For many pet owners, leaving a cat or dog behind is akin to abandoning a family member. When separation is not an option, take comfort in the fact that it is possible to bring your pet to China, provided you’re ready to put in the hours of research and preparation. Many expats hire a pet relocation service to simplify the paperwork and alleviate language barriers, while others opt to save money and retain a higher degree of control by arranging everything themselves. No matter your approach, arm yourself with lots of patience and information – you’ll need both.
Before the Move
First things first: you’ll need a Z visa (work) to bring your pet into the country, with a limit of one pet per passport. Required documents include:
- Proof of a recent rabies vaccination. The shot must be administered at least 30 days but no more than 12 months before entry. These guidelines are subject to change at any time, so double-check with your veterinarian or relocation company as soon as you know that you’re moving.
- An official certificate from your country of origin to export your pet. Every country has different regulations; ask your vet or a relocation company to find out which government agency oversees this process.
- A health certificate or letter written by your veterinarian in the country of origin attesting to the health of your pet.
The Quarantine Period
As of November 1, 2012, the mandatory quarantine period for pets arriving in Beijing varies between seven and 30 days depending on the rabies status of the country that the animal is coming from. For example, pets entering China from the US or Canada are subject to a 30-day quarantine, while those coming from rabies-free or rabies-controlled territories such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, the UK, Hong Kong, or Taiwan must only undergo a seven-day quarantine.
All pets are quarantined at a facility near the airport and overseen by the Entry/Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau. Pets are fed, watered, and cared for humanely. However, owners aren’t allowed to see their pets while they’re in quarantine. In the past, when the quarantine period was set at 30 days, home quarantine was sometimes offered to diplomatic passport holders. However, the rules are now strictly enforced even for older pets and those with pre-existing health conditions.
Kennel cough (bordetella) is extremely common in China. The International Center for Veterinary Services (ICVS), a Beijing-based animal hospital, recommends vaccinating your pet at least two weeks before leaving your home country. Bordetella is an infectious disease that can be passed along in kennels and boarding facilities, as well as in transit.
A Clean Bill of Health
Once the quarantine period is over, owners should bring their pet to a legally-registered animal hospital for a routine checkup. Beijing has over 120 animal hospitals, but not all of them are registered with the Agricultural Bureau. Only registered hospitals are allowed to provide vaccines legally imported from Europe and North America. Outside each hospital, look for a large gold plaque with red characters and a license number. The plaque should say: 动物狂犬病免疫注射定点单位 (dongwu kuangquanbing mianyi zhushe dingdian danwei). In addition, only Chinese veterinarians are allowed to administer shots;
foreign veterinarians may consult and perform checkups, but cannot physically administer any vaccinations.
To relocate within China or leave the country with your pet, you’ll need a booklet called the Beijing Animal Health and Immunity Certificate. This red booklet is issued by registered animal hospitals and is designed to keep track of vaccinations. In China, dogs and cats are required by law to receive annual rabies vaccinations; three-year rabies vaccinations schedules from other countries are not recognized.
Animal hospitals also recommend an annual canine distemper (DHPPi) vaccine for dogs and a feline distemper (FVRCP) shot for cats, which are administered every one to three years. If you decide to take your pet with you when you leave Beijing, note that rabies antibody titre testing is now required for entry into all European Union countries, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia.
Registering Your Dog
By law, all dogs must be registered in Beijing; other animals are exempt from this regulation. Registered dogs are provided with a dog license – an ID card that contains information about both the dog and the owner. If you’re caught without this ID while walking your dog, you could face a fine of up to RMB 2,000.
Enforcement of this guideline is normally stepped up before major holidays such as Spring Festival (late January to early February), Labor Day (May 1-3), and National Day (October 1-7) as part of the government’s efforts to ensure public health and safety. Here’s what you need to know:
- Only one dog can be registered per household address. If you own a second dog, it must be registered at a second address.
- All dogs living within Fifth Ring Road must be no more than 35cm in height from floor to shoulder.
- Your local police station (派出所, paichusuo) is responsible for overseeing dog registrations. The process often varies according to district, so consult your local paichusuo for details.
- When registering your dog for the first time, you must bring the dog, two passport-sized photos of your dog (front head shot), your ID (including your passport and residence permit), your lease or property title document, written permission from your neighborhood watch committee (居委会, juweihui), and money for the registration fee.
- If you live in one of Beijing’s eight major districts (Dongcheng, Xicheng, Chongwen, Xuanwu, Chaoyang, Haidian, Fengtai, and Shijingshan), the registration costs RMB 1,000 the first time and RMB 500 for each subsequent annual renewal.
- Newly-adopted or imported dogs can be registered any time after January 1. The registration will be valid from the date of registration until April 30 of the same year. For dogs that are already registered, pet owners have an annual renewal window between May 1 and 31.
Cujo (8 Years Old, Male Golden Retriever)
Cujo was born in Beijing in 2006 at a shelter, then adopted as a puppy. He lived here with his family until they relocated to the US in February 2012. Last August, they returned to Beijing with Cujo.
Owners: Names withheld by request
Date of relocation: August 2013
Relocation company: World Care Pet
Cost: RMB 5,000 total
- RMB 2,000 US document verification and vaccinations (Cujo had to have a rabies vaccination within 30 days of arrival to China)
- RMB 3,000 for Chinese customs, quarantine, Beijing dog registration, and World Care Pet fees
Delta Airlines. Before booking their flights, the family had to submit the required documentation to the airline. After it was approved, Cujo’s information was listed in the itinerary along with the family’s. Cujo traveled in the cabin under special conditions. There are laws that limit the number of animals in the cabin per flight, so the family had to begin the documentation process several months before their departure. The gate staff and flight attendants were prepared for him since the documentation was handed in ahead of time; the cabin crew was helpful throughout the flight. It also helped that Cujo was well-trained and even-tempered.
Cujo is a registered and certified service dog and emotional support animal in the US for one of the family’s daughters. Because of this, he was able to remain at their feet. The family was permitted to sit in the bulkhead seats to allow more room for the dog; no other passengers sat in the same row. Cujo remained in his harness and leash the entire flight to prevent him from wandering while the rest of the family was asleep. He received plenty of attention throughout the flight; one daughter occasionally used him as a footrest; he seemed to welcome the physical connection.
The family’s travel routine for Cujo included him fasting for approximately 18 hours before the flight, with water allowed up to the morning of the departure. Because he was specifically trained as a service animal, Cujo was obedient. He slept periodically and was content to sit at his family’s feet during the flight. The mom carried a special travel bottle with a tray for him, and he was given a bit of cold water every three to four hours. Near the end of the 13-hour flight, Cujo was rewarded with a handful of dry food and some water.
Because of their unique situation, the family was able to walk off the plane with Cujo on a leash. Several airport workers were shocked and some guards followed them closely while reporting a “large dog” walking with a “foreign family” towards the baggage claim area. The family had already prepared themselves for a lot of looks, so the attention didn’t bother them.
They went through the immigration process normally and submitted Cujo’s license, service dog registration, and immigration documents. They also had to show photos and the physician’s letters documenting Cujo’s status as a service dog. Kiki Chen from World Care Pet had sent them all the documents they needed to present upon arriving in China.
Chinese quarantine officials were aware that Cujo and his family were arriving on that flight. Kiki Chen had communicated with them before their arrival and was also at the airport to make sure there was no confusion. There was a quarantine employee waiting for the family to check them in after they retrieved their baggage. They took Cujo to the small quarantine office, where the officials compared the family’s submitted paperwork with the documents that Chen had submitted ahead of time. They took pictures of Cujo and their daughter for their records, then gave the family the necessary papers for Cujo’s license and registration after they signed the paperwork and paid the RMB 28 quarantine fee.
It took about 45 minutes to complete the entire customs and quarantine process at the airport. It was much faster than the family had imagined, especially considering their unusual situation. When they walked out of the airport, Chen was there to meet them. She took Cujo in her van, where she had food and water ready, and drove him to the family’s home because they didn’t have room for him in their own van.
The flight arrived late in the afternoon on a Friday. The Monday after that, Chen picked up Cujo at 10am to take him to the license and registration office. He was returned the same afternoon at 2pm. Because Chen had helped the family get all the necessary documentation, registration, and permission for Cujo ahead of time, the normal quarantine period was waived so he could remain at home with the daughters.
Overall, it was an “amazing” relocation experience made much easier by World Care Pet. When the family left Beijing in February 2012, Cujo had to be crated in the cargo hold. According to the quarantine officials, their return last August marked the first time that a service animal was able to enter the country in this way. Because everything was properly documented, the family secured a written confirmation from the quarantine officials that Cujo will be able to depart China in the same manner. In return, they’ll simply have to renew his annual registration as normal and keep their documentation up-to-date with Delta Airlines.
Note that while Cujo was allowed to enter the country on an American airline and be recognized as a service dog, there are no such laws or permissions on Chinese airlines. This means he is not permitted to accompany the family as a service animal in public areas in China.
Tucker (4 Years Old, Male Labrador Retriever)
Owners: Kelly, Valerie, Julia and Ella DeSmet
Date of relocation: August 2012
Relocation company: None
Cost: Approximately RMB 5,470
- Traveling crate: RMB 1,500
- Veterinary bills, shots, and microchip: RMB 1,500
- USDA paperwork: RMB 470
- Quarantine fee: RMB 2,000 (not including additional charges to visit Tucker while he was stuck in cargo hold)
United Airlines. Because Tucker is a big dog, he had to fly in cargo.
The DeSmets started getting Tucker ready at least three months before the move with vet visits, microchipping, and training for getting into a crate.
Kelly flew from the US to Beijing with Tucker and made sure that he was exercised, fed, and watered before he was checked in at the airport two hours before the flight. It was a direct 14-hour flight from Chicago to Beijing.
Upon landing, Kelly could not locate Tucker. After a frantic search and some phone calls, it was discovered that Tucker had been sent to the Air China cargo hold. Kelly could not get him out without the proper paperwork and fees. They had to pay an additional RMB 300 and get special papers just to get into the cargo hold to see him, feed him, and let him out to relieve himself.
Finally, by 4pm the DeSmets got all of the paperwork done and paid all of the fees necessary to get Tucker out of cargo. They got to be with Tucker during the ride to quarantine before he was taken away for a week.
After seven days in quarantine, the family was able to pick Tucker up without incident. He was dirty but otherwise looked good, and even seemed to the DeSmets to have gained a little weight.
If they had to do it over again, the DeSmets say they would definitely use a relocation company to help them handle the paperwork. It may have cost a little more, but it might have prevented Tucker from being stuck in the Air China cargo hold and it would have taken away a lot of the stress they encountered upon arrival. Despite their misadventure, the DeSmets don’t regret bringing Tucker over with them.