How to Bring Your Pet to Japan

It’s finally happening. After years of dreaming of a life abroad, you’ve found a way to make it happen. Only you don’t want to go to Japan alone, not with your lifelong buddy sitting behind. Well, before you start packing your bags, make sure you put in the time and effort into figuring our how to bring your pet to Japan. It can be a very long and daunting process, not to mention expensive.

You will need to give yourself a minimum of eight months to prepare, but preferably a year. Japan is one of the most difficult countries in the world for importing pets, so make sure you follow the rules 100%. Failing to adhere could result in severe consequences, resulting in long term quarantine and hefty fees. Make sure you take the importing process very seriously.

Getting Started: Microchips

Before we get started, keep in mind we are assuming you are importing a cat or dog, but if you are importing a different animal, the process shouldn’t be too far off.

The first step for how to bring your pet to Japan is to get them microchipped. Assuming you’ve acquired your pet the traditional way, chances are you already have them microchipped. But if not, that’s step one. Your pet needs to be microchipped, and you need to know the name of the company that microchipped your pet, the microchip number, the date it was implanted, and you’ll need the proper documentation.

Moving forward, you will also want to keep a folder where you can place all documentation for you pet along the way. This is extremely important, so don’t lose it.

Regarding the microchip, it will need to be ISO standard, 15 digits (numerals only), and comply with ISO 11784 and 11785. If your microchip is not ISO standard, it will be your responsibility to provide a compatible reader. Don’t risk wasting all that time and money.

The Next Step: Rabies Vaccinations

After your pet is confirmed microchipped and you have all your papers reflecting that, the next step for how to bring your pet into Japan is to get their rabies vaccinations. Your pet must be a minimum of 91 days old to get the first vaccination and it can be done on the same day is your microchipping. Once your pet receives the vaccination, you will need to quarantine your pet for 30 days in your home before you can return to your vet for the next vaccination and continue with the process. Note that the day after the first vaccination is counted as day 1.

When 30 days have passed, you can proceed with the next vaccination. After you receive the paperwork, add it to your folder and bring your pet home. While it’s true you can technically proceed to the titer test next, many vets will advise you to wait another 30 first, or else you risk getting a false positive. The safest method is to quarantine your pet at home for another 30 days before proceeding with the blood work.

The Expensive Part: Rabies Antibody Test

When 30 days have passed since your second rabies vaccination, you can the continue with the next part of how to bring your pet to Japan. The rabies antibody test, also called a serological test, or titer test, involves going to your vet and having them withdraw blood from your pet. This typically comes with a fee setting you back around $250~$300, per pet, depending on where you get the test done. That’s what I paid for my cats, but if you have dogs, I hear it’s in the range of $500 per pet. So if you have multiple pets, those numbers will quickly soar. I had to deal with two cats and every 75 minute trip to the vet involved lots of screaming. Fun times.

Keep in mind that the blood work can only be performed at a predesignated lab, and not just any place of your choosing. Most vets will already know about this, but it can’t hurt to bring them a printout of the rules for importing procedures to Japan, if that will put you at ease. Click here to see a list of approved labs for the blood work. After the blood sample is in the mail, you can proceed to the next part of the process, the long wait.

The Waiting Game: 180 Days Later…

Before we can continue with how to bring your pet to Japan, you’ll need to quarantine your pet in your home for 180 days. The day after the blood sample is mailed out is day 1. Remember, once you get back your paperwork with the results, hang on tight and add that to your folder of important documnets. The results of the test will be valid for 2 years, so as long as you head to Japan within the next 2 years with your pet, you are good to go.

Also good to note, during waiting period, it is possible to start preparing for the next steps. You will need to let your airline know that you are bringing a pet. Do this in advance, as some airlines have a limit for how many pets are allowed per flight, and they all have different rules and regulations for which pets are allowed in the cabin, what types of carriers you need, and so on.

Checking with Your Airline

If you have a small cat or dog, you should be able to get away with stowing them beneath your seat. Unless you have a service dog or emotional support dog, your bigger breeds will have to be stores in the cargo below. I would never want me pet stored with cargo, so do your research and figure out what you need to do ahead of time.

For my situation, I flew with Delta, and I was told you need a soft carrier for putting pets beneath your seat in the cabin and a hard carrier for storing below in the cargo hold. I was also told the dimensions of the carrier should be 17 in (L) x 12 in (W) x 8 in (H) for soft carriers in the cabin for domestic Delta flights, and 13 in (L) x 13 in (W) x 8 in (H) for soft carriers in the cabin for international Delta flights. Remember, this will vary by airline, so call ahead and find out.

Notifying Animal Quarantine Services

When the date of your flight falls within the two month mark, it’s time to prepare for the next step. You must notify Animal Quarantine Services at the airport your will be flying into in Japan. This must be done a minimum of 40 days prior to departure to Japan. You can contact them by either mail, fax, or email, and let them know you will be bringing your pet with you.

Here are some useful links to help you with this process:

With that taken care of, just a few more steps to go. Whew.

The Final Checkup

Prior to departure, you will need to visit your vet one final time and get one last checkup. They’ll need the okay that they are free of parasites, rabies, and for dogs, leptospirosis. When you get the paperwork and everything checks out, add it to your folder and on to the next step, which hopefully you can tackle the same day if you plan it right.

The Stamp of Approval

The last step that occurs in your home country for how to bring your pets to Japan, involves receiving certification issued by your local governing authority. If you are in the United States, you will need to visit your closest USDA Veterinary Services. You won’t need to bring your pets, just that big stack of documentation.

They will go over everything on the list, prepare the further documents you need, and sign off on everything. And with that taken care of, you should be set to fly off. The next part of the process occurs at customs in Japan.

Consequences for Not Following Procedures

Do not take anything lightly when following the rules and guidelines set out by the Japanese government for importing you pet to Japan. You can click here for the full process on their website. By failing to adhere to the proper import procedures, your pet will be quarantined at Animal Quarantine Services at the port of entry you reach in Japan.

Your pet will be locked in a cage for 180 days with little contact, and you will be billed for each day it spends there. Don’t place yourself in that scenario. Not only is it costly, but it will have a terrible impact on your pet’s mental health. For pets unable to continue into Japan, it’s the owners responsibility to have them brought back to their home country. Pets unable to remain in quarantine or be sent back are euthanized. Don’t mess around.

Once you are in Japan and at Animal Quarantine Services, they will request the all of the information you have been saving up in that folder of yours. Make sure you kept it in a safe place, have a checklist, and make sure it’s all there. They will go through the individual pet info, microchip info, the info for the rabies vaccinations, the titer test results and details, as well as the info from the checkup prior to your last departure. When all of that is checked off and stamped, then you are your furry little friend are ready to enjoy your new life in Japan together. Congrats!