Just about a week ago (give or take the 9 hour time difference between Seattle and Stockholm) I was getting ready to board a plane to Sweden on a one way ticket, lugging with me my cat and various essential material goods. Now, we live in Sweden!
Let me first say that moving a pet from one country to another is ridiculously over complicated. I mean, I get the reasoning behind all the exams and whatnot, but still! I’ve had my cat, Mazzy, since 2007 and really wanted to bring her with me to Sweden. Since Helena is crazy allergic to cats it was worked out that Mazzy would live in Uppsala with her sister. And so the journey began to get all the necessary documents to move a pet overseas. In searching on what I needed in order to travel with a pet internationally I came across PetTravel.com. Do not bother. It’s a useless waste of money. I paid $17 for what I later learned I could have gotten for free, and because one of their documents had incorrect information, I had to re-do the health certificate and vet exam mere days before we were scheduled to depart. I’d also like to suggest to anyone looking into doing this that you price out the health certificate thing. The first vet charged me $104 to fill it out whereas the second vet charged me only $17. As long as they are USDA accredited, any vet can do the certificate and exam for you.
Basically it goes like this: the best website to start at is the USDA’s APHIS site. Here you will find all the necessary paperwork and instructions on what to do. From there, in my case, I had to get Mazzy microchipped with a 15-digit ISO compliant chip and then vaccinated for rabies. The vaccination cannot be done less than 21 days prior to the travel date and must be done AFTER the animal is microchipped. Then, no more than 10 days from your arrival date, the animal must be examined by a USDA accredited vet who will also fill out the health certificate. The filled-out certificate must then be endorsed by the USDA, which can be done at local offices (the closest one to Seattle was near Olympia). Some airlines require additional documents which my vet also filled out. At the airport, I had to pay $140 excess baggage fee and have the TSA physically inspect both my cat and her carrier.
Traveling Icelandair as I always do, I had a 50 minute layover in Reykjavik. Normally that is plenty of time, but my flight out of Seattle had been delayed just enough that by the time I went through customs and got to my gate it was already final call for boarding and I was the last person to board. This had me extremely worried that Mazzy wasn’t going to make it on the plane. Upon arriving in Arlanda, I stood at the window of my gate watching them unload the baggage from the plane. I was able to see one of the baggage handlers pick up Mazzy’s carrier and wave to her, probably saying “Hej katten!” This brought relief as I figured his reaction to a dead cat would have been quite different.
Down in the baggage claim area, I had no idea where I was supposed to go to pick her up. There was an area for oversized luggage somewhat close to where my normal luggage was supposed to come out, so I spent about 15 minutes walking back and forth between the two. It was taking an extremely long time for the normal luggage to come out so I made my way back to the oversized area where I came upon Mazzy’s carrier, sitting on a cart all by itself, with no one around. I looked around to see if someone was going to come and check if she was mine or not, but then just grabbed her and headed back to the other baggage claim area. After I got my other things, I stopped through the customs area where a man hastily looked over the health certificate and checked her microchip. I said “That’s it?” He said yes and I got the hell out of there.
I emerged from the airport with Mazzy and four other bags loaded onto one of those carts and made my way to Helena. She was very glad to see that I didn’t have a sullen, “Mazzy-died-on-the-plane” look on my face. We walked outside to meet up with her father, who was parked out front, waving blue and yellow Pippi Longstocking balloons. As I wheeled everything towards the car the front wheel of the cart hit a crack in the cement and all the bags, including Mazzy, tumbled onto the sidewalk and then rolled out into the street. Poor Mazzy, who was still slightly sedated, made it all the way to Sweden only to have me drop her in the street. We laughed, joking that it would be funny if she had died right there… other people around looked at us like “WTF?!”
Over the next few days, Mazzy took to the new apartment surprisingly well, but that might be due to the fact that she and I spent a month living in a tiny bedroom prior to this. Then, this past Saturday, we carted Mazzy and all her stuff to Uppsala. Not sure how she’ll adapt to yet another new home, let alone one without me in it, but I suppose I’ll find out soon enough. Regardless, she’s an international cat now, having been to Seattle, Reykjavik, Stockholm, and Uppsala. I say that for all of my American friends without passports… get off your asses!