How to fly a cat from Korea to the US

I've been worried about this moment, and it's finally over! The process before the flight wasn't as painful as I thought. Everything went smoothly and we're really happy. Here is what we did to fly our little cat Arya from Seoul to San Francisco!

It's best to know before reading that we flew our 4kg cat in the cabin with us. It may not be possible with a heavier cat, because of weight restrictions in some airlines. Bigger animals may need to go in the baggage hold. The process is also slightly different if you go to Europe, they require a blood test before departure.

3 months before the flight

We went to the vet to get her microchipped and her rabies vaccine. She had never been vaccinated against rabies before. Even if your cat is vaccinated, it's best to make sure it's up to date/still valid.

Before buying the ticket

We called the airline to make sure we were allowed to fly with our cat on the flight we wanted. You need to tell them the date and the flight number, and they'll give you the green light. We flew with Asiana and we gladly recommend it, the staff was very helpful and friendly.

After buying the ticket

Call the airline again and ask to register your pet with you. They will ask you some questions about the pet size and the carrier to make sure it's ok for your pet to fly in the cabin with you. I didn't have to pay anything extra with Asiana before the check-in. After checking-in at the airport, I only had to pay a 200,000 KRW fee.

10 days before the flight

Incheon Airport animal quarantine and my vet clinic told me I needed to go to the vet 10 days within my flight to get a health check for my cat. It only took a few minutes and I received a health certificate + a rabies vaccine certification from them. This is only if you fly to the US or to Canada. For European countries, you actually need to make a blood test for your pet, a few months before the flight.

Departure day

I went to the airport 5 hours before my flight (this is a lot of time but I'd do the same). I fed my cat the night before the flight and brought a can of food with me. I first went to Incheon Animal Quarantine office, and give them the vet papers for Arya. They made me pay 10,000 KRW and within 15 minutes, I received an official certificate from them, and a duplicata. That's all!

I checked-in as usual and the staff asked me for the official paper, you have to give them the duplicata. They asked me to fill an additional form, from Asiana this time, with information about the pet. They taped everything to the pet carrier, asked me to put the carrier on the scale and that was it. We are allowed a total of 5kg for the pet + the carrier, we didn't have any problem with Arya and her Sturdi bag weighing 5.6kg. I went to the excess baggage counter to pay the 200,000 KRW fee required for the pet and that was it, I received my boarding pass!

Going through security, the agents asked us to carry our cat through the metal detector, but Arya was a little scared and wouldn't budge so they allowed us to carry the bag through it.

And that was it! We waited for the flight with Arya in her carrier. When we were boarding, there was another bag searching security thing by Asiana staff, but they only looked quickly through the carrier when I told them a cat was inside.

During the flight

I think people on the plane didn't even know we had a cat, because she only meowed a few times during take off. Otherwise, no other problems. She must have been quite scared sometimes.

I kept a cat food can with me and gave her a little cup of water. I didn't see her drinking from the cup, but she sure ate all her canned food! I only gave her a little because I didn't want her to poop or pee during the flight... We had a toilet pad in her carrier but I think it would have been very uncomfortable for her and other passengers if she did anything...

Arrival

This is weird, I don't know if it's normal procedure, but arriving to the US, nobody checked me or my cat. I did check “YES” on the immigration form, when they asked if I was bringing animals, but the officers never stopped me. The immigration was only worried about me looking for a job there, or working there illegally. They didn't ask anything about the cat. I'm not sure if they knew I had a cat because of the Sturdi bag looking like a normal bag. And Arya didn't make a sound. I never had to show any papers, or anything. Weird!

Conclusion

I strongly recommend the large sized Sturdi bag for your pet! It's really awesome for moving around with your cat/dog. It's also, as its name says, very sturdy! My cat tried to claw it and it doesn't have a scratch.

10 comments

  1. Barb 26 September 2013 at 22:12:16

    Hi. I thinking about getting the Sturdi Bag Large for my 5kg dog when I fly home. I know the top can be compressed but what about the sides? Did it fit under the seat?

    • Karine 27 September 2013 at 00:23:57

      Hi! I took my cat in the plane several times now and always managed to fit the bag under the seat. It was sometimes a little tight on the sides. If you're tall and need a lot of "leg room", maybe a smaller carrier is better. If you're lucky the seat next to you is empty :)
      I think my 5kg cat would have fit in a medium carrier but I'm glad I took the large sturdibag, she has plenty of space and this is important for long flights!
      Hope it goes well!

  2. Anne 8 October 2014 at 07:57:22

    Bonjour Karine, merci pour cet article qui me rassure : je dois faire un Paris > San Francisco avec mon chat en cabine, et j'avais peur qu'il soit traumatisé... j'ai une caisse de transport en plastique "dur" et un sac de transport "mou" proche de ce que tu avais, je me disais que la caisse "dure" serait peut-etre mieux (notamment si pipi dans l'alèse, etc) : qu'en penses-tu ?
    et j'imagine que tu as eu ton chat à tes pieds durant tout le trajet, ça a été côté "confort" ? (je cumule, je voyage avec le chat et je suis enceinte de 6 mois hihi)

    merci pour tes réponses !

    Anne

    • Karine 8 October 2014 at 13:35:01

      Salut Anne!

      Je conseille le sac mou en cabine, il pourra se glisser plus facilement sous le siège en face!
      Perso mon chat n'a jamais essayé de sortir, j'avais aussi mis un tapis absorbant au fond de son sac au cas où pipi...

      Niveau confort, j'ai eu plusieurs expériences:
      - Dans un vol pas trop plein j'ai eu de la chance d'avoir le siège à côté libre donc pas de soucis
      - Pendant un autre vol plein avec Air France, ils m'ont placée dans une rangée serrée avec une barre au milieu: c'était le pire
      - Dans un autre vol, avec la caisse sous le siège, ça passe... il faut juste s'étirer régulièrement les jambes et puis je ne suis pas super grande non plus... :)

      Bon courage!

  3. Edward 28 June 2015 at 21:42:06

    Hi Karine,

    Thanks you for this very helpful article.
    I am planning to move from Korea to Thailand in a few weeks. I already have everything in order from previous moving with my little baby cat (Rabies certificate, micro chip).
    I went to see my vet, which i think doesn't have much practice with cats traveling internationally, and looks he doesn't know much about health certificate.
    Is it done at the vet (if yes official format or just format of the vet) or it is done on the departure date at the quarantine section qt the airport.

    Thank for your support,

    Edward

    • Karine 8 February 2016 at 19:43:00

      Hi Edward,
      Sorry for the late reply, I hope by now you made it to Thailand with your pet! :) The health certificate is provided by your vet, and you need to show it to the Quarantine Office at the airport, they will give you another official certificate.

  4. Gabriel 8 February 2016 at 13:20:24

    Hello Karine!

    I know this entry is a few years old but hopefully relevant for my pending travel to Atlanta, Georgia. I have two beautiful tuxedo cats that I will be bringing with me to the US in March. I had a few pressing questions: (1) Does the US require microchipping your pet? Or was it just the state of California? (2) Do you need a Rabies Vaccination Certificate from your own Vet or does the Quarantine Office at Incheon Airport provide this service? I'm just a bit confused as to why you had to stop by the Quarantine Office when you already provided your Vet's certificates to Asiana. Thank you in advance for your help and great entry!

    • Karine 8 February 2016 at 19:41:55

      Hi Gabriel,
      (1) I don't think the US actually require a microchip, but I really recommend getting one for your pet if you intend to travel with it. I got one for my cat because I needed to go to Canada and France with her too.
      (2) When your vet gives the rabies shot to your pet, he should be able to give you the certificate as well. Don't forget the Health certificate from your vet as well. At the airport, go to the Quarantine Office *first*. They will give you "official" pet papers to then give to Asiana :) I hope it helps!

  5. Irina 4 May 2016 at 12:54:37

    Hi Karine,

    Did you fly back to Korea with your cat? Were there any procedures you had to follow to bring her back? My vet told me we might have to get the cat checked for rabies before going back to Korea since the US isn't considered free or rabies.

    Thanks for your help!

    • Karine 4 May 2016 at 22:35:24

      Hi Irina,

      Yes indeed, you will need to go to the vet in the US and get a health certificate from your vet if you want to travel back to Korea.

      You will need:
      - A rabies test certificate no older than 2 years (make sure the microchip number is mentioned on the certificate)
      - A microchip implant in your cat

      There are more details on this page: http://www.qia.go.kr/english/html/Animal_livestock/02AnimalLivestock_007-8.jsp

      Good luck! :)

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