Taking your dog to Iceland

In late 2011, my wife and I imported our Boston Terrier, Shoni, to Iceland. Since importing pets commonly comes up on foreigner discussions, I thought I’d dedicate a post to our experiences (sorry, no tech writing today!). I’ll also mention, this is specifically for dogs, at the time we did it. Cats may be different (easier and more people have done it, from what I hear), and rules may change. I’m also not going to bother linking to forms- this is a personal experience, not a guide, and there is some amount of work involved in moving your pet to Iceland!

Overall, the process isn’t too hard. Information is pretty clear (and in English), everyone was very accommodating, and there were no surprises from Iceland’s side. I wouldn’t bother getting a service to do it, I’d just do it myself. And our dog came out no worse for the wear.

Anyway, on to the timeline (I’ll list prices at the end):

1. In early September, I applied for a permit from MAST, which is good for up to a year. I should have done this much earlier. I needed to get the permit at least 30 days (something like that) before importing Shoni, which meant by the time I got the permit, she couldn’t come with us in October. This threw everything off and caused a lot of stress and extra shots. So get your permit ASAP. The rest of the process is filled with timing restrictions, don’t mess this one up.

2. There are two quarantine places. Once is in the far north (Hrisey, near Akueyri), one is nearer to Keflavik. They stagger their intake, so one takes pets for a few days in the middle of the month, the other at the end/start of the month. If you have a choice (and are living in the capital area), I’d choose the one near Keflavik, to avoid an extra return flight and less transport overall. I’ve also heard their English is better. Shoni ended up going to Hrisey though, because I screwed up the permit and that’s what worked out timing-wise.

3. There are certain shots that the dog needs to have at least 60 days from departure. There are other shots that she needs no more than 30 or 60 days from departure. Read everything and schedule everything in advance. Don’t mess this up! Though we did a little bit but talked to MAST and everything was fine.

4. Make sure you have an airline-ready travel crate, and make sure your dog is used to sleeping in it! A regular crate won’t do, you may need a special crate for air travel. We lucked out, Casady’s aunt and uncle had one they weren’t using, from their recent international move.

5. Shoni flew from Texas to New York in mid-October, after our wedding, in coach with my Aunts. This was the least harrowing part of the entire trip, even though a 10kg dog in the cabin is too big! If you can book your pet in the cabin, do it (it’ll also be cheaper). Try it even if they may be too big- she flew Jet Blue, and it made me like that airline even more. If she must go cargo, I’ll note that airlines have restrictions and cautions for certain dog breeds during certain months. Boston Terriers are brachiocyphallic (snub-nosed), so they can overheat and die during travel, especially during summer months (usually sitting out on the tarmac). Different airlines have different records and different breeds have different accident rates. But do your research and be safe (if the dog is worth the price you’re going to pay to move her, she’s worth this risk, I’d say). We sent Shoni’s (empty) crate as baggage.

6. It was difficult and a huge burden to place on someone (my Aunts) to prep a dog for an international move. We did a bunch of stuff in Austin, but there was stuff that needed to be done 30/10 days before departure, that my Aunts needed to do. Shoni ended up getting several unnecessary shots; there was lots of confusion and stress in the month she was with my Aunts. On the other hand, breaking the trip into two parts was easier on Shoni. I would have been scared for her life if she went on an 18 hour trip in her crate. The key takeaway is that better planning and less procrastination would have made things easier, but even with mistakes along the way everything turned out fine.

7. Again, read the paperwork. There’s stuff you need to fax 5 days before your pet arrives. There was, not surprisingly, a lot of stress in the last few days. Lots of calls with MAST and my family and making sure everything was good to go.

8. With everything set, Shoni flew Icelandair cargo in mid-November from JFK to Keflavik. It was painless and we got confirmation she arrived, the worst parts were over. The quarantine people picked her (and presumably other pets) up, drives them to Hrisey (or wherever your quarantine is), and they start their quarantine. There is no way to interact with your pets AFAIK, even if you are on the same flight (sometimes you may see them in the luggage area but it isn’t like you can take them out to pee!).

9. Once in quarantine, we asked for updates/photos, and got them. The “warden’s” English was not great so it was difficult to communicate, so I needed to have a friend translate some emails between English and Icelandic. Shoni looked nervous and the place was obviously pretty sterile, but she looked safe and healthy. Shoni is very well-adjusted and adaptable, so if you have a nervous pet she may fare worse. Also, I think you can visit your pets- but I wasn’t about to go to Akureyri as a new resident in December, but I probably would have visited her in Keflavik.

10. After 4 weeks (right before Christmas, for us!), Shoni’s time was up. And here’s another reason to choose Keflavik over Hrisey- Icelandic winter weather is fickle and her flight was delayed several times. She was on one of the last flights from Akureyri. We picked her up from the airport, took her home in a cab, and all was well. She didn’t have any of her toys or blankets she was sent with- the stuff has to be boiled and rarely survives it.

11. Costs. All are approximate.

  • Permit: $240 (including transfer fee)
  • Flight Austin->JFK: $100
  • Flight JFK->Keflavik: $450
  • Akureyri->Reykjavik: $100
  • Quarantine: $1600 (varies with pet size)
  • Customs fee: $100
  • Vet bills: $700 or so, not sure
  • Total: About $3500

In the end, it wasn’t a question of whether or not it was worth it- there was no question, she was coming. However, procrastination complicated things. And it is expensive. Bigger dogs will be more expensive, cats are smaller and require less shots so would be cheaper.

Anyway, I hope this post is helpful, and feel free to ask me any questions about my experience.

2 comments on this post.
  1. Dmitry:

    Rob, Shoni asked to show you this: http://goo.gl/iMMQl =)

  2. Judith:

    Rob, thank you so much for this very helpul post on your experience! My dog is of the nervous kind and I am not sure if everything would turn out as smoothely with her as with your Shoni. I am happy for you that you all can be together now in Iceland.

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