Military Minimalist: PCS with your pet and survive the Hawaii Animal Quarantine process

You've been waiting for the military to send hard-copy orders, and they've arrived. You're PCSing to Hawaii, and you have pets. You probably have at least a billion questions about what to do next. Don't panic! 

 Unlimited boxes are a cat's favorite part of PCSing. 

Unlimited boxes are a cat's favorite part of PCSing. 

*This post contains affiliate links through the Amazon Affiliates Program. I only link to relevant products that I have used or would use myself.

I was just in your position.

We'd been hearing rumors that our ship might home port shift (move to a new duty station) to Hawaii, and in March 2016, it was official. I was newly married, my husband was deployed, and I was by myself in California. Summer, the travelingest cat who hates to travel, was about to be in for a big adventure.

I had heard rumors about the difficulties associated with getting pets into Hawaii, but there was no way that I was going to leave my best gal hanging. I got to work right away.

Why is the quarantine process for Hawaii so strict?

There are lots of unique and wonderful things about Hawaii, and one of my favorite things about it is that it's rabies-free. To ensure that rabies-free Hawaii continues to be a reality, animals entering the state go through a battery of medical examinations. It's a time-consuming and expensive process that has led to many gripe-sessions from military spouses before us, but I totally understand why it needs to happen. 

 What are my quarantine options?

Assuming that your pet is a good candidate for travel (I'll make a post on that in the future),  the best way to understand your quarantine options is to head over to the Hawaii Animal Quarantine webpage and download the Hawaii Rabies Quarantine Information Brochure.  I'll summarize your options and their costs, but please do check the website to confirm the rates and policies.

  • 120-Day Quarantine Program. At a whopping $1,080.00 for the 120-day program plus the emotional trauma your pet could face from separation, this option should be a last resort. If there are issues with your pet's vaccination schedule, then he or she will have to remain in quarantine until all the conditions on the timeline are met.  I heard from some veteran military spouses that all pets used to go through a lengthy quarantine process like this in the past. We should count ourselves lucky to have following options available to us. 
  • 5-Day-or-Less Program.  For $224, you can bring your pet home within the week.  If you're going to be in temporary housing for a handful of days, you might have to board your pet anyway.   
  • Airport Release. This is the path that we chose. We somehow managed to coordinate our travel plans and our housing so that we could do this. Airport Release is available for $165 via money order or credit card.

What types of documents do you need?

Your pet needs to have at least two rabies vaccinations given at least 30 days apart. I opted to get a 3-year vaccine for Summer back in the day, and I ended up having to get in touch with my vet from several states ago to secure an ink signature for that rabies certificate. (I had a carbon copy with a stamp, which is a no-go in quarantine land.)

If you haven't micro-chipped your pet, you'll need to do that ASAP. Pets with older microchips should have them scanned at the vet's office just to be sure that everything is working and the information is up to date. Your pet's microchip number is associated with their FAVN results, which will be used to determine if your pet can enter the state. 

What the heck is a FAVN, you ask? The OIE-FAVN test, which proves that your pet's rabies vaccines were effective, is likely going to be the biggest expense you incur when you PCS your pet.  It takes several weeks for the lab to process your pet’s blood sample, which means that this step needs to be done ASAP as well .

 PCSing a cat. Summer and her carrier were weighed upon check-in at the airport. She was making the same face when we picked her up from quarantine. Doesn't she look thrilled?

PCSing a cat. Summer and her carrier were weighed upon check-in at the airport. She was making the same face when we picked her up from quarantine. Doesn't she look thrilled?

The FAVN has to be completed at least 120 days before your pet arrives in Hawaii, and the results are valid for three years. Your pet should not have the FAVN test performed until at least 21 days after the second rabies vaccination. Test results go straight to Hawaii, and if all is well, this prompts the Hawaiian Animal Quarantine Office to add your pet’s microchip number to a list available here. You just look up your pet's microchip number, and the list tells you when they are eligible to enter the state. 

Watch out for these potential missteps!

The full document checklist can be found in the Hawaii Rabies Quarantine Information Brochure. I don't want to list them all in case they update the requirements by the time you read this, but I will highlight a few things that could trip you up if you read over them too quickly:

  • Make sure that you mail your items so that they arrive within 10 days of your pet's arrival.
  • The Dog & Cat Import Form (AQS-278) must be notarized. 
  • Your pet's rabies vaccination certificates need to be originals with your vet's hand-inked signature. One of Summer's veterinarians electronically generates her certificates. It had the required information (vaccination name, lot/serial number, booster interval, vaccination date and vaccine lot expiration date). I just asked my vet to add her ink signature to the typed form, and we were good to go. 
  • The pet health certificate must be presented at the airline check-in counter in order to fly with your pet. Have multiple copies, and be sure that the original is with you when you arrive at the quarantine facility. The exam for this certificate took mere minutes, but the paperwork is extensive.
  • You'll need to have your vet apply a flea and tick preventive containing Fipronil with 14 days of your arrival in Hawaii.  You're probably used to applying the preventives yourself, but your vet's office has to do it so that you have written verification of this step. 

    Leaving on a jet plane

    When I went to the airport, I had copies of all of Summer's paperwork close at hand. You will need these papers no less than 37 times. Don't bury them in your carry-on! Animals entering Hawaii for the first time can’t fly in the cabin under the seat.  You'll need an airline-approved hard-sided crate to make this trip possible. ( I linked the brand I used below this paragraph.) Little Summer has always flown under my seat, which meant I was worried sick about her the whole time. With a spare set of paperwork taped to the top of her crate and  a piddle pad and towels in the bottom of the carrier, we were off.

    The airline reviewed the documents one more time, checked that I had a confirmation number for my pet’s flight, and handed me more paperwork. I forked over $225 for Summer’s flight and said goodbye as TSA checked her and her crate. We were on our way!

    The moment of truth: Hawaii Animal Quarantine

    For the entire flight, I played and replayed the paperwork process. I was so afraid that I'd arrive and they'd tell me that I messed up a form. Upon landing, my husband and I headed to the Airport Animal Quarantine Holding Facility. It's not far from the baggage area in Honolulu International Airport, but it is far enough that you need a ride – especially if you have a lot of luggage like we did. We caught a shuttle to the car rental place, and raced the clock to get our rental car, cat, and house keys before everything closed for the day.

    When I went to the quarantine facility, I surrendered my documents and filled out more paperwork. It took about thirty minutes for the animal quarantine worker to review everything and bring our little girl out from a back room. She looked understandably spiteful, but she was fine.

     Summer on her first night in the new house. PCS to Hawaii: CHECK!

    Summer on her first night in the new house. PCS to Hawaii: CHECK!

    Tried and true tips for PCSing with pets to Hawaii

    1. Have extra copies of all of your pet's documents. Have them on paper and electronically. You'll thank yourself, I promise.
    2. Check to be sure that your regular vet is willing to do a pet health certificate. Mine was not, and I didn't even consider that it was something they wouldn't do, which caused a major time crunch for me.) I would highly recommend visiting a military veterinarian for this step if your regular vet isn't an option. They deal with pet travel documents all the time, and their experience with people undertaking OCONUS PCS moves is invaluable. 
    3. Pay attention to the quarantine station's hours of operation. If your flight lands in Honolulu after the station is closed, your pet will have to spend the night in quarantine, and you'll end up paying $59 for your pet's stay. 
    4. Don't be afraid to get in touch with the folks at Hawaii Animal Quarantine if you have questions. Everyone that I interacted with was super helpful. You can call them at (808) 483-7151 or via email at rabiesfree@hawaii.gov. I think they prefer email due to the volume of queries that they receive.
    5. Even if you aren’t planning to PCS to Hawaii right now, take the extra step to get the ink signature on your rabies vaccination certificates next time your pet goes for his or her shots. You’ll thank yourself in the future if your next PCS is to an OCONUS duty station with strict import requirements.

    Safe travels, my friends!

    I hope this post helps you and your pet have a smooth transition to your new home. As always, if I missed anything or you have comments, don't be shy! Leave them below!

    PCSing during the holidays? Check out my post on staying sane during a holiday PCS.