Expatriating with Pets

By alison - April 30, 2010 (Updated: December 1, 2014)

Don't leave me behind

Don’t leave me behind

People are always surprised when we tell them our cats are Canadian.

“You brought three cats to Belgium, all the way from Canada,” they exclaim. Well, actually it was four cats and our Saint Bernard joined us three months later, but yes. Our pets are all from Canada.

It surprises me that they are surprised. We wouldn’t dream of moving without our pets. They are an important part of our family. When we adopted them it was for life.

I know that not all people have the same relationship with their pets as we do, but you would never ask someone why they expatriated with their children. That’s how we feel about our pets.

But flying with four cats wasn’t easy. And shipping a Saint Bernard overseas is extremely costly.

Packed and ready to fly.

Packed and ready to fly.
Moving isn't that stressful

Moving isn’t that stressful

We’ve also had to deal with finding a good veterinarian in Belgium, something that we luckily managed on our second attempt. Then there was the search for good food, medicines and other pet products.

We’ve had the sadness of losing our dog and one of our cats to illness while overseas. As well as the stress of moving to three different properties while in Europe.

But the joys have outweighed the difficulties.

Travelling with our Saint Bernard was a highlight. Being able to take him to restaurants and tourist sites in France was fantastic. We know his short time with us here was a lot of fun for him.

Not an appropriate cat carrier

Not an appropriate cat carrier

And although sometimes they drive us a little crazy sometimes, there is nothing better than spending a lazy Sunday morning in a bed covered in purring kitties.

I’ve heard far too many stories of people who have decided to move and simply give up their pets. I realize that in some extreme circumstances this is necessary and sometimes it’s the best decision for the animal. But more often than not, it is simply more convenient for the owner.

Most animals are extremely adaptable. My oldest cat has moved a total of 8 times. She’s a total pro and settles in to her new accommodation within hours. Even our most timid cat becomes settled in a new space within a couple of days. But at the end of the day, they are just happy to be with us, no matter where we are.

The thought of sending them to a shelter (or worse) just because I didn’t want the hassle of moving with them makes me sad and angry.

Getting a pet passport is not all that difficult. It just requires a few extra trips to the vet and lots of paperwork. These days there are even companies who you can hire that will do most of the work for you. I will definitely be looking into these services if we move in the future.

Is moving overseas with pets stressful? Absolutely, but probably no more so than moving with small children. Would I do it over again? Without question.

Even this scaredy-cat can fly.

Even this scaredy-cat can fly.

If you are considering moving to Belgium with your pet(s), there is a very informative article on AngloInfo about Moving to Belgium with Animals. You can also email me for details of our process (or at least what NOT to do!)

Have you travelled with your pets? Are they expats too? Leave your stories and thoughts in the comments.

Looking for more resources for living abroad? Check out our Expat Resources page.

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Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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  1. Comment by Andrew

    Andrew April 30, 2010 at 13:16

    I couldn’t imagine moving without them either! They are definitely a source of entertainment for those times you need a bit of a laugh 🙂

    Great photos of the furry bunch too!

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison April 30, 2010 at 13:51

      Even when Buddy wakes you up at 5am? 😉

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  3. Comment by Ame

    Ame April 30, 2010 at 14:26

    I was just thinking about Buddy’s “vocals” last eve when Barlow started. Well said Al! I especially like the part about not asking folks why they expatriated with their children, lol. But now I think I’m just definitely going to have to ask… 🙂

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison April 30, 2010 at 15:04

      Haha, “Wow, you brought your kids all the way to Belgium…? I would have left ’em.” 🙂

  4. Comment by Unexpected Traveller

    Unexpected Traveller April 30, 2010 at 14:32

    We brought our cat along from Malta too and she adapted to Belgium faster than we did. Of course if I had someone to feed me and tickle my stomach several times a day, I might have settled in faster.

    Did you have any issues with the neighbours? We had an unexpected surprise when they set the police on us ( but thankfully this has not repeated itself.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison April 30, 2010 at 15:09

      I laughed my butt off at your post (ok, I wish I could literally laugh my butt off… much more fun that jogging). We have been blessed with INCREDIBLY great neighbours in Belgium at both of our flats. (I’m not sure what we did to please the neighbour gods but I hope we keep doing it). Plus, our cats are indoor cats, and always have been so no issues with them being outside. They definitely settled in faster than I did too. Maybe because they don’t have to go to the commune…

  5. Comment by Laura

    Laura April 30, 2010 at 16:09

    Ah, I was just about to ask about whether they were indoor cats etc. but you just answered my question.

    I’ve always had cats and am currently arguing with Ben about getting a pet. He wants a dog, but I really really want another cat. I don’t understand how people could just leave them behind, unless perhaps they were passed to family members or something.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison April 30, 2010 at 16:23

      Yeah mine are all fat lazy house-cats 🙂 We’ve always lived in areas that were fairly dangerous for cats so we just kept them in and they don’t notice the difference. As long as they are with us and have food they are happy 🙂

      I know that everyone’s story is different and I’m sure there are some times when it’s just not possible to take your pet however so many times it seems they are considered disposable. My aunt works for an animal shelter in Canada and some of the stories are just so sad and angering.

      As for dog vs cat, I love both but I will say if you want to travel, cats are much easier to leave for a few days. It is fun to travel around with a dog but it can get expensive if you need to kennel them often.

      • Comment by Andrew

        Andrew April 30, 2010 at 17:27

        Driving through France with a Saint Bernard was great fun… although a bit damp!

        If you have to kennel a dog in Belgium, there’s a great kennel we can recommend that overlooks the battlefields of Waterloo! If you’re having a holiday, why not your pooch too? 🙂

        • Comment by Alison


          Alison May 1, 2010 at 10:00

          Everything with Caesar was a bit damp 🙂 And yes good point, we do know a great kennel if anyone needs one.

  6. Comment by alinda

    alinda May 1, 2010 at 03:58

    I have a friend who Belgian. She flies back and forth btwn Los Angeles and Brussels with her house rabbit on her lap.

    I’ll be moving my house rabbits to Uruguay the same way. Thank you, Continental & Copa airlines!

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison May 1, 2010 at 10:00

      Oh that’s great! I’d love to be sitting on a plane beside a rabbit… definitely more so than a badly behaved child! I wish our cats had been small enough to fly in the cabin with us. I would have been much less stressed. Unfortunately they are too heavy so they have to go in the hold. I’m really trying to sell Andrew on the idea of a house rabbit but so far he’s not going for it 🙂

  7. Comment by Alison

    Alison May 1, 2010 at 08:48

    We moved with two cats and an 80/pound dog to the Netherlands and never once considered not bringing them. They´re our family and the same to us as children. When people expressed surprise that we were taking them, I was very tempted to ask them if they´d ask me that if I had children.

    I was more stressed about them moving than moving myself, but they handled it just fine and in the end, we got lucky and didn´t even have to go through customs with them. I was almost annoyed after getting all of that paperwork!

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison May 1, 2010 at 09:57

      HI Alison and welcome to CW. (Great name btw) 🙂 You’re story sounds so similar to ours. We spent ages dealing with the paperwork and then when we got to Schipol they waved us right through! If I hadn’t been so exhausted, I would have begged them to look at it all 🙂

  8. Comment by Nancie (Ladyexpat)

    Nancie (Ladyexpat) May 2, 2010 at 11:53

    Hi Alison,

    I found your blog via TBEX.

    When I moved to Asia in 2000 I left my 15 year old cat with my father. I had planned on bringing him over at a later date, but it never happened. Although, I missed Boots, in hindsight I made the right decision.

    I have since adopted a cat in Korea, Indy. It was 5 years before I made the commitment. I’ll probably be moving to a new country in late 2011 and I intend to take Indy with me wherever I go.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison May 2, 2010 at 13:14

      Hi Nancie! Thanks for stopping by. I think certainly in the case of an older pet, like your cat Boots, it’s often better to avoid the stress of an overseas move. You were lucky to be able to leave him with a trusted family member and know that he is safe and cared for. I wish you years of happy travels with Indy and looks forward to following your adventures!

  9. Comment by tez

    tez May 3, 2010 at 03:55

    I think I have a photo of Deirdre in the EXACT same pose on one of my suitcases before I left Halifax… and I’ve got one of her IN my suitcase as well… signs of things to come? 🙂

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison May 3, 2010 at 11:36

      She is very well traveled and loves bags, just like her mom 🙂

  10. Comment by Amy

    Amy May 18, 2010 at 19:43

    I traveled to 5 different foreign countries plus 5 returns to the US with my cat. Sadly, Belgium was her last posting as she passed away after 20 years of companionship a few weeks ago. I never questioned WHETHER she would go with us, just like kids. This is only our 2nd post with our son. Some people did think it weird how much we’ve spent to bring our cat all over the world. I think it’s weird and even cruel to abandon your pet because of a move. Thanks for you post.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison May 18, 2010 at 21:51

      I’m so sorry for the loss of your furry friend 🙁 It sounds like she had amazing adventures with you though. I totally agree with you. It wasn’t a question for us either. Our kitties will go with us wherever life takes us and I’m sure they will be happy as long as we are all together. Thanks so much for your comment.

  11. Comment by Dallas

    Dallas May 27, 2010 at 22:06

    We were one of those families that moved without our dog, but only because we know she’s safe and happy where she is, at my parents’ house, and we’ll get her back when we go back. Our dog is a horrible traveler – hyperventilating in cars and making herself sick in kennels. When we lived in the states and traveled without her, she’d stay at a friend’s house. I was just too afraid to test if she’d make it on the flight overseas, and then through all the travel we do. Besides, my parents have her littermate, and they are so happy to be together. It is really hard though to go so long without her with us, but in this case, it was what we felt was the best decision for her.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison May 27, 2010 at 22:40

      It absolutely sounds like you did the right thing for your dog. Some animals just aren’t good travellers. You’re lucky to have a great place to leave her but you must miss her a lot.

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