house!
Kathryn (who still had the paperwork from her move in 2011) wrote:
“YIKES – Was it ever expensive! Two years ago it cost US$3,250 with Air Animal Pet Movers. I recall having to get a vet to examine and fill out a bunch of forms but the Air Animal people supplied all that. The vet in our area was very familiar with the process because a lot of people move overseas with our employer. I can recommend asking for a vet with some knowledge of the process.”
“Not sure if you have already discovered this one, but the size of the dog crate vs the size of the airplane cargo hatch is a potential gotcha that was a surprise to me. My bigger dog was only around 65 lbs, and for the crate that met the airline requirements there was only one Delta airlines flight per week from Kansas City to Atlanta that had a big enough door. I am not making this up. Delta Airlines was very helpful at providing the information when I was working out the booking arrangements, but it did change my overall plan by a couple of days. For people that live in a smaller city with fewer flights or only smaller flights this could be a problem.”
Andy (who is a South African veterinarian) had good advice on relocating pets to other countries from South Africa:
“In general the most important thing when traveling with pets is to make sure all vaccinations are up to date. Especially rabies. All animals must also be microchipped. Health certificates are usually issued by the vet at least 10 days before travelling (each country has different times) and then the forms are issued to the state vet who has to sign it off.
Going to most of the EU countries requires an up to date rabies, microchip and then rabies antibody titre blood tests. If this is all in order they have to wait 3 months and then can travel. No quarantining is needed. If vaccines are not up to date then they have to be given the rabies vaccine and then wait one month and then bloods drawn and then the 3 month wait as normal. If no microchip is done or their bloods are below required levels, the whole process has to be repeated.
Going to Australia requires 7 months quarantine. There are 3 quarantine stations in JHB. Keringa Kennels and Paws Resort are the two best although the latter is much friendlier with no bookings for visiting hours. At least 30 days of the quarantine needs to be done in Australia. Their facilities are small and quite poor. They have stations in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. VERY EXPENSIVE too. The flight to Melbourne is long and via Dubai and the pets are left in crates for up to two days. The quarantine stations in SA are amazing and will do all the paperwork for you, including permits, making correct size crates for pets, etc. There quotes are competitive but as you can imagine the overall cost can become prohibitive. All sorts of blood work is done at the stations and microchipping is also needed. If your pet is older than 8 years of age, some blood and urine work is needed before kenneling.
Going to New Zealand requires only 3 months quarantine, also at the above kennels. Their blood work is more extensive but will be covered by staff.
Going to USA or Canada is the simplest. I think it is just a matter of getting on a plane with valid vaccines and microchip.
All in all the valid rabies vaccine and the microchip are the most important things to have at hand to make the movement speedy.”
I also contacted several pet relocation services to see if they could quote me a price for the purposes of this blogpost. Only one of them answered – Aeropets – and quoted me ZAR3,675 for my fictitious dog.
Here is what Vernon from Aeropets had to say:
Please find attached herewith our quotation to “import” your dog into South Africa, as well as the South African Health Clearance Certificate which must be completed by your local vet and endorsed by the state vet. Please note that the Health Certificate is only valid for 10 days. Unfortunately this does not include ticket and freight costs. The quote I have sent you is just to bring your pet into South Africa. With pets the ticket bookings and freight arrangements have to be originated at source. I would suggest you contact www.PetRelocation.com to assist you with the export part.
No quarantine for pets from the USA
Vaccination booklet showing that the last rabies inoculation is not older than 1 year but not less than 30 days at time of travel
Health Clearance Certificate
State vet endorsement
I hope all of this has been helpful. As you can see, moving your pet to South Africa (and elsewhere) is not really a problem, but it requires a good amount of legwork, not to mention a stately amount of cash. The better you’re prepared and do your research, the better you can keep your costs down. Make sure you study the insert above right and read Moving to South Africa with your Pet if you want to do it on your own. But hiring a pet relocation agency might give you more peace of mind.
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Thanks again to all my friends who so graciously contributed to this article!