PCSing within the lower 48 is fairly straightforward. While still a hassle, most of your belongings, including your pets, can be moved by car to your destination. PCSing off the mainland is when it gets complicated.
Moving OCONUS, or to Hawaii or Alaska, is an entirely different process that requires patience, organization, and a strong will. For easy-to-follow tips on both CONUS and OCONUS PCSing, read our guide for a (mostly) painless PCS.
Unfortunately, if you have pets this process becomes longer. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to PCS with pets:
1. Research the laws of your new home
Different places have different laws regarding animals. Certain breeds are illegal in different countries / provinces, and some places will even do behavior assessments. Hawaii, for example, will quarantine your pet upon arrival if they are not up to date on vaccinations.
2. Get your pets on travel orders
This is only necessary for OCONUS PCSing. Service members’ spouses, kids and any pets need to be listed on their travel orders. Keep in mind that only two pets are allowed per household; if you have more, you may have to look into a place for them to stay while you are living internationally.
To PCS with your pets, they need to be in good health and with all vaccines, including bordetella and rabies. Make sure that you obtain forms for proof of vaccinations. For some places, these vaccinations have to be given within 60 days of the date of arrival. If you don’t vaccinate, your pets will be quarantined away from you, or barred from travel altogether.
4. Prep for the plane ride
Just the process of getting you and your animals onto the plane can be difficult. First, make sure you contact the travel office to check for space available at your time of travel. If they can’t fit your pet on the plane, you’ll need to reschedule flights, so do this ASAP. Additionally, some airlines will not fly pets, and if they are large animals they will need to fly as cargo, which adds cost to their travel. If you’re moving far away to a country like Korea, many airlines will not fly larger pets due to the long flight length, or seasonal limitations.
For summer or winter PCSing: if it’s too hot or cold, your pets will not be allowed to fly. This applies especially to “breathing challenged breeds” like pugs or french bulldogs, who can’t be flown in warmer temperatures. Also, Alaska Airlines will not fly animals as cargo at all in the winter (though they are a cheap option in other seasons).
Tip: Patriot Express allows you to fly with your pets. Reserve a spot WELL ahead of time. To get your pets back to America, fly a friend or family member out to see you; KLM airlines will ship animals as luggage any time of the year. You could even purchase a plane ticket for yourself to get your animals overseas (and it may be cheaper). There are private pet cargo companies, but they’re generally very expensive, and not all are reliable.
Next, measure your pets for their travel crates. They must be able to sit, stand, turn around and lay down without touching the crate walls or roof. If these requirements aren’t met, your pet could be denied travel at the airport.
Finally, remember that all pet travel is an out of pocket, personal expense. It will not be reimbursed by the military travel offices. However, you may be allowed to write the travel expense off on your taxes.
5. Obtain an International Health Certificate
While these are valid for 30 days within the U.S., international laws dictate that you get it within a week before travel. Take your pets to the vet for this certificate (DD Form 2209), and make sure it is stamped by the USDA. Again, you will also need all vaccination forms. Keep any and all paperwork in a “PCS binder” so you have in on hand in case you need it.
Our pets are integral parts of our families, and leaving them behind is simply not an option for many people. The process of international travel with animals can be painstakingly long — not to mention expensive — but in most cases, it CAN be done! Good luck, and happy PCSing.