Caitlin Roman, 128 RPCV
Peace Corps Pets. Some of us have em, some of us want em, some of us would ET without them. Whether you’ve gained a furry friend as a result of loneliness or by special circumstance, a conscious decision or a twist of fate, at some point you’ll be left wondering “what happens when my two years are up?” My advice is to start thinking about it sooner than later because while the process is not that complicated it can be a bit hairy for someone who isn’t allowed to operate a car and who makes about $200 a month.
To save you from the hours and hours I spent researching and banging my head into a wall, here is everything I learned from my experience shipping our two dogs home to the US from Thailand.
Short disclaimer: this information is pretty dog-specific but I’ve included anything I learned about shipping cats and other animals where I could.
For us, this was the biggest hurdle because it required finding someone at site who was willing to not only have our dirty outdoor dogs in their car, but who could also commit the time to driving us to the nearest vet every 3 weeks for 3 months. The good news is, to ship a dog to the US they are only required to have their rabies shot, so if it’s really hard for you to get to a vet you’ll only really need to go once. HOWEVER, while they are not required for travel, I would *highly* recommend you vaccinate your animals anyway, especially if there’s a solid chunk of time between when you adopt them and when you plan to send them home. In addition to vaccines being significantly cheaper in Thailand than they are in the states, diseases like distemper and parvo are highly prevalent in Thailand and they are very effective killers. Our puppies were exposed to distemper pretty early on in the vaccine cycle and would have surely died had we not started their shots when we did.
In terms of the rabies vaccine, it’s important to note that if it’s their first rabies shot it must be administered at least 30 days prior to when they are scheduled to fly in order to give it time to take effect. Dogs must be at least 3 months old before they can receive a rabies vaccine which means if you have a puppy they won’t be able to fly until they are at least 4 months old. If your dog has been previously vaccinated for rabies you’ll need to make sure that their booster is up to date. Apparently, cats don’t need rabies vaccinations to enter the US; however, most states and other countries require them. Check in with the airport that you’re flying into as well as any countries in which you have a layover to see what their specific requirements are.
The full cycle of vaccinations can be administered over the course of about 10-12 weeks and should cost about ฿1000 per dog.
2. Travel Crate
Some airlines will allow animals to travel in the cabin if they are small enough to fit in a carrier under the seat, however most dogs will need to fly as checked baggage. You will need to buy a crate that is approved by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and measures at least 4-5 inches from the dog on all sides so that they can stand erectly, turn around, and lay down comfortably (FWIW, this was not closely measured when we shipped our dogs home, however it might be dependent upon which airline you fly).
Unfortunately, crates aren’t cheap, and the bigger your dog is, the more expensive the crate will be. Previous volunteers reported paying upwards of $300 for a crate, having to order them from China or brought in from US. Luckily, we found a pet store in Bangkok with a wide range of brands and sizes, reasonably priced and they will deliver to you anywhere in Thailand. The name of the place is Shamu Shamu Pet Center, it’s about a 10 minute walk from the Sathorn BTS stop. You can download their catalogue from their website and email the owner Faye to place your order online. We ordered everything a few days before the puppies were scheduled to fly and had it delivered to the Airbnb we were staying at. Make sure to order whatever accessories you’ll need to go along with the crate (crate pad, food dish, water bottle, puppy pads for accidents). When shipping the dog you’ll want to bring *a lot* of zip ties with you to the airport so that you can make sure the crate is locked securely on all sides.
For (2) relatively large crates, a box of puppy pads, (2) crate pads, and (2) water bottles it cost us about ฿11,000.
3. Health Certificate
Before animals are permitted to leave the country they will need a health certificate from a vet which verifies they are healthy enough to fly. The health certificate needs to be administered no more than 2-3 days prior to travel. I’d recommend not waiting until the day before because if the animal has a fever for any reason they’ll have to wait a day or two and come back. This part can be tricky because you’ll need to find transportation to and from the animal hospital in Bangkok. Luckily, there is someone here to help! Her name is Sue – she works at the embassy and has made a hobby of helping PCVs send their pets home. She was able to help us with all our transportation in and around BKK with the dogs, as well as translating at the vet and at the Quarantine Unit. I’ve passed her contact information along to Khun Suthanya so that it can be made available to PCVs upon request.
The health certificate cost us about ฿2000 per dog.
The US does not require cats and dogs to be microchipped, however, all dogs and cats (and rabbits..?) entering, leaving, or transiting through Thailand are required to have a microchip. Do not show up to the Quarantine Unit without one because it’s the first thing they check and they don’t make exceptions. We were able to get our dogs microchipped at the vet in Bangkok when we went to get their health certificates. We were originally told that the chips in Thailand would be useless in the US because they use a different system, but both dogs were scanned and registered with no problem at the vet in the US.
The microchip cost around ฿1000.
5. Quarantine Unit
After the animal receives their health certificate you’ll need to take them to the Quarantine Unit at Suvarnabhumi Airport. The animal will NOT be quarantined, this is just where they need to go to have their paperwork processed and receive clearance to fly. You’ll need to bring their vaccination records, the health certificate, information about your flight, and SIGNED copies of the passports of whoever will be flying with the dog. It’s best to try to do this in the morning before the wait gets too long. We had to wait about 4 hours when we went so I’d recommend brining a book and maybe some lunch. At the end of this process you will receive an import/export permit – I don’t recall how much this cost, but I think it was a couple hundred baht per dog.
6. Pest Treatment
If you haven’t noticed, Thailand has a pretty big tick problem (a word to the wise, if you have your animals living inside with you I would make sure to do daily checks for ticks – I know several volunteers who never thought to look and when they did they realized they had a full blown infestation IN THEIR HOUSE). I used to be able to sit down on any given day and pick upwards of 20 ticks off of one small puppy – even when I was picking the puppies daily, they were still covered. That being said, the dogs can’t have any ticks or fleas on them before they fly so you’ll want to give them a flea bath and treat them with something like Frontline a few days prior to their departure. I’d recommend starting treatments well before they leave Thailand though – we used to bath our puppies twice a month and have the vet give them a shot that would kill ticks and fleas for 30 days – even then our dog Bua had to be on antibiotics for a while when he got to the US because he had a parasitic blood infection 😦
7. Staying in Bangkok
You’re going to need to stay in Bangkok for 2-4 days before your animals fly home. This means you’ll need to find accommodations that are pet-friendly and somewhat affordable. Easier said than done. Ibis hotels were recommended to us, but they’re upwards of $100 a night. What we ended up doing instead was renting an Airbnb for the same price and splitting the cost with a few other people. The place we rented was not only able to accommodate multiple guests, but it was in a fenced-in complex so the dogs had a lot of space to run and play and use the bathroom outside.
8. Transportation in Bangkok
Not only are you going to need to get your pet to Bangkok, but you’re going to need someone to help you get around once you get there. Sue, who I mentioned earlier, works at the embassy and has made it a sort of secondary project out of helping PCVs get their animals home over the years. We had to find our own way to Bangkok with the dogs (one of my counterparts drove us), but Sue helped us get everywhere else we needed to go in the days leading up to their departure and dropped us off at the airport the day of their flight. Sue is an angel and is more than happy to help other PCVs through this process so please don’t hesitate to reach out to her.
When shipping animals there seems to be two options: they can fly alone via a cargo shipping company, or the animals can fly as a passenger’s checked baggage on a commercial airline. The first option is *really* expensive (like over $1000), and the second option isn’t cheap, but it can be fairly affordable depending on what airline you choose (I’ve heard that Korean Airlines is one of the cheapest). Make sure you call the airline at least a few weeks in advance of the flight to let them know you plan to fly with your dog. They’ll need some basic information about the dog as well as the dimensions of the crate so that they know how much space to save.
We sent our dogs home with some friends who were visiting so we had to coordinate with them which airline they would fly based on which ones allowed animals as checked baggage, also taking the price into consideration. Our friends ended up booking with Qatar Airlines who have a pretty good reputation flying animals and unlike other airlines will take the dogs out of their crates and walk them during the layover – friends who have flown with them have also had nothing but positive things to say about their experience (good food, good in-flight entertainment, friendly service).
*The price for each dog to fly as checked baggage with Qatar Airlines was $350. I’ve heard that Korean Airlines will fly dogs for about $200.
10. Other Things to Consider
If you’re planning to send your dogs back to the states you’re going to want to start thinking through the details sooner rather than later. If you have post-COS travel plans that’s something you’ll want to consider. Can the dog fly home with another PCV? Can a friend or family member who’s visiting fly back with the dog? Who will care for the dog until you get home? Can you afford to pay for their upkeep while they’re with that person? (food, vet bills, etc). As you can see the process requires a bit of planning but I can assure you it’s all worth it in the end.