How We Moved Our Cat Abroad

The author's cat, Kitty Lynsey Clayton

When we decided to move overseas, there was just one small obstacle: Our beloved cat, Kitty.

Moving to Lisbon in Portugal wasn’t an overnight decision for myself and my husband, Martin. Having lived in many places over the years we’ve been together, we thought it was time to put a little bit more thought into this one and choose a place to settle down for more than a few years.

So, when we settled on our location, we didn’t just give everything away and hop on the first flight to Lisbon like we’ve been known to do in the past. No, this time we actually planned it.

Why Lisbon?

We’ve lived in cities, we’ve lived in villages, and we’ve even tried the sprawling countryside life. Yet, we still hadn’t found a place we wanted to stay for more than a few years at a time. Copenhagen was too cold, Ireland was too wet, London was too expensive, the countryside was too quiet!

One place we’d always enjoyed on several holidays—including our honeymoon—was Lisbon in Portugal. Both of us love the sunshine more than either of our respective countries (UK, Ireland) provide. And we’d always found the Portuguese to be extremely friendly, welcoming and incredibly laid-back. We love city life for the entertainment and restaurants at hand, but we also like a slower pace of life than many cities have to offer. Lisbon provides that in bucket loads. It’s also one of the places with a lower cost of living (yes, even with the price of property and rental) compared to the rest of Europe.

Lisbon had been in our sights for some time, and it was only when my father sadly passed away that it became a reality. A reality where I could give up my job and write full-time, while my husband—already an established author—could go anywhere.

So, we began looking for properties. 

But, what about Kitty?

Of course, it wasn’t long into the process that we realized we had a more complicated issue than simply moving ourselves: Our beloved cat, Kitty. The furthest she’d travelled outside of London was up to Leicestershire where we’d be living for the last six years, and she really wasn’t much of a fan of car travel.

Despite the many questions from well-meaning friends and colleagues, there was absolutely no way in the world we were leaving her behind. She was coming to Portugal or we weren’t going to Portugal.

So, while we found the most amazing estate agent in the world (now a true friend), Alexandra, and the most efficient lawyer I’ve ever come across, who basically made our hunt for an apartment smooth and easy, we spent hours searching for the best way to take Kitty across the world.

The good news? There was no quarantine required. However, since Brexit, a rather costly vet health check and set of rabies vaccinations is required. No more pet passport. That bit was easy. (Well, almost. I mean, what cat likes going to the vet?)

Moving our cat to a new country and culture

So, onto to the travel arrangements, and the cause of the most anxiety-filled year of my life! Initially, I was dead against the idea of putting Kitty in a plane. I’d heard so many horror stories about dogs and cats in the hold, that I couldn’t contemplate saying goodbye to Kitty in the hold and waiting to see her fate at the other end.

Taking your beloved animal companions abroad with you is probably one of the most stressful things you can do in life.

So, we looked into the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander. It even comes with pet-friendly rooms. Sounds like a dream until you count the hours involved in driving from Leicester to Portsmouth, and Santander (Spain) to Lisbon. With a nervous cat. Not ideal.

It was a stroke of luck when we discovered that Air Portugal (TAP) allow small cats and dogs to travel in the cabin with you, as long as they and their carrier fit under the seat in front. So, we booked her in. And I spent the remaining months worrying about all the things that could go wrong with a cat on a plane! Even our taxi to the airport was late—and if you’ve ever had the experience of having a cat in their carrier for longer than they really need to be, you’ll know how exhausting that was. She only stopped meowing when she saw the strange man in the driver’s seat. In fact, whenever she thought we were alone at the airport, she’d let out a few whimpers, then retreat again.

When my husband handed over her carrier to the man at security in London Heathrow, my heart leapt into my mouth—and I think it stayed there until we walked into our new apartment in Lisbon. Taking your beloved animal companions abroad with you is probably one of the most stressful things you can do in life.

I spent the whole flight periodically slipping my hand into her carrier to check she was still alive and breathing. I’m a wreck, she’s a wreck—we do well together!

We arrived at the new apartment, and Kitty instantly sought shelter in the far corner of a room, tucked away behind a door. We’d had the foresight to source a litter box, litter and food on a previous visit to the apartment, so we could stay with her until she started to settle, and everything she wanted was there.

Fast forward a few days, and we’re on two inflatable beds and two deckchairs—well, Kitty has stolen one of the deckchairs for herself and my husband is sitting on the floor! I breathed a sigh of relief, because our precious girl has started to settled in to our new home—and that means we can settle in too.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Lynsey Clayton

Lynsey Clayton is a freelance writer. She writes about the vegan lifestyle, environmental issues and sustainability. Lynsey lives in Lisbon, Portugal with her husband Martin and little black cat, Kitty.


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