We brought two cats with us when we immigrated from New York. Since the flight from NYC to Toronto is only 90 minutes and the drive is significantly longer, we decided the easiest way would be to fly them up. We decided to bring the cats up separately, after we had already landed. This meant we didn’t have to pick an international airport and so flew into the smaller Billy Bishop Island Airport on Porter, which I can’t recommend enough. Porter is an awesome airline and the agents were all amazing.

Immigrating with pets? Here's how to get your cat to Canada Click To Tweet

Booking a flight with your cat

If you’re flying, most airlines will allow you to book a spot for your pet on the plan so long as you let them know when you are booking the tickets. We were able to pay $50 extra per cat for them to count as carry on items and were able to stow them under the seats in their carries for the flight. If you have a pet you will automatically be seated at the back of the plane.

Some airlines will require you to provide veterinarian paperwork. Make sure you ask about this when you book the flight for you and your pet so that you can make sure you have everything you’ll need. Nothing would be more annoying than getting prepared for a trip and then getting turned away at the airport because of a missing piece of paper.

Getting a cat through airport security

We flew out of EWR in Newark, and if you fly often you’ll know that every airport has slightly different rules when it comes to security procedures, but we figure our experience is more or less what you could expect at any US airport.

Security requires that you take your cat out of the carrier and physically walk them through the metal detector. No, you can’t put your cat through the metal detector. At least you’ll get to skip the full body scanner. We’d heard a few horror stories about cats getting lost in airports when they got spooked in the security areas, so this part was our biggest worry.  

Have you ever watched a cat try to walk when it’s wearing a harness? They tend to forget they have legs. We decided to use that to our advantage. So while we had the cats in carriers for transport, we got harnesses and leashes for them to wear for the entire trip. Before we put them in the carriers, we bundled them up in harnesses and leashes and clipped the leashes to the carrier. This way, when we unzipped the carriers at the airport, we started off with a hand on the leash so they couldn’t run away. Lucky for us, our cats were so freaked out by the harnesses that they didn’t try to run at all. 

Don’t surprise TSA agents. Give them a heads up as you walk up and let them know that you have an animal and ask them how they want you to proceed. Even if it seems obvious, there’s usually some random obscure rule that may or may not be enforced. Don’t give TSA any reason to make this more difficult than it has to be.

First, get yourself ready to walk through security (place your bags on the conveyor belt, take off your shoes and belt, take your laptop and liquids out of your bag, empty your pockets, etc.). The more prepared you are for this part the better. Then, unzip the cat carrier. Hang onto the leash just in case the cat tries to bolt. While holding your cat, wait for TSA to give you the go ahead to walk through the metal detector. We were afraid that TSA would make us take the harnesses off, but that wasn’t the case at EWR. The best way to make sure the same thing happens to you is to make sure the harness doesn’t have any metal pieces that would set off the metal detector.

Cats on a plane

It should go without saying, but sadly needs to be said, that your cat needs to remain in the carrier for the duration of the trip.

When you get on the plane, let the flight attendants know that you have an animal so they can make things easy for you. Now you should reward yourself with an in-flight cocktail.

Getting your cat through customs

When you get to the airport, let customs know that you have a pet. You’ll be taken to a separate clearing area where a customs agent will inspect your cat to make sure everything is in order. Usually this will mean a visual check to make sure the animal isn’t obviously sick in any way. You’ll have to provide paperwork from your veterinarian to verify that they are rabies-free. While it’s not specifically required by customs, you will probably want to have any recent paperwork from your veterinarian as well, just in case. Depending on the airport, you may need to pay an inspection fee for this part.

And that is that! Now your cat is Canadian!

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