The bringing out or travelling with your pet cats or dog across international borders can be an extremely stressful experience. If you’ve had to uprooting yourself and move to another country you know that there are a thousand things one has to think about. And of these thousand or so things to think about, thinking of how to safely and successfully bring along your pet cat or dog with you can easily be the most difficult part of the entire experience. That fact that you are bringing your pet out of China presents a language and cultural barrier that makes things a whole lot more difficult. Having a snub-nosed cat or dog breed can bring things up a whole new level of difficulty.
I’ve been there twice. On both times, I had to bring along two dogs and take two flights since there was no direct flight.
In April 2012, my wife and I travelled with my two dogs, Summer, a Lhasa Apso (a snub-nosed breed), and Poochie a Yorkie-Japanese Spitz mix, from the Philippines into China. And in July 2018 I had Summer transported from China by a pet transport company and I brought Lily, a Miniature Schnauzer my wife adopted, along with me on my flight back from China to the Philippines.
I’ll cut my experience of bringing my pets out of China into two articles. Why? This is because during pet transport you will have to worry about two sets of requirements. The first set of requirements you have to check are the requirements you need to export your pet from the country of origin. The second set of requirements you have to check are the requirements you need to import your pet into of your destination country. Hence, this first article will deal with the exporting my two pet dogs out of China. The second article deals with importing your pet into the Philippines.
Ready for it? Let’s go.
Exporting Your Pet Dog or Cat Out of China
This article will deal with exporting your pet out of China. As I mentioned earlier, I brought out two dogs. Lily and Summer. The processes I did for both were quite different because Summer in a snub-nosed dog. A lot of airlines don’t allow snub-nosed dogs to be carried as checked-in luggage or cargo. In fact, I was not able to find any airline going to the Philippines that allowed snub-nosed breeds.
Even though I experienced importing pets into China, I did this back in 2012. Some rules may have changed since then and I may have forgotten some key details, since I wasn’t able to document the process. In fact, when I entered in China in 2012 the customs officer in Guangzhou seized my original veterinary health certificates, even though I think he wasn’t suppose to do that. Anyway…
Arranging Your Flight
The first thing you have to do is to set your departure date. This sounds obvious but actually the departure date is an important consideration since some documentation and preparations can only be done at certain time period before your departure from China. The health certificate from the local quarantine office can only be applied fourteen days weeks before departure. And remember that you can’t walk into the quarantine office empty-handed. You’ll need to make sure that your pet cat or dog’s vaccinations are up-to-date, but not less than 30 days ago, microchipped at your local veterinarian. Some countries (the US not included) will need a blood test, and this sometimes has to be done a month after a rabies vaccine.Another complication to take note of is that some cities in China, especially the bigger ones like Beijing, may require pet registration. And this has to be done even before the entire processes, if it hasn’t been done yet. All of this has to be plotted on a time line.
Check your airline’s policy on pet cats and dogs
Check your airline’s policies on pet travel. It’s different for each airline. Take special notice on their restrictions on breeds. Many airlines will not allow you to check-in or travel certain breeds, particularly breeds that are snub-nosed and or breeds that are perceived as dangerous, such as pit bulldogs.
Call your airline to reserve a spot for your pet!
Most airlines only have a maximum number of pets per flight. For example in the China Southern fight I took, only two pets are allowed per flight. In fact, since I came from a city in the interior of China and had to take a connecting flight at Guangzhou, I couldn’t book the tickets in one purchase, meaning my domestic flight and my flight from Guangzhou are counted as separate purchases (if my domestic flight is delayed as sometimes happens in China and I miss my international flight, I’ll have to buy new tickets).
Choose a flight during the night or cool weather
The greatest threat to transporting your pet cat or dog is it dying from heatstroke. It’s easy for us to underestimate the heat our pet will suffer while stashed away at the airport or while their pet carrier is out in the sun or while in the plane’s cargo hold.
By the way, if traveling in hot weather or during summer, please shave your pet. I feel pity for pets with thick coats obviously suffering in the heat, with their owners oblivious to the discomfort their pets are feeling.
Get an Airline Approved Pet Carrier for Export
Be sure you have a closed “airline approved pet carrier”. This may sound daunting, but these are actually quite easy to find. I’m sure you’ve seen these kinds of carriers before, they’re just like the ones in the sample carrier I have right below.
There are lots of fancy-looking carrier. However, here in China I would go for the simpler looking pet carriers. Some people have observed that Chinese employees tend to be what I’d call “conservative in decision making”. Hence, it’s best not have something too fancy which will attract attention or raise questions. The one we used for Lily is available for less than RMB100 on Taobao.
Side story: I remember when one of my friends called China Southern Airlines to reserve a slot for Lily the staff on the other end asked for the dimensions of the dog cage among other detail. He insisted that our pet carrier was “too large”. This was quite ludicrous though since Lily is a Miniature Schnauzer and her cage was quite small already, her being a small breed and certainly I’ve seen much larger dogs than Lily travel by air. To pacify the China Southern Airlines staff my friend just gave her a different set of dimensions after several emails and calls trying to clarify the issue. But just in case we brought a smaller pet carrier to the airport in case someone from the airline did request for one. Lily’s original cage was accepted of course and we ended up leaving the smaller pet carrier behind in China. It just cost us RMB80 on Taobao, anyway.
Bring Your Pet to the Veterinarian for its Vaccinations, Microchip and Blood Test, if needed
You will need to get your pet microchipped, vaccinated and possibly blood tested. Consult with your veterinarian, preferably one with experience dealing with the international transport of pets. Afterwards, your veterinarian might even issue an official-looking health certificate document with his seal. That is not yet it. You have to go to a government office to get an Animal Health Certificate or 动物卫生证书. There process might differ slightly per province or region, but the general process will be the same.
You will need to ensure that your pet cat or dog’s vaccination shots are updated, particularly for rabies. By updated, this will mean one year to thirty days before. I’d try to schedule the vaccinations a bit closer to the 30 day mark to minimize the chances of questions being raised by hyper-alert quarantine officials.
The veterinarian will typically administer both the anti-rabies vaccine and a 5 in 1 vaccination for other nasty viruses like canine distemper, parvovirus and leptospirosis.
Deworming will also be usually administered at the same time. It’s my understanding that this is also required by Chinese regulations.
In this procedure a RFID-enabled microchip a little smaller than a grain of rice is implanted under the skin of your pet somewhere at the scruff of your neck. It may hurt your pet cat or dog a bit at the time the microchip is inserted, but it normally shouldn’t bother your pet afterwards. The microchip may not be necessary for all countries, but it seems China now requires it for all pets going out.
The microchip will be linked to a 15 digit number which will be registered internationally. Your veterinarian will also usually test if the microchip is active with a scanning machine right after the procedure.
Blood-testing is typically by countries declared rabies-free, such as Singapore, Australia and Japan. It is usually done a month after the rabies vaccine is administered.
It is important to check if blood testing of your pet is required in your country. Not all countries will require this. If blood testing is is not necessary at your country, there is no need to get your pet blood tested. This is going to save you some time and expense and drastically simplify your timeline.
Get an Animal Health Certificate at the Local Quarantine Office
Once your veterinarian has done administering the required vaccinations, inserting the microchip and possible the blood test, it’s time to go to the local quarantine office to get the Animal Health Certificate or 动物卫生证书 at the local quarantine office, officially know as the Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine of the People’s Republic of China or 中华人民共和国出入境检验检疫 (it sounds a lot better in Chinese). In the city where I came from (Chongqing) I paid RMB200 per dog. The certificate was released two days after. I had the impression that it could have been released on the same day, but they official in charge of issuing the certificate was not at work on that day.
Beware that there is a local permit and there is an international permit. Pictured below is the example of the local travel permit. Especially if you are coming from a city in the interior of China, and you are flying to your connecting flight to a major Chinese cities to your destination country, the people who are checking-in your pet may not be familiar with how the international health certification looks like.
In my flight from Chongqing to Guangzhou, the person at the counter in charge of checking-in live animal only knew how the local quarantine certificate (动物检疫合格证明） looked like and initially rejected our animal health certificate. It was only accepted after my colleagues and I asked her very nicely to consult with management.
Bringing Your Pet with You on Flight Day
In hot weather, the enemy here your pet cat or dog dying from heatstroke.
While there are airlines which will allow allow you to bring your pet with you in the cabin, what I’ve experienced so far is riding on airlines which only allow your pet to be placed in the checked-in luggage. This cargo hold area will be pressurized and oxygenated. I do suspect though that perhaps it is during the waiting times in this cargo hold before the captain turns on the air conditioning where some pets do die from heat stroke.
Expert tip: I learned a neat trick to help your pet survive traveling in the summer heat. Fill a small plastic bottle with water the night before and freeze it solid. On flight day, put the bottle in the cage with your pet cat or dog. Due to work-related reasons, I had to fly out Lily from Chongqing on July 31, in the peak of Chongqing’s infamously hot summers. My dog survived.
You will also be asked if your pet was fed and given water. You are suppose to have fed and given your pet water before the trip.
There also should be water from one of those hanging pet water bottles. It may be necessary to train your pet to drink from one of these bottles. This can be usually done by smearing peanut butter on the spot your pet cat or dog is suppose to lick. It won’t always work, so it can be a good idea to also have an attachable pan attached to the door of the pet carrier.
Hiring a Pet Transport Company
Nothing beats the peace of mind of actually traveling with your pet by your side, or at least checking-in. But there are some cases where you will be forced by circumstances to have your pet send to your destination country. In my case, it was because my dog, Summer, is a Lhasa Apso. Lhasa Apsos are snub-nosed breeds, which many airlines will not accept due to the risk of overheating. Certainly no airline from Guangzhou to Manila or Xiamen would accept snub-nosed breeds on their flights, as per my extensive research.
Dog and Cat Breeds Commonly banned by airlines
A good place to start is to check of your pet cat or dog breed is among the breeds commonly banned on airlines. This first list is a list of dog breeds recognized as snub-nosed or flat-faced, or as technically known, brachycephalic. The problem with these brachycephalic dogs is that they are more prone to overheating. So have a gander at this list:
Brachycephalic or snub-nosed dogs breeds:
These dog breeds are brachycephalic, in other words snub-nosed or flat-faced. Some mixes of these breeds might also be considered brachycephalic by the airline.
• Boston Terrier
• Boxer (All breeds)
• Brussels Griffon
• Bulldog (All breeds)
• Cane Corso
• Chow Chow
• Dogue De Bordeaux
• English Toy Spaniel
• Japanese Spaniel (Chin)
• Lhasa Apso
• Mastiff (All breeds)
• Pit Bull
• Presa Canario
• Pug (All breeds)
• Staffordshire Bull Terrier
• Shar Pei
• Shih Tzu
• Tibetan Spaniel
There cat breeds are also brachycephalic, or snub-nosed/flat-faced are face restrictions by many airlines:
• British Shorthair
• Scottish Fold
Dog breeds perceived to be dangerous
There are some other dog breeds which are banned because they are perceived as dangerous. Check out this list below.
• Caucasian Ovcharka
• Dogo Argentino
• Fila Brazileiros
• Japanese Tosa
• Mastino Napoletano
Of course, I believe how a pet dog is raised has a lot more to do with it being dangerous or not than its breed, but I’m not the person making the rules. Rottweilers are on the list, but my toddler daughter has made my Rottweiler a punching bag, ear pulling dummy and riding horse too many times for me to believe Rottweilers are inherently dangerous.
Other restrictions of pet cats and dogs
Some airlines will have additional restrictions. Please be sure to check. Puppies and kittens under 12 weeks old are normally not allowed to be transported. If you do have a puppy or kitten under 12 weeks old, please don’t subject them to the stresses of an international flight. Other airlines will not accept pet cats or dogs that have been sedated.
If you aren’t sure, especially for pets which are mixed breeds, be sure your pet cat or dog cleared in advanced. Airlines will usually ask that a clear picture of your pet is sent to them in advance.
Finding the right pet transport company
So, let’s say you’ve discovered that for one reason or another there is no way to bring your pet cat or dog along with you. The usual culprit is that it’s because your cat or dog is brachycephalic and you can’t find an airline that will accommodate onboard. That’s absolutely awful. So here’s the plan… find the right pet transport company.
There are several of these pet transport companies which will be glad to help you out. You will want to start by getting quotations. From Chongqing to Manila the quotations I got ranged from RMB14,000-15,000. I found another which would bring my dog from RMB8,000 if we fix the paperwork ourselves, and RMB9,000 if they arrange the paperwork.
Before they start the process and book a flight, they may ask for a downpayment. The pet transport company I used asked for 4 or 5 thousand RMB as downpayment. Then, ask for the rest before they pick up the dog.
Of course, they’ll probably state they won’t be responsible for your losses in case your pet arrives as on the other end dead, as they did with me. But I guess that can be expected as with any company.
While you can be at first quite skeptical, you might be pleasantly surprised. Handing off my pet to the guy who picked up Summer downstairs from my apartment made me nervous. But my nervousness was largely dissipated as they pet transport company regularly updated me. They scheduled the flights so that my pet dog Summer would only fly early in the morning, then in the evening to avoid be transported during the hottest part of the day (remember this was at the end of July, when most Chinese cities are sweltering). They would even showed me videos of them taking out Summer in an air-conditioned room in between flights to rest and giving it water. They also sent me a video of them walking Summer.
Of course, Summer arrived in Manila happy and safe two days after he was picked up. A different article I’ll write at a future time will cover the processes needed at the Philippines.
Trying to arrange your pet cat or dog shipped by a cargo company yourself
Of course, you can try arrange shipping your pet as specialized cargo all by yourself. I tried. My native Chinese-speaking colleague and my non-native Chinese-speaking self tried calling the Air China Cargo on multiple occasions over a two week period. They were suppose to be able to handle the shipment of any animal, including pandas, elephants, lions or whatever animal you have to ship. They were, to state it frankly and entirely factually, entirely unhelpful. Everyone who answered any of the numbers on their website flatly refused to assist us with our inquiries. But, I’ll chalk that up to miscommunication.
If any of you are successful shipping your pet as cargo aboard Air China, give me a shout out.
So that’s it… I hope this article was helpful. Bringing out your pet cat or dog out of China sounds like a challenge, but if there’s a will there’s a way. I cannot underestimate the importance of planning and laying things out on a timeline. I can totally understand how stressful it is. Our pets are family members to us, and we’d never leave a family member. Good luck.