Moving can seem a daunting task, even without pets. For me, leaving them behind wasn't an option - they are members of the family - and when I decided to move home to Sweden after nearly a decade in Florida, my first priority was to figure out how to bring my two cats and three dogs.
Good news: traveling long distance with pets was much easier than I thought it would be.
My advice: Start planning in time, research what you need, and don't be afraid to ask for help.
When traveling to Sweden, vaccinations is a big thing, because we don't have rabies on the Scandinavian peninsula. The pets must be vaccinated no less than 30 days before departure, and they must be microchipped. In addition to this, they need to be checked by a veterinarian who issues documents stating they're healthy enough to travel.
I thought that was it, but they also needed health certificates stamped by the USDA to clear customs in Sweden. The certificates had to issued less than ten days before traveling. That sounded kind of big and scary, but the USDA were super nice and helpful. In my case, they even found a couple of problems with my documents and helped me correct everything on the spot.
I also filled out an owner declaration for Swedish customs, promising that my dogs and cats are my pets and I'm not bringing them to the country for commercial purposes.
There's an inconvenient ocean between Florida and Sweden, and the only feasible way to get there is by plane. Some airlines will let cats fly in the cabin even on international flights, and others have a designated area in the cargo space for animals. Since I traveled with so many pets, I needed help with the physical transport. I worked with a pet transportation company called Dog Gone Taxi. They were fantastic.
I measured all my pets and Dog Gone Taxi helped me get travel crates in the right sizes. That's a very important step - the airlines can refuse to do the transport if the crates are too small.
The travel crates arrived a couple of weeks before departure, so the cats and dogs would have time to get used to them. My furbabies were picked up in Sarasota, driven to Miami, and checked in with Lufthansa. We picked Lufthansa because they have a dedicated pet space that is separated from both the cabin and other cargo.
Each crate had an attached water crock where the staff placed ice cubes with a little water on top; that way they had a cool water supply that would stay in the crock during takeoff. Samson who has kidney issues got two, to make sure he'd stay hydrated.
The dogs and cats flew from Miami to Frankfurt where Lufthansa has a special pet lounge with veterinarians. They got a long rest stop with food and water, got to stretch their legs, the vets looked over them to see that they were doing okay, and they sent me photos of all my babies.
From there, they flew to Arlanda where the pet transportation company met them and brought them through customs. They arrived to my hotel in a big van. I could have saved some money and done that part myself, but I figured it would be faster and easier if someone who knows the drill did it.
I only encountered two unexpected problems: Of all my pets, only one of the dogs had a microchip compliant with European standards (ISO standard 11784). The USDA recommended I buy a scanner to send with the pets to get them through customs. Instead, my pet transportation company spoke to customs in Sweden and Germany and with a heads-up they could prepare to read the non-compliant microchips.
Another problem I didn't expect was, the pets traveled with three days' worth of food. Samson also brought some of his blood pressure pills to be given to him by the vets in Frankfurt. The TSA threw out Samson's food and pills, claiming it could be explosives.
The pills were in a pill bottle from Cat Depot with Samson's name on it, Cat Depot veterinarian Dr Edington's name on it, the type of medication, and dosage. The TSA still assumed these tiny little pills would somehow blow up the plane and threw them out. (Luckily, I only sent a few pills with Samson, I put most of them in my purse to be sure I'd have them.) The cat food were regular little jars from Hill's.
Other than that, we didn't have any real problems. Everyone were super-helpful, took very good care of the kids, and all five arrived in good shape. The cats entered the hotel room as if they owned it, had a snack, and curled up on the bed.
I would recommend that people considering a long move with pets compare several airlines. There are differences in how they treat pets, and how prepared they are to handle pets. When it comes to cats, some airlines will let one cat fly in the cabin even on international flights, and if moving with just one, that option may save money and effort. Otherwise they need to be dropped off at a cargo terminal and picked up at a cargo terminal. I wasn't up to that, and I was grateful to have the help of professional pet movers.
To help ease the transition, I brought an extra suitcase with some of their favorite foods, treats, some familiar toys, cat beds, and a cat scratcher. At the time I wondered if I might be crazy hauling all this around the airports, but once they arrived to the hotel I was happy I did. The furries had a long day, and I think finding things and smells they recognized helped them feel like home.
Today, we're settled into our new home. The dogs are enjoying their very first winter, and the cats have had a blast helping me unpack all the boxes from Florida. They were happy to be reunited with toys and cat trees.