Taking a Cat to Japan – Part 1

Our decision to spend a year in Japan for the #100Summits Project depended, in part, on our ability to take our cat, Oobie, along on the journey.

My husband and I believe that “pets are for life” and we wouldn’t have dreamed of leaving her behind. However, since Japan is a rabies-free country, entry requirements for pets are strict (see also: “draconian” – but with good reason) and it took us almost a year to ensure that Oobie could enter without undergoing extended quarantine.

The requirements for bringing a cat to Japan are set out–in great detail–on Japan’s animal import website(If you’re thinking of taking an animal to Japan, that website is your new best friend.) In a nutshell, the animal needs to be microchipped (with an international ISO-compliant chip), vaccinated twice against rabies within a specific interval, undergo a blood titer test that proves at least a minimum level of rabies immunity antibodies, and have a health inspection and certificate issued by a USDA certified veterinarian.

You also have to get your paperwork approved, and schedule your arrival via email, with Japanese animal import at least 60 days before you arrive in Japan – so if you’re planning this kind of a trip, you should start the process at least a year in advance, to make sure you have time for all the layers of formalities.

We did all of this, not only for Oobie but also for our elderly Persian, Tribble (aka “Boo”), anticipating that we would be taking both cats to Japan. Unfortunately, 18 year-old Boo died two weeks before we came to Japan, so only Oobie made the trip with us.

The day before we left for Japan, we had to get Oobie’s health inspection and have the certificate signed off by the USDA office in California. We’d already had the documentation approved by Japanese animal import via email, so in theory this was a simple process. (Japanese animal import’s Narita Airport branch is available via email 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – and the people who work there are absolutely fantastic. I think I exchanged two dozen emails with them over the month before we traveled, and I don’t think I’ve ever met a more helpful group of people.)

In reality, it all went smoothly until we got on the freeway to drive from Sacramento to Los Angeles (with a howling Oobie in her carrier in the back) for our flight to Japan. Twenty miles south of Sacramento, I realized that although we had all the documentation required for our arrival in Japan (a pile of papers half an inch thick, in both original and copied forms), including the Japanese health certificates signed by our vet that morning, I hadn’t actually obtained the U.S. health certificates required for the domestic leg of our flight–from Los Angeles to Seattle–a different form than the one required by Japan.

We pulled off the freeway and called the vet. To our relief, she was still in the office and agreed to prepare the additional certificate while we returned to Sacramento. (Airlines require original signatures, so a fax or scan would not have worked.) Two hours and one final form later, we retraced our steps again and drove to L.A.

The following morning we flew from Los Angeles International airport to Seattle, and then to Tokyo . . . a leg of our journey I’ll share with you on Monday!

Have you traveled internationally with pets? Did you find the requirements in your destination difficult?


One thought on “Taking a Cat to Japan – Part 1

  • August 9, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    Oh, yes. Aaron did not like any of it much, including the long car trip to Seattle, though he did very well, and is a fan of hotels. But once the vaccines and titer tests are done, it is good for a year. Aaron was all set to come and is still good for several more months, but he decided he’d prefer to stay in Seattle with the rest of his human family, his dog and BFF cat buddy (who live there all the time.) They all decided he was staying and told me I am out of luck. Fortunately, when I am ready for another cat, I know the King of Rescues who can fix me up. Until then, I need to make friends with Oobie!

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