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  • Shanghai Expat Assoc

Repatriating with Spot and Puff

By Julie Stegink

Did you move to Shanghai with pets? Or did you adopt a dog and/or cat while living here? How do you prepare to move home (or somewhere else) with your furry family members?

Some of you may already have a company that your employer has contracted with to handle this part of a move; but for those who will be doing it on their own, here is some information to get you started.

Note: this article is based on you flying with your pet to your final destination. SEA is working on a new article to address moving your pet home if you are not in China.

Repatriating with pets requires planning, but overall the process isn’t difficult. Please note that different countries have different requirements. This article focuses on what may be needed for the United States (USA) and countries in the European Union (EU).

There are three requirements for bringing a dog with you to the USA from China:

  1. Microchip (transponder)

  2. Rabies vaccination (this wasn’t required in 2019 to bring a cat into the US, but it might still be required for it to leave China)

  3. Health certificate

And two additional requirements if moving to Europe (most EU countries and Norway):

  1. Rabies antibody test (titer test)

  2. Treatment for tapeworm/Echinococcus multilocularis (dogs only)


If your dog or cat doesn’t already have a microchip, it will need one. This is a simple and inexpensive procedure that can be done at any veterinarian clinic. The vet will give you the microchip number (Avid.) You can register your numbers here:

The microchip must be placed before the rabies vaccine is done as that chip will be used to record the vaccine.

Different countries may have different requirements for the type of microchip. The USA will accept both Avid Standard and ISO compatible chips. You may need an Avid Euro chip if moving to the EU. Consult with your vet. I found the vets in Shanghai to be very knowledgeable about current regulations.

Rabies Vaccine and Antibody Test

There are specific timing requirements for the rabies vaccine, so this does require you to plan ahead. To enter the USA, the vaccination must be administered at least 31 days before travel but can’t be more than one year ago.

Additionally, be sure to check for age requirements. The EU requires the animal to be at least 12 weeks old at the time of the vaccination.

Rabies vaccinations must be performed by specific vets. In Shanghai, one of those is the Shen Pu Vet Hospital.

A rabies antibody (titer) test must also be done when moving to the EU with a dog, cat, or ferret. The test must be carried out on a sample collected by an authorized veterinarian at least thirty days after the date of vaccination and not less than three months before your moving date.

Health Certificate

The exam for the health certificate must also be done at Shen Pu, and must be done exactly seven days before you leave China. You will pick up the completed certificate four days later.

Marlene Bednarik moved back to the USA with two cats in 2018. She used Shen Pu for the vaccination and health certificate. Her experience with them was positive. The exam for a cat was completed quickly, and you do not need an appointment. She did use a service to help ensure her paperwork was in order and they picked up the health certificate, so that was one thing she didn’t need to handle during her last days in Shanghai. Marlene used a global logistics company to manage the details (Hellmann).

The vet will tell you where to pick up the completed health certificate. It was located near People’s Square when I did this in 2019. I arrived a few minutes after they opened, and was done in less than five minutes.

Treatment Against Tapeworm (EU dogs only)

The EU requires that all dogs entering an EU country must be treated for tapeworm (Echinococcus multilocularis). This treatment must be administered by a veterinarian within a period of not more than 120 hours and not less than 24 hours before the time of scheduled entry.

Transporting Your Pet

As you are preparing for the medical part of moving your pet, you also need to prepare for the logistics of airplane travel. Here is some general information but be sure to check with your airline before booking your ticket. I know we are all very good at booking airline tickets online, but when traveling with an animal you will need to make a reservation for them, and most (if not all) airlines require that be done over the phone. Airlines may limit the number of animals on a flight, or may have weather-related restrictions. It would be unfortunate to book your ticket online and find out later when you call that they can’t accommodate your pet on that flight.

Will your pet travel as cargo on your flight or accompany you in the cabin?

Do you have an airline-approved crate/kennel for your pet? Is it large enough? Airlines require the crate to be large enough for the animal to stand up and turn around in—they did check this when I flew domestically with my dog.

Here is an example of an airline’s pet policy from Delta Airlines.

“Small dogs, cats, and household birds can travel in the cabin for a one-way fee, collected at check-in. They must be able to fit in a small, ventilated pet carrier that fits under the seat in front of you. Your pet counts as your personal item, part of your carry-on luggage.

Pets are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis. Call Delta in advance at 800-221-1212 to arrange to bring your pet on board. To ensure the comfort of all of our passengers, Delta limits the number of total pets per flight.

Carry-on pets are not allowed in any cabin with lie-flat seats.

If your pet doesn’t fit in a carrier in the seat in front of you, you can ship your pet with our special shipping service, Delta Cargo.”

If you do use a cargo service for shipping your pets home (they are not on the same flight with you) be sure you follow any applicable regulations for collecting the animals after they arrive.

I spoke with the Weber family, who is preparing to repatriate to Germany with the three cats they adopted while in Shanghai. Because they needed rabies titer tests for all cats, they started preparing more than three months before their move. They received permission from Lufthansa to put two cats in a single carrier; the third cat will have its own. All cats will travel in the climate-controlled cargo hold and on the same flight as their owners.

As part of their preparation for this move, Christian Weber notified his local customs officials so they are prepared to process the cats upon arrival in Frankfurt.

The costs for flying your dogs and cats will vary based on airline, size of animal (travel crate), and whether they travel as carry-on or in the lower section of the plane. Your airline should have a pet policy on their website along with all applicable fees.

You should also check with your airlines for any season-related restrictions. Some airlines will not fly certain breeds of dogs in the summer.

A final consideration when flying with pets is the distance of the flight. Check with your airline as they may have limits on how long they will allow pets to be on a plane. You may need to break up your flight and add a connection.

I was nervous about flying my cat over such a long distance, but I believe the more prepared you are the less you will have to worry about when the time comes to coax your pet into its travel carrier and leave your Shanghai home for the trip to Pudong airport, and ultimately the trip home (or to your next assignment).

Additional Notes:

  • Be prepared to remove your pet from its carrier so the carrier/crate can be scanned at the airport. Or they will allow your pet to stay in its carrier and go through the machine. I removed my cat – and I have the scar to prove it.

  • Be prepared to show the health certificate to the staff at the scanner at the door of the Pudong airport.

  • Different countries may have restrictions on the number of pets you can move with you (one per passport is common).

Tip: When traveling with a pet in the cargo hold of your plane, ask the flight attendants to make the pilot aware there are pets on board.

Bio: Julie Stegink moved to Shanghai in July 2018. She left her dog and two cats with her son, who was still living in their house. She repatriated back to Minnesota (USA) in December 2019 with Raffy, the tabby on the right in the picture below. (Jaffa, the orange tabby, was adopted and still lives in Shanghai.)

Originally published in the final issue of the Courier magazine, July/August 2019

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