But bringing a cat here is tricky. Like most island nations, Japan is extremely cautious about the spread of rabies.
But don’t worry: it’s possible, with enough planning and a well-stocked savings account.
The Washington Post put together this guide after extensive field research. Our process took 13 months, but it is feasible in eight. Here are 28 easy steps to import your neko-chan from the United States to Japan.
1. Find an experienced US based vet to guide you. Preferably someone who will give you a mix of warning and optimism, like our vet who said, “This is going to be complicated, but we can make it happen.” (If you first move to Japan without your pet, have a partner and/or friends who can take your pet to appointments for you. This step can take longer than eight months.)
2. Fall down a subreddit rabbit hole and research tips from others who have gone through the process.
3. Get overwhelmed and get a quote from a pet moving service. Get a quote for $5,400 to move both of your cats. Shake your fist at capitalism and decide to figure it out yourself instead.
4. Schedule your cat for a rabies shot, rabies booster, and rabies antibody titer, which measures whether your cat will produce an immune response to rabies. Check with your vet to make sure their lab is on the Japanese government’s approved list. Your cat’s rabies antibody level should be equal to or greater than 0.5 IU/ml. Look up ‘IU/ml’ on Google.
Japan honors four-legged stationmaster Tama the cat at lavish funeral
5. Ask your real estate agent in Tokyo to help you find an apartment that allows pets. This will greatly limit your property search as there are not many options for foreigners with pets.
6. If you have several cats, decide which one will travel first (airlines usually allow one cat per passenger). The choice gets easier when it comes to Liddy, a super chill cat, and Penny, who has severe anxiety and reacts to big changes in her life by peeing and pooping outside her litter box, and who repeatedly poops in your husband’s bed after you moved to Tokyo without her. (Penny’s comment: I can not help it.)
7. Pro Tip: When your cat has a severe anxiety attack and soils your husband’s bed seven times in one weekend, order him a funny “World’s Best Cat Dad” article online. It’s not ha-ha funny, but it will add some lightness.
8. Make sure your cat has an ISO compliant registered microchip.
9. Wait 180 days for your cat to be released to travel to avoid quarantine on arrival.
10. Cope with your loneliness by taking in cats through organizations such as Animal Refuge Kansai, which serve foreigners waiting for their pets or looking to care for animals while working in Japan for a short period of time. (In the meantime, take care of two kittens: Mimosa and Pina, which come from a nest named after alcoholic beverages and rescued from Tokushima, in southern Japan. Take Piña to the vet because she has an eye infection. Try giving her eye medication and then find that Mimosa caught it from Piña. Take both cats to the vet. Internalize the embarrassment of the vet’s disappointed look. Help them successfully overcome their eye infections and get them adopted into a loving home. Then put back your curtains, which the kittens climbed on and tore apart on their way down.)
I live in Tokyo. He lives in DC Omicron forced us to get married if we ever wanted to see each other.
11. After your cat is approved for travel, call your airline to find out their international pet travel policy.
12. After waiting 30 minutes with United Airlines for an international call, you find out that you have to call ANA because it is an ANA-operated United flight.
13. After another 30 minutes of waiting with ANA, you add your cat to your reservation and discover that pets traveling internationally must fly in the cargo hold.
14. Search Google for International Freight Travel Safety Risks for Senior Cats. Have a mild panic attack when you discover that Penny, 12, has a non-zero chance of dying.
15. Frantically buy items online to help your cat feel as comfortable as possible, including but not limited to: calming spray, calming collar, pee pad, water dispenser, and an ANA-approved crate.
16. Japan requires a notification to the Animal Quarantine Service at least 40 days prior to arrival, with documentation of the high-flying cat’s rabies antibodies. Load the online portal, but find that it doesn’t work. Look at the fax number on the website and think about it briefly. Instead, ask your Japanese-speaking colleague to call Narita International Airport to request an email address for their Animal Quarantine Service. Email them.
17. Get a response from the Animal Quarantine Service agent stating that you have made multiple mistakes on your form, including writing “cargo” to indicate that your cat will be in the baggage hold. You had to write “hand luggage”. Don’t ask why, edit the form and resubmit.
18. Take your cat to the vet for the International Health Certificate, which must be issued within 10 days of departure. Due to a delay with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, schedule your appointment as close to ten days as possible.
19. Purchase a UPS lodging form to increase the chances that USDA will ship it to you on time.
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20. Take your cat to her departure check for intestinal parasites within four days of departure. Ask the vet for anti-anxiety medication.
21. Test the anxiety medication before traveling to make sure it responds well.
22. It is the day of departure. Please arrive at the airport an hour early to check in your cat. Ignore the smell if you realize she has peed in her crate because she is anxious. (Penny’s comment: Again, I can’t help it.)
23. Show your cat how to use the water dispenser in her crate by placing her nose on the dispenser and saying, “Look, that’s how hamsters drink water. If they can do it, so can you. It’s there if you can. gets thirsty.”
24. Take your cat to the Transportation Security Administration check for cargo items. Feel helpless as you watch the cop zip a green net around the box. Wish her the best on her first trans-Pacific journey.
25. Pick up your cat from the Narita Airport pick-up counter at the baggage claim. Keep her nearby during the import inspection.
26. Take your cat home on her first Japanese taxi ride. Realize that she pooped on your white carpet as soon as she left her crate because she is anxious. (Penny’s comment: I told you, I can’t help it.)
27. Clean it up and pet her. Finally, she’s home.
(28. If applicable, repeat this process for your second cat. Your turn, Liddy.)
Congratulations, you survived your first encounter with Japanese bureaucracy and it won’t be your last.
Don’t forget to celebrate Japan’s National Cat Day on February 22, known as Nyan Nyan Nyan Day (“nyan” is “meow” in Japanese), when the country’s heartwarming expression of love for cats almost makes you forget what it cost to bring your feline friend here.