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Step-by-step: How to Transport pets from China to Europe

We have now lived in Shanghai for almost 7 years. When you live in China, time really does fly. You don’t notice it, but all of a sudden another year has passed by. We’ve met amazing people from all over the world, adopted two beautiful dogs and feel like we have a lifetime worth of memories and experiences.

Moving from China has been at the back of our minds for a while. Last year we knew we couldn’t postpone it any longer. New opportunities had presented themselves and we had to start planning for our departure from China.

We quickly realized what a big project we were facing with our pups. Or, at least so we thought.

The relocation companies have done an amazing job of scaring people into thinking that you will not be able to relocate your fury babies without help from a relocation company – due to language barriers, paper works, flight bookings etc. When we started looking into the cost of their services, we were blown away. Prices racked up to the thousands, ranging from 2500-10,000USD! We decided we were going to figure it out ourselves.

I’ve decided to share this experience and create a step-by-step guide to assist anyone else that is intending on moving their pets from China to Europe.

And really, it isn’t that complicated!

  • 1 – Set Your Departure Date

Plan your trip early! When you are planning to move your pets from China to Europe, you have to start planning 3-4 months before your departure date so you have enough time to meet the requirements (more on this later).

Be sure to choose a time of the year when the weather is mild. Different airlines have different rules. For example, it is not recommended to travel during dates with extreme temperatures to avoid serious complications and stress for your pet. As a general rule, pets should only travel when the outside temperature ranges from 7 degrees Celsius / 45 degrees Fahrenheit to 29.5 degrees Celsius / 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

As the summer months can get incredibly hot in China, be aware of this and plan around it. As an example, our departure date from Shanghai was December 10th. On our day of departure, it was 11 degrees.

  • 2 – Choose An Airline

For us the most important factor in choosing an airline was that they could offer us a direct flight. We found out that SAS flies directly between Shanghai and Copenhagen. We wanted to avoid stressing out the dogs by avoiding transits.

All airlines are different; different ways of pricing pets onboard, strange rules, some have breed limitations, and some airlines don’t even offer pet travel.

When we decided on our airline, I called them up to make sure that they could accommodate us. I think you should do that anyways to double check how to actually book your pet’s flight through them. We also wanted to call up as we were traveling with two dogs, one of them in the largest crate on the market.

We had to book our own flights first and then call to reserve a spot for our dogs. If it turns out that your flight can’t fit your pet, they refund your money for you to pick another date (since your travel is contingent on your pet being able to fly with you). Do check with the airline you’ve chosen, as they all have different rules.

When you call your airline to add your pet to your ticket, it is important to provide correct dimensions of your crate as the airlines needs to make sure that they have the available space in the cargo.

SAS has a standard fee for pets of 120USD. You pay at the airport when you check in on the day of departure.

 

  • 2 – Choosing The Right Crate

Generally speaking, to fit your pet, the crate needs to have enough room for the pet to stand up, turn around, and lie down with legs stretched.

A = Length of animal from nose to root of tail

B = Height from ground to elbow

C = Width across shoulders

D = Height of animal in a natural standing position – from the floor to the top of the head or tip of ears, whichever is higher. Note: Your pet’s head or tip of ears, whichever is higher, are not allowed to touch the top the crate.

How to calculate crate size:

Length = A + ½ B

Width = C x 2

Height = D

The rules for crate dimensions are quite strict. Personally, I think it’s good. At least this ensures that our fury babies are as comfortable as possible onboard the plane.

Papers needed for the crate:

1) ‘LIVE ANIMAL’ stickers to go on three sides of the crate as well as on the top of the crate.

2) ‘Identification’. Type out important information for your pet (name, microchip number, your name, address in the country you’re going to, phone number and emergency contact). Add a current photo of your pet. Either laminate or put it in a ziplock bag and attach to the crate.

 

In-cabin travel
The rules for in-cabin travel are different. The weight limitations for a pet to be in-cabin varies from 5-10kg Again, it’s important to check with your airline! One of our dogs only weighs 10kg, however when you add the weight of the crate he was unable to join us in-cabin.

The kennel will need to be small enough to fit underneath the seat in front of you and so the size requirements will sometimes depend on the aircraft

  • 4 – Rabies Vaccination and Micro-chipping

**If your pet is already micro-chipped and up to date on the annual vaccinations, skip to #5.

If your pet needs to be vaccinated, you have to do that at least 30 days before your pet has its blood test done (#5). We have always gone to the Shenpu Vet at 565 Xujiahui Road in Shanghai, as they are the official government certified vet in the city. They provide a small blue booklet, which is internationally recognized and will prove the validity of your pet’s vaccinations. They will also implant a microchip that will be used by your destination country to identify and match your pet with the rabies records.


Shenpu charges around 520rmb for dogs and 480rmb for cats for their vaccinations and 300rmb for a microchip.

  • 5 – Blood Test (anti rabies titer test) 3 months before departure

When bringing your pet to Europe they MUST have an anti rabies blood test done. This is done to prove that your pet doesn’t have rabies and won’t be bringing it to Europe. Shenpu can do this for you and so can St Anthony Animal Hospital. At Shenpu they charge 2750rmb at Shenpu, and at St Anthony they charge 1500rmb. We used St Anthony as it’s a bit cheaper than Shenpu (plus, the vets there are amazing!).

What happens: Bring your pet, vaccination record, your flight information and passports to the vet. The vet draws the blood and sends it to a designated testing facility (St Anthony sends it to Germany), which then checks to make sure the rabies antibodies have reached the appropriate levels in your pet’s blood. The process takes 6-8 weeks to complete. The vet will contact you when they receive the test results from the testing facility. You can then pick up the results from the vet – no need to bring your pet!

NOTE: Most destination countries require that the pets cannot leave China for 3 months from the date the blood was first drawn. This is important to bear in mind when you book your flights.

As an example: Our dogs had blood drawn for the test on the 6th of September, and would therefore only be allowed to leave China on the 6th of December. We booked our flight out of China on the 10th of December to give ourselves a bit of leeway.

The rules and requirements for every country are different – even within the EU, so do make sure to double check yourself. The specific requirements can usually be found on your destination country’s government website. When you get the test result, it’s recommended to contact customs at your arrival airport to inform them when you’re arriving with your pet.

  • 6 – Health Exam 7 days before departure

You need to go back to Shenpu one more time exactly 7 days before your departure for your pet’s final health exam. It’s open 24/7 so the hour you go isn’t important, just make sure you get in that day. In reality, it’s a very simple health exam; the vet weighs your pet, takes another blood test and fills in documents for the final export certificate.

What you need to bring: your passport, flight ticket, your pet’s vaccine record and their anti-rabies results.

You then pay for the certificate as well as flea medicine and heartworm medication, which you give to your pet the day before travel. We paid 1780rmb for our two dogs. You must keep the receipt for pickup at the Customs Building.

Two days before departure, you go to the Customs Building to pick up the Health Certificate, which says that your pet is fit for departure.

The Customs Building is located at the Bund at 13 ZhongShan Dong Yi Lu.

  • 7 – Prepare For The Flight

I know some people recommend giving the pet sedatives for the flight. However, many vets strongly advise against that. Instead, try to get your pet as comfortable with their new crate before travel. As soon as we received our crates, we introduced them to our dogs. At first, they were curious. We left them open for them to explore whenever they wanted to.

3 ways to get your pet comfortable being inside its new crate

1) Serve their food inside the crate

It’s important to let your pet know that the crate isn’t punishment. And what better way to do than with food?! Start out by feeding them inside the crate with the door open. After a few days, close to door while they are eating. Every day you can leave them in there with the door closed for a little longer. We also used praise a lot while they were in there.

2) Chewing bones

Give your pet a chewing bone inside the crate and close the door while they are eating it.

3) If possible, sit inside the crate with your pet

Our husky’s crate was so big, that we could take turns sitting inside the crate with him. I would spend a good 15-30 minute in there with him in the morning while drinking my coffee and reading the news. He quickly became very comfortable resting and sleeping inside the crate.

  • 8 – Book a Car

Book your car in advance and be very clear about the dimensions of your pet’s crate. We used Mr A (wechat: tangcj-). His English is great and he was attentive to the dogs. He even sent us photos of the car after they had taken out the necessary seats to make space for the crate. He charges 300rmb to drive to the airport.  

  • 9 – Departure Day

Before heading to the airport, make sure you have enough time to take you pet for a nice long walk. That way you have a better chance of avoiding ‘accidents’ while they are inside the crate for many hours and it also hopefully ensures that your pet gets to sleep during the flight.

If you are taking your pet with you in-cabin, you’ll also have to take it through security. It’s pretty standard procedure. Take your pet out of your carrier and run the carrier through the x-ray.

If your pet is traveling in cargo, arrive at the airport 3 hours before departure. Due to the size of our big crate, we had to assemble it at the airport, which took longer than expected.

When that is done, attach the food and water bowl to the crate door (to avoid water spilling all over the crate, freeze it in the bowl the day before travel), put your pet inside the crate and go to your check in counter.

Here they will add their own tags with information and luggage tags. Here you pay for the pet’s ticket. SAS charged us a flat fee of 120usd. I know some airlines charge by weight.

We brought our own cable ties to “lock” the crate door. However, standard procedure at Pudung airport is to strap cable ties all the way around the crate. A bit reassuring – at least the dogs won’t be able to escape and bring harm to themselves during the whole trip.

Then, the pet goes to the oversized luggage area to go through the x-ray.

And finally, all the preparation and stress leading up to the big day of travel is over. From now until you land, there’s nothing more you can do. In the event that your flight is delayed, the pet will wait in a holding area inside the airport.

When we arrived in Denmark, we picked up our dogs at the oversized luggage area. Calling them ecstatic was an understatement. Everyone at the airport that evening knew that our dogs had arrived. We had been informed to exit through the red area ‘Goods to declare’, for the customs to check the dogs’ papers.

charlotte

8 comments

  • Hi ChARLOTTE, BEN @ RAVABE HERE.

    JUST TO SAY THE TRICK OF MAKING THE DOGS FAMILIAR WITH THE TRAVEL CRATE SEEMS TO WORK WITH CATS TOO. WE INTRODUCED LIBBY THE CAT TO HER TRAVELING CRATE A MONTH OR SO AGO AND SHE NOW VIEWS IT AS (YET ANOTHER!) BED AND NOT THE DREADED CRATE THAT TAKES HER TO THE VETS. AS WE’RE NOT LEAVING SHANGHAI UNTIL THE END OF MARCH HOPEFULLY THIS WILL CONTINUE AND GREATLY REDUCE HER STRESS LEVELS (AND SO OURS).

    WE’VE BEEN RECOMMENDED TO WRITE LIBBY’S NAME ON THE CRATE ITSELF, OR TO PUT SOME TAPE ON THE CRATE AND WRITE ON THIS. DO THIS A COUPLE OF TIMES AND THERE’S NO CHANCE OF IT FALLING OFF! ALSO YOU COULD TELL THE PERSON READING THE CRATE TO PLEASE SAY HELLO TO THE DOG / CAT.

    OUR EXPERIENCE (SO FAR) OF SHENPU IS THAT THEY HAVE BEEN GREAT AND VERY EFFICIENT.

    THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR EXPERIENCE (AND SAY HI TO JW).

    • Hi Ben,

      Thank you for your kind words!

      I’m glad to hear that Libby is taking a liking to her crate! Troika, our husky, also quickly started viewing it as one of his beds. It really does help starting early. Our little dog is quite temperamental, but slowly came around to it.

      I’m sure Libby will be ready (or as ready as they can be that is) by the end of march:)

      Keep us updated! I can’t wait to hear how your move goes!

  • Thanks so much for writing about the experience and all the steps. So useful and reassuring as I may have to do this in the next year. By any chance could you confirm that Mr. A’s wechat is correct? I tried to find it but the search showed no results. Hope the dogs are loving the danish streets, parks and new home!

    • Hi there Nik,

      I’m really glad to hear that you found it both helpful and reassuring! I know how stressful the process is for both owner and pet.

      Mr. A’s WeChat ID shows up like this; tangcj-

      Please let me know if it doesn’t work – I can always share his contact directly with you on WeChat:)

  • Thank you so much Charlotte for sharing your experience with us, we found it both useful and REASSURING as we are going to move our furbabies back home early next year. Our dogs are big golden retrievers(males) so we’re going to need big crates for them. Where did you find the crate for Troika? We have been looking for them on Taobao, but we are not confident about the quality and safety standards. Do you think it is ok to order the crates online? Thank you so much in advance we appreciated!!!

    Best regards,

    Luc.

  • HI Luc,

    It makes me so happy to hear that it’s helpful to others! We didn’t think our husky was that big, however, it turned out he needed the largest crate (#700). It’s massive! At first I went to PetZOO, but the prices there are crazy – ranging from 3700-4200rmb! I was initially only looking for the brand PetMate, however, another friend of mine bought her crate on taobao and transported her pet back to Europe.

    We bought ours on taobao and it meets all the requirements and is significantly cheaper at 1980rmb. Try to search this (创逸狗狗航空箱宠物航空箱狗大号托运箱猫航空笼飞机笼宠泰迪金毛).

    Some airlines require that you change out the bolts. When you purchase the crate it comes with plastic bolts. If it’s necessary to use metal bolts instead, the airlines usually that information on their website. these can also be purchased on taobao.

    Please let me know if I can be of any other help!
    Good luck!

  • I’m reading this and it made me a little sad as i was moving from China to Australia and had to leave my cat. not even pet moving companies (i checked few of them) asked over 8.000 $ for the move, turned out Australia Does not accept chinese vet stamps so my cat would have to stay 6 months in pet hotel (a.k.a cage) in Hong Kong…This broke my heart. I have found her home but later found out that the girl gave the cat away to her mom’s farm. I know my cat was indoor, very fearful and untrustful, i don’t even want to think how is she coping there.
    It all makes me feel so sad. I’m hoping one day we could be reunited either in Au it when i come back to Europe. .

  • Hi Misty,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your cat! I’m very familiar with this as well, as my husband is from Australia. We wouldn’t have been able to move directly to Australia with our dogs. It sounds like you did everything you could though – you found a new home for her! Some people just open their front door and let their pets out when they move country. Trust that she’s doing well on the farm – at least your cat is away from all the city noise:)

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