MOVING CATS ABROAD: HOW WE BROUGHT OUR CATS TO SWEDEN
This post is dedicated to my two cats: Winston and Clementine. Specifically, this post is about how my two American cats made the move to Sweden! When people find out that we brought our cats to Sweden with us from California two years ago, I alway get so many questions: do they have passports? how did they do on the plane? where did they go to the bathroom? how long were they in a carrier? etc. etc.
People find it hard to believe we would bring our cats with us across the world, but it honestly never crossed our minds not to! Anyone who knows me know that these cats are everything to MacKenzie and I – they bring so much joy to our life, and it breaks my heart to even think about leaving them behind! So when we decided we would make the move the Sweden, I immediately jumped on the case and began researching what needed to happen to bring Winnie and Clem to Sweden.
Once I began researching, it all became a bit overwhelming. There are quite a few steps involved, and it began to feel like if we didn’t do everything just right, they might not let the cats on the plane much less the country! So, if you are looking to relocate with pets, or are simply just interested in the process of moving a cat abroad, this post is for you! I’ll do my best to break it down in an easy and manageable way, because if we could do it, you definitely can too!
Getting the documents
The most daunting part of traveling with any animal is all the documentation involved. Please keep in mind that all countries are different, and this information will specifically be for animals traveling from the United States to Sweden!
All animals traveling from the US to Sweden will need the following (taken from the USDA site):
Microchip – your cat must have a microchip and you’ll need the registration number
Rabies vaccination – rabies vaccinations valid for 1, 2 or 3 years are acceptable as long as the rabies vaccination is current. Keep in mind this vaccination must also take place at least 21 days before travel Additionally, make sure to get a copy of the rabies vaccination certificate from your vet as part of your cat’s required documentation!
Getting the health certificate – this is the tricky part, so read carefully! You cat must arrive in Sweden within 10 days of the health certificate being signed – so plan accordingly! Not all vets are USDA accredited (ours wasn’t), and so you’ll need to ask your vet if they are, or can recommend one nearby. All USDA accredited vets should have this info, but it’s good to bring this form just in case. If you are going to a different vet to have this certificate completed, you’ll need to bring your cat and all their vaccine records to the appointment. Ours appointment took about an hour with paperwork, checkup, vaccines, etc., so be prepared!
Once you have all this information completed, make copies – digital and physical! It gave me serious peace of mind to know that I had these documents in my carry-on, checked bag, and in my email (overkill probably, but one less this to worry about!).
What you'll actually need
As if moving isn’t stressful enough, worrying about your cat on a 10+ hour flight is enough to put anyone over the edge! I know personally I was more worried about how the cats would do than I was about getting myself and our stuff to a new country!
There are tons of blogs out there that will say you absolutely must use a calming spray to make your cats more comfortable – but take it from me, those sprays make no difference. The best thing you can do is to buy a great carrier, and leave it out a few days before the move. You cat will have a chance to explore, it will smell a bit more like home, and hopefully it won’t be too unfamiliar when at last it’s time for her to go inside.
So what do you actually need for the flight?
A great, airline-approved carrier – double check, quadruple check, and check again to make sure your pet carrier matches the dimensions allowed by your airline. US airlines tend to allow larger baggage and carriers than European ones, so check the website, to make sure your carrier is small enough to fit in the cabin. We used a carrier similar to this. I liked that the inside padding was washable and I thought it would be a nice idea to have the extendable sides. Since my cats prefer to be in a small ball when they’re nervous, the extensions weren’t really necessary, but it was a good option!
Your pet documents – second only to your actual pet, absolutely do not forget these! Health certificate, vaccinations, and rabies certificate!
Portable water bowl – though we offered the cats both food and water during the flight, they were not really interested. Still, it was nice to have this bowl handy in case they did want some.
Day of the flight
You have your bags packed, your cat’s documents in order, and it’s time for the moment you’ve been waiting for – the day of the flight!
This is a day I had stressed about for months. My cats were about a year old at this point, and had definitely never experienced anything like they were about to. I can’t tell you how many times I tossed and turned at night worrying about the flight, and more importantly – our journey through the airport.
Our first stop was to check our luggage, and to confirm with the airline that our cats were okay to fly. When we booked our flight, we reserved 2 spots for animals (one for each of us), but we didn’t pay the $50 per animal fee until we got to the airport. The person at the counter quickly glanced at our documents and took our money. All that stress and appointments for the documentation, and she gave it a cursory glance. Ah well, better safe than sorry right? After we dropped off our baggage and paid for it and the cats, it was time for security.
Just like any person or item that makes its way onto a plane, your cat will also need to go through security. The carrier will need to go through the conveyor belt, and to do so your cat cannot be inside. This means your cat needs to be taken out of the carrier and brought through to the other side. Now we’ve already established that I was already nervous about this whole situation, but taking Clementine out of her carrier at SFO and her getting loose is what literally kept me up at night in the weeks before we left.
I was so nervous about this that I called the airport and discovered that you can actually request a private screening. This meant that instead of taking the cat out of the carrier and carrying her, after I went through security myself I was brought to a small room. Two TSA agents accompanied me, one took the carrier to be scanned and the other waited with me while I held Clementine (MacKenzie and Winston did regular screening). They were both so nice to me, and it made me feel so much better have Clem out in a more secure environment. If you’re nervous about your cat possibly escaping or just want a more calm/secure environment for them to be screened, ask your airport if this is an option!
After security, the rest was honestly a breeze! We got on the plane, put our carry-ons above, and the cats each went under a seat. I had planned to mention to the people in our row that we had cats, but we lucked out and had a pretty empty flight. The flight from San Francisco to Copenhagen is about 11 hours, and thankfully it was a direct flight. As I mentioned before, the cats had no interest in food or water during the flight despite being offered multiple times. Towards the end Winston began to meow a little bit, but other than that they slept the whole way. I think the constant sound of the plane acted as white noise and actually calmed them a bit!
By the time we arrived at our new apartment in Sweden, the cats had been in their carriers for about 20 hours. I could tell they were getting restless, and were done with it all. We didn’t know how close to a pet store we would be, and so I actually had purchased a portable foldable litter box and brought it with us. I also brought a small bag of litter, which I now regret – but like I said, we didn’t know what things would be like! Though it was nice to have the litter and box immediately accessible after a long flight, if I had to do it again I would have just bit the bullet and gone to the pet store 10 minutes away to save myself precious suitcase space.
When we first arrived, we left the cats in the bathroom with food, water, and litter while we got settled. After a bit we let them roam around their new home. They were a little cautious, but very curious. It didn’t take long before they were making themselves comfortable!
These are my top tips to making your relocation with a cat as easy and painless as possible. With a little extra planning, hopefully your trip will go as smoothly as ours!
Do not feed your cat before the flight – this is the #1 way to avoid any kind of accident! Don’t offer your cat food or water about 6-8 hours before you put them in the carrier. That way they have time to go to the bathroom before, and empty out their system before being trapped for a while.
Feel free to offer water or snacks on the plane – but be warned that they may refuse. This is totally normal, and is nothing to worry about. Your cat will be happy to eat and make up for it when she’s settled in her new home.
If possible, book a direct flight – minimising the amount of times your cat needs to be hauled around is ideal if you can swing it!
Ask your airport for a private security screening – if you would like a more secure environment for your cat to be screened, request a private security screening.
Print out all documents and have them accessible – as I mentioned before, have one set handy, and another on your phone just in case. I have used these documents more than once, so it’s useful to have on hand even after the trip.
Double and quadruple check that your pet carrier is airline approved – US airlines often allow for bigger carriers, if you’re flying to Europe make sure you check with your airline that your pet carrier is the right size.
Refrain from buying sprays and pills – in my experience calming spray doesn’t work, and my vet strongly advised against any kind of sedative. Skip the drugs and let your cat get used to the carrier by leaving it out in the days or weeks before traveling. Consider bringing a small blanket if you think the smell might be comforting.
Make a plan for your arrival: litter & food – if you can, have a friend or family member bring litter supplies to you so it’s one less thing to worry about when you arrive.
So there you have it! My experience and top tips for relocating with cats. Hopefully this was helpful if you’re moving or thinking about moving – and if you’re not doing either, hopefully you enjoyed some cute cat pics! If you have any questions or additional tips, let me know below!