Flying With Dogs Between Japan and the US

It used to be the easiest thing to transport puppies from Japan to the US, but oh how things have changed. I'm just listing some of the most commonly used airlines for flights from Japan to the US, and their current rules.

The current (last clarification September 2019) US import regulations are that a pup must be over 2 months old for import from a rabies free zone (which Japan is). This may change at any time, so confirm before you try to travel with a pet. There is nowhere on the CDC website that explicitly states this, but I have gotten email replies from the CDC confirming that this is the case.

My opinion is that the reason so many airlines have changed their age regulations from 2 months old to 4 months old is that the CDC updated their site a while back, and the wording they used was confusing. It stated that puppies needed to be rabies vaccinated, and because they needed to be a minimum of 3 months old (and have a 30 day quarantine), a pup would be 4 months old before entering the US. The website did not make it clear that this did not apply to rabies free zones like Japan, so I think airlines just updated their guidelines for the US and changed the age to 4 months.
Over 4 months old for international flights
Over 8 weeks old (this is the rule listed on JAL's website, however to the US I have heard them say the pup needs to be 4 months old - I have recently travelled to the US with a 2 month old pup with JAL however)
Over 16 weeks for international flights (I have very recently flown with 2 month old pups with AA after confirming with the Japan office that it was not a problem. However I think this is due to the Japanese office not updating their staff manual, as it clearly states 16 weeks on their website).
Over 16 weeks for international flights (15 weeks from EU)
Only small dogs that fit in a soft crate under the seat allowed in cabin.
Any dogs not fitting into the in cabin regulations will have to be shipped as cargo.
Over 4 months (16 weeks) for international flights
Only small dogs that fit in a soft crate under the seat allowed in cabin.
Any dogs not fitting into the in cabin regulations will have to be shipped as cargo.
Pets that are under 16 weeks old or given a stabilizer/sleep medicine cannot be transported. (Starting July 1, 2019)
Allos dogs, cats and birds to be carried in the cabin if they are older than 8 weeks of age and to be carried in the cargo compartment if they are older than 16 weeks of age.

The IATA guidelines for pet transport are what most airlines follow. The dog is supposed to be able to stand without its head/ears touching the roof of the kennel (some airlines require a 1 inch clearance above the head/ears), and be able to turn around/lay down in the kennel comfortably. As you can imagine, for larger dogs this means that the kennel has to be pretty massive. The largest most airlines will accept is a 500 size XL crate
although some flights can only accept a 400 size, and some cargo routes will accept a 700 size.

Now these guidelines for head clearance are only strictly enforced when you ship your dog as cargo. If you're dog is flying with you as check in, as long as the dog is not cramped in an inordinately small crate, airlines will generally accept it. But I have seen 1 dog be refused at the counter because the staff deemed the crate too small. Airlines generally do not have crates to sell or lend at the check in counter, so either your dog or you and your dog may miss your flight if the crate is too small.

For international cargo shipping from Japan to overseas destinations, make sure that your dog's head/ears do not touch the top of the crate when the animal is standing/sitting inside.

If you are planning to fly with a dog, book your flight over the phone, and explain that you will be flying with a dog. They will need the breed/age of your dog, and the size/weight of the crate. The reservation staff will need to check the route and make sure that all planes on the route have space for your dog. It may take a few days to have confirmation, so reserve your flight in such a way that you are able to cancel it if they don't accept your dog. Always ask what the costs will be, since some airlines charge quite a bit for dogs flying as check in (I think China Airlines was one of those). For most airlines you will end up paying 100-500 USD in fees for 1 check in crate. Be aware that many US based airlines will not accept dogs if the total travel time from check in exceeds a certain amount of hours (usually somewhere around 12), so try to look for direct flights whenever possible. What I often do is book two flights separately through LAX (short route from Tokyo), and then spend a couple hours with the dog in LAX taking a break and getting some feeding/toilet/play in before jumping onto the next flight to my destination.

Cargo costs will be much higher (upward of 1000USD for a small crate, and the numbers balloon as crates get larger) to the US and Europe, so if at all possible, fly with your dog!


  1. My gosh things have changed so much even in just the past four years. The last I'd heard they'd restricted flights against summer months for being too hot, and now the dogs must also be 4 months (except with JAL I guess)! This could conceivably prevent someone from being able to import a dog for quite a while, couldn't it? Have these changes hurt your exporting efforts? If the CDC is still saying that 8 weeks is fine for rabies free countries, do you think the airlines will roll back their policies if the CDC rewords things or leave everything as-is?

    1. No, doesn't really change the whole exporting thing much. People just have to wait longer, which was already the case for most of the rest of the world anyway. Airlines rules etc will not be changing. If anything I imagine they will be even stricter in the future to reduce their liability.

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