The realities of bringing 3 pets to Korea

In general, this blog is to keep up to date with friends and family and give you a glimpse into our new life.  With this particular post we want to share with friends what it was really like to move here with our pets, and help people planning to bring their animals to South Korea.  While planning, we heard so many things that simply were not true.  There are so many forums where people say just awful things about animal care on airlines and in Korea, and the truth is, we’ve had a wonderful time here with our pets.  People have been just lovely, the animals weren’t stressed out, and it didn’t cost a fortune.  There are pet travel companies that were bidding $5,000 to ship the pets door to door and we are so glad that we took the risk and went it alone.

Here’s what we did, how much it cost, and how they are adjusting to life in South Korea:

The Pets:
We have one 46 lb English Springer Spaniel named Remi (friendly), a 10 lb black short haired cat named Clark (aloof), and a 11 lb black long haired cat named Ching (alluring).

Required Paperwork:
Vet visit for vaccines: 3 pets, including wellness check $238.11

Vet visit for USDA paperwork: (Professional Exam + International Health Certificate) x 3 pets $241.31

USDA Authentification of paperwork: 3 pets x $36 $108 

Travel Expenses:
Dog Water Bottle for Kennel in flight: $10

Fare to board with pets to South Korea (total):  $494.26

10 days to board the animals during orientation: $10 a day per pet = $300 (this included food/ litter/ walks)

For a grand total of:  (drum roll please) $1,393.68

To get started, you must get your pet’s Rabies and Boretella vaccines updated 3 months before you plan to leave.   Our animals had two years on their vaccines, but we still had to renew them.   The vet will need to get some forms from the USDA for the final pre-flight visit, so make sure they know you’re taking your pet overseas.

Our recruiter scheduled our flights for us about a week and a half before we left.  Once you have your plane tickets, schedule a trip to the vet within 10 days of your flight.  This is because the USDA certificate is only good for ten days. Our vet insisted on 8 days to cover us in case the plane was rescheduled or our arrival was otherwise delayed, so we wouldn’t miss the window.

We also had to call each carrier that we were flying on and reserve “tickets” for our pets.  They needed each pet’s name, their weight in the carrier, and the height, width and depth of the carrier.  They said that the cats couldn’t weigh more than 10lbs in the carrier to ride under the seat in front of us, but the cat’s weight was not checked at the airport. We flew on American and Korean Air.  It took 20 minutes to book the pets passage on American.  It took a little longer to book the flight on KA, and Akasha had to call back a few times until she had permission from her supervisor.  This would have stressed her out before, but she had read enough about Korean etiquette to know that it was a formality.

At the airport and on the Plane:

The cat carriers had to be soft sided.  We brought along collapsible camping bowls for feeding in flight, and put absorbent puppy pads in their carrier.  They didn’t use it to go to the bathroom, as intended, but did make a little cave to chill in when we were between flights and people were looking at them.  The vet recommended we bring wet food to keep them hydrated.

They were in the carriers all through the airport, except for security. Luckily we knew this, so we bought kitty collars with id tags and harnesses clipped to a leash to get through security.  Okay, so first you put all of your stuff in the security scanner.  Then take the cat/ small dog out of the carrier and pass the carrier through the x-ray scanner and walk with the cat through the metal detector.  It was fast and easy in Minneapolis.  The TSA at Chicago looked at it for several minutes, and Ching was not enjoying any of the beeping sounds. Akasha was happy Ching had a harness on so she couldn’t get away. Clark clawed through Mike’s favorite University of Minnesota T-shirt in his excitement, but that was the worst of it.

The cats went in their carrier and were placed under the seats in front of us during take off, landing, and meals.  Otherwise they were on our laps, in their carriers, as we petted them.  The vet gave them short acting Valium. (2hrs a pill)  We don’t recommend it.  Clark didn’t like the pill and spit it out, frothing like a freak.  It did chill him out, but wasn’t worth how stressed he got taking it.  Ching liked it too much, if you know what I mean.  She was rolling and rubbing against EVERYTHING.  Gross.   When it wore off we didn’t give them more and they were fine the entire flight.  The flight attendants loved the cats, they didn’t make us store them below the seats although they could have.

The Korean Air flight attendants were super kind.  They actually helped choose a seat mate for our aisle who didn’t mind traveling with cats.  They also let us take the cats to the bathroom to stretch their legs a few times during the flight.

The dog traveled under the plane.  His carrier had to be hard-sided, with a door that was secure, but could be opened and have a water bottle mounted in it.  We sent him with his dog bed, a puppy pad, his favorite stuffed duck, and a t-shirt that smelled like me.  We were able to visit him between each flight.  Chicago even had a pet exercise area for us to relax together.   

In our carry-on we brought dry kibble for the dog, cat food, leashes for everyone, their travel documents, and  wipes in case we had we had to clean up after an “accident.”  They all chose to hold it for the entire trip.  We did have to show documents at each airport and fill out new paperwork for all three flights.  The cats were given boarding passes on their carriers.  Remi was given a luggage sticker.  It took 1 1/2 hours to check in to each flight, and we had to pay the pet-carriage fee for each leg of the flight separately.  So, get to the airport super early, hope for long layovers, and stay patient.

Everyone on the flights was wonderful to the animals.  Between flights, attendants ran to get Remi and bring him to us.  They helped us get through immigration quickly so he could go to the bathroom.  They asked if the cats were comfortable on the flight.  Really, people went out of their way to help us.

We got to our hotel in Gwangju late in the evening, 36 hours after leaving Minneapolis.  The hotel let us keep the animals in our room for one night, but our recruiter scheduled a boarder to care for the pets during the 10 day long orientation. The boarder ran a pet shop/ groomer in Gwangju on the Gwanju Kong.  She was wonderful.  She charged us $10 a day per animal, fed them good food (Nutra, same as home) and gave them lots of attention.  We visited every night after orientation and walked Remi.  He was happy to see us every day, but greeted her like an old friend when we returned to the shop.  He was always happy to see her. She gave the cats a two-tiered kitty condo for their stay.  We would sit and pet them until they returned to the condo on their own.  Our animals were always treated very well.

Daily Life Now.

Our daily life, with regards to the animals, is about the same as back home.  We wake up early to walk the dog before work.  He gets walked after work and another bathroom break before bed. Some days he has longer walks, other days he has shorter walks.  It’s slightly less convenient to take him down an elevator nine stories for his constitutional, but I like to think he’d do the same for me, if it came to that. It rains a lot in the summer so we bring a towel on rainy days to clean his paws before getting into the elevator.

Pet supplies are more expensive.  A litter box is $26, a bag of litter is about $15 depending on the quality, cat food is $24 and a bag of store brand dog food is $10, nutra/ science diet $17.  You can find a variety of familiar brands like tidy cat, science diet, purina, as well as Korean products.  Pet products are in all the markets, with a greater variety in the local pet stores. We can’t find any beds, kennels, or accessories for the dog as Remi is 4 times the size of most of the dogs here.  We haven’t found a groomer that has supplies for him.  We didn’t bring his razor, so we had to buy one here.  If your dog is medium to large sized, bring your own razor, bed, kennel, and toys for a year or have a friend ship them.

One cultural note:

Koreans don’t often keep cats in their homes.  Our Korean visitors haven’t been comfortable around the cats, especially since ours are black.  They think they will get scratched…

Most people are great about our dog.  They tell us that he is big (kan), cute (ipo), or kind (chakan.)  Young women (12-25) scream, shriek, and make other melo-dramatic expressions for negative attention.  As soon as we smile, say “hello” and “kind dog” they cut it out.  It was annoying at first. Once we realized that teenage girls everywhere are annoying it stopped being so annoying.

Old ladies (ajuma) take a special liking to Remi. They call us over and pet him eagerly, saying ipo-ipo (cute, cute). Remi loves the attention and is always sweet as pie whether it’s a little kid poking at him or an older lady giving him a good rub. We’re lucky to have him, as he’s a good match for Korea.

That’s about it.  Life is good, the pets are happy, we are happy. We would have been miserable without them.

Update: As of December 1st regulations are changing.  Here’s a summary from Kore4expats including the Korean Quarantine Office website.

Update #2: We brought the animals back to MN.  It was as easy as pie. Our vet gave us a form that said the animals are healthy and up to date on their vaccinations.  A friend  drove us to the airport (with 2 friends and their dog- 5 adults, 2 medium sized dogs, and 2 cats for 4 hours in 1 van.) At the airport we went to the Quarantine and Declaration Office,  just below the big pagoda, and showed the documents to the agent.  They stamped the documents and sent all of us (animals included) to check-in.  At check-in we showed the agent our stamped documents, they inspected the dogs kennels, zip-stripped the kennel doors shut, and took the dogs to the cargo area. We met Remi in Detroit at our layover, brought him out to the pet area to stretch his legs and have a snack, then brought him back to the gate agent for check-in.  When we arrived at MSP he was at baggage waiting for us happy to be home.  It was a painless and pretty simple process.

Update #3

We did it again.  The animals are happily living in Turkey.  You can see how similar the process was on our Turkey blog.