When we moved to Japan in 2016, it was honestly pretty simple to get our pup here with us. Okay, it was 100% stressful to juggle all of the pup requirements while also organizing an OCONUS move with a toddler. But, on balance, pretty easy and not all that pricey in the grand scheme of things.
We could ship our dog as cargo using a DIY method, allowing him to join us a few weeks after we arrived in Okinawa. Now, that option doesn’t seem to be possible.
In the last three years, a good bit has changed when it comes to shipping cats and dogs between the US and overseas military duty stations. As we head into the heart of PCS season, it’s time for you to get the skinny on updated rules to moving with your furry family members.
New Rules for PCSing OCONUS with Pets
First things first, every single country has their own set of rules you’ll need to follow in order to bring your pet when you PCS. Yes, you must follow the host nation’s rules EVEN when executing military orders.
Most countries will require vaccinations and a period of quarantine. For example, Japan requires the rabies vaccine and a 180 day quarantine; there are several other vaccinations recommended for different animal species.
To check the specific import requirements, please consult the USDA website.
It’s also important to remember that the US also has rules for bringing back animals from other countries. You’ll need to follow specific rules for areas with screwtape or Foot and Mouth Disease.
Whether you’re leaving the US or coming back home, you’ll need to get an official health certificate from either a US military or USDA-certified veterinarian. Try to get the health certificate as close to your flight date as possible.
TL;DR: you’ll need to get a series of vaccines, probably keep your animal away from others and get a health certificate.
Actually Flying Your Pets
Okay, here’s the thing: getting your pet through the different hoops for import is just part one of your journey. Now, you’ve got to actually get your pet onto a flight or series of flights.
You’ve got some options:
- AMC Flight aka The Patriot
- Pet Shipper
- DIY Accompanied or Cargo
Every single option will have a cost associated with it, though the final bill will vary based on your preferred transit method and your pet’s breed and size.
AMC flights are generally the cheapest, but also the most difficult to book. Using a pet shipper will be generally the most expensive since they take care of everything. Accompanying your pet yourself on a commercial flight or shipping your pet as cargo are somewhere in the middle, cost wise.
There are a limited amount of spots on the AMC rotators and, honestly, they book up quickly. You can attempt to book a pet spot once you receive your orders and get the moving process moving. It’s first come, first served so be prepared to act fast!
On the Patriot, animals are defined as dogs and cats only. So if you have any other pets, you’ll need to rehome them, find a foster home or ship them another way.
Costs can vary between $125 and $375. While there are minimal breed restrictions, except those imposed by the host nation and/or base housing, you cannot transport animals over 150lbs (combined weight of kennel and animal).
DIY Accompanied Flights or Cargo Flights
You can move your pets yourself, without involving a pet shipper, in certain cases. Some airlines are still flying pets, in cabin or in the belly of the plane as accompanied baggage and cargo.
Generally, costs are lower than using a pet shipping service. There might be some exceptions to policy for military families traveling on PCS orders.
The three major US-based airlines are Delta, United and American. There might be other international airlines available to or from your specific destination.
Most commercial airlines have restrictions about transporting pets. Their rules might include:
- heat and cold restrictions
- snub nosed breeds
- species other than dogs and cats
- flight duration
- kennel size
- combined weight
Some airlines allow dogs that exceed the size and/or weight restrictions to be shipped as cargo instead of as accompanied baggage. There are different costs associated with the various kennel sizes and weights, as well as for cargo, accompanied baggage and in-cabin options.
If you’re flying commercial, you’ll need to contact your airline in order to book your pet’s travel arrangements. You will pay the travel costs directly to the airline. There might be some additional requirements for international travel.
Learn more about individual US-based carrier pet travel restrictions on AMC’s Pet Travel page.
Pet Shipping Services
This is how we’re getting our Schnauzer back to the US this PCS. Yes, it’s the most expensive but it’s also the most convenient for us. Using a pet shipper allows us to send our pup ahead of us. That will make the actual travel portion easier – or as easy as traveling with a five-year-old and a two-year-old can get.
To ship with a shipping company, you can use the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA) to find your options. There are several IPATA companies that specialize in transporting pets for military families.
The cost to transport your pet will depend on your location, your pet’s size and your final destination. Some shippers will offer either accompanied or unaccompanied travel options.
The benefit of working with a shipping company is that they literally walk you through the entire process, letting you know when to do each step. It also gives you a little bit of flexibility, allowing for advanced or delayed travel.
There’s been a lot of chatter in the military community about major changes to pet shipping, especially when it comes to moving overseas and particularly Asia.
Due to several unfortunate incidents over the last 18 months, most major US airlines have tightened restrictions for pet travel. Some changes include:
- firm flight duration maximum of 11-12 hours per leg
- firm breed restrictions for snub nosed dogs and so-called bully breeds
- firm limits on the kennel size and the total maximum combined weight of your pet and their kennel; varies by airline
- firm location-based heat restrictions between May 1 and September 30; varies by breed, location
- firm heat restrictions, limiting travel if the heat passes 85ºF at any transfer point on the flight plan; varies by breed and airline
- firm cold restrictions at any transfer point on the flight plan; varies by breed and airline
- requiring IPATA-registered shipper to be involved in part or all of international pet travel
These changes have definitely impacted how military members are moving with their pets this PCS season. Military members are seeing increased costs due to fewer options. In response, the military branches have been working to provide more flexibility with AMC pet spots and routing families onto commercial flights with their pets.
All the changes and logistics of moving to or from OCONUS locations with pets creates a lot of confusion. To help answer questions, military members can turn to social media and pet shipping companies. One great resource is Military Pets United, a military spouse-run Facebook group that helps provide answers, recommendations