By Lizann Lightfoot

You don’t have to leave your pets behind on overseas orders. The military does not pay to transport pets, but there are several options to ship pets to your new duty station. If you have a dog or a cat, follow these guidelines to bring them safely to your next home.

What pets can be shipped overseas?

Plan ahead with pets before PCS
(Photo: DVIDS)

Not all animals are able to make an international flight overseas. Most airlines allow warm-blooded animals only. Animals cannot be too elderly, weak, or sick. Birds can be shipped in cages in the cargo hold. Dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old and healthy enough to be cleared by a veterinarian for a long flight. Dogs should be crate and leash trained to make the trip comfortable for them. Many airlines prohibit pug or snub-nosed breeds and some countries restrict “dangerous breeds” like Pit Bulls or Rottweilers. Some commercial airlines have a 100-pound weight restriction per pet. Military flights to Europe (Patriot Express) allow pets in kennels up to 150 pounds.

If you plan to live in base housing, most bases restrict families to two pets. If you want to live off-base, research local laws and see if you can find pet-friendly housing before you move.

What are the transportation options?

Single Marine Program visits the local Humane Society
(Photo: DVIDS, Pfc. James Marchetti)

The method you use to bring your pet overseas may depend on where you are going, the pet’s size, or the time of year. Rules vary between different airlines. A small dog or a cat can be put in a miniature crate and brought into the plane cabin with you, as long as it will fit under your seat. (You will need permission from the airline in advance.)

Larger animals must be shipped in a sturdy crate and stored in the cargo area of a plane. On military flights, cargo space is limited to only 10 pets and must be reserved on a first-come-first-served basis. On commercial flights, cargo holds can only be used on larger planes during seasons of mild temperatures. If you are not able to secure your pet a space on your own flight, you can have them transported by a third-party company like Pet Air Carrier or Happy Tails Travel. Sometimes, there is an option to ship pets by boat using companies like uShip.

What’s the cost of transporting a pet?

Veterinary Treatment Facility keeps Fido and Fluffy feeling pawtastic
(Photo: Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall PAO, Rachel Larue)

The military does not compensate you for moving a pet so be sure to save up in advance. If you are lucky enough to secure a cargo spot on a military flight, then you will pay for the kennel as an additional one to three pieces of luggage (depending on the weight of the crate), up to 150 pounds total. On commercial flights, costs are based on the animal’s weight and kennel size. Prepare to spend around $1,000- $1,500 for a large breed. Remember that you will need to pay again when returning to the States.

When and where can pets fly?

A "clear" mission
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Photo, Tech. Sgt. David Salanitri)

Most airlines will only transport pets in cargo hold during specific times of the year. Cargo holds are not climate-controlled. In summer, temperatures are too hot to transport animals. In winter, temperatures below 45 degrees are illegal for transport. Depending on your PCS dates, you may need to transport your pet during a different time of year. Additionally, pets are not allowed on direct flights lasting longer than 12 hours. If the trip is broken up into shorter legs, you may be allowed to feed, water, and walk your pet during the layover.

Typically, pets fly in cargo holds of a huge plane–a 737 or larger. These planes can only land at major, international airports. You cannot transport a pet to or from a smaller airport. When making your travel arrangements, confirm all of your plans directly with the airline. You may need to drive further to fly out of a major city. Once you arrive overseas, you may need to make a special trip to the capital city to pick up your pet. For example, in Hawaii, pets arrive in Honolulu, but the military base is on another island. Transporting your pets from the airport to your house is your own responsibility.

What paperwork needs to be completed?

Preventing a 'ruff' PCS: Leaving Hawaii for next duty station with a pet
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps, Kristen Wong/Released)

All pets must have a medical clearance from a veterinarian before they are allowed to fly. They must be up-to-date on shots and  rabies vaccines and have a health certificate signed by a vet within 10 days of the travel date. The health certificate must still be valid when the animal arrives in-country. Ideally, it should be signed by a military vet. If it is signed by a civilian vet, you may need to make an appointment with APHIS (Animal/Plant Health Inspection Service) for an additional signature.

Some countries require dogs to have a microchip implanted to prevent dogs from being abandoned or stolen. Once you arrive in-country, you will have about two weeks to register pets with the military base veterinarian. This will ensure that you have paid registration fees and are following local licensing laws.

What about quarantine?

Single Marine Program volunteers visit local Humane Society
(Photo: DVIDS)

Some countries require imported animals to go through a period of quarantine at the airport before the owner is allowed to take them into the country. Quarantine prevents animals from infecting the local population or bringing new diseases into a country. Hawaii has one of the longest quarantine times– 120 days! Other countries have no quarantine period. Research before you travel and make arrangements to leave your pet or pick them up at the appropriate time.