Travelling the world with a cat from Australia —  a memoir

I’m the first to admit that I treat my cat like a child. That’s fine, it’s no big deal. We’ve spent the last five years together —  when other people come and go, she’s always been there.

So, when I decided in early 2016 that I was going to go travelling indefinitely later that year, I never once considered not taking my furry friend with me. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has faced this dilemma, so I thought I’d share my learnings. Beware, it does not have a happy ending.

Taking a cat from Australia to the UK

After 5 months, somehow Bella’s biggest trip turned out to be the least complicated of them all. To be able to take a cat into the UK, you need to go through a pet transport company. After doing my research, I used JetPets. The price was slightly higher than other companies, but they had great reviews and I felt safe leaving her with them.

You will need to plan at least 3-4 months ahead of time due to the waiting periods required by immigration after vaccinations.

JetPets pretty much handle everything for you. I was particularly impressed that the vet comes to your house to give her the rabies vaccinations and vet checks that she required for the paperwork.

Basically, everything ran very smoothly. No major complaints. Kudos to JetPets.

I picked her up from Heathrow airport a couple of days after I arrived, and she was a little shaken but was back to normal within a few hours of getting her back to my mum’s house.

Total cost: $4,100

Taking a cat from the UK to Spain

I decided I was going to spend a couple of months living in Seville learning Spanish, eating tapas, drinking vino and all.

Ok, so you would think that moving a cat within the EU would be a much simpler affair. Oh, how wrong I was.

I booked Bella, myself and my dad (who was kind enough to help me take her to Seville!) on an Iberia flight. We packed up all my things (I literally put my life in a mega-sized suitcase) and jumped on a train with Bella from Bournemouth to Gatwick Airport. I bought her this seriously incredible carry case, which expands out, as you can see below. The airline limits for pet carriers are pretty small for an oversized cat like mine, so this was a perfect solution. You can get them here on Amazon.

cat carrierOur flight was very early the next day, so we booked at night at the hotel airport and smuggled her in. The three of us enjoyed an evening of M&S cheese and wine. It was all quite amusing, really.

We arrive at the airport early and this is where things went sour. When Bella landed at Heathrow she was provided with a health certificate from the vets there, which is valid for 4 months in lieu of an EU Pet Passport (the requirements to get the certificate are the same). Iberia didn’t have any staff on hand that really understood what was going on, so as the flight time was creeping up, it was clear she was not getting on board.

So, my dad and Bella were heading back to Bournemouth — and I was off to Spain without a cat.

Pretty disappointed with Iberia, really, and their customer service team just didn’t respond to our emails (they don’t provide a customer service phone number). It was very stressful on Bella, not to mention the hundreds of dollars of additional costs that we accrued.

taking cat to spain from ukTwo weeks later, my dad had an EU Pet Passport in hand (unnecessary, but there you go), and he headed off without any issues on TAP Portugal. One interesting thing he noted, was that they never X-rayed or searched Bella or her carry case. Pretty poor security flaw by Gatwick.

I’d like to point out that once you get yourself a pet passport, the process is easy.

Total cost (if all goes to plan): $150 (cost of taking a cat in the cabin on TAP Portugal)

Taking a cat back into Australia

This is where things went a little wrong. Bella and I had a wonderful few months in Seville. I then booked her on my flight to the USA. I was surprised that you can take pets as your carry-on between certain European destinations and the USA for around AU$150-200. I was booked to fly from Madrid –> Newark on TAP Portugal.

There are basically no restrictions on taking a cat into the USA. So this was an easy process.

However, I started looking at booking her back from Los Angeles to Melbourne. The total cost ended up sitting at around $4,000 ( the majority of the cost going to Australian Immigration). If you are planning on doing a similar trip to me, make sure you keep this in mind. So unfortunately, I had to make the difficult decision to leave Bella in Europe.

Total cost (LA – Melbourne): $4,000+

Taking a cat back to the UK from Spain

Taking a cat out of the UK is easy peasy (once you have the write documentation), but taking them back into the UK is not quite as easy. Here is a summary:

  • Cats can not travel in the cabin into the UK on any airline.
  • No airline in Spain will fly a cat into the UK. The exclusion was Monarch Airlines flying out of Gibraltar at a cool 800 Euros (plus your own seat).
  • Cats can enter the UK by ferry (e.g. Santander, Bilbao, Calais etc..), however they can not travel if you are only a foot passenger. You have to have a vehicle.
  • Unless you do have a vehicle, the only real option is to use a pet courier company. I found Animal Couriers, who picked Bella up from Seville and drove her to the UK. It wasn’t an ideal solution, as she was in the van for nearly 6 days. However, the facilities in the van were top notch and she was very well looked after.

Total cost: $450

So, if you have the same dreams that I have of travelling the world with your cat, you might want to start saving! In the meantime, I am already planning my next trip back to Europe to visit her in her new rural French chalet home 🙂

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