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My boyfriend and I spent $40,000 to take our dog to Japan on vacation. It was worth every penny.

Faye Bradley   

My boyfriend and I spent $40,000 to take our dog to Japan on vacation. It was worth every penny.
  • Tiffany Chan and her partner Anders brought home Siu Tam, a golden retriever, in November 2019.
  • Three years later, the couple paid $40,000 to take their pet on a 53-day vacation in Japan.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Tiffany Chan, a 32-year-old dog owner based in Hong Kong. This essay has been edited for length and clarity. Business Insider verified Chan's receipts.

My boyfriend Anders and I are based in Hong Kong, and last year we spent around $40,000 to take our dog on vacation in Japan. It was magical to watch Siu Tim experience his first snowfall and frolic through Japan's breathtaking landscapes.

Anders and I are both 32. He works in the IT industry, and I run a pet bakery. We brought Siu Tim home when he was three months old.

While we initially planned for a smaller breed, like a pug or a French Bulldog, the moment we laid eyes on Siu Tim at a pet shop in Mong Kok, we knew he was meant for us.

At around four or five months old, we felt the urge to travel with Siu Tim, but COVID-19 paused our plans for three years. When he turned three and restrictions eased, we embarked on our first trip together, deciding to seize the opportunity while he was still full of energy and playfulness.

Extra paperwork, planning time, and fees were required

In August 2022, we set our sights on Japan for our first international adventure. Known for its pet-friendly atmosphere and diverse seasons, it was the perfect fit for Siu Tim. With a flight just over four hours, Japan seemed a more manageable choice compared to Europe's lengthy journey from Hong Kong.

In early September, we enlisted the help of a pet relocation agency to assist us with the travel requirements for Japan. Given the necessary 180-day lead time for documentation, we kicked off the process promptly. By mid-March 2023, we were ready to embark on our adventure.

A $1,720 fee from the relocation agency included the shipping crate, an import permit, a rabies vaccination, blood tests, and various handling fees. The airline charged an additional overseas courier service fee of $1,615.

On the day of our flight, we arrived at the airport 2.5 hours ahead to ensure a smooth boarding process for Siu Tim. After sorting out the paperwork, we gave him one last bathroom break before settling him into his crate at the designated drop-off. Though he entered without resistance, his cries hinted at his awareness of our impending departure. Witnessing his distress, even briefly, brought tears to my eyes.

But this sadness wore off quickly, as his excitement was palpable when we fetched him from the animal holding area at Narita Airport. Our first task was whisking him off to the quarantine facility for chip verification and completing the essential paperwork for entry into the country.

We visited 26 prefectures in Japan over the course of 53 days.

Our itinerary spanned iconic tourist attractions like Asakusa Temple in Tokyo and Kyoto for a kimono photo shoot. We ventured into rural areas like Mount Nasu and marveled at top waterfalls.

To make traveling around with Siu Tim easier, we spent $1,160 to rent a car. Siu Tim's first encounter with snow-topped mountains was my most memorable part of the trip. I can vividly recall his delight as he played in the snow — leaping, twirling, and barking with excitement. For Anders, the highlight was taking Siu Tim to the zoo to watch the dolphin show.

In Japan, Siu Tim stood out and quickly became a local favorite, perhaps due to the nation's affinity for small dogs. Anders even learned to say Siu Tim's age in Japanese, adding to his charm as a conversation starter.

The trip was expensive but we've already gone on our second vacation together

Despite the steep cost — the total with flights, hotels, entertainment, and dining added up to around $40,000 — embarking on this journey was absolutely worth it. Giving our pet an unforgettable experience is invaluable to us, making the sacrifice entirely worthwhile.

Last month, we revisited Japan with Siu Tim. We thought Japan again would make the most sense for its smooth process, having already completed all necessary paperwork and tests.

On the second trip, we planned a less packed itinerary to avoid travel fatigue. We opted for longer stays at each location, minimizing hotel changes.

For our next vacation, we've decided to start saving up to take Siu Tim on a European trip.

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