Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bringing Pets to Japan from Rabies-Free Countries

The cats survived the trip from Europe to Japan rather nicely and now behave as if they’ve been living here all their lives. Though the pain and discomfort of the ordeal is not yet forgotten (and I doubt it will ever be) - as soon as their pet taxis are taken out of storage, the cats run and hide. They know the bags mean trouble.

And I can’t blame them. If you were forced to sit squashed in a tiny space for an indescribably long period of time (which I’m sure that’s exactly how 18 hours feel to a cat and most people I know), you’d have some serious trauma, too.

Cat in carrier

My unhappy camper getting ready to board the flight.

Of course, whenever possible, and even several times during the flight, we took them out of the carriers, massaged their legs and let them stretch out. And because we did that in the airplane bathroom (the one with the changing table), as you can easily imagine, some passengers were not amused. Oh well, their problem. As I told one particularly nasty prick (who was old and traveled alone, if he had an infant, I would have been more understanding) – I don’t see any cats here, only babies wearing fur, and they deserve their time on the nappy changing table too.

“What? You want them to piss in the isle?” I asked the prick. That shut him up.

And FYI, we always cover the table with disposable hospital liners (the ones used for babies and patients with incontinence), so the cats never take one step on any unprotected surface. They never leave the table. And after we finish, the liners are thrown out, and the table is cleaned with anti-bacterial wipes. I might be a crazy cat lady, but I have my moments of common sense. ;)

Also, to be able to transport a cat across international borders, the cat MUST be declared disease and parasite free - you should have seen the tests and treatments these poor kids had to go through before the trip! So, the only thing we were unable to help our fellow passengers with were any potential cat allergies.

At helsinki

Relaxing at the airport in Helsinki

Of course, the cats didn’t piss, and wouldn’t piss anywhere either way. That was the main reason why we chose the shortest connection and subjected ourselves to the Finnair treatment.

By the time we got to Narita, I could tell the cats were desperate for a litterbox. Even though we didn’t give them any food or water the day before the trip, after nearly 18 hours spent in their pet taxis, they really had to go. In more ways than one.

However, first we had to go through the pet quarantine procedure. Technically, for pets coming from rabies-free countries, there is no quarantine upon arrival in Japan. There is, however, quite a lot of paperwork to submit, file, check and sign. And the cats need to be inspected by an official vet at Narita before they can be released to you.

This is how it works:

1.    Before you fly to Japan, at least 40 days before your intended arrival, you need to submit a "notification of import of animals" form. You will then receive an "approval of import inspection of animals" document along with an approval number from the Animal Quarantine Service in Japan. Then you will need to fill out two additional forms (forms A and B, one of which needs to be signed and stamped by your normal veterinarian) and get them certified by an official government vet in your country. And you may also need a third form, an annex, if your flight itinerary involves a stop-over in a third country, or to certify that the container with the animal has not be opened during transit (if going as cargo).

2.    Once in Japan, proceed through the passport control as usual. In the Customs area, head to the Animal Quarantine desk. Over there, a clerk will look up your pet’s approval number and tell you what to do next. Hint – have the original of the "approval of import inspection of animals" paperwork ready, depending on a clerk on duty, your filled, signed and stamped forms A and B, both containing the freakin' approval number, may not be enough. What can I say, Japan loves its bureaucracy.

3.    The clerk on duty will give you a piece of paper, which you will need to give to a customs officer to get it stamped. You will also get a map to the Quarantine Office. Then you hand your pets over to the Animal Quarantine clerk at the desk and off you go.

4.    On your usual yellow customs declaration form don’t forget to write you are bringing live animals into the country. Show your customs declaration and the paper you got from the Animal Quarantine desk to the customs officer. He will keep the declaration, but make sure that after stamping the Animal Quarantine paper, he gives it back to you! You will need to show it at the Quarantine Office upstairs to collect your pet.

5.    Follow the maze to get to the Quarantine Office upstairs. At least, it was upstairs in Terminal 2. It’s a bit complicated, so don’t hesitate to ask for directions. On the departures level, you will pass through a guarded door into a “staff-only” area. After that, take the elevator to the 6th floor.

6.    Upstairs, the appropriate office is clearly marked, just open the door, go in and take a seat and wait your turn.

7.    Your pet’s paperwork will be EXTREMELY carefully checked, line by line, letter by letter, number by number by an anal-retentive official. Any discrepancy between what you wrote on the initial "notification of import of animals" form and your current forms A and B and the Annex will be questioned and investigated. Forms, which bear the stamp of your country’s official government veterinarian are as sacred as the Holy Bible.
On our "notification of import of animals" application we listed our cat’s color as “brown”, then our vet listed it as “orange” on Form A. But since our vet’s form was later stamped by the government veterinarian, the color of the cat needed to be changed to “orange” in the Quarantine Office computers and a new document had to be printed out.

8.    Your pet will be waiting for you behind the desk. Pick up the bag and go to the next room where a veterinarian will take over. The microchip will be read, the pet will be examined, you will be asked questions: “are your pets well behaved?” and “any vomiting or diarrhea within the last three days?” and “how do you think they feel?” and so on. The vet was competent and thorough, he understood our cats were tired and scared.

9.    After the health-check, go back to the other room to sign the arrival paperwork. If everything is deemed to be in order, you are free to go.

10.    Your sweet fluffies are now officially in Japan.

The whole process took us about 30 minutes. It would have been shorter, if not for the brown-orange issue in the paperwork. By the way, if there are issues, make sure the Japanese official doesn’t make any spelling mistakes, our clerk misspelled “orange”, which resulted in additional corrections and wasted time.

While waiting to get the paperwork corrected, we saw one rabbit and two cats being processed. The rabbit went very quickly. The cats were in hard containers (came in as cargo, I assume) and were handled by a pet moving company. Their processing dragged on and on.

The above applies to pets from rabies-free countries, which are listed as: Sweden, Norway, Iceland, UK (Great Britain and Northern Ireland only), Ireland, Guam, New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, Fiji and Taiwan.

But before you make any plans to bring your pets to Japan, make sure to get the scoop from the official Animal Quarantine Service website.

1 comment:

  1. Mea-chan,
    we travel with disposable hospital liners and anti-bacterial wipes ;)
    My cats would not take one step on an uncovered surface of any kind, no worries. And I clean after them, too.
    The liners we use are the same kind that doctors and hospitals use for patients with incontinence ;) I normally spread them on the nappy changing table. And after a single use, they are thrown out.
    After finishing with the cat, we clean everything with anti-bacterial wipes.
    Though I sometimes may seem like a rude crazy cat lady, I am in fact a perfectly responsible cat owner with plenty of common sense and everyday courtesy.
    The health of my cats is my top priority, but so are the health and well-being of my fellow humans. Even if they happen to dislike cats. LOL!