On our last trip to Japan, we decided to take our dog, Mimi, along to meet the rest of the family. We moved to Finland from the United States so we knew that travelling with pets involves a lot of paperwork. Avoiding a lengthy quarantine for Mimi coming to Finland required the signature and stamp from a man in a windowless office next to San Francisco Airport with a poster that said, and I’m not making this up, “1,000 reasons to say No.” We knew there was some paperwork so shortly after arriving in Finland, started to research what it would take to get little Mimi through customs without a hitch. I’m glad we did because, next to buying a home and getting married, this was one of the more stressful things I’ve ever done.
First stop was the Japanese Animal Quarantine Service (AQS) website where we learned that you need (besides teaching your dog how to email) several shots and certification that your dog is free of rabies. To prove your dog is free of rabies, you need to give them a rabies vaccination then take a blood test and send it off to get tested. In Finland, this is done by Evira. For some reason this test needs to be done at least six months before your departure. Thankfully we read all this in time but only just. For those wondering why we stuck around Helsinki until Christmas Eve, that six month window was the reason.
Over the next six months, I traded at least twenty emails with the Animal Quarantine Service. We went back and forth on the specifics of their requirements, what shots, when, by whom, etc, etc, etc. Paperwork went back and forth, each time I had to scan various documents and send them via email because it’s such a pain to find a fax machine these days. In Japan, the signature is still important so the facsimile is paramount.
As the date of our arrival to Narita drew closer, AQS helpfully sent an email reminding me what paperwork was required. They also asked for my flight details. I had been back and forth quite a bit with the folks at Section One so I think I replied to them on a first name basis that we were arriving on a Finnair flight and gave them my flight number.
Panic ensued when AQS replied the next day that since Finnair comes into Terminal Two that we’d have to get clearance from Section Two. I was rattled because it concerned me that the relations built up over the past six months now meant nothing and I’d be starting with a fresh file so to speak. At least the paperwork transferred over cleanly and luckily, one phone call later, things were back on track. I was still nervous though. Our trip to Japan was for 10 days. The standard quarantine period is 90-days. If we got off the plane and our paperwork was for some reason out of order, I was resigned to getting back on the plane to take Mimi back to Finland.
We were entering a tricky window where we had to have a shot for echinococcus, which was good for 30 days, and a final health inspection. We got the shot and then made a date to go back again for a health inspection which had to be done within a 24 hour window of our arrival. We were also required to get this inspection validated by an “official veterinarian” which our private vet and I struggled to interpret. Eventually the vet gave us the number of the City of Helsinki vet, an All-Creatures-Great-and-Small kind of man when we met him
Because we were leaving on Christmas Eve, and the city pretty much shuts down, we got a reprieve from AQS to get the health check done on the 22nd. It’s a good thing too because when I emailed AQS with the City Vet’s signature, they told me I needed his official seal too. Then, while we were visiting with the him the next day for his seal, we got a call on my wife’s cell from Japan that the City Vet is not official enough, that either the State or Federal Vet is needed and that we needed their stamps as well.
This is not a a knock on the folks at AQS but it was getting a bit ridiculous. Their site is very vague and there is not enough definition around what actually makes a Vet “official.” Only after a phone conversation were we sent a document listing the 30-odd people in the entire country that are official enough to authorize a dog to travel unhindered to Japan.
All these shots, tests, stamps, and signatures. When you think of it, it’s more paperwork than you need for a child. Just wave a passport and you’re good to go. Just to be safe, I made appointments with both the Southern Finland regional Vet and the Finnish National Vet who happened to be in Helsinki that day. It was a blizzard on the 23rd but, GPS in hand, I made these two appointments and got our stamps.
We arrived in Japan after a 10 hour direct flight from Helsinki. No problems in customs, we had all the stamps and seals we needed. In Japan, usually over Summer vacation, the train lines all hold Stamp Rallies in which they give kids a booklet with a box for each station’s stamp. The kids then can travel the lines with their friends and collect the stamps from each station. Presenting not one but three official stamps I felt like I deserved some sort of award.
Each stamp and signature were compared carefully with master reference list so they could be sure that we had everything right. We came bearing the news that all the stamps in Finland were going to change in a few weeks so that, of course, threw the office into disarray. Anyone thinking of using the images above for counterfeiting, sorry to spoil your plans.
So it can be done. It’s a pain but, like anything, it gets easier each time you do it. We’ve got a rabies vaccine and test validation that will last us for another year or so and all we need is another echinococcus shot and we know where to go for our official stamps. It was totally worth it. Mimi had a blast in Japan.