Travel Adventures of an Expat Cat

If you are like me you fall in love with animals everywhere. I constantly want to adopt and care for animals that I meet, but obviously can’t take them all around the world with me. One cat however, won my heart and has travelled with me. When I lived in Turkey I met and quickly fell in love with a stray cat. I named her Sultan, which is a regular female Turkish name. She was a nervous cat and was scared of me and of anyone who came to visit. It took weeks of actively avoiding her before she felt comfortable and calmed down a bit. We soon got used to each other and she quickly adopted the habit of curling up with me in bed each night. She would scare me with her tightrope walking antics along the railing on my balcony as I sat pretending to read a book (but actually keeping a terrified eye on her). She also loved to sit on the coffee table and keenly watch an aquarium screen saver on the television.

Sultan playing with a hairband in her quarantine enclosure, UK

When the day came to leave Turkey and move to the UK I faced a decision. What was I going to do with Sultan? There was nothing to it; she was coming to the UK too. I spent hours searching the internet for information and asked the local vet what was involved. I called British Airways Istanbul office and was put in touch with their quarantine agent who spoke me through the required vaccinations and paperwork. I checked Sultan’s vaccinations were all up to date, packed my home into a suitcase and off we went to the airport.

The Turkish Airways flight from Dalaman up to Istanbul was memorable. As instructed, I had not fed Sultan any breakfast so after half an hour in the car and some faffing about at check-in she was ravenous. She mewed occasionally and was greeted by admiration from anyone who looked her way.

My expat cat Sultan

We boarded the flight and she sat in her carrier on the seat beside me. The aircrew kept popping by to coo over her and tell me how beautiful she was. Sultan batted her eyelashes in agreement. She was quiet for the first hour of the flight, but somewhere approaching Istanbul (and about five minutes after I was handed a turkey sandwich) she decided she had had enough of being hungry. Sultan got up and pressed her whiskers through the grill of the cage and begged me to feed her. I caved and gave her a little scrap of the meat that she scoffed down. All was well until we started our descent into Istanbul. Sultan jumped to her feet and started the rapid heaving about-to-spew motion favoured by felines around the world. My heart sank. We were about to be met by the British Airways quarantine agent and I really didn’t want to hand Sultan to him bedraggled and covered in vomit. Fortunately all she brought up was the tiny piece of turkey.

In the arrivals hall we met the agent and I handed Sultan over. My heart broke a bit as I watched him carry her away, hoping he was trustworthy. He took her to a veterinary clinic where she was to get a health check before travelling to the UK. I really expected it to take no time at all for Sultan to arrive in the UK but instead I got a lot of emails and telephone calls saying she needed another vaccination and since it delayed her trip I needed to pay her keep for a longer period. This was the most stressful point of the whole process because I was completely at the mercy of the Istanbul vet and the agent. I kept sending money and eventually they sent Sultan.

Sultan’s airfare on British Airways from Istanbul to London Heathrow cost three times the adult human fare, which was quite a surprise, but she did have the luxury of being carried onto the plane and off again as well as a taxi to meet her and take her straight to quarantine.

Sultan remained in quarantine for six months, which was the required amount for an animal arriving from Turkey at the time. I was able to visit her but decided not to go too frequently in case it confused her. She had an enclosure in a little outdoor courtyard, the centre of which was filled with an aviary, for entertainment purposes presumably. She had a cosy little box with a heater and a cushion on a ledge, perfect for watching the birdies. I was also pleased to notice her favourite toys had survived the journey as well as some of my hair bands. She had plenty of space to jump around playing too and weirdly, given that quarantine sounds like a prison sentence, seemed perfectly content in quarantine.

The day came that she was declared rabies-free and would be released from quarantine and welcomed to the UK. I was so excited that finally I could take my gorgeous girl home. We coaxed her into her cat-carrier-basket, I settled up with the quarantine facility and we were on our way. A taxi, a train, a London Underground ride, and a ten-minute walk later, we were home.

Cat cuddles!

The total cost to move Sultan from Fethiye to London was about £2,000 and she was worth every penny. I noticed no negative impact upon her as a result of the experience. In fact I think she met so many people in that short period that her social skills improved as nowadays she is quite insistently friendly and frequently demands laps and attention. Another welcome side effect is that she is a very relaxed little traveller. When I lived in London she would frequently accompany me to my parents house for the weekend, a trip that involved a bus and a train trip. The train journey was only complicated when the train was full of commuters and Sultan amused herself by swiping playfully at the hems of their trouser legs, through the bars of her carrier.

My cat Sultan enjoying Mum’s garden in the UK

Due to her official rabies-free status Sultan acquired a pet passport, which, as long as her vaccinations are kept up to date, entitles her to accompany me across Europe. I know people who regularly travel between Spain and the UK with their dog, but I’m not sure frequent traveller status is something that works with cats. Everyone is different though and if you plan to do this make sure your paperwork and insurance is in order, as it would be heartbreaking to have to leave a pet abroad for any reason. Sultan currently resides in the UK with my mother.

Have you ever travelled internationally with an animal? Where did you go and how did you find it?


  • jill

    Our cats are shy and slow to take to new surroundings. They’re such a source of stress whenever we travel (we get pet sitters, but our cats don’t like new people that much either). We’re going to be in Turkey for a month this fall and I’m getting a headache thinking about what to do with the cats 🙁

    Btw, I LOVE ‘Sultan’ for a cat’s name – they do behave like they’re the sultans of the house. Hehee…
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      Hi Jill – Turkey is an amazing place. Whereabouts are you going? Sultan is a regular female name in Turkey, you may meet a ‘Sultan’ be prepared! I understand the concern about your cats. Can you get a regular petsitter? In London I used to get the same petsitter each time I was away. I think she fell in love with Sultan too as when I got home she always had a collection of photos of my cats to show me! haha!
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  • mschristiner

    What a lucky Cat! He gets to travel the world 🙂 We almost took my dog to London with us and he would have been an expat dog

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