‘It’s crazy, crazy money,’ What it costs to relocate a pet

Discussion in 'Luxury and Lifestyle' started by themickey, Aug 14, 2022.

  1. themickey


    One family found a private jet was the best option to move their pets from Hong Kong to Singapore.


    The Freiman family with Ginger Rogers (held by Erika) and Elvis out in front. Erika Freiman

    Emma Connors
    South-East Asia correspondent Aug 12, 2022

    Singapore |
    Australian Erika Freiman thought hiring a private jet to move pets was a crazy idea. That is until it became her best option to relocate her family’s dog, Elvis, and cat, Ginger Rogers, from Hong Kong to Singapore.

    Elvis is a Shar Pei, one of the breeds airlines classify as a snub nose. Some airlines will not fly snub-nose dogs for fear they will have trouble breathing in the air. Flight options are already limited out of Hong Kong. So the Freiman family had just one commercial airline to choose from: Lufthansa.

    “It doesn’t fly direct from Hong Kong Singapore. So the quote was $US28,000 ($39,000) for a six-day journey that would have taken him from Hong Kong to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Zurich, and then Zurich to Singapore,” says Freiman.

    “That’s when I rang my husband and said I think we are going to need a private jet.”


    All aboard: Elvis and Ginger Rogers (in crates) alongside their private jet in Hong Kong bound for Singapore. Erika Freiman

    The Freiman family split the cost with five other pet owners in similar situations. Each paid about $US13,800 to get one seat and one pet on the plane. Ginger Rogers got a free ride in the cabin. Including paperwork, the cost of moving the two pets to Singapore came to about $US18,000.

    There was a lot of legwork involved. Elvis had all his rabies shots up to date but Ginger Rogers, an indoor cat, hadn’t had hers and it takes a month for the antibodies to show up in the blood work. “Everyone had to be on the same page so that took a bit of organisation.”

    At least, though, the Freimans and the others involved could afford what would appear to be extravagant option but was actually less expensive than a commercial flight. “Some people don’t have a choice. They have to leave their pets behind – and it’s completely devastating.”

    Cargo or checked luggage
    After a few years of enforced stagnation, expats are on the move. Contracts are finishing, geopolitics are shifting, and families are making choices about where they want to live. For those with pets, the relocation process can go on for months and cost a lot more than expected.

    Flight costs have gone up for pets just like they have for humans. On some routes, small animals can travel as checked luggage. This is not an option on flights into and out of Australia and New Zealand.

    When animals travel as cargo, there are fewer flights to choose from. Currently, there is only one flight a week from Hong Kong to Singapore, for example, that is pet-friendly in this particular way.

    Elvis the Shar Pei Erika Freiman

    For cats and dogs heading back to Australia, there’s a minimum 10-day, $2000 quarantine in a specialist facility in Mickleham, 29 kilometres north of Melbourne’s CBD.

    Animals can only be imported to Australia from a country that is classified as rabies free. So if you are, like Danielle Reed, trying to move two dogs from Thailand to Brisbane, they need to spend time in a ‘category 2’ country – such as Singapore – before they will be accepted into Australia to begin their sojourn at Mickleham.

    “We started the process in May, getting all the rabies shots and vaccines up to date. All the bloodwork gets sent to the UK. Apparently, everyone is moving because the earliest we can get into quarantine in Singapore is December. We could have sent them to the US instead but that seems mad, to send them all the way there and all they way back,” Reed says.

    “Hopefully, they get to Melbourne in January and then to us in Brisbane in February.” The family didn’t choose the breeds of dog with travel in mind. “Mei Mei is a snub nose and Bentley a labradoodle so he’s big.”

    Mei Mei and Bentley are in Bangkok, waiting till they can join their family in Brisbane - hopefully by February. Danielle Reed

    “Luckily, my husband is still working in Bangkok, so they are with him in the house. Previously when we’ve gone on assignment, we’ve been given three months to move,” she says. “So far we are up for $24,000 for the two dogs and there is no guarantee there won’t be additional charges. It’s crazy, crazy money.”

    Long waiting lists
    Sarah Seremetis left Bangkok for Singapore a few weeks ago with her husband and two sons. The kids have started at the new school and the family moves from a hotel into their new home on Monday. The move won’t be complete, though, until their dog, Cooper, arrives – and the earliest date he can get into quarantine in Singapore is December 16.

    “We were really taken aback by how long the waiting list is for quarantine here – you might expect one or two months – but not almost six months.

    “At least then we will be able to visit him three days a week. My youngest son Curtis just cannot wait to see him. He’ll be there each time for the 40 minutes allowed,” Seremetis said.

    “I was initially thinking perhaps we could leave him with someone but Curtis’ response to that was ‘Would you consider leaving me behind? He’s part of our family’. So, I thought, well yes, he has a point.”

    Curtis with Cooper. Sarah Seremetis

    The family is paying 500 baht – about $20 – a day to board Cooper in a Bangkok dog hotel until December.

    The cost of a cattery in Hong Kong is bit steeper than that, as Michelle Cronin-Bruce has discovered. “We’ve got two cats currently residing at great expense at a cattery in Hong Kong waiting for us to bring them to Singapore. The cost of the three and a half hour flight – for just two small cats – is $US12,000.”

    First though the cats – Tom and Jackson – have to be cleared for take off. “You’ve obviously got to get all the vaccinations and rabies shots done and certified”. Vet bills and other expenses – including the cattery – will take the total up to about $US16,000. “Luckily, we really love our cats.”

    That’s not including a US$1300 bond for each cat that their wary vet had to request after being burnt too many times. “People have asked the vet to look after their pet for two or three days and they just don’t return. There are families who are making some really awkward, really awful decisions.

    DIY or agent?
    Online groups devoted to the topic of international pet travel are divided on the merits or otherwise of using agents to co-ordinate a move. ‘DIYers’, that is those with the tenacity and attention to detail required to co-ordinate vets, air travel, ground transfers, and ensure all government requirements are met can save some money.

    Tom and Jackson, currently living their best lives at a cattery in Hong Kong. Michelle Cronin-Bruce

    For their part, some agents are choosing not to organise travel to some countries – including Australia – where the rules are particularly strict and exacting.

    Few would argue with the need for rigorous biosecurity, especially in countries like Australia and Singapore that are rabies free. Sometimes, though, pet owners who don’t understand what’s involved think they are getting overcharged, says Agnes Lim from Mitchville Relopet in Singapore.

    “If they are moving from a non-approved country to Australia via Singapore, it’s a long process for them and a tedious one for us. Sometimes things do not go as planned. We cannot make any promises because there are so many parties involved – the two countries, the airlines and so on.

    “Sometimes people are shocked about the cost, but we just collect the money. It’s very complicated,” Lim said.

    Mistakes are not unheard of. One expat who left Singapore to return to Denmark this year decided to take her two guinea pigs as well – even after finding out the cost using an agent would be $S6600 ($6779).

    In the end, it cost $S8900 and a road trip to neighbouring Germany after the agent mucked up the paperwork. The delay meant the pets couldn’t go on the flight they were booked on and went instead to Hamburg.

    There are also the tragic tales; of a family who paid $15,000 to get their dog transported to Melbourne only to be told he died a few days after arrival. There was no suggestion of poor treatment along the way. The death was attributed to the stress of travel and separation.

    Early planning is key
    The costs are not as high as they were mid-pandemic. However, they seem significantly higher than they were in 2019.

    That’s the experience of an Australian working in the Philippines who is pondering when is the best time to bring his family – and their dog – back home. In 2019, he received a quote for $12,000. Recently, he asked again and was told it would cost between $34,000 and $39,000 to get the dog from the Philippines to Dubai or Korea to satisfy quarantine and then onto to Melbourne.

    Singapore’s Animal and Veterinary Service uses a four-tier country rabies-risk ranking system to determine quarantine requirements.

    There has been an increase in the number of imported pets over the pandemic period until now the AVS notes, due to demand from both pet owners in Singapore and international arrivals with pets in tow.

    Singapore has begun using smart collar tags for home quarantine of animals from countries classified as low risk. Initially, these are being used by animals with medical conditions that require round the clock in care. In time, this will be extended to cover quarantine of imported animals from more low disease risk countries, said Dr Chua Tze Hoong, group director of veterinary health at AVS.

    A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in Canberra said many pet owners have reported challenges with obtaining flights directly into Melbourne and the disruption to airline schedules as a result of the impact of COVID-19.

    “Cats and dogs are imported to Australia under strict conditions designed to manage biosecurity risks. Depending on the country of export, these conditions may include a requirement for a cat or dog to undertake specific treatment and testing for which the pre-import preparation time can be over six months. Therefore, our advice for pet owners is to start planning for your pet’s return to Australia as soon as possible,” the spokeswoman said.

    Owners should be prepared for an arduous process that’s taxing for all involved, says Danielle Reed. “There’s so much hanging in the balance. We all love our dogs but you do ask yourself, is it fair to put them through all of that?”
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