Friday, August 17, 2012

How to Move a Dog from Thailand to the USA

During our first year living in Thailand we acquired for ourselves a wonderful mutt named Bella. When we adopted her, we knew there was a chance we might move back to the US and need to take her with us. We researched in advance to make sure this was possible. As soon as we found out it was, we brought her home with us. A year later, I was pregnant and our visas were about to expire. We needed to leave Thailand a little sooner than originally planned. I wanted to write out the process we went through to move Bella since it was a little bit complicated and there isn’t that much information out there.

The condensed version is that all you really need is:

  • Airline approved crate (window ventilation on all 4 sides)
  • Rabies vaccination certificate stating rabies vaccine was more than 30 days and less than 1 year ago
  • Health Certificate from veterinarian
  • Export license from Chiang Mai Animal Quarantine Office obtained within 10 days of trip
  • Flight that allows pets in the cargo hold

Here’s the long version of the process we went through:

For starters I should mention that we lived in Chiang Mai so that was our  exporting destination. The first thing I needed to do was find a flight itinerary that looked manageable for a dog. I knew she would be locked in a crate in the cargo hold for the duration of our journey so I didn’t want one of those 36 hours itineraries where you have to go through Bangkok. Instead we found a 22 hour itinerary with Korean Air. Much more manageable amount of time for our pooch to be locked in a cage. Our travel agent booked the flight for us but I called the airline to confirm that we would be traveling with a dog and give them all the necessary information about our dog. They wanted to know her weight and size as well as the weight and size of the crate she would be traveling in. One thing we discovered was they have a 32 kilogram limit for the combined weight of the crate and the dog. Bella, our german shepherd/husky, thai mutt mix weighed about 20 kilos and our crate weighed 13! She was just over. So I had to search for a lighter crate that was still big enough. Not easy to find in Chiang Mai, but I did find one at the pet store on the Superhighway (just past Carrefour, now called Big C). Now their combined weight was exactly 32 kilos. Yikes, we put Bella on a diet to be sure she didn’t go over the weight limit. If you have a larger dog, there is no way they can travel with Korean Air. If you have a smaller dog, you will not have a problem. It should be noted that some planes don’t have air in the cargo and they won’t let you take a pet, so you always have to check before making definite plans.  
We prayed that Bella and the crate would be light enough on the day of travel. We still needed to put food and water bowls inside attached to the door and knew that would add a little weight. We were planning on begging for mercy and hoping they’d look the other way about an extra kilo or two.

Now that our flight and crate arrangements were made, it was time to think about the export license. The most important thing is to make sure your dog is healthy and vaccinated leading up to the flights. The only vaccination absolutely required is the Rabies vaccination. You need your dog to get this at least 30 days before their flight. Then you need to have a vaccination book or certificate stating that your dog has received it. This should be signed by your veterinarian. Also ask for a health certificate from your veterinarian stating that the dog is healthy and ready to travel.

Within 10 days of your flight, you will go to Chiangmai animal quarantine station which is over near the Chiangmai zoo and next to the police station. Bring your itinerary, vaccine records, health certificate and the passport of the person traveling with the pet. There is a form there you fill out. We were told to bring our dog, but they looked at us kind of funny when we showed up with Bella so I am not sure it was actually necessary. I figure it can't hurt though. Anyways make copies of all your papers beforehand because they will want to hang on to a copy. After you fill out the form and give them the vet records they will probably tell you to go home and come back a few days later to pick up your export certificate.

The day of your flight you are usually told you need to show up about 4 hours before your scheduled departure. We showed up at the Chiang Mai Airport 4 hours early and they looked at us like we were crazy. Once they finally let us get checked in, they weighed Bella’s crate and asked for its dimensions. Then they told us we could hang onto the dog until about an hour before the flight.

They did ask to look at all of our papers- the export license, Health Certificate, and vaccination record. Eventually they wheeled her away from us. Poor Bella’s whole body was shaking and I was crying thinking about how scared she was.

Then a little while later we boarded our flight to Seoul, South Korea. When we got to Seoul, we stopped by a Korean Air ticket counter and asked if someone could check on our dog. They did and told us she was doing fine. Again when we boarded our flight, I asked a flight attendant if she could confirm that our dog had been loaded on board before take-off and she went and confirmed this and let us know. J

Finally in Chicago, we waited in line at immigration and I eagerly peered past the immigration counters and I could see our crate sitting on a luggage cart next to baggage claim with an attendant waiting next to it. We waved at the guy and he saw us and waved back. We had taped a picture of ourselves and Bella to the outside of the crate so people would know she was a well-loved family dog and be nice to her.

We went through immigration and were so excited to get to her, but we knew we couldn’t let her out of her crate until we got outside because she would surely be dying to pee. We tried to wheel her right through customs but they told us we needed to stop by the CDC (center for disease control) first and the pointed to it in the corner. We went over, rang a bell, someone came out, glanced at our rabies vaccination record, scribbled something down and sent us on our way. That was all there was to it! 

If you have any questions feel free to comment and I will answer to the best of my knowledge. I know a great travel agent in Chiang Mai who helped us with some of the arrangements too. :-)