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American In Macau’s Ultimate Guide To International Pet Relocation

By Ashley Sutherland-Winch

International pet moves can be daunting and complicated but not impossible.   When my husband was offered the incredible opportunity to move to Macau to join the production, The House of Dancing Water, his first thought was “can I talk my wife into moving to Macau?” My first thought was “can we bring the dogs?”  

As most fur baby parents can attest, your pets are your first priority.   The thought of moving humans from Las Vegas to Macau can be challenging but not as epic as the task of moving your twelve-year-old Chihuahua, “Fonzi” and five year old French Bulldog, “Lady” across the world to a peninsula on the South China Sea.  As a pet parent, you go through panic, fear, dread, concern, and finally land on “Ok, we can do this.”  Then you start making calls.

As an American in this situation, I assumed that my dogs are small so if I find a travel buddy, I am sure that I can just carry my dogs onto the plane with me.  Oh how incredibly wrong I was.

Let me tell you about the Mount Everest size task it was to transport two little fur babies to Macau.

After you make your first initial calls to airlines about flying your pets internationally and get the gamut of “We do not allow pets on international flights”, you then fall prey to playing the ridiculous game in your head of what friend knows what person that can maybe pull a Paris Hilton and rent a private plane to move your pets.  Finally,  you return to Earth and start Googling “International Pet Travel.”  I was lucky and quickly found an incredibly helpful website called International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPTA).  This website allowed me to explore many different shipping company options that all specialized in international pet travel.  I contacted five companies and waited for the responses to roll in.

Slowly but surely, I am contacted by chirpy emails from companies promising to transport my fur babies safely to my new home in Macau.  You feel incredible warm and fuzzy knowing that there are people in the world ready, at any moment, to surround your dogs with hugs and rainbows until you are literally jumping up and down on the sofa and actually getting excited about your international move.  Then the quotes come in. Cue the ominous background music now.

You click on the link “Your Quote” hopeful and with bated breath.  The PDF screen opens and then in black and white you see the price.  Your heart drops, tears spring into your eyes and then you are like “Oh, I must have called the Rolls Royce of Pet Shipping Companies.” You ignore the first quote and wait for the second.  As the other quotes enter your email, you slowly realize that all of the prices are similar.  And then you suddenly think, “Oh Gosh, I can put a down payment on a house or move my pets to China.”  Tears and red wine started to flow.

I know that all of this sounds really dramatic but I just want to put it out there that it is really expensive to move your pets across the world.  To give you a ball park, all of my quotes ranged from $5,000- $12,000 USD to transport my pets from Los Angeles to Macau.  Honestly though, it is never really a question of if you will pay the fees, you just never become settled about it because the associated price tag is so ridiculous.

Now let’s get to the fun part, the actual move for the dogs.  Since Lady is a French Bulldog, it became a little tricky to identify a carrier that would fly her because of her cute smooshy nose trait making her a brachycephalic dog breed. Only two carriers would accept my little Lady, Lufthansa and Swiss Air and both airlines would require a night’s stop over at their pet lounges in Frankfurt or Zurich.  After I watched the Lufthansa Pet Lounge Video,  I began thinking, “Can I fly as a pet, because their trip looks kind of posh,”  but obviously, after second thought, “they might not serve me wine on the pet flights which is truly essential in all of my international travel”, so I scrap the idea.

After you identify the airline that will accept your pets, you start planning their route.  For my little munchkins, they would embark on a three-day journey complete with two stop overs in pet lounges from Los Angeles to Frankfurt to Hong Kong and then by tug boat to Macau.  It goes without saying, but I was a wreck.  How would they survive this massive journey unscathed, but for me I knew I needed to trust the professionals and hope for the best.

Once they are booked on their travel, you begin the laundry list of health requirements for immigration and quickly become great friends with your local veterinarian’s office staff.  My husband and I learned a lot of fun lessons about America during our vet visits preparing for international pet travel.  Lesson #1: There is a standard 15 digit microchip for the whole entire world and a separate 10 digit microchip created for just America.  Americans always have to be different, right?  We learned this little gem because both of our dogs were already microchipped when we started the immigration process but in order to initiate pet passports, we needed the vet to scan and verify the microchips and also give them an “official rabies shot”.  This information was documented and then sent in to immigration.  Then it all came back because our dogs only had the 10 digit chip and not the 15.  The dogs then had to be outfitted with the additional 15 digit microchip and another rabies vaccination.  Two shots in two weeks, major bummer.  Lesson #2: No one knows where Macau is located so we saved a Google Map image to share when visiting the offices.  We became ambassadors for our new home and now I think several vet nurses are interested in visiting Macau based off our chats, awesome.  Lesson #3: Make at least three copies of all documents, there is a lot of paperwork involved with pet immigration and it’s easy to become confused/ loose things.  It takes about three months to get everything sorted for your pet immigration so start early to be safe.

In the end, your International Pet Company gives you tons of instructions to prepare yourself and your pet for their journey.  Helpful hints about tapering off food, increasing walks, helping your Frenchie lose a couple pounds to be more svelte for her trip, etc.  All in all, you drop your babies off at the airport feeling as prepared as possible and then like I said, “hoping for the Best.”

Fonzi and Lady made it to Macau and honestly they were no worse for wear.  Jet lagged, a little dirty but happy, my little fur babies made it to our new home.  They adore living in Coloane, Macau, they look forward to sunset walks on the beach, and they have become something like celebrities to the Chinese tourists that visit Hac Sa Beach.  Not a day goes by without someone asking to take a photo of my little dogs and I usually oblige the request because I think it is sweet to see other people loving my dogs too.  I will always think  it is really cute to listen to a string of sentences in Cantonese but then hear “Cheee wa wa” or “Fre-eench ee”.

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