Cat On An Overseas Trip – Part III: The Journey

Welcome to Part Three of my series on transporting your pet from the USA, all the way to Malaysia. Part I was was about travel accessories, and Part II was about essential pet travel documents. In this post, Part III, I’ll describe my overall experience travelling with Schubert Cat, including flight check-in, going through security, claiming your pet on arrival and checking him in with the quarantine office (MAQIS.)

Domestic Leg & TSA Checkpoint

Per standard procedure, arrived about two hours early at IAD to check in. I flew with Virgin (don’t need to pre-book travel for your pet, just show up and pay the fees,) and while I was given a “priority” boarding pass, it didn’t make any difference when going through TSA. I still had to join the masses 🙂 queuing to put their carry-ons and miscellaneous items into bins for the x-ray scan. In fact, NO ONE would have noticed I had a cat with me if I hadn’t tapped a guy on the shoulder and asked him what I should do.

“You’re gonna take your cat out of his bag, and you’re gonna carry him through the metal detectors,” said the officer, as he pointed towards a gate beside the body scanner. “And the bag’s gotta go through the x-rays.”

Take Schubert out of his bag? The instructions were clear, but the officer resumed what he had been doing without alerting colleagues near the metal detector. I imagined horrible things happening after I took Schubert out of his carrier.

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You put me in this small and miserable space; and you’re expecting me to COOPERATE???

Fortunately, it wasn’t bad at all. Schubert refused to get out of the carrier from the side, so I opened it up from the top and grabbed him around the middle, lifting him up and out of the bag.

“Awww!!!” said a woman’s voice from the queue behind. Schubert just looked confused and had no desire to struggle out of my clutches. I looked around at the TSA officers again, and this time, the ones near the metal detectors indicated I should step over towards them. I can’t remember if they patted me down after walking through the detectors, but I’m gonna say they didn’t.

Overall, TSA checkpoint with Schubert was uneventful. My expectation was that the agents would be all over me because I was carrying a live animal — this wasn’t the case. There’s no telling if your experience will be the same, but it’s good to keep in mind that if nobody notices you’re traveling with a pet, take the initiative and alert them.

You might get some stares and some smiles as you make your way through the airport. “Oh, kitty kitty!” cried a few people. “Can I take a photo of him in his carrier?” asked a guy sitting beside me at my gate. A woman sitting nearby, brightened up and cast furtive smiles at Schubert’s carrier. My cat, who’s a bit of an attention whore, would have loved all this if he wasn’t so busy being confused by our trip.

On the plane, Schubert was very quiet the entire way. I only felt some frantic scrambling while waiting to enter the plane, and during takeoff. Vacuums are Schubert’s mortal enemy, and the plane’s engines must have sounded like the Grand Monster Vacuum to him. Once we were on the plane, I was supposed to tuck him under the seat front, but couldn’t. I wrote about this in Part I, and here’s what I said:

Despite the customer service rep’s advice, the soft case was still about two inches too tall to go under the seat. If you really need to have it fit under, you’ll have to find one that doesn’t have wiring to retain the bag’s shape. The flight attendant wasn’t overly picky about it, but she said to try and make him fit the best that I could. In the end, I just moved him over to the floor of the empty seat beside me.

Besides that, he was calm and ventured to lovingly rub his face on my hand whenever I poked into the carrier to check on him.

International Leg & Transiting

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What, now I am considered LUGGAGE?! This is outrageous, Human Lady. Simply unacceptable.

In Part I, I described the Petmate Sky Kennel that I used to transport Schubert all the way to Asia. This is an excellent and very sturdy, bolted kennel that comes in various sizes. I had considered sizing up just to give Schubert a bit more room to move, but the one I got was for pets up to 15 pounds and it was roomy enough.

At the Korean Airlines counter in San Francisco (SFO,) I checked him in together with my luggage. This is also the time when they’ll ask for documentation and the $200 pet travel fee, and you must pre-book your pet’s travel.

Before I could proceed through security to get to my gate, I was asked to wait by the check-in counter for a handler to escort me to the oversized baggage counter. Obviously Schubert isn’t oversized, just a more unique type of, uh, baggage.

Once again, I was asked to hold Schubert while they checked his carrier at the oversized baggage counter. This was a quick procedure, done in under a minute. When he was safely back inside, the handler took over transporting Schubert to the plane, as he couldn’t be sent down to the hangars via conveyor belt like the rest of the bags.

As the handler walked away with Schubert in tow, I suddenly felt a pang of fear that he’d be placed on the wrong flight, but quickly told myself I was being irrational. Yes, bags do get lost but more often they end up in the right place. (Or do they?)

The paranoia was probably due to the long layover I had in Korea. In Incheon (ICN,) he was automatically handed over to Korean quarantine for the night, and then transported back over to the plane heading for Malaysia the next day. I was just concerned that someone might get lax (it happens) and Schubert could be heading for Malawi instead.

If you have to transit like I did, you may not need anything. Hopefully, whichever route you take won’t require any additional papers for the transit country.

And after we parted ways in San Francisco, the next time I saw Schubert was in Kuala Lumpur (KUL.)

Arriving in Kuala Lumpur and MAQIS

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Animal Quarantine, known as MAQIS is located in the baggage claim hall on the far right corner, near Carousel J.

This is the most nail-biting part of the journey. At this point, you’re a bedraggled, jet-lagged traveller, arriving after a (very) long trip and you’re anxious to see that your pet got here safely, but you’re also itching to tear off your travel clothes, have a nice warm bath and fall asleep on a soft bed. Take a breath and brace yourself, because it’ll be awhile before you get there. You still have to queue for customs, take the sky train over to baggage claim, collect your luggage, find the Quarantine office to sign some papers, then wait for your pet to arrive at the baggage claim hall. All require some patience and wait time.

Fortunately for Malaysians, the customs part is fairly quick and painless — just swipe your passport at the turnstile, wait for it to read your thumbprint and you’re through. The main anxiety I had during this part of the journey was finding the Quarantine office, which is also known as MAQIS. I had a few false alarms before I finally found the right one. (By then, my luggage had arrived at the carousel and it didn’t take long to collect.)

Just before the immigration checkpoints, I spotted a large “Kuarantine” sign over a door on the left. Hopped in there and began asking the lady on how to sign off on my cat, when she interrupted:

Cik, ini bukan kuarantine haiwan, ini kuarantine manusia!” (Miss, this is isn’t animal quarantine, this is quarantine for humans!)

Oops. Hot-footed right out of there quicker than when I entered.

Went through customs and past a few duty free stores. Spotted another quarantine sign soon after but this one said fisheries. Not the right one either.

I didn’t see anything else that looked relevant, so I took the sky train over to the baggage claim hall. After fruitlessly following some signs that said “kuarantine haiwan,” I gave up and asked for directions.

(I think this slight confusion over the office location could have been cleared up if I’d been able to reach someone by phone or email for directions. I’d expected to receive specific instructions on what to do on arrival day from the agent my folks hired, but unfortunately, his communication really missed the mark there. He should have been there to check me in with MAQIS as part of his service, but I ended up doing that on my own.)

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What is the meaning of this abominable treatment?! I demand you let me out!

MAQIS is located at the far right corner of the baggage hall, in front of carousel J (approximately.) The staff there are super nice and friendly, which almost makes up for the lack of information on their confusing website. They checked my passport, documents and bag claim ticket before making a call to check on Schubert’s status — he was on the way. Hurrah!

While waiting, I signed off on MAQIS’ paperwork, then ran to collect my checked luggages. If you have food for your pet, this is the time to hand over to the MAQIS folk, or leave it on top of your pet’s carrier so they know which pet it’s for.

By the time I found the food in my luggage, Schubert had arrived, wheeled over on a luggage trolley and understandably cranky. The very nice MAS officer said he’d been yowling when he was handed over, and she tried to comfort him to no avail. Poor Schubert!

Nevertheless, it was definitely a relief to see Schubert had arrived in good shape (besides the temper tantrum,) and I noted that someone had taken further steps to prevent the carrier from bursting open by drawing a couple rounds of clear green tape. I’ll never know if it was the staff of SFO, ICN or Korean Air, but I’m grateful for the thoroughness.

Much as I didn’t want to leave Cat with the quarantine folk, I was reasonably assured that he was in good hands, and it was time for me to go meet my folks. Because I arrived late in the evening, I wouldn’t have been able to visit him immediately at the quarantine station if I wanted to. I went the very next day, armed with treats and a soft blanket to make up for all the discomfort.

Stay tuned for the final installment in this series on Schubert’s quarantine station experience.

Comments or questions? Post them below!

Next: Cat On An Overseas Trip – Part IV: Malaysian Quarantine

Previous: Cat On An Overseas Trip – Part II: Essential Travel Documents 

Cat On An Overseas Trip – Part II: Essential Documents

This post is Part II of my Cat On An Overseas Trip post series. While Part One discussed travel accessories, Part Two will be all about travel documents that you’ll need on both USA and Malaysia ends. In fact, before you make other arrangements, your pet’s documents should be the first step in the process that you should handle, as some may require action before you can get the permits and certificates. Due to the slightly complicated procedures on the Malaysian side, I decided to wait till I had all the necessary paperwork before writing about this part of the process.

We’ll cover three main aspects of documentation, and their required fees.

1) USA documents.

2) Malaysia documents.

3) Private, for-hire agents to process Malaysia documents.

USA documents

You need:

1) Rabies certificate, which, as you know, comes free with rabies vaccination updates. Every vet or hospital has their own certificate template. Mine looks like this:

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2) Microchip, about $50. Somewhere along the confusing barrage of information from various websites on importing pets to Malaysia, I was told that I need an ISO compliant microchip. I also read somewhere that a microchip is optional for cats, but required for dogs. Two agents I called  did not confirm this when asked. One merely said that if the microchip ID number is under 15 digits, I wouldn’t have to redo my cat’s chip; the other said if we hired him, he had an “inside” connection that would forgo this requirement. He must have thought I am that dumb to believe his horseshit.

My cat’s chip had under 15 digits, and (when we arrived,) I wasn’t questioned. Excellent, one less thing to worry about.

3) International health certificate from USDA accredited vet, approximately $100. Vets will only issue you the certificate 10 days before your date of travel, and after they determine that your pet is healthy and all shots are updated. There is a domestic and international health certificate — remember to ask for the international one! It should be in a standard format that looks like this:

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4) Once you have the international certificate in hand, you need one additional step – a $38 notary stamp from the USDA. You CANNOT go to the random nearest local USDA office, it MUST be one that has an Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) department. You can either: a) Fedex your international certificate to be notarized, or b) drive to their office and get it done, but CALL FIRST and let them know you’re coming. In the Washington D.C. area, USDA APHIS Richmond was a drivable two hours from where I lived, and since I waited till my last few days to get the health certificate, personally going to the office was the quicker option.

Malaysia documents

You need:

1) Import permit, which I believe is a different colour in its original format. Mine was emailed to me by the private agent. It looks like this:

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To obtain this permit, you have retain a private agent to get it processed for you. The permit itself is $40 and the private agent will quote you his fee for getting the permit for you. We’ll discuss private agents in more detail shortly.

2) Quarantine booking form, can be found on the Department of Veterinary Services website:

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It’s free to reserve but there is a daily charge for room space. A limited number of air-conditioned rooms are available for extra, but we’ll get to that in a separate post. Do not send your quarantine space booking form to the email above. I believe it may be out of date, or I just had zero luck reaching anyone via that email. Use the fax number provided (03-8787 2378) BUT call them to double confirm (03-8787 2377/2379.)

When you’ll need to present your pet papers: I didn’t get asked for any documents when I flew the USA leg (D.C. to San Francisco) of the trip, but your airline might. The carrier that takes you from the USA to Malaysia will definitely want USA health and rabies certificates, as well as the Malaysian import permit. Upon arrival, Malaysian quarantine aka MAQIS will ask for the original USA international health certificate, USA rabies papers and Malaysian import permit.

Private, for-hire agents

It used to be that you could handle the entire process on your own if you so chose, but in the past couple of years, they’ve been referring individuals to use the services of “agents” to not only apply for the permit on your behalf, but to also get you through the entire import process. These agents will usually quote you for a “package” deal of services that includes import permit application, quarantine space booking, customs clearance, release of pet after the seven days period and even delivery of pet to your home. Save for the former and the latter, the rest are simply making sure you get hold of the right people to fill and sign forms. My personal opinion based on experience with hiring an agent is that those of you who are committed to seeing the process through by yourself (except the import permit application,) can do this without an agent’s help.

Thus, hiring an agent seems like it should be a choice, but isn’t.

How agents are required in this process:

1) For getting the Malaysia pet import permit. Charges vary between $50 – $100 depending on the agent you hire.

When you might want to hire them for services beyond import permit:

1) If you are newly arrived in a location that’s beyond driving distance range for you to visit your pet during the seven-day period, and to collect him/her once it’s done.

2) You don’t want to go through all this hassle of paperwork, phone calls and such. Remember that even if you hire an agent, they only do the Malaysian paperwork, and NOT the USA ones.

3) If you are not confident that you’ll be able to handle the process on your own. The only reason I can think for this “lack of confidence” is language barrier, or you’re moving to Malaysia on your own and have zero logistical backup, or both. If it helps you to know, all the officials are friendly in person and speak English well. I’ll be posting parts 3 and 4 on the travel experience, and the quarantine process; from that, you can determine for yourself whether it’ll be too difficult to fly solo.

In case you do need one, there are a few professional Klang Valley-based pet moving companies listed with the International Pet And Animal Transportation Association. MAQIS also has a number of individuals that they might recommend to you. I cannot vouch for either type of agents, but based on what I know, large company movers are efficient but more expensive, whilst individual agents are charge less but professionalism may not be quite on the ball. My price range estimate for agent fees is anywhere between MYR 500 – MYR1300 for their “packages.” I only agreed to have an agent hired because of relatives at home that were freaking out over the process. If I could do over, I would not hire an agent beyond the import permit application.

Whichever way you chose to handle your paperwork on the Malaysian side, I’m sure you’ll choose based on your personal needs. Whatever gives you peace of mind in ensuring your pet gets to join you in Malaysia without a glitch, is the best way to go. If you know of a good agent with reasonable charges, please share his or her contact details in the comments.

That’s it for Part II. We’ve got out documents and our travel accessories, now we’re ready to fly. Stay tuned for my next post on jet setting across the globe with Schubert cat.

Comments or questions? Post them below!

Next: Read Cat On An Overseas Trip – Part III: The Journey. 

Previous: Read Cat On An Overseas Trip – Part I: Travel Accessories.

Cat On An Overseas Trip – Part I: Travel Accessories

Women and cats. Most of us can’t help it. Those squishy, baby-sized furry creatures with their big sparkly eyes — sadistic predators though they might be in the animal kingdom, their sweetness and affection towards us bring out the instinct to protect almost like we would our own children. I brought my four-year-old Schubert from the county animal shelter to live with me when he was just five months old. Now he’ll be going with me on this big trip, despite many people telling me to leave him here in someone else’s care.

O, you are leavin? I'm coming too...

O, you are leavin? I’m coming too…

Taking any pet halfway around the world is a big decision, with many preparations required. Airline rules, permits, certification, shot updates, fees and travel accessories — the requirements will vary from country to country. You must start researching, planning and budgeting at least three months before your travel date, as finding out accurate information can sometimes get dicey. If you’re taking your pet from the United States to Malaysia, perhaps you’ll find my experience a useful source of info. I haven’t left the US, and have yet to complete this journey with Schubert, but will update this as I go along. I’ll start with travel accessories in Part 1.

Airlines have pretty specific dimensions for pet carriers, as to be expected, and most international flights don’t allow pets in the cabin. Not being able to fly with me by his side would also be pretty stressful on a little domestic shorthair. I wrinkled my nose, imagining a bewildered cat getting stinkier and stinkier while cooped up in small space for more than 24 hours, so I’m breaking up the trip by flying from Washington D.C. to San Francisco before embarking on the long flight to Malaysia. That way, he can fly with me for the domestic leg of his epic journey to the East. I chose Virgin America because of the reasonable fees and lenient pet rules. I called the hotline and was told I could just show up with my cat and pay the $100 fee on the day itself. The customer service representative I spoke to said that plastic carriers sometimes don’t fit, and suggested getting a soft case carrier so I could comfortably tuck Schubert under the seat.

(Update: Despite the customer service rep’s advice, the soft case was still about two inches too tall to go under the seat. If you really need to have it fit under, you’ll have to find one that doesn’t have wiring to retain the bag’s shape. The flight attendant wasn’t overly picky about it, but she said to try and make him fit the best that I could. In the end, I just moved him over to the floor of the empty seat beside me.)

Where are we going, Human Lady? What is a "Malaysia?'

Where are we going, Human Lady? And what is a “Malaysia?’

I got a Whisker City one easily at Petsmart for about $35. Schubert’s new carrier is actually quite nice, resembling a small blue duffel bag with blue flower patterns. The sides are mesh for ventilation and you can open it up from the side or from the top. For added convenience, a shoulder sling is included (perfect because I’ll be wheeling a second piece of carry-on luggage.) The carrier folds flat and has a tough cardboard bottom covered in a rug material, presumably so your pet can have something soft to sit on. I bought dog pads to line the carrier, but hopefully he will hold it till we get to San Fran. and it ended up as extra soft padding for Schubert.

To get him used to the idea of being in the carrier, I set it up and left it open. Scattered a bit of catnip and placed his smelliest old toy mouse in there; walked him into the carrier and zipped him up shut. After about ten minutes and not hearing a single meow, he got lots of praise and a few treats! I’ve been doing this for the last few days and yesterday, lo and behold, look who walked in to the carrier and hung out there for over half an hour on his own! Of course, five hour flight will be a little different, but at least he sees the carrier as a safe and friendly place for now. He was quiet the entire way to San Francisco, even as the plane engines revved at takeoff. I felt some scrambling — he must have been imagining it was some mega monster vacuum cleaner — but not single peep the entire way there.

After we land in San Francisco, the soft case will be folded up and tucked away in my luggage, and Schubert will have a larger case for travelling to Asia. I’ll have four days to repeat the “get the cat used to his travel case” process again while visiting a couple of friends. It’ll be lined with dog pads again, and I’ll throw in a couple of my old t-shirts for added comfort. He’ll also be reassured that I haven’t abandoned him — don’t laugh at this! Hunters use this trick to locate lost dogs in the woods; by leaving familiar smelling items (clothes) and water around their hunting grounds, the lost dogs have a way of knowing they are closer to home and have a reason to stay near the familiar items in case their owner comes back.

If you were in his paws, you’ll be glad for some reassurance too. Schubert will fly for half a day from San Francisco to Seoul, in the passenger cargo compartment of a Korean Air flight. Before our final six-hour journey to Kuala Lumpur, we have a one-day layover in Seoul, where Schubert will be in quarantine and I’m unsure if I can visit him there. If I can’t, Schubert the House Cat will be on this strange journey, locked up in strange surroundings for more than 20 hours without any of his creature comforts. Other animals suffer worse fates, I know. But as sure as first world problems exist, a house cat only knows how to deal with house cat problems. Besides, he is my house cat, and I want him to be as comfortable as possible.

(Update: When travelling West to East, the jet lag always gets to me in a huge way. By the time I arrived in Seoul, all I wanted to do was grab a cab, check into my hotel and pass out. Should you ever need or want to go check on your pet at Incheon, the clearly marked quarantine office is on the second level in the arrival hall area.)

Sky Kennel by Petmate

Sky Kennel by Petmate. I got the one for pets 15 pounds and under. Dimensions are 21 x 16 x 15 inches and it weighs about 6 pounds. Currently retails at around $50.

To find out more about pet travel on the international flight, once again I was on the phone, but the first call to Korean Air was confusing. The customer service operator didn’t seem to know much about pet travel procedures and I was forwarded to the cargo shipping department. When I looked up the website, I found an entire section on the airline’s website (under Customer Support>Traveling With Pets.) Calling for the second time to confirm that the requirements listed were up-to-date, I lucked out with an operator that did know her stuff, but she still got the dimensions of the cage wrong, which continued to cause a bit confusion when I went to look at Petsmart. Nuts and bolts are required for carriers that can be taken apart; clasps aren’t enough. The carriers at Petsmart don’t have nuts and bolts — you have to get your own online or from the hardware store.

The one I ended up ordering from Amazon is a Petmate Sky Kennel that meets Korean Airline’s cargo compartment requirements, which are:

-Total dimensions cannot exceed 97 inches. Height cannot exceed 33 inches.

-Kennel must be made of wood, metal or plastic and has enough room for pet to move around.

Metal bolts and plastic wing nuts

-Kennel must be bolted, and must have ventilation on all sides.

-Total weight of kennel + pet must not exceed 32 kilos.

-And one last requirement is a padlock, which doesn’t come with the kennel but can be purchased easily.

A food and water clip-on bowl is included, but I got a separate bottle water feeder with a tube tip to prevent spilling. Hopefully Schubie will know how to use it!

(Update: I bought the padlock, but never used it and wasn’t asked to either. The Sky Kennel is a great buy – very sturdy, clip-on bowl is useful for food and includes more metal bolts and plastic wing nuts than necessary. I think Schubert did drink some water from the bottle feeder, but it may also have leaked. I can’t be sure.)

That’s it for Part 1, which I will update after we complete our journey. Stay tuned for future parts on travel documentation and other procedures.

Five more days before our flight to San Fran, and 10 more days before we leave the US. Fingers crossed for an easy journey!

Comments or questions? Post them below!

Next: Read Cat On An Overseas Trip – Part II: Essential Documents.