A mermaid is nothing without her cat! There were many different reactions when I told people that I was going to fly internationally with my cat, Moshie. Most of these remarks included some form of, “You are insane,”
Looking back, and as with most things in my life, I probably was a little crazy.
Quick back story–I was moving to Budapest, Hungary from Denver, Colorado for medical school. I am a naturally nomadic and adventurous soul. My plan was that moving to Budapest would calm my wanderlust and having a cat would ground me like a tree so that I could get down to business.
(Spoiler alert: my plan absolutely did not work…and you can read my full story)
Nevertheless, the entire experience was 1000% more bearable with my little best friend. However, getting him there was a completely different story. So, if you are planning on traveling with a little furry friend…please read this and please learn from my many mistakes.
This is going to be a bit of a long one! So I apologize in advance, but there is a lot of information to cover!
This isn’t my normal bucket list content…but so many people would love to travel with their cats and other pets, so I think it deserves to be talked about! Plus, after everything I have gone through, I would consider myself somewhat of an expert 🙂
Quick Note: because I get this question a lot, I talk about Moshie so much during this post, and people seem to be obsessed with him (for good reason)…he is a flame point Siberian Forest Cat! I moved across the ocean with him when he was only 5 months old!
So without further adieu…I present my brutally honest list of things I learned while traveling long haul with my cat and weird things that happened in the process start to finish!
Moving to Another Country? Read More: What To Expect From Moving Abroad
Find out the pet regulations for the country you are leaving and the country where you are going
As you can imagine, being able to fly internationally with a cat has a ton of regulations!
As I mentioned previously, I was traveling from Denver to Budapest and then eventually traveled back.
This didn’t seem like a lot of information, but there is something about it that, to me, felt very overwhelming. So I had to take a lot of detailed notes and liaison with the vet.
If I had to do it all over again, I would do it step by step and involve the vet from day one.
The general process for bringing pets into the EU from the US
Huge disclaimer: This is NOT advice for exactly what is required. This information may change at any moment and you should refer to the appropriate authority for specific instructions. Always talk to your vet and local authorities.
The only point of this is to break what I went through up into simple chunks to make it a bit more readable and less overwhelming.
Here is what was required of Moshie to leave the US and head to Hungary (EU):
1. He had to get an ISO-compliant microchip.
He was young so I automatically told the vet to do this. But if you have a non-ISO compliant, they told me I could have my own scanner. I wouldn’t risk it, but sometimes you don’t have a choice.
2. He had to be at least 16 weeks old.
3. He had to get his rabies vaccinations.
This had to be placed after the microchip and make sure they got the vaccine after scanning the microchip.
It couldn’t have been more than one year old.
Again, he was young and got his primary vaccine right before I left. But if your pet is old then you can get a booster that is valid for 1-3 years.
I traveled with the rabies certificate that also had his microchip number recorded.
Then we waited 21 days after his vaccination to travel.
4. APHIS issued an EU Health Certificate
Can you hear me crying in frustration? Yep. Good. Let’s continue.
I got a non-commercial health certificate because I was not traveling with more than 5 pets (thank God) and not using little Moshie for any money-related activities.
I took Moshie to the vet and he had to get a ton of health tests done.
The vet then signed the document and submitted it to APHIS to be endorsed.
The USDA has to endorse the health certificate within 10 days of arrival into the EU.
As soon as I received this document, I signed the declaration before traveling to the EU.
Now all of this seems pretty cut and dry, right? I thought so too, but as I said you could probably hear me crying in frustration….because these things are never that simple.
Go to the vet early and communicate
With that being said, go to the vet as early as you can. This is because sometimes this process is subjected to Murphy’s Law: everything that can go wrong will go wrong.
First, it took a while to get on the same page with the vet. Then, it took a while for them to run the tests.
After that, we had to wait between rabies vaccines and comply with the 21-day waiting period before we could travel. The USDA endorsement was then radio silent. Naturally, I started panicking and calling the USDA with no answer.
They got it to me late two days before my massive move. I was a ball of human stress at this point anyway and this did nothing for my nerves.
Needless to say…it wasn’t exactly a peaceful experience and takes time. That is why I would plan on going to your vet 3 months in advance (maybe 1 if you are efficient).
Print out everything and stay organized
I went with the “more is more” mentality and if I could print out a document, I did. You need to be very organized if you want to fly internationally with a cat!
I made sure that every document clearly stated microchip numbers, rabies vaccines, and the vet’s signature.
If I could do it all over again, I would have probably cut this down a little bit and made a “master checklist” and had it in order so that customs went smoothly.
If you don’t have anything else…make sure that you at least have:
- Rabies Certificate
- Microchip Certificate
- Vet Health Check
- USDA Endorsed Heath Certificate
- Any flight requirements
- This depends on the airline. For example, Lufthansa required me to sign a form and get it approved at check-in. I carried it with me the entire time.
- Anything else that the countries (entering and exiting) require.
Be prepared to pay for weird things that you don’t expect
Soooo flying internationally with a cat (or any pet) isn’t exactly the cheapest thing on this Earth.
First off, the vet charged me for all of the tests done as well as for the vet’s time that they took checking on all of the requirements and submitting the documentation to APHIS.
Then I had to pay for the expedited priority shipping to get the health certificate back within 10 days of leaving.
Another thing to consider regarding cost is the flight.
Cost to Fly Internationally with a cat
I chose to go with United and Lufthansa because of the prices.
It would be safe to budget $250 (or more) each way to fly your pet internationally.
I paid $125 for United and less for Lufstansa once I got to the EU. This will depend on the airline that you choose but make sure they are pet-friendly and allow pets.
I have also heard great things about flying American Airlines with pets, but they, unfortunately, didn’t partner to fly us into Budapest.
Call and confirm. Then call and confirm again. Then again
When you do purchase a ticket to fly internationally with a cat, do so before 48 hours and as soon as possible because most airlines have a limit for how many animals can be on a plane.
Once you pay, keep your receipts organized.
It could have been clearer for me because I could pay for his ticket from the US to Germany, but had to pay for his ticket at the gate for any flight within the EU.
This made check-in a nightmare as nobody had any records and I was flying with multiple airlines.
Also, when coming back, I had bought his ticket and had a record of it but they just didn’t record that he was going on that specific flight. This caused a lot of panic and issues when I was checking in.
Therefore, I would recommend that you call both airlines ahead of time to confirm that you have paid (or will pay at the check-in counter) and that he has his own separate reservation.
Talk to the vet about options for calming
When you fly internationally with a cat, your vet may suggest or prescribe calming medication. For example, my vet gave me Gabapentin for little Mosh.
Although calming medication seems like a good idea for your pet during a flight…I would test this on your animal beforehand.
I stress this because sometimes he seemed to actually get worked up and aggitated on the medication.
There can be risks with using this type of medication on animals while flying. I would make sure that you have very clear communication with your vet and make the best decision that is right for your pet.
One of the things I did WELL was that I tested so many carriers before I left.
Test a few pet carriers before you go
Here is what I was looking for in a cat carrier and eventually found:
is the correct dimensions for both airlines
In order to fly internationally with a cat, the carrier needs to be the correct dimensions. This was the hardest criteria, but I flew with no issues with the size of the carrier, and that make it worth it!
Although I personally did not get my cat carrier measured, they are very strict on the measurements and can turn you away if the carrier doesn’t fit their specifications.
Has an expandable part
The dimensions for under the seat are dismal at best when you fly internationally with a cat. Therefore, whenever I could I would try to give Moshie his space.
Most airports and airlines don’t like you taking them out of the carrier, so I had to improvise a bit.
I found that there are a lot of options for carriers that are the correct sizes but then expand to give them more room.
This is important if you have a layover, because then you can expand and they can stretch their poor legs for a little bit.
is a backpack
Moshie is a Siberian Forest Cat. And although he is young, he is still heavy!
I made sure to get a backpack with a hip and chest strap for extra support during those long travel days.
Gives your pet enough room to turn around comfortably and lay down
I believe this was also a rule for the carrier on both of the airlines that I flew–and there is a good reason.
My flight to Germany was 10.5 hours! It is bound to get a little squishy and you want your furry friend to be as comfortable as possible. It isn’t easy to fly internationally with a cat!
I ended up deciding between 2:
This one doesn’t expand but it is massive and flexible. Plus, I love everything that Travel Cat makes.
This was the one that I ended up taking to Europe and had no complaints.
He was a little cramped in there when he was on my back but I just put his harness on and opened the window.
How to get a cat used to its carrier
In order to fly internationally with a cat, you don’t only need a carrier, but you need to make sure that your pet is comfortable! Once I got my preferred cat carrier, I started from the very beginning!
I would put his favorite toys and comfort blanket in there. I then introduced treats and food in the carrier.
As much as I could, I tried to associate everything positive with the carrier.
Pretty soon, he would just go in there to sleep on his own. We even tested the limits and took him camping! He slept the entire way in his carrier without a peep.
I really took my time and let him know that was his safe space and inspired him to sleep. The vet said that this was very important because you want your cat to associate the carrier with safety, winding down, and relaxing.
I do wish I would have trained him for longer hours than I did. Although 4 hours is impressive…it is nothing compared to 16 hours total traveling to Europe.
He did the best he could, but I would be screaming to get out of there too!
Getting your cat used to the carrier isn’t the only thing you need to prepare your pet for.
I would highly recommend getting your pet used to people as much as you can. It’s no surprise that having a cat in an airport makes you the “prettiest girl at the party”.
Moshie is VERY social and loves strangers.
I literally have pictures of him sitting in a random kid’s lap in a terminal and loving every second of it.
He is used to being handled, cooed at, and picked up by strangers. He ate up the attention faster than I ate mac n’ cheese after a juice cleanse.
However, some cats are not as trusting. I would recommend getting them used to people or setting polite yet firm boundaries with some fellow travelers who want a cuddle while they are waiting to board.
What to pack when traveling with a pet internationally
Portable litter box
When I am not tight on space, I absolutely love Travel Cat’s portable litter box. However, it was too big for me to take. I ended up taking a flexible travel bag that I normally put my underwear in.
This really wasn’t ideal. It was messy and a pain. But I guess at the end of the day…it got the job done.
If anyone has any other suggestions, I am all ears!
Small bit of litter
I double bagged some litter to take with me. Every couple of hours I would take him to the bathroom and would set up my make-shift litter box.
I am not going to lie…this was the opposite of fun. But it did make the flight go fast when I spent the majority of the time cleaning litter out of the bathroom.
Normally, according to the vet, cats become constipated while traveling. Moshie didn’t poop the enitre trip (so I guess they were right!) although his buddy Emmy did on a flight with me. I would be prepared for anything!
He did, however, pee a few times with even the tiniest litter. Don’t ask me how he was that smart to know to pee in my horribly made travel bag with a handful of litter in a moving plane bathroom.
Note that when I got my first kitty, Nikita, I flew with her in a diaper. You can see the picture below. Although this is an option, I have to warn you! She did pooped in the diaper, then sat in it…I’m not gonna embellish how terrible that was to clean up.
If you ever fly internationally with a cat, treats are a must! I gave Moshie a treat every time he was being a good boy, but not too many to make him sick.
I know that a lot of people steer you away from feeding pets to avoid them making a stinky poopoo.
However, I found that feeding him one piece at a time very very slowly was a good way to distract him when he was meowing.
I would normally give him 2 to 3 pieces before he fell asleep.
I have no clue if this works.
However, I used it more on the flight out to Hungary than coming back. And honestly, he was calmer on the flight out.
I don’t know if it was because of the gabapentin or circumstances, but it may be worth asking your vet about.
Their favorite toys
Moshie had 2 toys that are his favorite. A string toy named Renaldo and a small white mouse toy named Lucille. Although he didn’t play much with them on the flight, I did notice that he snuggled with them.
Plus, I was moving abroad with my cat, so he needed to have his favorite toys in his new home!
This was a game-changer if you ever fly internationally with a cat!
I don’t know what it is about this blanket but Moshie loves it! He makes all the biscuits and relieves all the stress (where can I get one?)
There were a lot of times when I would look into his carrier and see him completely crashed on it.
Harness and leash
If you don’t know, you need to take your pet out when you go through TSA.
Whenever I would take him out to be inspected, go to the bathroom, TSA, I prefer to have a harness on with my information on it (he has his own Apple AirTag). Moshie is also leash trained, so I had his leash as well.
This puts my mind at ease in case he decides to bolt.
Also, with my carrier I can hook him into the backpack and open the front flap to give him some air and a view.
All of the documents mentioned previously
Keep those documents on you and your pet the ENTIRE time and be prepared to present them at all times.
Arrive at the airport early with your pet
…and mentally prepare yourself for either the easiest process or the hardest process where you take deep breaths afterward. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it, when you fly internationally with a cat, it has the potential to be extremely stressful.
When going to Budapest, checking my pet in added about 15 minutes and was no hassle at all.
Now coming back was a completely different story…
Coming back to the US from the EU with my pet
First, they wanted an EU passport for him that I didn’t have.
Technically I was only transiting through Germany and didn’t need a proper EU passport (he never traveled through the EU or left Hungary). And technically the Health Certificate lasts 4 months as long as the rabies vaccine is valid. They, however, didn’t care about any of that.
Then, they couldn’t find my reservation and said that since it was less than 48 hours before, they could not book him in.
I had to go to customer service and fight them for about 45 minutes as we called the other airline to confirm.
They then said that I didn’t pay. Back to the customer service desk for another 30 minutes.
Then they said that I couldn’t bring a pet into Germany. Back to customer service and called Munich to find out that they just weren’t accepting cargo pets at that time but in-cabin was okay.
THEN they told me that Denver had increased their regulations on pets traveling from the EU and that Denver was not accepting any pets whatsoever.
I finally convinced them to let me pass but they told me that I would be turned away once I got to Germany and if they let me pass, I would be turned away once I got to Colorado. I decided to take the risk.
Yeah…they played with Moshie for 30 minutes at TSA and waved me through customs once I got to the US.
Needless to say, I was about to down Moshie’s calming medication after that entire ordeal.
Learn From My Mistakes!
As you may have seen, this process was one of the most frustrating travel experiences I had and I almost missed my international flight as a result.
If failing miserably during check-in was an thing, I was a full-on dumpster fire.
HENSE…my tips: get to the airport early, mentally prepare yourself, read the fine print on pet regulations for ALL involved countries (even layovers), double-check reservations, and keep your documents and receipts organized.
Going through TSA with a pet
As mentioned before, make sure to tell the TSA officers that you have a pet.
You will then have to take them out of the carrier, carry them through, and then place them back.
One thing I wish I would have done differently is to practice this with my kitty. When I was headed out, TSA was crazy! It was very chaotic and he just wanted to be held. When I took him out, he clung to me and behaved wonderfully.
However, when I went to put him back in the carrier, it was a little more hectic because he wanted me to keep holding him.
Let your pet out if the airport permits (or expand the carrier)
My flight to Germany was 10.5 hours, I had a 6-hour layover, and then 1.5 hours to Budapest.
During those 6 hours, Moshie was antsy to say the least. Luckily, he had a grand ol’ time in his expanded carrier. Then, in a remote corner, I got permission to let him stretch his legs.
This, of course, attracted a wide variety of people who wanted to meet him. In standard Moshie fashion, he was sleeping on their laps and playing within about 30 minutes.
The point is to let them out whenever you can. I did start to feel bad at the end of my flight for poor Moshie (who again just wanted to be cuddled like the man he is).
It made me, and Moshie, feel loads better stretching our legs and meeting new people.
Some cats are, however, not as social and clingy as Moshie. So I would just be careful making them visible if they don’t warm up to new people. I quickly learned that having a cute cat automatically makes you the most popular person in an airport.
And some people don’t have boundaries or common sense when it comes to seeing a cute animal in an airport.
Ask the desk at the gate if they can change your seat to one where there is an empty seat in the middle.
One of the secrets that I learned very quickly is to always go up to the gate desk when you arrive. You may be charming, but your pet is sure to charm the attendants into upgrading or moving you.
Once there, I would tell them that you are the person with the animal. And (broken record) have all of your documents ready to go.
Sometimes there is not a lot they can do in regards to seating. However, on my way back, they actually moved the person in the window seat to another seat with his permission so that I could have the entire row.
I then expanded his carrier across two seats and slept against the window (of course Moshie could meow his way into getting two plane seats on a long-haul flight).
Which seat would I recommend getting?
I talked with a couple of people about their thoughts on where to sit when traveling with a pet.
One breeder said that she always flies on the window so that people are not stepping over the pet.
For me personally, I prefer the isle seat when I am flying with an animal so that I can get up, walk around with the carrier, or get everything out easier.
When I was in the window, it was good but I felt a little cramped when I was trying to get all of his things/litter/get out with the carrier.
I also did a middle seat with Moshie on the flight from Budapest to Munich and that just wasn’t fun for anyone. Okay…maybe it was fun for the two grown men who spent the whole flight petting him from both sides.
What to do first when you Fly internationally with a cat and and first enterThe plane
Another tip that I got from the internet that worked really well was what to do when you actually get to the seat.
I started by introducing myself as well as Moshie to my seat mates and the people sitting next to me.
I then asked all of them if they had cat allergies. Moshie is hypoallergenic because I am severely allergic to cats, but I found it to be the most respectful.
I learned is that traveling with a cat is not much different than traveling with a toddler.
Most times they are cute, other times they won’t shut up, sometimes you have to walk to isles rocking them, and others you are just stuck in the bathroom.
Moshie is so well-behaved and such a good boy. But one of his quirky personality traits is that he wants to be held constantly like a toddler.
This doesn’t fly with airlines and they pretty much want pets in their carriers at all times (and I can’t really blame them). So at times, Moshie did cry…and it was heartbreaking.
Luckily, since I was so open and respectful to everyone around me, they were more than happy to put up with the occasional meow and even held the carrier on their lap and pet him while I slept for a while.
It really does take a village…
One woman that I met from Romania held him and even admitted to me that this was her first long-haul flight and she was so nervous! But she pets Moshie in his carrier for around 1.5-2 hours and she said it helped her through it!
Keeping a cat quiet during the flight. Or trying Your best
That being said…here is what I found helped when Moshie started to meow:
Feeding him 2 or 3 small pieces of food very slowly.
Putting your hand in the carrier and petting him.
Once he fell asleep, I would stop petting him and just leave my hand inside there with him. It seemed to help just having my hand in there.
I know this is counterintuitive, but just left him alone when I could.
The more that I talked to him and tried to calm him down, the more he just wanted to get out and be held.
It seemed that when I just let him do his thing (and just keep my hand in the carrier or stroking him), he eventually fell asleep and slept for 4-5 hours.
Set alarms to make trips to the bathroom.
Don’t forget to make trips to the bathroom.
I let the flight attendant know this ahead of time and made sure to leave everything squeaky clean.
These little breaks seemed to be good for him and he always went back into his carrier.
Going through customs in another country with a pet
Once you arrive, it can be a little hectic. Moshie was absolutely done at this point and it is always a struggle to gather all of your stuff after you’ve been sitting there for over 10 hours (even when you don’t have an animal with you).
I proceeded through border control with no problems but was very confused when customs was closed.
For those of you who work in the travel industry and customs…please tell me what to do if this happens!
I then proceeded to run around like a mad woman trying to find someone to look at my cat. I spent so much time and stress getting the health certificate and I wanted someone to appreciate it!
Finally, did find an official who helped me, briefly scanned my documents, and sent me on my way.
I’m not really sure if he cared or just wanted me to stop talking to him about my cat, but I guess it could have been worse.
Similar to the check-in, I would really approach customs with an “expect the best, prepare for the worst” mentality. And as always, treat customs officers and border officials with the utmost respect.
Final thoughts about traveling long-haul with a pet
Whew! Now that was a LOT of information and storytelling. I think I need a nap now!
Being able to fly internationally with a cat is definitely an art that takes practice and patience from both you and your furry friend. I wouldn’t exactly call it the “best time in the world” but sometimes it is a necessary process to have your baby with you. And it CAN be done! If I can do it, so can you!
Are you traveling with your beloved pet? Make sure to follow and tag me on social media or send me an email with how it went. Or better yet–join the members-only facebook group (Sharing Tails) to share your experience and all that you have learned with others who may be going through the same thing! Happy travels!