PSCing from US to Okinawa with Dogs Flying Commercial

CONTRIBUTED BY SHELL BURGER

PCS with Pets l Okinawa Hai

When we found out last January we were moving to Okinawa in June, we were very excited; then came the daunting task of preparing. Luckily, when we got word we quickly googled moving pets to Okinawa. WOW. There was a LOT we had to do to bring our dogs with us. Since they are part of the family, we never considered not bringing them with us. 

Most of the guides out there mainly focus on military PCS’s with pets, however, since we are civilians we did not have access to military vets. Thus, our process was a little more difficult, costly, and time consuming. As most guides will tell you, the first step is to make sure your dogs have been micro chipped with an ISO (International Standard) compliant chip. Once you have the chip, you will need two rabies vaccinations at least 30 days apart, but not more than one year. Then you can get the FAVN test, which checks the rabies vaccination level in the dog’s blood. Okinawa and Japan are rabies-free and they want to stay that way, so they are very strict on bringing animals into their country.

Both of our dogs had been micro chipped years ago and were up to date on vaccinations, however, when we went to our civilian vet we found out that one of our dogs chips was not ISO compliant. This of course, cost more money and time. Did I fail to mention there is a six-month quarantine? I will get into that more in a moment. 

One of our dogs, Miaka—a salt and pepper schnauzer—was able to get her second rabies vaccination and have blood drawn to start the FAVN test. You can have the second rabies shot and FAVN done on the same day. Our other dog, Malfoy—a black and white schnauzer—had to get the micro chip and first rabies shot, then wait 30 days to get his second rabies vaccination and start the FAVN test. Once the FAVN test is sent away, the six-month quarantine period starts. Luckily, you are able to home-quarantine your dogs while in the states.  If you don’t reach the full six months, like we did not, you are still able to bring your dogs with you when you PCS. You will just have to finish your quarantine at an on-base location, whether that is Karing Kennels or an on-base residence.

PCS with Pets l Okinawa HaiThat is just to start the ball rolling to move them to Okinawa; to actually get them here is another lengthy process. First, you should make arrangements as soon as possible to get them on the same flights with you. When we finally got our orders to move to Okinawa, the Patriot Express was already full so we ended up on United Airlines. Let me tell you how much of a struggle it was to get our dogs just booked with United. When we PCS’d, United had just changed their pet policies and not only increased the safety and care the animals received, but also the cost. United started using “Pet Safe,” a procedure to prevent animals from sitting on the tarmac for hours in the heat; instead the animals would be placed in air-conditioned vehicles until the last minute to load. We really liked this idea. Another new policy of United was that they restricted where animals could fly out of, mainly due to airplane types and whether cargo holds were pressurized or not. This again is another new safety feature. This did mean we had to drive more than an hour to a different airport when we were moving—even though we had an airport 20 minutes away—but it was worth it to take our doggies with us.

One thing to keep in mind when booking your pets with an airline is to check the route all the way to Okinawa.  United partners with ANA (a Japanese airline that goes from Tokyo to Okinawa) and to get our dogs on the ANA flight, we had to have the travel agent change the flight code from a United Flight to ANA. Luckily, our agent was able to do this and we were able to book our dogs all the way through, after several hours of phone calls with several companies. You definitely need some patience when trying to book your dogs. Also, you will be faced with a cost from United for your dogs and a cost from ANA or the Japanese carrier for each dog. 

Finally, we had the dogs being home-quarantined and they were booked on flights. Our next step was to send all the necessary paperwork to the Japanese AQS (Animal Quarantine Service) at least 40 days prior to arrival. You can find all the necessary forms on the website for the AQS. To submit our forms, we emailed the completed and signed items to [email protected]. We received approval within two days of sending the forms. They will email you back the approved forms that you will need to print off and bring with you to provide at AQS when you arrive at Tokyo. Make sure not to change anything on the forms after they approve them, or you will need new forms.

After the AQS paperwork was all completed and approved, 10 days prior to our leaving the states we had to get a health certificate for the airlines. Part of getting this health certificate involved getting USDA approval of the certificate. If you have access to a military vet while in the states this process is easy, since the military vets are all USDA certified, but once again, as civilians we were not able to use a military vet. There were two ways to get approval: overnight the health certificates to the USDA vet in your area and have them overnight them back, or drive to the nearest USDA vet to get the forms approved. Most states only have one or two civilian USDA vets. Since we were leaving just after a holiday weekend, we decided to just drive to the vet and have them approve the forms. And honestly, that is all the USDA vet does, approve forms; they don’t inspect your dogs at all. We had to get the health certificates from our normal vet then take the forms from our vet to the USDA. It felt like a waste of time, but both the airlines and AQS did look at the paperwork. You can find more information about USDA vets and what all you need at their website. If you have questions, just call your closest office; they are very friendly and know what all you will need.  They can also verify your local vet can complete the health certificate.

After the USDA forms, we were set with paperwork for our dogs. We used the airlines guides to find crates suitable to transport our dogs, and followed the guidelines for paperwork, names, food, and water with the dogs. Something brilliant we read was to freeze water in the dog dishes in the crate so they could have something to drink while in flight. We did make sure they had both a food and water bowl in the crate, as well as an old towel; most airlines won’t let you have a “mat” in the crate. One thing I would do differently is to have more than just one serving of food for each of our dogs because we were delayed overnight in Tokyo. Luckily, the airline found a hotel to put us up in that allowed our doggies to stay on the docks, so my husband was able to at least walk them and feed them, but we felt bad since they had only one meal in 48 hours. I would recommend taping an extra meal or two to the dog crates.

Once we handed over our dogs to the gate agent in the states, we did not see them again until we landed in Tokyo. Once we got through customs and immigration, we proceeded to pick up our bags and dogs, then head to the AQS counter. Both dogs were each on a cart ready for us, so all we had to do was proceed right to AQS.  The lady took our paperwork, reviewed them, and stamped our dogs’ paperwork and told us to check in at the military vet. I think she barely glanced at our dogs. It seems the paperwork is the most important thing for them.  We had followed suggestions and had probably 10 copies of everything for each dog. That was way too many copies, and a lot to carry. Honestly, we only needed three, but I would probably have about five to play it safe.  You never know who all will want copies of what. 

I will say that the people at the airport are very helpful and friendly. The guy checking our luggage through the customs section, after we had our dogs and ALL our bags, actually helped us push some of the carts we had loaded. We definitely over-packed; we had six large suitcases, six carry-ons, a convertible car seat, stroller and two dog crates. We were probably quite a sight: my husband and I, with all our luggage, 18-month-old daughter, and two dogs. I honestly look back and cannot fathom how we managed it all. 

Once we got to Okinawa, our sponsor picked us up and helped us drop our dogs off at Karing Kennels. Make sure you work with your sponsor to either get pet-friendly quarters for when you arrive or make reservations at the Kennel on base. During PCS months, aka the summer, the kennel books up fast. They also have after-hours drop off if your flight arrives late at night like ours did.

As the Japanese AQS people will tell you, you will need to register your pets with the military vet within a set period of time. I cannot remember the exact time, but I know we arrived on a Saturday night and registered the dogs that Monday. You don’t need an appointment to register; it is walk-in for registering. For more information on Kadena’s Vet Clinic and tips for PCSing with a pet you can check out their website.

Although the process to bring our dogs with us to Okinawa was costly, difficult, and time consuming, we could not imagine being here without them. Hopefully, our experience will not discourage you from bringing your pets with you, but instead will provide you some insight into the lengthy process so you can prepare. Forewarned is forearmed.

Useful Websites:

Japan Animal Quarantine Service

USDA – Animal Export to Japan 

US Army Veterinary Services

Kadena Veterinary Clinic

Karing Kennels


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29 Comments
  • July 11, 2016

    Update from 2016-We are about to fly with our one OLD (about 16 years) dog to Okinawa and have picked up some tips along the way. Since we got our orders very late, the Patriot Express was all booked for pet slots (well past my report date), so we are flying United into Tokyo, and then ANA into Okinawa. As described in the article, United operates its “Pet Safe” program, and the out of pocket cost for us (just for the dog’s tickets) from Kansas City to Okinawa is about $900.

    We additionally had to upsize our kennel crate, since the one we use for the dog to sleep in at night wasn’t large enough to fly in (United has pet policies on its webpage, and can direct you to an appropriate sized kennel).

    We also (like the article said) had to change the last leg of our flight from a United flight # to an ANA flight # to be able to book our dog from Tokyo to Okinawa. I agree that you should prepare to spend a few hours on the telephone to get your dog’s travel booked.

    In addition to all the great advice in this article, my advice is to work with your military veterinarian (if you are lucky enough to have one at your post/base); they are a “USDA certified” vet and can streamline the FAVN testing, and (at least here) were much more familiar with the needs of taking your pet overseas than our regular vet out in town.

    Be aware that “short-nosed breeds” are not allowed to fly Cargo (on any carrier we checked), and I was nervous that our old mutt may be one, but the vet told me she isn’t.

    This trip is going to be rough on our family because of our old dog; we love her and don’t have anyone that we trust to take her, but we realize that our 16 year-old probably isn’t going to be with us much longer. (I am in my 40s, and neither my parents or my wife’s parents are in any shape to take our dog…my family is nuts and so if my wife’s so they aren’t trustworthy enough to take our dog either).

    In any case, we are about $1K into getting our dog overseas…at least she will have some beautiful island time in her twilight years (maybe Oki is the new doggie Florida?).

    Patrick Snyder
    Reply
  • October 31, 2013

    Marine Families please note there is a new order (just came out October 2013 probably due to the gov’t money issue) and the way it is written even though my dogs can’t get on the patriot my husband, baby and I still have to fly it and they will not send us commercial. I asked if just the baby and I could go commercial with the dogs and they said no we had to go on the patriot. I am still trying to work out these issues so any advice would be appreciated. We took our dogs with us to Okinawa from 08-11 so we know it can be done but back then we were able to get the dogs on the patriot. Would prefer not to have to buy a separate ticket just for me to get the dogs over commercial but will do so if it comes down to it.

    Crystal
    Reply
  • August 22, 2013

    I am beginning to fill out the Advanced Notification Form from the Japan AQS website, required to be submitted 40 days prior to arrival. The form requests a Name and Address of Consignee. Do you know what this would be? I will be working on Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. Would this be the facility on Kadena? If so, what should I enter for the name and address?

    Jay
    Reply
    • August 22, 2013

      a cosignee is required if you have someone else picking up the dog at its destination. That would be the person picking up the dog if it is yourself then put your info.

      charlie
      Reply
  • August 16, 2013

    Has anyone been able to take their English bulldog with them? I need help in finding airlines that do not have breed restrictions and in a way that is safe for my dog. Any help is appreciated!

    Rebecca
    Reply
  • July 28, 2013

    Shell,

    I am so glad to have read your article and wanted to ask you what the hotel was that excepted you pet. We have 2 dogs and have to options. JAL will only confirm one dog and of course it is the small one; we do not want to be stranded if our Lab is not excepted. ANA flies out 24 hours later and that would mean an overnight stay with 2 kids and 2 dogs; it is looking like the best option though. If you remember the hotel that would help out so much.

    Thank you,
    Lisa

    Lisa Plattsmier
    Reply
    • July 31, 2013

      Hi Lisa,

      I really wish I could tell you where we stayed, but it was all arranged by ANA airlines and when we got there we were so exhausted (having traveled for over 20 hours already) we really were just worried about having a bed to sleep in and a place for our dogs to stay. Since the airline paid for it, we didn’t even get a receipt, so I really have no idea what the place was called. Sorry. Maybe someone else out here has experience with dog friendly hotels in Tokyo. Or might I suggest contacting OAARS (Okinawan-American Animal Rescue Society), here is their website http://www.oaars.org. They are a volunteer only non-profit rescue that helps a lot of families. They also share a lot of PCS stories and have lots of helpful information. Good Luck!

      Shell
      Reply
    • November 1, 2013

      I noticed that there is a pet hotel inside the airport that you can use to check your dog upon arriving at the airport. I have not personally used this before so it might be worth looking into before arriving.

      Kinjo
      Reply
    • July 20, 2014

      I understand that the Radisson Narita is pet-friendly. They also offer a shuttle to and from the airport. Good to know in case of a missed connection or extended layover.

      Kimberly
      Reply
  • July 16, 2013

    How early out did most of you get flights scheduled by DMO? We submitted all of our paperwork at 90 days out from the PCS date so we could get our pets on the plane with us. We are now 40 days out and do not have any flights scheduled. We have completed all of the health screenings, etc, and have area clearance but NO flights. New to all of this and none of my friends at Camp Pendleton have PCS overseas before. When should we expect our flights to be scheduled? We keep being told oh we will get to it when we get to it.

    Raelene
    Reply
  • July 12, 2013

    Very good article! We are PCSing to Okinawa next month and flying commercial on United/ANA as well. I know you said you ended up getting delayed in Tokyo overnight, so you might not have an answer for this – but provided that there is no delay, are you expected to/is there even a way to get your dog outside to “do their business” in between flights before you check them in at the ANA counter? Or would the dog just be expected to (if they can) keep holding it until reaching Oki??

    LuLu
    Reply
    • November 1, 2013

      We were able to let our dog out for a stretch break & potty time outside of the terminal before traveling to our final destination (Okinawa).

      Kinjo
      Reply
  • June 26, 2013

    I’ve been told by ANA that if we are using code-sharing reservations through United Airlines, once we land in Narita, we will not be allowed to check the animals in the ANA flight at Narita and will not be allowed to fly through to Okinawa. Has anyone else had this experience?

    The Narita Airport website has a good guide for arrival procedures.
    http://www.narita-airport.jp/en/guide/step/t2_arr/index.html

    Rod
    Reply
    • June 26, 2013

      You will need to talk to whoever booked your flights and have them change the flight code from a UA flight code to an ANA. It should be an easy fix. I had to do the same thing when we traveled last summer. Good luck!!

      Shell
      Reply
      • July 28, 2013

        Thank you for your feedback. It turned out to be much easier than we had expected. When we landed in Narita our pets are waiting for us at the baggage claim. We quickly made it through quarantine and customs and checked our pets in at ANA in under 2 hours. It wasn’t very difficult to get them on the flight even with code sharing and without reservations and only cost 5000 yen each. There were no issues in Okinawa at all.

        Rod
        Reply
      • August 6, 2015

        I had my flight booked through CTO and they can’t change the code to ANA, they said I could buy my own ticket and get reimbursed up to the cost of the government ticket. Has anyone had this happen to them? Im reading the rules of the fly america act aka fly the most expensive way possible act and this seems like a risky way of not getting reimbursed.

        John
        Reply
  • June 18, 2013

    Are there any restrictions for military contractors taking pets with them to Okinawa?

    Jay
    Reply
    • November 1, 2013

      All SOFA status, including contractors can take their pet with them, given all the paperwork is completed and tickets are purchased.

      Kinjo
      Reply
  • June 2, 2013

    I will be PCSing to Okinawa in about two weeks, my TMO personnel never reserve a spot for my dog so I now have to get the dog out there and pay the cost. All the paper work is done (chip, rabies, FAVN test, and advance notification) just need the 10 day out health certificate which I can get done once I know for sure which day the dog will tarvel. my plan is to get to Okinawa with my family and get them settle in and then fly back to the states get the health certificate and fly back with the dog. so I am asking if anyone has a specific airline to recomend? I am planing on flying out of Los Angeles airport to arrive in Okinawa. Thanks

    Guzman, C
    Reply
    • June 3, 2013

      I recommend flying on United airlines if you can since you mentioned departing from LAX. My wife and I flew on United, with our two cats, and it was relatively painless from LAX to Tokyo Narita. Then we flew on ANA from Tokyo to Okinawa. For that leg our cats flew in the baggage compartment in their cages, but all went well. ANA didn’t charge much either to fly both cats.

      I’ve heard that flying with a pet to Okinawa, via Osaka, works well too. You might have to take a different airline to fly from LAX to Osaka though. Hope this helps.

      Carl
      Reply
  • May 30, 2013

    We are PCSing from Okinawa back to the states and the military said they could not find a flight for my dog. My dog is a snub snose shih tzu and we are set to fly out in June. I ended up booking my own flight and flying an interesting route on Air Canada. My dog weighs 12 pounds and can fly in cabin on Air Canada. We have to pay for this ticket ourselves because Air Canada is not a U.S. carrier, but you gotta do what you gotta do to get your baby home.

    Jeanna Arfsten
    Reply
  • May 17, 2013

    When we PCS’d last summer United had quoted us $800-1000 per dog for us. Our dogs are schnauzers weighing about 26 lbs each. They said the final cost would not be known until we checked in at the airport. The gate agent that checked us in was not aware of the policy changes so they only charged us about $500 each, but I would not count on that. Does anyone have a more recent travel experience via commerical with a large dog, that can help Reem out? Thanks.

    Shell
    Reply
  • May 16, 2013

    I have a lab and we are leaving here in 3 month. My husband called some airline and asked how much the cost to ship our dog, because he was told if we take AMC flight it will consider carry on and if we take commercial flight we have to pay for her. She is 70lb, they told my husband it will be $2000 !!! Is this real? Can someone help, I need to know from someone who already moved within the past few month and what was your experience? What airline you took? We are military on orders. Thank you everyone for the information

    Reem Demler
    Reply
  • May 15, 2013

    @Erin – you will need to collect your cat and take it to the AQS counter. They will not allow ANA to do it. If the airline knows you have a pet they should help you out. Once you get through customs your cat should be waiting there for you. As for when you check back in for the ANA flight you will hand your cat over at the counter, they will take them from there. At least that is what they did for our dogs. One thing we did while traveling was to ask both at the counter before boarding and once on the plane to verify that our dogs were also on the plane. Good luck!!

    Shell
    Reply
    • May 15, 2013

      Thank you, Shell! This was the one piece of the puzzle that I wasn’t quite able to get that “warm, fuzzy feeling” about. All the forms and shots/vaccines and time-tables available on various websites let me know WHAT to do at every step except getting the cat from United cargo to ANA cargo.
      I’ll be sure to ask after my cat at many stages of the journey! Thank you for your post…so glad all family members made it safely to Okinawa!

      Erin
      Reply
  • May 15, 2013

    This was SO helpful! In a few weeks, I am joining my husband in Okinawa with our cat, and am in the process of booking my flight: United to Tokyo and then ANA to Okinawa. The agent at United asked me if I knew how to get my cat to the appropriate area for cargo transport on ANA. Specifically, after going through customs/immigration/AQS in Narita, would I have enough time in my 3-hour layover to take my cat to the appropriate place so she could get on the ANA flight as cargo?

    I guess my question is will AQS take my pet from me and transfer it to ANA, or will the ANA ticket counter take her from me, or will I have to go to a different building altogether? Follow-up question: assuming all paperwork is in order, can this be accomplished within 3 hours?

    Thanks so much in advance for the advice and sharing the experience! Looking forward to my Okinawa adventure!

    Erin
    Reply
  • May 14, 2013

    Good guide, glad you all made it. We recently PCSd to Oki, (arrived end of April)

    We originally had reservations at the Karing Kennels, but we got lucky enough to get a room at the Shogun Inn on Kadena that was pet friendly, without having a reservation. i called them the night my sponsor picked me up and was able to get a room for just a couple nights. We would just check in with the front desk a couple times a day to see if they had any pet rooms, and we were able to extend our stay at the Shogun. As a backup, we just kept our reservation at the Karing Kennel, and told them about our situation (that we had pet friendly lodging on base and wouldnt be bringing our dog to the kennel) We were in the Shogun for two weeks before we moved into our house. It sure made things easier on our dog..

    I flew on the AMC flight, but my wife flew commercial due to the lack of availability of pet spots on the AMC flight. I got my orders in mid February with a report date of 1 May and we were able to get our dog out here. It’s not as hard as everyone thinks, just get organized. I will say that we were anticipating orders to Oki based on a dialogue I’d been having with my monitor, so were prepping our dog to move to Oki (microchip, rabies, etc) around December 2012.

    Here”s some of our lessons learned: my wife flew on Japan Airlines, it cost us 175 dollars to ship the dog. Our dog is a lab and weighs about 70 lbs. She said Japan Airlines was amazing. She flew out of San Diego direct to Tokyo, then down to Oki. All told, the commercial flight is shorter than the AMC flight (fewer stops) which is probably easier on the pet.

    The cost of a room at the shogun inn was 55 dollars a night plus a 10 dollar pet fee per day. I think it’s definitely worth it to keep checking in with the shogun if you can’t get a reservation right away. Things are really dynamic and stuff opens up.

    The Kadena Vet Clinic is super busy. Plan a few hours for your first visit. Good luck!

    Jimney
    Reply
    • November 19, 2013

      How big was your dog? We have a 70lb dog and 40lb dog and united quoted us $2278. I about lost it on the phone. Any details about the Japanese Airline booking you could share would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

      crystal
      Reply
  • May 14, 2013

    An additional source of information
    http://kadenafss.com/pets

    Ryan
    Reply