“You’re bringing your cat with you?”
“I’ve known my cat longer than I’ve known my husband and 75% of the people in my life, damn right I’m bringing my cat with me!”
I must say, I was shocked by the number of people who thought it was crazy to bring my cat to Kazakhstan. I heard, “That sounds like a lot of work, is it worth it?” and “Are you sure that’s fair to the cat?” more than I anticipated. Other pet owners were more understanding and typically responded with, “Oh! That is so great you can bring him with you!” or “Of course you’d bring him!” It wasn’t necessarily easy, but it was worth it!
What was the process for getting my beloved Meo to Kazakhstan? It required several visits to the vet, lots of paperwork, and a few phone calls.
First, we had to figure out the requirements for bringing a live animal into Kazakhstan (every country has their own rules and regulations, which can be found on their embassy or consulate pages).
Second, I needed to find a USDA certified veterinarian, luckily our regular vet is registered and already had experience with helping animals move abroad. She was familiar with much of the basic requirements and the process for getting paperwork approved (she was so awesome and went above and beyond to make sure we got our kitty there!). In addition to micro-chipping Meo, we needed her to fill out two main things: an international health certificate (APHIS 7001) and a rabies vaccination certificate (and these needed to be endorsed by the USDA 10 days prior to departure). This is where things became a little complicated, mostly because of our holiday travel timeline (*see below if you are interested in the painful details!). Later, we didn’t know how many copies of this paperwork we would need, so we paid for a few Apostille copies to be safe.
The third step required we have a notarized Russian translation of Meo’s health certificate and rabies vaccination. Our vet gave us a copy of the certificate to send to a translator, which freed up some of the timeline stress (one more thing I could get done before the holidays). I found a translator online who could do this for around $115 and have it back to us in a few days.
A few months prior, after getting our tickets, I had to contact the airline about getting the cat on the flight. We weren’t sure if he’d have to go as cargo or if he could be carried on; luckily, we were able to bring him on board. I started putting Meo in his carrier randomly (and after rewarding him with food) to get him used to being in there and not panic while on the flight.
On the day of our departure, we checked in for our flight, the airline examined the paperwork, I had to take Meo out of his carrier and walk through the metal detector with him, and then we were at our gate. He stayed in his carrier under the seat in front of me during our flight to Amsterdam and didn’t make a peep. During our layover, I found a secluded restroom at the airport and let him walk around for a few minutes on his leash (yes, he has a harness and leash), he had a snack, used his portable litterbox (half of a giftbox, a plastic bag, and a sandwich bag of litter – it was amazing), and went back into his carrier. We had no trouble getting through customs once we arrived in Astana.
It took Meo all of an hour to make himself at home in his new surroundings and has claimed the basket in which I was storing my socks as his new favorite nap spot. So now that I can see how much I typed, yes, it looks like it was a lot of work. Maybe it was selfish to make him fly 19 hours to a new country, but he did not seem phased by the travel. But would it have been any less selfish or fair to him to leave him in a new place or with new people just because it wasn’t convenient for us? As a pet owner, you make a commitment to an animal and you should stick with it; it’s what you do for family.
*Meo needed to receive his rabies vaccination no fewer than 30 days before we left. My vet is literally a four-minute drive from my house, so getting him there regularly for visits is not a problem. His health certificate, however, could not be filled out more than 30 days before our departure (and based on some terrible wording on the USDA website, we initially thought it all had to be done no more than 10 days before, which caused some serious confusion and frustration since we were leaving right after Christmas/New Year). So between Christmas with my in-laws and my family, we snuck in a quick visit to get the final health certificate. The certificate had to be endorsed by the USDA no more than 10 days before leaving the country (this is where it initially sounded like the health certificate and endorsement both had to happen within 10 days, thus, the panic and stress). St. Paul had a USDA office that could have performed this quite easily, but the office closed in October and the office that took over Minnesota endorsements is in Madison, Wisconsin. After getting the health certificate, we instead had to overnight it to the USDA, get their endorsement, and have them overnight it back to us. Their office had limited hours that week because it was between Christmas and New Years; we really had to coordinate the crap out of all of this. It was annoying, but it all worked out. If you ever plan to travel with a pet outside of the country, definitely give yourself enough time and get your ducks in a row!