Escape from Japan…with Mr/s. Kitty
Between the boxes filled with clothes and Japanese souvenirs, a cat weaves through the narrow spaces, finally pressing their little claws into the cardboard. No matter how much the owner shoos their cat away, an ominous cloud floats above them. The owner and Mr/s. Kitty are leaving Japan.
The ominous cloud always follows people returning to their home countries with a (new) pet. While the know-how is available, all of the pieces don’t always apply to those going from Japan to the United States. I had to bring my cat, Ninja, from Okinawa to the United States in August 2015. Even as a JET Program participant, I had little help in booking a flight where the airlines allowed pets and going through the process of taking a cat on a plane.
Find out if your cat is allowed to be transported. If your cat is a certain breed, they may not be allowed for travel. Hairless breeds and cats with flat snouts are usually not approved. Check with the airline to see which breeds are allowed for travel. Also, cats under the age of 90 days old or over the weight of 32 kg (71 pounds) won’t be permitted to travel. Airlines that allow pets on flights since August 2015 are EVA Air, United Airlines, All Nippon Airways (ANA), and Singapore Airlines.
Find an airline that allows pets. The only way to do this is to call the airlines customer service line. Some airlines such as Cathy Pacific Airlines don’t allow pets, even in their cargo space. When looking for an airline that allows pets, always ask if the pet can be in the cabin (usually under the seat with you) or if they must be in the cargo (in an airline-approved kennel where checked bags go). It’s better to get on a flight where the pet is allowed in the cabin. If you’re a JET Program participant, tell your prefectural advisor well in advance that you will be bringing a cat with you so they can book your flight with a pet-permitted airline. Try to get a flight that only has only 1 stop so you don’t have to do a pet importation permit for each country.
Get an airline-approved kennel or carrier. Before booking a ticket for your pet, you must have the kennel or carrier’s weight, dimensions, and brand. Sherpa, Petmate, and Bergan make airline-approved carriers. I used a PetMate VariKennel, which are sold at Cainz, Meikuman, and any big pet store in Japan.
Get your cat’s vaccination and microchip. At least 30 days before the flight, make sure your cat has all their shots and vaccinations updated and in English. If they haven’t been microchipped, get that as well. It’s required for all pets entering the United States. If your cat has a vaccinations record that has not expired, this is efficient for travel.
Book your cat’s ticket. You can only do this once you get your airline tickets, or in the least, the reservation number. Call the airlines and tell them to add a pet ticket. The airline agent will ask you for your cat’s name, breed, weight, length, and age along with your carrier’s weight, dimensions (sizes), and brand. For JET Program participants, you will pay at the ticketing counter on the day of travel.
Schedule a checkup with your veterinarian at least 7 days before travel. You must get a Health Certificate with a Letter of Acclimation saying that your cat is healthy enough to fly. It’s usually good for only 10 days.
Submit application for Export Quarantine Certificate for Animals Under the Rabies Prevention Law. You must do this at least 7 days before travel. On the day of travel, you will bring your cat to the Quarantine Office with your travel permit, your flight receipt or boarding pass, and vaccination records. Once all the paperwork is finished, your cat will be examined by the on-location veterinarian. From there, you will get an Export Quarantine Certificate for Animals Under the Rabies Prevention Law that will be used for check-in points throughout the flight.
Schedule an appointment with the Quarantine Office in the airport. You must do this ahead of time. On the day of travel, you will bring your cat to the Quarantine Office with your travel permit, your flight receipt or boarding pass, and vaccination records. Once all the paperwork is finished, your cat will be examined by the on-location veterinarian. From there, you will get an Export Quarantine Certificate for Animals Under the Rabies Prevention Law that will be used for check-in points throughout the flight.
If you are stopping in other countries, check into their pet importation procedures as well as specifics for vaccinations. For Taiwan, if the cat is coming from Japan, you must file an application for a Permit for Animal Transit by submitting an Application Form for Transition with your cat’s vaccination certificates. This can be done by snail mail, email, or fax. I emailed the Hsinchu Branch Office (Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, Phone: 886-3-3982431) at firstname.lastname@example.org and received an application form for the permit and the procedure for traveling with my cat. It takes about 2 or 3 weeks to complete this part, depending on when the branch office responds to your initial email.
Get an engraved tag with you and your cat’s information. It’s for identification as is the microchip. Make sure to include your cat’s name, your name, your phone number, and your future address, even if you’re unsure of your more permanent location back home.
On the day of travel, make sure your cat is well hydrated before taking them to the airport. Take your cat to the Quarantine Office with your paperwork. The Quarantine Office will require you to take your cat out of the carrier for a brief check. After you receive your travel permit and your flight is within the hour, you can go straight to the ticketing counter. In the preliminary screenings before you get to the ticketing counter, you must hold your cat while the airline staff X-rays the carrier. Once your pet is back in the carrier and you get to the ticketing counter, the airline staff will help you finish any ticketing procedures for your pet, and you’ll be asked to sign a liability release form. During travel, you are not allowed to bring your cat’s food with you unless you arrange it with the airline staff at the ticketing counter.
If you are stopping in Taiwan, a staff member will show you a photograph of your pet or bring your pet to you before boarding the next flight. They may ask for your pet importation forms, especially if you have any special instructions (i.e. giving food, water) for the staff.
Landing in Los Angeles Airport (LAX) is probably the easiest part of bringing a cat to the U.S. After landing and going through immigration, there is a section in the baggage claim area for animals. When I went to pick up my cat, there was no desk or staff to claim my pet. She was in a cart with the ropes from cargo around her carrier sitting by herself in the middle of the floor. The pet importation paperwork, which I tucked under my arm as I went through the last screenings, wasn’t checked at all. Anyone could take my cat from LAX. I don’t know if anything has changed since August 2015, but that’s something to be wary about. If you do not see your cat in their carrier somewhere in the animal claim area, report it immediately.
Resources for importing a cat to the United States:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Information on Cat Importation – http://www.cdc.gov/importation/bringing-an-animal-into-the-united-states/cats.html
Naha Airport Quarantine (near International Departures terminal)
Operating hours: 9:30AM-11:30AM, 1-5PM Every Day
Website: http://www.maff.go.jp/aqs/english/animal/ex_index.html (English)
Phone: +81 98-857-4468 (Ask for an English speaker)