Requirements and process of emigrating with pets
If ever there was an occasion to test the bond between pet owner and beloved pet, it’s emigration. Moving overseas is a huge, stressful event that may feel overwhelming and nearly impossible… and that’s before you’ve even factored in your furry family members. However, with enough time and planning, ensuring you follow the correct protocols and stick to the regulations, you can successfully move yourself and your pets overseas.
The following represents a basic list of what you will need to consider and do in order to transport your pets to another country. Speak to the vet and a legitimate pet relocation company if you have any additional questions.
- Give yourself enough time
There is a minimum period of four months required for first-time pet travellers to get all the necessary vaccinations and health checks done before leaving South Africa. This must be factored into your emigration planning. It is recommended that you allow a planning period of up to nine months to ensure you can adequately cover all the requirements.
- Ensure your pets are microchipped
- Your pets need to have an ISO (International Standards Organization) microchip implanted before they leave the country. If Fido somehow gets lost in transit, the ISO chip can be scanned anywhere in the world and he will be identifiable. If your pets are already microchipped, confirm with the vet that the chips are valid and are still in working order, then update your information on the chip company’s database. This is your first port of call for travelling internationally with your pets.
- Despite your pets being microchipped, ensure they are wearing identification tags on their collars with your international contact details clearly visible.
- IMPORTANT: Make sure your pets are microchipped before they receive any vaccinations. Vaccinations administered before the microchip is inserted are NOT VALID. If your pets’ shots are all up to date, but you still need to microchip them, you will need to redo the vaccinations after microchipping for them to be valid for international travel.
- Use a professional pet relocation agency
Despite what your friend’s cousin said about emigrating with their border collie two years ago, or what your aunt’s neighbour did to get her Yorkie overseas last month, hearsay does not qualify when it comes to the official pet emigration process. For peace of mind and a guiding hand to help you and your pets, enlist the help of a pet relocation agency – they will know all of the official rules and requirements for relocation. They will also have the most up-to-date information on the requirements for your destination country and help to prevent any glitches.
- Understand that each country will have different requirements
A pet relocation company will help you in this regard, but be sure to follow the exact requirements of the country you are moving to. Each destination may have different rules for paperwork, the requirement for quarantine (if any), and which tests and shots your pets will need to enter their country.
- Ensure you get your pets’ rabies vaccinations done in the correct timeline
At the time your pets are due to travel, their rabies vaccines must be:
- less than 12 months old
- more than 30 days old
- recorded in your pets’ vet cards/booklets
IMPORTANT: In order to be valid for travelling overseas, the rabies vaccination must have been given by a South African Vet Council (SAVC)-registered veterinarian (whose qualifications must reflect under their signature), and for the state vet to acknowledge/validate this. Vaccines administered by veterinary assistants, breeders or ANY pet rescue organisation will not be accepted for travel purposes.
Your pets’ other vaccinations (like the 5-in-1 for dogs and kennel cough vaccine) must also be more than 30 days old, but less than 12 months old. Proof must be provided in their vet books.
- Take note of the timeline for the Rabies Neutralising Antibody Titre Test (RNATT)
Similarly, the rabies titre test – in which the vet tests for proof that the rabies antibodies are in your pets’ blood – can only be done 30 days or more after the last rabies vaccination. Any differentiation from this timeline and state vet clearance will be denied. This may also mean that your pets may not be allowed to enter your destination country or they will need to be quarantined.
Only 90 days or more after blood for the rabies titre was drawn can the results be determined. The antibody count needs to be equal to or greater than 0.5 IU/ml. When this result is obtained, the vet will issue a health certificate. The state vet export office will need to see this original RNATT certificate.
- Complete all information for the health certificate
A provincial health certificate must be completed before you can apply for a veterinary health certificate at the state vet export office. This application will be done on an appointment basis.
- Familiarise your pets with the travel crate LONG before they need to use it
Your pets will need to travel in special pet transit crates. The airline you choose to transport your pet will have unique size and dimension specifications for pet crates, so confirm these with the airline and pet relocation agency in advance.
If your pets are not already comfortable in a crate, it’s highly beneficial to start familiarising them with a travel crate using positive reinforcement. Ensure they perceive the crate as a safe and positive place where they enjoy treats, comfy naps, their favourite toys and generally have an enjoyable experience. On the days of travelling, let this be the place they feel the least anxious. It will be very stressful for your pets to be cooped up in their crates for the very first time on the day of transit!
- Familiarise yourself with the pet carrier’s logistics
Find out from your pet relocation agency all the logistics required when your pets travel. Their health and safety are crucially important and, for your peace of mind, feel free to ask about every stage in your pets’ journey from South Africa to their destination – wherever in the world that may be.
- Invest in your pets’ health
Ask the vet to do a full health check-up in the months leading up to your pets’ travel date. It is important that they are as calm and healthy as possible. If any of your pets are a little overweight, have joint pain, sensitive tummies or are dealing with allergies, make sure these health issues are taken care of before they travel. Stress and anxiety can exacerbate existing health problems, but if your pet is as healthy as possible, it should make their travel experience a little less taxing.