Bringing a Pet to Japan

14 Sept 2006

This article is slightly overdue, since we moved to Japan with our cat over two months ago, but I think it will be helpful to other families to read this. Move to Japan with a pet can be a complicated and frustrating process, but proper preparation can make the transition a lot smoother. However, no matter how much you prepare, be assured that you will be spending a lot of time on your pet. The following process details the same steps we took to bring a cat to Japan when flying into a military base. Regulations may differ slightly for dogs and for commercial airports, and I will try to point out differences when known.

Checklist - Please ensure you have the following items covered before getting on the plane to Japan in order to avoid a 180-day quarantine:

Finding all of the individual pieces of information needed for this process was quite an endeavor, so that is why I have collected all of the information here. However, more detailed information on Japanese regulations can be found at the Ministry of Agriculture web site.

I would also like to share with you the actual process we went through - from acceptance of orders to arrival in our housing unit. First of all, once you know your next destination is Japan, you should get your pet to your local veterinarian immediately. The process is much easier with a military vet, however we used a civilian vet as military vets are not in high supply in the Seattle area. If you use a civilian vet, make sure they are USDA approved, not just licensed. Our vet was only licensed, so the USDA had to process the paperwork differently and there was only a 50/50 chance that the paperwork would be accepted. Luckily for us, the paperwork was accepted. Using a military vet will save you from dealing with the USDA at all as Japan Ministry of Import views military vets as government officials.

250 Days to Arrival
For your first trip to the vet, make sure you tell the vet that you are planning on moving to Japan. Bring your paperwork checklist with you and let them know about the microchipping and rabies vaccinations. My vet knew about the paperwork already, which made the process easier, but the better YOU are prepared, the less time (and therefore charges) the vet will take. I knew in plenty of time that my cat was going to an island (our first choice was Hawaii), so I started the cat with a microchip and her first rabies vaccination on our first appointment. Don't forget about any other routine vaccinations during this process (Leukemia and Program for my cat). The Vet signed the vaccination and gave me a copy (make sure you get your own copies) and sent the microchip paperwork to AVID for processing. I immediately received the microchip certificate with number from my vet and received a confirmation from AVID directly in the mail.

Schedule your next Rabies vaccination for 30 days after this one. Do not go under 30 the days, but do not exceed it by much, either. You will again receive a vaccination certificate with signature. After your second vaccination, schedule a FAVN blood test another 30 days later (and earlier than 180 days before your trip). This blood test is pretty pricey, so make sure to budget for it. The blood test gets sent to a USDA lab, which will process it and send it back to your vet. Make sure your vet mails you a copy of this test. It is probably the most important item for getting your pet into Japan.

180 Days to Arrival
You are done with your Vet for a while besides routine checkups. However, now that the 180-day home quarantine has started, you now must prepare your trip to handle your animal. First and foremost, your next command will send you paperwork for dependents and travel orders. Make sure to list your pet(s) on this travel sheet so that the arrival airport is aware of the pet. You will be charged a fee to board your pet on the plane. I was afraid my cat would not survive the flight as she was not used to riding in a pet carrier or used to being confined in an area smaller than 2 1/2 acres. However, your pet will be fine and probably happier in Pet Class than in a small carry-on bag. Later, when you receive your travel orders, verify that your pet is on them.

Now that the airport knows you are coming, you need to make sure the local vet and kennel are ready for you. We were stationed to Atsugi, Japan, so the nearest vet/kennel was at Camp Zama Army Base. Kennels can book up fast, especially in the summer or during holidays, so make sure to call and reserve your spot. Camp Zama charged $10/day for boarding of our cat and the Navy does not refund this money. Other branches of service may have different policies. Also, if you can, call the Vet to make an appointment for a day or two after you arrive to have them inspect your pet's health and release them from quarantine. The best list of military vet phone numbers in Japan I can find is on the Army's web site. You might also want to contact your Sponsor at this time to arrange for transportation from the airport to the Vet as this will be your first stop in Japan.

You can now rest for a while. Your pet is undergoing "home" quarantine. You might want to make an appointment with your Vet within the week of leaving for Japan at this time. You may also wish to call your local USDA APHIS office to let them know you will be sending some paperwork over, if you are using a civilian vet.

10 Days to Arrival
This is going to be one of the busiest weeks of your life, not just because of the pet, but because of the moving itself. Plan this week carefully and well in advance. For your pet, the first trip is to your vet. You will be getting your health certificate as well as possible vaccinations. Kennels in Japan require your pets to have Kennel Cough vaccination. Some civilian vets will not administer this to cats, in which case you can get it upon arrival to Japan (your Vet is then the first stop instead of the Kennel). This is a good time for your Vet to fill out forms C1 and C2. You should also fill out Form A at this time (not at the Vet's office, but on this day). Make sure to bring all other paperwork with you on this day and keep it together with a paperclip or in a folder. The next step is very crucial if you are using a civilian vet. You will need to overnight Fedex or take all of your paperwork to your local USDA office for a inspection and official seal. Make sure they seal both copies of every document that says "at least two copies" in your checklist, most importantly the Health Certificate and the FAVN test. You will need to have all of these documents in your hand before checking your animal onto the plane.

Ready, Set, Go!
Today is the big day - pack up the family and luggage, but most importantly, make sure your pet is ready to go. Keep all of your paperwork together, separating the two copies by paperclip. On your animal's carrier, make sure to write the pet's name, your name, the destination, a contact phone number, and the species/breed of the animal in permanent ink right onto the carrier. This will assure that your pet will be waiting for you on the other side. Make sure you have put a warm towel or blanket in the carrier, some water in a lickable bottle if possible, and a place for the animal to relieve itself as any flight to Japan is a long one. When you get to the ticket gate, make sure to let them know about your pet and have a credit card or cash available for the transportation fee. They let us leave our cat at the gate right as we checked in, but if you wish to stay with your animal longer, you can stay with them outside security until you're ready to head to your gate. Once they are checked in at the front desk, you will not get to see them again until after you have gone through customs in Japan.

Once you arrive in Japan, you will go through customs and collect your luggage. In the luggage terminal, they will (eventually) call you to retrieve your animal. An import agent will inspect the paperwork you left with your animal and ask you a few questions and release your animal to be taken to a kennel for quarantine. This process may be different in a commercial airport. From the airport, proceed to the kennel (or the vet, if a kennel cough vaccination is needed) and check your animal in. A day later (or longer, if needed), you can take your cat or dog to the vet to get it released from quarantine. If you are getting housing through the US Navy, the vet will fill out a "Pet Quarantine and Examination Certificate" and a "Pet Registration/Agreement Form." Make two copies of each of these because you will need to submit them to housing as well as base security for your pet to be approved in your housing facility. Please note that finding housing for pets in Japan can be quite difficult (especially for dogs). The regulations may be different for each base (these are NAF Atsugi's procedures) and depend on the landlord for off-base housing.

If you have any further questions about importing pets, please feel free to email me.