Everything you need to know about taking your pet overseas
There are two different ways to fly with your pets. The first is to take their crates with you as checked baggage, and the second is to mark them as cargo. You can only take registered service dogs into the aircraft cabin with you, and you should contact your airline ahead of time to make the necessary arrangements.
- If you’re flying a pet domestically, you can usually take their crates through as checked baggage, although restrictions vary depending on the airline.
- To fly a pet internationally, you will need to go through an IPATA-approved pet shipper.
This guide explains how to travel with pets, including the rules you need to follow, how to find the best airline for pets, and making sure your insurance covers them both en route and at their final destination.
Rules for flying with pets
Regardless of whether you’re flying domestically or internationally, you will need to follow some rules when travelling with pets.
- You need a suitable container. Airlines will usually only accept IATA-approved containers. These need to meet international guidelines for animal welfare and need to have enough room for your pet to comfortably lie down, stand up and turn around.
- Dog breed restrictions. Some breeds, in particular brachycephalic dog breeds including pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers, Japanese spaniels and Pekingese, have special conditions you need to be aware of.
- Calm animals only. Your pet needs to be used to its container and not unduly aggressive.
- Age limits apply. Airlines often won’t accept animals younger than 8 weeks or older than 12 years.
- Pets must be in good health. Some airlines require a vet certificate for all animals, while others will specifically require one if your pet is particularly young or old, has recently given birth, is pregnant or has other health issues.
Guidelines for pet containers
IATA-approved pet containers are the way to fly. They have to be big enough for your pet to comfortably stand up, lie down and turn around. If more than one animal is sharing a crate, all of them need to be comfortable.
Depending on which airline you’re flying with, and what kind of plane it is, different size restrictions and weight limits might apply. You should check these before booking your ticket.
Plastic isn’t always suitable. A nervous flyer might break out of a plastic container. You should consider wood or metal if there’s a chance your pet might do this. The container also needs to be strong enough to withstand any outside bumps and should not be collapsible.
- Pay special attention to the latches and make sure they’re secure. If the crate is a two-part build, you need to secure both halves with screws, or nuts and bolts, instead of plastic clips.
- The container needs to have adequate ventilation, especially if it’s carrying a brachycephalic dog.
- Line the cage or crate with waterproof, absorbent material and ensure that no liquid will escape.
- The container should be clean, in good condition and ready to fly.
What to do before your flight
There are a few things you can do before take-off to make your pet’s flight more comfortable.
- Play with your pet or take them for a walk to tire them out before heading to the airport.
- Give them plenty of water before the flight, but don’t give them a meal for at least a few hours before take-off.
- Make sure there’s a comfort item in their container.
- Bring their vet certificate with you, and attach their collar ID to their container.
- Make sure the container has water and a waterproof mat.
- Remember to pack the right toys, medication, food and other pet-care items for your trip.
If you’re nervous about saying goodbye to your pet before the flight, try not to show it too much. Dogs and cats are perceptive, and if they pick up your nervousness it might catch.
Returning to Australia
Australia’s pet quarantine requirements are some of the strictest in the world. The moment your pet leaves the country, it no longer qualifies for its Australian health status and will need to go through quarantine to get back in.
It can take a long time to bring a pet back into the country, sometimes as long as six months. To help things go smoothly, it’s a good idea to plan ahead of time. Depending on your destination, you may be able to speed things up by visiting vets overseas, getting the right permits and booking quarantine accommodation ahead of time.
- Use the Australian government’s pet import tool to find out whether your pet is eligible for import back to Australia and get a recommended timeline.
- Register for an import permit. You need this to bring your dog or cat back into the country. If your pet will be leaving and returning within a six month period, it’s a good idea to do this before departure.
If you need to fly an animal overseas, the procedures are the same for all airlines. You will generally have to book your pet’s crate through to your destination as cargo, instead of checked baggage. Do this by finding an IPATA-approved shipper. They can work with you to find a flight path that takes your pet where they need to go.
You can only take pets on your flights as checked baggage when flying domestically.
Taking pets on domestic flights
If you’re taking your pets with you on domestic flights as checked baggage, conditions and costs will vary between airlines. If you’re not careful, you might end up booking a flight with an airline that won’t accept your pet.
In particular, it’s worth paying attention to size restrictions, fees and restrictions on the types of pets that you can transport.
Travelling with pets on Air New Zealand
You can only book domesticated cats, dogs and birds through as checked baggage on flights that you are taking. Any unaccompanied pets, business animals such as racing greyhounds, or animals other than cats, dogs or birds need to be booked through IPATA agents as cargo, even when flying domestically.
Container size limits. The maximum size of a container depends on the size of the plane.
- Cages for 2000, 5000 and 8000 flights can be no larger than 70 cm tall and 50 cm wide.
- For A320 flights, they can be no larger than 65 cm tall and 85 cm wide.
- Containers must be appropriately secured with approved latching mechanisms.
There is no limit on the number of containers you can check in as baggage, but each will incur a fee based on total weight.
- Up to 25 kg: NZD $75
- 26 kg and over: NZD $100
You cannot have more than one animal per cage, unless they are of comparable size, less than 14 kg each and are used to cohabitation. You can have up to three animals per cage if they’re younger than six months old and from the same litter.
You cannot book pets and containers with a total weight of more than 32kg onto flight numbers in the 2000s range.
Travelling with pets on Qantas
Qantas lets you make bookings specifically for your pets to make sure they end up on the same flight as you. If you want to travel with your pet, you should book their flight before your own. However, restrictions apply to the types of pets and breeds that you can bring on board. Ineligible pets need to be booked through Qantas Freight or an IPATA-approved shipper.
You cannot use wire crates or ship animals for cosmetic or testing purposes.
Animal restrictions. In general, you may take cats, dogs, birds, guinea pigs, rabbits and similar animals as checked baggage in appropriate containers. You cannot take the following animals:
- Puppies or kittens under eight weeks old
- Animals that show excessive chewing or cage-destructive behaviours
- Guard or racing animals
- Police or defence force animals
- Freshwater live fish
- Specialised zoological, native or other exotic pets
Breed restrictions also apply.
- Brachycephalic dogs cannot be on any flight longer than five hours in length or for more than two sectors per journey without an indemnity form. Their crates must be double the minimum required size.
- American Staffordshire terriers are only permitted when 12 weeks old or older
- English Staffordshire terriers must travel in wooden crates
Travelling with pets on Virgin
For pets flying as checked baggage, your options are limited depending on the type of plane you’ve booked a flight on. You cannot put more than two compatible animals of up to 14kg each in the same container.
- A320. Cannot carry pets
- F70 or F100. 0-10kg pets only. Up to four cages 65 cm in height, 70 cm in width and 110 cm in length.
- ATR. 0-20kg pets only. No more than one cage 80 cm in height, 60 cm in width and 110 cm in length.
- A330, 737, Embraer. 65kg maximum weight limit, including the crate. No more than 2 cages 80 cm in height, 70 cm in width and 110 cm in length.
Other restrictions also apply:
- Dogs and cats only
- Animals must be in good health and not unduly aggressive
- They must be over eight weeks old
A vet certificate is required for the following reasons:
- Your pet is pregnant or has given birth within 48 hours of departure time
- Your pet is over 12 years old
- Your pet is between 8 and 12 weeks old
- Your pet is sick, injured or recovering from surgery
What to know about pet travel insurance
As you may have realised, taking an animal outside of Australia is a big deal. Finding the right insurance is an important part of making sure you’ve done everything you can to keep your pet safe. A lot of people believe that travel insurance will cover pets as though they were luggage because they’re not riding in the plane’s cabin, but this is not the case.
A travel insurance policy’s luggage or personal belongings inclusion won’t cover your pets, and neither will its medical emergency cover.
For their health, you need pet insurance instead. This type of cover often includes travel insurance for pets to help cover the cost of any veterinary bills that you might encounter overseas.
Meanwhile, it’s a good idea to consider the pet essentials, such as medication or pet travel documents, that you’re bringing with you when considering your own travel insurance policy. You should find cover that can help if these items are lost, damaged or otherwise goes missing.