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.

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34 Responses to The realities of bringing 3 pets to Korea

  1. Rachel W says:

    Hello Akasha & Mike:

    First of all, I was pretty excited when I stumbled upon your blog! My husband and I will be coming over to South Korea in February through the EPIK program. (We’re also from Minneapolis, Minnesota!) We’re bringing our cat Mister Fish with us and we’re on the hunt for a boarding place during our orientation stint. Our orientation will be held in Jeonju and we’ll be placed in the Jeollabuk-do province. Other than that, we won’t know the specific city we’ll be in until the end of the orientation. I saw the business card of the boarding place you used. Did the lady speak any English and do you have any other helpful details to share about this place?
    Thanks,
    Rachel & Brandon

    • Rachael & Brandon,
      We’ve only been to a few towns in Jeollabuk-do, we don’t know anything about the boarding in Jeonju and Gwangju is a bit of a bus ride. I’m pretty sure that whoever is coordinating your orientation will now where the pet street is. It seems like most cities have a pet street. You should be able to tell right away if you’d want your cat to stay there. Either they are clean, or they aren’t….
      The lady who boarded our pets doesn’t speak English. Our coordinator helped us the first day, we used pantomime the rest of the days. We’ve boarded a few times, $1o a day is pretty standard. There is more information at http://www.animalrescuekorea.org/
      If you have a cell phone you can call the tourist information line, 1330, they can help with most things.

      You’ll hear a lot about G-market in orientation, it is an online market. You’ll need your Alien Residency Card to start it, but once you do it is great. Why buy our cat food, litter, etc on G-Market and have it shipped to our apartment for $2. They have the same products they used in MN!

      Good luck,
      Akasha

      • Rachel W says:

        Akasha:

        Thanks for the speedy response! I’ve been to the Animal Rescue Korea site a few times, but after digging around the site this time, I found the South Korean vet directory (places that are preferred by expats)! I think we’ll look into some of the animal hospital/boarding places in Daejeon. Anyways, we’re looking forward to your future posts and best of luck, too!

      • Rachel,
        I hope you love it as much as we do. I just realized I forgot to tell you an oddity to Korean life that will make your travel easier. Koreans that have pets bring them around. It isn’t uncommon to see cats and small dogs in carriers or purses o the bus, subway, or in taxis. Just today we took Remi, our 4o lb springer spaniel in the taxi to and from Samhakdo for a beautiful walk along the shore line. When we went on vacation we brought all three animals in a cab to our pet sitter’s apartment. The taxi drivers don’t bat an eye. It might take Mister Fish a while to get accustomed to travel, but you won’t be abnormal. Lyndale Animal Hospital did a great job getting our papers together. Dr. Kopi recommended wet food for the flight to keep the cats hydrated. They seemed pretty comfy.

      • Hey Mike and Akasha,
        That’s great to hear about the ease of traveling with your pets –especially your dog! We got our plans straightened out, and I tell you, we’re all becoming the international pet travel pros! I have another question for you. Did you bring gifts for your principal, vice principal and co-teacher? Some people on Dave’s ESL Cafe and other blogs claim that some of the principals think of gift giving as a form of bribery, or that they only view the gifts in monetary value, not sentimental worth? What was your experience? Take care, Rachel, Brandon, and M.Fish:)

      • Thanks again. We look forward to possibly meeting Mr. Fish. We both brought small gifts of American chocolate for our Principals, and did not hear that it was improper or thought of negatively. I believe it’s highly expected, and that gifts are generally taken in the spirit they’re given, as in any culture. The extent that they’re ‘bribery’ is that they foster goodwill and harmony between workers. Of course, as you’ll find out, your experience will be unique to you, so just stay on your toes. Also, Dave’s ESL has a reputation for whiners, trollers, and malcontents (as does any forum, really) so I’d take whatever you see there with a grain of salt. – Mike

      • Every school has a slightly different culture. In my school we give very small gifts after vacations as well. At Mike’s school you give a present to a teacher if you can’t attend their wedding. I would err on the side of caution and get a small cute present. The one for your principal should be a little bigger than for your VP & co-teacher. Like Mike said, we got them a 4 piece and 2 piece box of Godiva chocolates.
        Good luck with packing, enjoy your last few days at home. It is cold for Korea this year, but so warm for us and there is more daylight. It is a really nice winter.

  2. Amanda says:

    Thanks for posting this! My husband and I are hoping to get EPIK jobs and it says in the application that we can’t bring pets. We have two medium-sized dogs that we want to bring with us. We’re hoping that we can find a work around, since we really don’t have anyone to watch our dogs while we’re out of the country (and we would miss them too much). We’ve also gotten the $5,000 quotes for pet travel, and I’m glad to see that it doesn’t have to cost that much. Did you have a hard time finding an apartment?

    • Amanda says:

      I just got an email from a recruiter saying that the dogs are a deal breaker, and that there’s no way we’ll be able to bring them over. We’ve applied through 5 recruiters now, and I’m really disheartened because this is the first recruiter that’s actually responded and been really helpful. Any advice or good recruiter info would be really, really appreciated. Thanks!!

      • Amanda,
        We used Canadian Connections and we loved them. Michael was kind, responsive, and timely. There are several couples with pets (from their home countries) and children in our area. To my knowledge, CC only recruits for Incheon and Jeollanam-do. The Jeollanamdo public school contracts typically begin in April and August.

        Jeollanamdo is the southernmost province in Korea. It doesn’t use EPIK. I have heard that we have a better contract down here.

        We looked into shipping the pets, but my research indicated that pet shippers do the same things that we did, but charge thousands. It really wasn’t a hassle to bring the pets here.
        You might also check the “life in Korea” board on waygook.org (ignore the trolls) about jobs and pets. Also, Animal Rescue Korea is a good pet resource.
        Good luck,
        Akasha

  3. aislyn says:

    Hi-i recently called canadian connection and they told me that pets are a deal breaker as well. i really want to bring my cat with me, as i would rather not go to korea without him. have the Epik laws been changed to not allow pets, or did the recruiters just decide to add that so we look better? im not sure what to do, because i love my cat

    • Hey Aislyn,
      I don’t know. Jeollanam-do province uses Canadian Connections as its primary recruiter and there are many of us that have brought our pets from home to Korea. Things do change really quickly here, maybe they aren’t allowing that anymore, maybe different recruiters in the company have different positions. Last April it wasn’t a problem…
      FYI we are not EPIK. We are on the Jeolla contract. They are completely different contracts with different terms and benefits.
      We wish you the best of luck. Maybe you can find a lead on http://waygook.org or http://www.animalrescuekorea.org.

  4. koreanegg says:

    So your recruiter knew that you were bringing a pet, did the landlord know? Did you have any trouble with stuff hitting the fan because you had a pet in the apartment?

    I’m planning on moving to Korea Feb 2013. It’s on TaLK with that month long orientation so planning on trying to buy cheap tickets home for a few days and bring my cat back then. Before I leave ask the landlord as well as maybe give them a gift when I first arrive to get on good terms. Did the landlord of the apartment have any problems.

    • We don’t have any problems with our buildings caretakers or landlord. Our caretakers are sweet older men who are super helpful and kind to us. People were a bit startled in the elevator at first, but the quickly realized that Remi is well-mannered and doesn’t bite or bark. Now he is very popular.
      Good luck!

  5. Dave says:

    Hello!
    I discovered your post via Google while looking for veterinarians in Jeollanamdo.
    I live in Naju (about an hour from Mokpo or Gwangju) and I have a sick kitty who needs immediate attention. Followed the link in the comments above to the Animal Rescue Korea site and found some listings for nearby vets. I am was just wondering if you had any further recommendations? If not, I will try the vet across from E-Mart. Thanks for any info you can provide.
    -Dave

    • Thanks for writing, and sorry for the slow response, as we were out of
      town. The vet across from eMart is a popular choice for many
      foreigners here in Mokpo. We’ve gone to one closer to our house called
      Seoul Vet. Dr. Chang speaks fluent English, which makes things easier,
      and he’s very kind. I marked it on a Google map here:
      http://bit.ly/Lj1Aqe and his phone number is: 061-279-1175. You can
      tell a cab to go to Yeonsan Jin Mart. He’s right across the street.

      I hope this helps, and that your cat recovers quickly.
      There was an interesting article in the Gwangju News the other day featuring vets in Gwangju. Check it out.

  6. tyler herrington says:

    i am in the army can u help me get my dog overseas pls get me info on how to do it and hat kind of dogs cant come to south korean

    • Tyler,
      If you are flying with the dogs, everything you need to know we put on this blog entry. If you aren’t flying with them, we don’t know anymore than you do. There are services that ship pets, but we didn’t use one.
      I don’t know anything about breed restrictions. I did a brief search for you and found nothing on restrictions. I found this on traveling with pets from the tourist org. http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/GK/GK_EN_2_1_4.jsp
      When in doubt, check with your c.o.
      Good luck!

  7. Cari says:

    Loved this blog! I have heard it’s totally possible to bring a pet or two to Korea and I was surprised you actually brought three! This may seem like a silly question but does Canadian Connections work with U.S. applicants as well? Just curious in case I run into issues finding employment with my two cats. My fiance will need to find employment through the TALK program and then i’m planning on finding something based on wherever they place him. I wonder if Gimhae will be “rural” enough and in need of jobs so that there is less of an issue finding a school that will allow me to bring my two cats… obviously, who knows where we’ll end up and we remain open either way but we’d love to end up near Busan or west of there in Gimhae ;)

    • Thanks. It’s been wonderful writing and giving our friends an insight into our lives here. I bet it will be strange to look back at all this one day.
      Canadian Connections recruits from all countries approved by the Korean Government. We were in orientation with folks from the U.K. South Africa, and North America. They have several contracts including Jeollanam-do and Busan. Good luck

      • Cari says:

        Great, I know I saw someone on here that still had issues bringing their pet with Canadian Connection… but you never know until you try and maybe having a degree from a top ten university might help my situation? Either way, I am determined to get us over there next year ;) Thanks for the quick reply btw!

      • I don’t know what happened with that situation, but others have brought animals. There are 5 foreign dogs along the main street I live on. It may not be super common across Korea, but it happens.

  8. Cari says:

    Also, I take it that you really like the area you ended up in? I looked it up and that’s the area I know the least about… I’ve read up on Daegu, Daejeon, Busan, Gimhae and many other areas but again… not a whole lot in your province. It seems like the weather is a little rougher than the Busan area but I can’t imagine you get much snow either?

  9. Cari says:

    Doh, I found your link on the weather… well the weather ain’t too shabby is it? Hmmm… well then, how do the beaches compare to Busan?

    • I know, it is tricky to find stuff on Jeolla, but we are happy here. We’re from MN, a very cold and snowy state. It isn’t that bad here for us. It didn’t snow much in my opinion. For my CA friends, the entire R.O.K. is very cold.

      Mokpo has one tiny little beach, not worth a visit. Jeolla has a lot of beaches. We go to Muan and Wando beaches a few times a summer. We also LOVE the Shinan islands great beaches.

      Busan beaches are great if you like a big party beach. Jeolla beaches are great if you like a more laid back, often times quiet, beach. Different strokes for different folks. Good luck!

      • Cari says:

        Thanks again… actually laid back would be better. Preferably we would like to live somewhere laid back but have the option to not go too far on the weekends to someplace a bit more busy :) It’s probably all mute anyway since knowing where you might end up can be unpredictable… but I sometimes think if we pick somewhere that most people don’t that we’ll have a bit of an easier time getting settled in ;)

        OH, I’m originally from Michigan so I’m not stranger to cold weather… I grew up near Lake Michigan and lake effect snow is no joke ;) But we wouldn’t mind being in one of the warmer areas of South Korea either…

        We also are considering Taiwan if South Korea doesn’t work out but Korea is our first choice :D

        Again… Kamsamnida! You’re jinja helpful ~~~ ㅋㅋㅋ

  10. Erica says:

    Hi there! My husband and I are in the process of trying to get to Korea, too. I was wondering if you guys applied through a recruiter or directly through EPIK, and how you went about getting approval from the program to bring your dog?

    • We did not go with EPIK, we went with the Jeollanamdo Language Program (JLP) and were hired by Canadian Connections. We waited til we were hired, then nonchalantly mentioned that we’d be bringing our pets and were affirmed that it wasn’t a big deal. Every experience is different, but that is how we played it.

  11. Hello Mike and Akasha.
    I stumbled upon your blog looking for information about bringing cats to South Korea, my fiance and I are looking at going over in the near future and would love to bring our two cats with us. I know they can handle the flight, we have flown and traveled with them before since they were both kittens. Our biggest concern is living there and the apartment sizes. Our cats are quite active so they tend to run a muck around out 2 bedroom apartment now. I hear lots about the small apartments and was wondering if i could ask about how big your apartment is and how you find sharing a possibly smaller space with the pets. I hope my contact information shows below, I’d love to hear back because I don’t like the thought of leaving the cats with family while we are away.

    • Hey, Sara, thanks for writing. I know our cats have done pretty well in our apartment, which is somewhere between 300 and 600 square feet (I’m horrible at estimates), but it’s a medium size apartment here. There’s no typical size for an apartment here, they range from about half our size to twice our size, so it just depends on whatever your employer has lined up for you. On the plus side, we’re on the ninth floor, so there’s a pretty good view for them – they love staring out at the mountains.

  12. Hi Mike and Akasha,

    I’ve asked you some questions before, but I don’t think I asked this. I’ll be bringing my two dogs to Korea in August, and I was wondering how the quarantine period went for you guys? I’ve heard it can be anywhere up to 24 hours and was wondering how to plan for it. Did Remy and the cats get stuck in quarantine? Or was it more see if they are healthy, check their papers, and send you on your way?

    • I thought we posted this, but I guess we didn’t.
      It was amazingly quick and easy. Mike got the luggage and took it through customs. I got the animals. It took minutes. The animals stayed in their carriers and they just quickly looked at the paperwork. Calm and free of worries. Also, the Korean agents were very kind.

  13. HJ Park says:

    Hi! This blog posting made me hug my dog~
    You two are such kind and caring owners.
    My wife is Korean Air flight attendant and she says most flight attendants have pets. So, they are always thinking of the pet in cargo.
    Did you know you can tell captain to make sure to monitor temperature and pressure in the cargo area? So next time, you fly you can talk directly to cheif purser who is “팀장” (tim jang nim) and he or she can have direct access to captain for speaking.

    • Thanks HJ! The Korean Air flight crew made the experience so comfortable for us and our pets that we were willing to move to Turkey and do it all over again! I hope other readers try to speak to the purser. I would have loved that!

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