After securing visas, perhaps the biggest challenge we faced with moving to New Zealand was bringing our 13-year-old dog, Zebo, with us. It was a lot of work and it was expensive as hell but, let’s be clear, we would not have moved without him. As this is one of the most common questions that comes up, I thought I’d share our experience and some advice for others considering the same. Keep in mind that I am describing the process from the United States – importing from other countries should be similar, but your experience may be a bit different.
Pet imports to New Zealand are managed by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). They have a pretty good website which describes the process. I found that the best overview document of the process is MPI’s checklist – if you are going through the import process, I recommend you print it out and refer to it often. In addition, it is a good idea to pay attention to the certificate A, which outlines all the technical requirements for import, and the import health standard, which goes into more detail still.
Vet Visit #1 – Microchip, Rabies Booster, and Rabies Titer Testing (3+ months in advance)
We started the process for importing Zebo a little more than three months before he was to be shipped. This is the bare minimum time to get things started – it probably would have made our lives a bit less stressful to start a bit earlier. Keep in mind that Zebo, like most dogs in the USA, was already vaccinated against rabies. If your dog is not already vaccinated, you will need to start a minimum of six months in advance.
Zebo’s first step was a veterinarian visit. Before any vaccinations or testing could be performed, he had to get a new microchip implanted. Even though he had an existing microchip, MPI regulations specify that the chip must be ISO certified. After some research indicated that his chip was not ISO certified, he got the second microchip. Next, he got a rabies vaccine booster. Although Zebo was current on his 3-year rabies boosters, MPI requires a booster shot within a year of import, so he got pricked again.
Finally, it was time for the titer test, which must be performed at least 90 days before import. Before I understood the titer test, I was confused as to why it must to be performed so long before import. Here’s why – once exposed to rabies, it can take up to 12 weeks for an animal to start showing symptoms. This is why the quarantine periods used to be so long. The titer test measures rabies antibodies in the dog’s blood, which confirms that the rabies vaccination is working. A successful titer test means that the dog cannot get rabies from that point forward. The 90-day waiting period rules out the (very unlikely) possibility that the dog could have contracted rabies prior to the titer test.
Arranging Pet Transport
Like many, I got the idea that I could save some money by facilitating the move without engaging a pet transporter. After a little bit of research, I discovered that it was not even possible to do so. Only a handful of airlines fly between the United States and New Zealand – Air New Zealand, American, United, and Hawaiian. Neither American or United are willing to transport pets on flights exceeding 12 hours in duration, and Hawaiian will not ship pets on international flights. So this leaves Air New Zealand as the sole airline that will ship pets to NZ, and by policy, they will only work with pet transporters on international flights. Therefore, coming from the US, your hands are tied you must work with a pet transporter.
I contacted a number of different pet transport agencies for quotes, and I was really surprised by the variation in prices I was quoted. The prices ranged from $3500 to more than $9000. To be fair, the higher end prices did include facilitating vet visits and quarantine, but it seemed impractical to pay such a premium for that. So, we chose Pacific Pet Transport, based in Los Angeles. This would work out well, as I had to drive to LA to drop off a camper trailer that we were shipping out as well.
Paperwork Hurdle #1 – Official Veterinarian Declaration
The results of the titer test took about three weeks to come back – since there is only one lab in the United States that does the testing there is often some backlog. Before an import permit application can be submitted to MPI, the Offical Veterinarian Disclosure (OVD) must be completed. This is a simple form that must be completed by a veterinarian to certify the titer test results. However, there is a big complication with the OVD – it must be validated by a government veterinarian. In the USA, that means that a vet with the USDA must stamp the OVD form, the rabies vaccination certificates, and the titer test results. So, we fedexed off all the paperwork to the nearest USDA APHIS office in New Mexico, along with a check to cover the ~$150 fee for them to stamp the paperwork.
This is where the first issue came up. The USDA vet called and indicated that he thought that the rabies certificate – even the one from a few years ago – should show both microchip numbers on it. So we had to work with our vet to get an amended rabies certificate sent out for stamping. If your pet ends up with two microchips, make sure your vet lists both microchip numbers on all paperwork, including old rabies vaccinations.
Before filing the import application, it is necessary to have a quarantine facility reservation. Although there are multiple competing facilities in Auckland, since we were going to Christchurch we had one option – Canterbury Quarantine Services. Getting Zebo’s quarantine arranged was pretty straightforward – they needed copies of the rabies certificates, titer test results. One day and a $500 deposit later, and we had a quarantine reservation confirmation in hand.
Paperwork Hurdle #2 – Import Application
Finally, with all the paperwork in hand, I sent in the import application to MPI. It was easy to submit the application over email, however, they are very specific as to what paperwork gets included in what order. Make sure you pay attention to these requirements.
One week, and $220 NZD later, I got an import permit back in my inbox. MPI was really easy to work with.
Vet Visit #2 – Parasite Treatments, Heartworm Testing, and Leptospirosis Pills (< 30 days in advance)
Just under a month prior to departure, we went to the vet again. At this visit, the vet gave Zebo an external parasite treatment (gel), internal parasite treatment (pill), and heartworm test. In addition, we were given antibiotic pills to treat Zebo for Leptospirosis. No, Zebo did not have Lepto, in fact, he is vaccinated against it. However, the Lepto vaccine is known to cause false positive test results. As NZ allows treatment in lieu of testing, simply treating him for Lepto seemed the safer option.
There are a few things I wish I had known about this vet visit at the time. First, our vet performed the heartworm test in-house – it should have gone to a lab – this caused issues when it came time to export. Second, there is no reason this visit has to occur at 30 days, in fact, in the event of a delay in shipment, performing this visit as late as possible may prevent timing issues with the export. The only MPI requirements surrounding this visit are that the parasite treatments must be given at least two weeks prior to the follow-up treatments just before export, and the Lepto treatment must go for two weeks prior to shipment. This entire visit probably could have been completed concurrently with the 16-day visit. This is something to talk to your vet and exporter about.
Vet Visit #3 – Babesia Gibsoni and Brucella Canis Testing (<16 days in advance)
Both the Babesia Gibsoni and Brucella Canis tests must be performed within 16 days of shipment. These tests require a blood draw, which is then sent to a lab. As the tests take some time to conduct, I recommend doing this visit exactly 16 days prior to shipment.
The Best Laid Plans…
Four days before we were to leave, Zebo and I piled in the car, said our goodbyes, and drove off into the sunset, leaving Colorado behind. Two days later we arrived in Los Angeles. The plan was simple – I would drop Zebo off with the pet transporter, and he would facilitate the final vet treatments (heartworm, internal & external parasite), inspections, and paperwork. However, the day before he was to ship out, I got a call from Luis, with Pacific Pet transport – Zebo’s Brucella Canis test had not yet come back – not good. Furthermore, since our vet had performed the heartworm test in-house, it was not acceptable. It became clear that Zebo would not be leaving same day I was.
The Brucella test did eventually come through a few days too late, and Luis did a great job of facilitating a last-minute heartworm test, but the delay caused several problems in the meantime. First, since Air New Zealand requires a few days’ notice of pet shipments, it would be several days before he could be shipped again. Second – and more critically – since we had gone beyond 30 days since the initial parasite treatments and Lepto treatment, the conditions of the import permit were no longer valid. Fortunately, MPI is not inflexible in this regard – Luis was able to work with them to secure a 10-day extension to the import requirments, which meant that we would not have to start the 30-day clock again…whew!
All this happened just it time for Zebo to make it out a week later than originally scheduled. After completing the final inspections and treatments, Zebo was sealed in his crate, placed in the baggage hold of a 777-300ER and sent on his way across the ocean.
Arrival in New Zealand
I wonder what it was like for Zebo in the baggage hold. On one hand, I’m sure it was terrifying – he had no idea what was going on and it was surely loud and moving in ways he had never experienced. On the other hand, in many ways he had it better than most of us do when we fly (in economy, at least). He could sprawl out, stand up, turn around, etc.
After a lot of worrying on our part, he arrived in New Zealand tired, but otherwise fine. I met him at the quarantine facility – both of us were quite happy to be reunited after the week long delay. I originally worried about him in the quarantine facility, however, it’s pretty nice. He has a nice big run, it’s very clean, and they do seem to really care about the animals there. Still, I’ll be happy to see him come home. As of the time I’m writing this, he is scheduled to get out in four more days.
- Despite my initial reluctance, I’m really glad that we had a pet transporter working with us. I cannot imagine how we would have handled the last minute vet and permit issues without Luis’s help.
- I wish I’d been more proactive in dealing with my vet. I don’t know if it would have helped the tests come back any sooner, but it would have been good to reiterate the urgency of the tests, and I wouldn’t have been caught completely off guard when one came back late.
- It wasn’t cheap. I haven’t added it all up – I don’t want to. But it will be worth it to have our family – our whole family – together here in New Zealand.