How to Travel With Fish – Your Complete Guide!

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More and more people have started keeping aquatic animals as pets and making them valued members of their families. But what do you do if you want to travel or relocate across the country? You’re not going to leave your beloved fish behind, are you? Family comes first, and that includes your furry, scaly, or slimy friends!

Luckily, traveling with fish is becoming more and more common than it used to be. There are now many options for bringing your fish with you on your travels. This article will show you everything you need to know about traveling with your pet fish. Whether you want to learn how to move with fish or how to take them on vacation with you, we’ve got you covered!

Understanding the Laws that Regulate Fish Transportation

The first thing you need to do before traveling with fish is to ensure that you follow all of the laws and regulations governing fish transportation. These laws vary from country to country, so you’ll need to research what applies to your situation.

Laws in the US

In the United States, the primary law that governs fish transportation is the Lacey Act. This act prohibits the transport of any fish or wildlife that has been illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold. In addition to the Lacey Act, some laws regulate the spread of invasive fish species. These laws vary by state, so you’ll need to check with your local fish and wildlife department to see what applies to you.

What does this mean for you? Well, for starters, it means you should do your homework. It’s very easy for fish enthusiasts to fall in love with some colorful fish they see at their local pet store and want to take them home immediately. But before you do that, make sure you know what kind of fish they are and whether or not they’re allowed in your state.

Some states also require permits for transporting fish. In some states, this only applies to the commercial fish trade, but in others, it may apply to anyone transporting fish. This is something else you’ll need to check on before you travel with your fish.

Airline Rules and Regulations

In addition to the laws that regulate fish transportation, there are also rules and regulations set by airlines. These rules outline what kind of fish can be transported on a specific flight and how they must be packed. Different airlines have different rules, so you’ll need to check with the airline you’re flying with to understand their specific requirements.


As a general rule, airlines only allow fish that are small enough to fit in a carry-on bag. Your fish, travel vessel, and any additional packing materials must also fit within the dimensions specified by the airline. You may also need to pay a fee for transporting your fish, and notify the airline in advance that you’ll be traveling with them.

Some airlines will not allow you to transport live fish at all. In these cases, you’ll need to either do the transporting yourself or hire a logistics company specializing in fish transportation. We’ll delve a little deeper below.

Logistics Company Policies

When we reference “logistics companies,” we generally mean companies with the means and expertise to bring your fish from point A to point B. This could mean anything from courier services such as FedEx or UPS to companies that specialize in fish transportation. Naturally, the services and policies of these companies vary.

Before you choose a company to transport your fish, make sure you do your research! Read reviews, compare prices, and ask plenty of questions. Find out what kind of fish they’re experienced in transporting, their success rate, and what kind of guarantee they offer.

It’s also important to note that some logistics companies will not transport fish. This is usually because they’re not equipped to handle the unique needs of live fish. On the other hand, some companies specialize in fish transportation and nothing else. You’ll want to use these companies if you plan shipping your fish.

Traveling With Fish – Factors To Consider

Things to consider

Before deciding to travel with your fish, there are a few things you need to take into consideration. These include:

Duration of Commute

The first thing you’ll need to consider is the duration of your commute. If you’re only traveling a short distance, chances are good that your fish will be just fine. But if you’re planning on traveling for an extended period, you may need to make some special arrangements. Generally speaking, you can transport fish for about 48 hours without any problems.

In most cases, 48 hours gives you plenty of time to travel to your destination, unpack, and acclimate your fish to their new surroundings. However, if you wanted to transport fish as part of a cross-country road trip or a flight with multiple hours-long layovers, we’d recommend finding another option. Live fish can only survive out of water for so long!

Ability To Maintain Water Parameters

In addition to the duration of your commute, you’ll also need to consider your ability to maintain ideal water parameters throughout the journey. These parameters aren’t just limited to things like ammonia and nitrite levels (though these are certainly important!) – you’ll also need to consider factors like pH and temperature. The latter is especially tricky.

water ph tester

Many fish keepers find it hard to maintain stable water temperatures while traveling with their fish. Not only do they have to ensure that the water stays within the fish’s ideal temperature range, but they also have to account for fluctuations that can occur while in transit. For tropical fish hobbyists, keeping fish warm can also be challenging, especially during the winter.

On the other hand, some fish are much more sensitive to changes in pH than others. If you’re transporting fish that are sensitive to changes in pH, you’ll need to be extra careful to maintain stable water conditions. If you’re using the original aquarium water from which the fish were collected, this task should be more accessible.

Health and Species of Fish

Last but not least, the health and species of your fish will play a role in deciding whether or not it’s safe to travel with them. Half the battle of keeping fish healthy throughout the transportation process is making sure they’re healthy, to begin with. If your fish are sick or otherwise not in ideal condition, traveling with them could do more harm than good.

Additionally, there are fragile fish that simply aren’t well-suited for travel. These fish are often very sensitive to changes in water parameters and can easily succumb to stress. Fish fry and very small fish are also generally not good candidates for travel, as they’re even more fragile than larger, adult fish.

Some of the most popular aquarium fish – like goldfish and bettas – are pretty hardy and can withstand a fair amount of stress. These fish are often able to tolerate less-than-ideal water conditions and can even travel for extended periods without any problems. So, opt for these species the next time you need to travel with your fish.

Step-by-Step Guide To Traveling With Fish

Ready to hit the road with your fish in tow? If so, follow these steps to ensure that your fish have a safe and stress-free journey:

Step 1: Choose Your Travel Vessel

“Travel vessel,” far from being a fancy term for “fish tank,” is the first thing you’ll need to consider when getting ready to transport your fish. This vessel can take many different forms, but they’re typically purpose-built fish bags or any type of container with a tight lid. Some people even use water bottles or mason jars!

Most professional transporters prefer to use fish bags filled with water and air, because they’re readily available. You can find these bags at your local fish stores or online. No matter which travel vessel you choose, it should be big enough to comfortably accommodate all the fish you intend to transport. Only one-third of the travel vessel will be filled, so make your estimates accordingly.

Another thing to remember is that the travel vessel should be airtight. If you’re using a fish bag, the opening will need to be securely fastened shut. If you’re using another type of container, it should have a tight-fitting lid. Fish being transported usually have their vessels filled with pure oxygen, so you want to ensure that as little oxygen as possible escapes while in transit.

Step 2: Add Clean Aquarium Water

adding water

The first impulse for many would-be fish travelers is to add fresh water to the travel vessel. After all, the fresher the water, the cleaner and better, right? Not exactly.

To reduce the stress on your fish, you want to use aquarium water that’s already been established. Your fish would have gotten accustomed to the water conditions in their fish tank, so adding the same water to the travel vessel will help them acclimate more quickly.

Of course, we are not suggesting that you add dirty, weeks-old water to the travel vessel. The water should be clean and well-maintained, with a stable pH level. Test the water thoroughly before adding it to the vessel. You want to ensure that ammonia and nitrite levels are low enough to withstand the inevitable spike during transportation.

Step 3: Add Your Fish and Introduce Pure Oxygen

Once the travel vessel is prepared, it’s time to add your fish. Fill the fish bag or container 1/3 of the way with water, and carefully lower the fish into the water using a fine-mesh net. Avoid touching the fish or fins, as this will damage their delicate skin ahead of the journey, making them more susceptible to secondary infections and other illnesses while on the road.

Then, we recommend visiting your favorite fish supply business to fill the remaining two-thirds of the fish bag or container with oxygen. You want to use pure oxygen, as this will increase the oxygen concentration in your fish’s travel vessel. This, in turn, keeps water quality high and well-oxygenated, which is crucial for the health and safety of your fish.

Water treatment by Oxygen machine

Traveling fish need to be placed in an oxygen-rich environment because they only have access to a small pocket of air and water for survival. By increasing the oxygen concentration, you’re essentially giving your fish a larger “bubble” of oxygen to breathe in. Pure oxygen dissolves readily in water, replacing any that has been breathed in.

Step 4: Make Sure The Bag/Container is Well-Sealed

We’ve touched on this briefly, but it bears repeating: you want to make sure that the fish bag or container is airtight. This serves three purposes:

  • It keeps the water inside clean and well-oxygenated.
  • It prevents any outside contaminants from entering the travel vessel and harming your fish.
  • It prevents your fish from falling out of the bag or container and getting lost.

To make sure the fish bag or container is well-sealed, you need to reinforce the opening. If you’re using a fish bag, twist the top shut and secure it with a rubber band or tape. We recommend filling the entire bag with water first and checking for leaks. Small holes and rips are easy to miss, so please take your time with this step.

If you’re using a different type of container, make sure the lid is on tight and seal any gaps with aquarium-safe silicone. The silicone will plug any gaps in the lid, creating an airtight seal. After the silicone dries, fill the container with water and shake it vigorously to check for any leaks. Tip your container over a sink or bucket to catch any water that might spill.

Step 5: Place Fish In An Insulated Carrier

Over the course of your travels, you will want to ensure your fish are kept at a stable temperature. An insulated carrier will help regulate the temperature inside the travel vessel, preventing your fish from getting too hot or cold.

We recommend a Styrofoam box, as they are lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to find. You can also use a picnic cooler. Just make sure to size the carrier according to the fish bag or container – you don’t want it to be too big or too small.

Fill the bottom of the carrier with crumpled newspaper, towels, or a gel pack to help insulate the fish bag or container. Then, place the fish bag or container inside the carrier. If you’re using a Styrofoam box, make sure to put the lid on tight. For a picnic cooler, close the lid and secure it with bungee cords or rope.

Step 6: Monitor Your Fish Throughout The Journey

Once your fish are all packed up and ready to go, it’s time to hit the road! But even though they’re all packed up nice and snug, you’ll still need to keep an eye on them.

Monitoring your fish means checking on them periodically to make sure they’re still alive and well. The same way you would monitor a cat or a dog after a vet visit, we recommend checking on your fish every few hours, or at the very least, once every leg of your journey. You can see a great dog vet visit checklist here.

And there you have it! These are the steps you need to take to ensure your fish have a safe and comfortable journey. Just remember to be patient, take your time, and transfer your fish into a tank as soon as you arrive. With a little bit of preparation, you’ll be a pro at traveling with fish in no time!

The Takeaway

Traveling with fish requires a little bit of extra planning and preparation, but it’s nothing you can’t handle! As long as you look into the laws and regulations of the area you’re visiting, pack your fish properly, and keep an eye on them throughout the journey, they’ll be just fine.

Have you ever traveled with fish before? Let us know in the comments below! And if you know someone who’s interested in taking their fish on a trip, be sure to share this article with them. Thanks for reading, and happy travels!

Wanda is a second-generation aquarist from the sunny tropics of Malaysia. She has been helping her father with his freshwater tanks since she was a toddler, and has fallen in love with the hobby ever since. A perpetual nomad, Wanda does her best to integrate fish-keeping with her lifestyle, and has taken care of fish in three different continents. She loves how it provides a nice break from the hustle and bustle of life.

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