Blog of Rob Galanakis (@robgalanakis)

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.

7 thoughts on “Taking your dog to Iceland

  1. Dmitry says:

    Rob, Shoni asked to show you this: =)

  2. Judith says:

    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.

  3. irina says:

    Hae Hae Rob at first I wanted to thank u for your post it helped me a lot.I have a mixed breed labrador pancho which I want to import in Iceland.
    The thing is that while I was disgussing about quarantine in Iceland with my collegues at work and I heard things that really got me confused.From one part they told me that everything was ok,but I heard some crazy stories that dogs got out really frightend from the procedure.My dog belong is medium large(when he gets fat he is 30 kilo),so that means that it needs exercise (1,5 hour running per day) otherwise he can turn really nervous.I don’t want to put my dog in this procedure with the risk of him loosing his calmness.
    Do u know if they just care about having the dog sterile and don’t care about dog’s mental health?I don’t care about the money even though it’s too much but I want to be sure that my dog goes to people that they really know about dogs.
    Best regards

    1. Hi Katerina. They do care about the dogs, but the environment is sterile. They try to play with them some every day, but the dogs can’t play together. Overall it is pretty dreary, but the people taking care of them do love animals and want to make things as good as possible under difficult conditions. That was my take on it at least. Hope that helps!

  4. Kristina says:

    Hi Rob, thank you for sharing your experience. It’s quite hard to find and talk to people who went through this. I am thinking about moving to iceland and of course I won’t go without my dog. Apart from the quarantine a lot oft people who live in iceland told me that it’ll be almoust impossible for me to find an Appartement for rent which allows dogs. They said in general icelanders are not to thrilled ab out dogs…Can you confirm that? Would be great to hear from you! Best regards Kristina

    1. Hi Kristina. We didn’t have much trouble, but we had a few things going for us. My wife and I are American, and I think that helped us a bit (my Portugese or Russian friends had a harder time). I worked for CCP, which is a well known business (and until recently was pretty well respected). Also, we were willing to spend over 200k ISK, which meant there was less competition (and we certainly overpaid for our first apartment). Our dog is small (10kg Boston Terrier).

      Often to keep a dog, you need approval from something like 3/5 of all the tenants in the building.
      In a small building this is usually not a big deal, in a larger building it is too much of a hassle, so dogs are categorically not allowed. I think this is due more to hassle and not people’s opinions of dogs. This certainly limits your options.

      Also the rental market was brutal when I left. Far too much demand. Finding a good apartment was difficult by any measure. It is more difficult with a pet.

      As for Icelanders and dogs, there are lots of stories about the Icelandic opinion of dogs, but I found it largely obsolete- perhaps for the older generation. Older people would often cross the road rather than walk next to our dog! And I think it is just common decency to keep your dog on a leash, but we often saw dogs walking without a leash, or leashed up outside a store. In both of our apartments, many neighbors had dogs. It’s a really common thing, both in the city now because its fashionable, and in the country where they are (and have always been) useful. There’s even a “dog parade” once (or twice?) a year!

      Reykjavik certainly isn’t as dog-friendly a city as, say, Austin, TX where I lived before (I wouldn’t bring your dog to the restaurant and sit on the patio as you would there!), but the Icelandic dog-phobia didn’t exist in my experience.

      Good luck and feel free to comment if you have any more questions! There’s also a great group on Facebook- Away From Home, Living in Iceland- that you should join if you’re not a part of already.

  5. Corinne says:

    Thank you for sharing. My husband and I are thinking about moving to Iceland in a couple of years. It is a relief reading that the people caring for your animals really love animals. I was worried about us being away from our dogs for so long. One of our dogs gets really uneasy around people she doesn’t know, so I don’t think she will do as well as your Shoni did. But to hear that someone had a good overall experience with the whole thing makes me feel so much better.

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