Moving OCONUS with Pets: How Hard Could it Be?

“It’s cheaper to ship our car than it is to ship our dogs,” I relayed to my husband as we finalized preparations for our move overseas. New kennels and veterinary visits for mandatory health certificates, along with their airfare added up to just over $3,000. Our car could have made the trip for about $1,200.

Not all military families will face a bill quite so steep. Our move was stressful enough for me, between inaccurate information from the transportation office, booked flights on carriers that never accept pets as luggage, and driving our dogs to an airport with an airline that would get them overseas, then trying to connect my family back to our original government purchased airfare, it’s safe to say, we’d been through the ringer.

We have two dogs, both too big to transport in either the cabin, or as luggage on US flagged carriers. This meant they’d have to fly as cargo. The contracted airline for our move overseas never transports pets, so the dogs couldn’t travel on the same aircraft as us (typically a less expensive option). Further complicating the process is the fact that fewer US flagged carriers will even accept pets on board these days.

Pets Oconus Graphic

Options are even more limited in the summer months (peak PCS season). Generally speaking, if temperatures exceed 80 degrees, pets can’t fly. What’s a military family to do? Our pets are a valued part of our family—they’ve helped my children deal with the stress of moving, among other things. And handing them off to someone else because we can’t afford their airfare would be heartbreaking. So, we chose to pay the fees and bring our dogs along on our overseas adventure. However, not all families can do the same and are left to find a new home for their pets.

Moving back to the US, we face a similar challenge. There’s not much information for pet owners. We haven’t been able to figure out if pets can fly unaccompanied as long as they’re met by someone in the destination city. I’ve been trying to connect with Ramstein AFB, but they keep referring me to their online brochure, which doesn’t give us any answers. Most families are getting their information from local Facebook groups. The question of flying pets unaccompanied is one that comes up over and over for military families, and for our family, has truly been one of the most stressful aspects of moving overseas.


So, we’ve decided to get our dogs back to the States ahead of our move (thanks Mom and Dad!), but now must decide how we go about making it happen.

We have the option of using a professional pet shipper, who will collect our dogs and get them loaded as cargo on a flight out of Brussels. We could play “Space-A roulette” out of Ramstein when it’s time for our entire family to fly back to the states, or one of us can make the drive to Amsterdam to fly KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, with the dogs traveling as luggage (KLM has a higher weight limit than any US flagged carrier).

I’m not sure which option we’ll select, but the kennels have been hauled out of storage and the dogs know something is up. Our dogs are members of the family, and leaving them behind is not an option. And, these days, affordable transportation doesn’t seem to be an option, either.

Have you moved overseas with a pet? What tips could you share?

Posted by Kelly Henry, National Military Family Association Volunteer


Add yours
  1. 1
    Carrie Moon

    My tip is, don’t try to take a dog or cat to Korea that can’t go by cabin. Delta stopped shipping overseas and the flight is so long most other airlines won’t allow it or have weight limits. Even if you can get your dog to Korea, it takes months of preparation because it must be cleared for Rabies by the FAVN test before a health certificate can be given and that can take weeks. There are also seasonal limitations for animals that must be in cargo in both summer and winter

  2. 2

    Leaving my pets was not an option as well when we had to move during summer. My family had to make other plans for our pets since the contracted airline for the military at the time did not have pressurized cargo storage. So I did my research to find other options so this is what I found.
    1. Check with TMO who is the contracted airlines (changes yearly) the military is using so you can call to find out detail on shipping pets. Depending on the time of the year, pets may or may not be able to travel as extra luggage in cargo.
    2. You can fly with your pets on Patriot Express but you need to reserve a spot 4 months ahead with Ramstein and TMO.
    3. Instead of using expensive private pet cargo company, fly a friend or family to help transfer your pet back home. You can use KLM airlines to ship animals as extra luggage ANYTIME of the year because of their pressurized cargo hold. Just make sure all the paper work is under their name but no worries, you will have to renew everything later on.

  3. 4

    We recently PCS’d to S Korea. We have 2 lg GSH, that are very much part of our family. After researching different ways to fly them over, we chose to pay a extremely high price to have them flown over through pet travel agent. Only to have them thrown in back of a vechile with no ventilation. It’s a picture I will never get out of my head. It’s been 3wks & over 4,000.00 in Vet bills. We find out next wk if our male has permanent kidney damage. I share this story only to make everyone a where, even though I thought everything was planned perfect and my babies would hate the flight but meet us at the end and be very happy to see us. I didn’t think for one min I needed to worry about our sponsors getting them here sage for us.

    • 5
      Shannon Prentice

      What a terrible experience!! As an animal lover, this breaks my heart. Thank you for sharing, and hopefully helping someone else avoid such awful care for their own pets.

  4. 6

    I’m looking to move to Europe and have 5 dogs and 2 cats. Won’t move if they can’t come. The horse, well… There is NO way I’m putting any of these guys in crates and “shipping them”. Even if on same airline I’m on. I am looking for a cruise ship line where I can take the whole family. Looking. Not so easy. Anyone come across anything??

  5. 7
    Adeline McGonigle

    We PCS 01AUG18 on a IA to Sofia Bulgaria. I am flying my 2 dogs, Vizslas, on Lufthansa, after months of research. They can only connect in certain cities in certain countries. They will be in a pet pressurized cargo hold and will be transferred via the airline at their connection in Frankfurt. I am flying them overnight so they will be worn out from the day. They leave 08AUG18 with my mother on the flight with them, accompanying them. The will be USDA Vetted on 01AUG18 and it is good for 10 days. I already got their rabies and 15 digit chip (just had them verified). It is a lot of work to move with 2 dogs but they are my fur babies and I won’t leave them behind for 2 years.

  6. 8

    We pcs’d in summer of 2016. It was going to be CRAZY expensive to ship our dog and cat since it was international, and during summer embargo. We ended up purchasing my husband a ticket out of our own pocket so he could fly Meridiana Airlines (now Air Italy). The one-way ticket from JFK to Naples for my husband was right around $300 and each pet was just over $100. It would have been like $2,000 per pet through a pet transporter. This way, both pets were on the same flight with my husband (and were at least near each other in the hold, LOL). We had no issues whatsoever. We’re home during our RAT right now, and my youngest son and the dog are coming back to Italy with us (my son graduated high school last year and he and the dog moved back home), but this time we’ll be on the rotator and they have a pet space booked for us.

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