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How to Transport Aquarium Fish—Can You Take Them in Flight

Moving houses, or even from one state to another can be challenging, and it is definitely more stressful when you have aquarium fish to move.

Can you even take them in a plane to begin with, and if so, can you carry them in a zip lock bag, and for how long?

Well, to answer this question and others, this article, will look at the best way to move your fish around your home, and from one house to another.

That said, depending on the length of your trip, the best way to transport tropical fish is either by using a plastic bag, which could be the ziplock kind, or in a 5-gallon bucket filled with water from the tank, especially when moving for a short distance. Using aquarium water and pure oxygen that can be bought in fish stores is highly recommended.

It is also perfectly ok to take your aquarium fish on domestic flights, but make sure the fishes are safe and comfortable because such journeys can be quite stressful.

Keep reading for more insight.

How to Transport Aquarium Fish When Moving Houses

Usually, when you get tropical fish, you expect to have them in the tank and not move them. However, if you are relocating and don’t want to give them away, you would need to figure out how to carry them.

Luckily (as mentioned above), you can very easily move the fish in a container or plastic bag, but it’s important to be aware of how time and travel stress affect your fish and in turn your decisions.

On average, most tropical fish kept at home can survive in a shipping or zip lock bag filled with aquarium water for a maximum of 48 hours, any period longer than that will reduce the fishes’ chance of survival significantly.

You also want to check your water parameters before moving your fish, and it is in fact, recommended you do water changes continuously for five days prior to the day you move, this will ensure the water is safe and with minimal water quality issues.

This period also gives you a chance to determine whether your fish are comfortable in the new water after each change.

When moving houses but within the same locality, it is ok to carry your fish in a bucket or container, but for a longer distance, a plastic bag is more advisable, especially while driving for several hours or if you need to catch a flight to your destination.

Fish tanks are one of the last things you want to pack and one of the first to unpack when moving houses. This includes the fish and plants in the tank if any.

The temperature of the water you put your fish in is also a factor to consider.

Unless you are transporting cold-water fish, you may want to add some form of insulation on the bag or container.

Alternatively, place the fish in a part of your vehicle where the fish have good access to the air conditioner or heater to help regulate the temperature.

Another helpful trick is to avoid feeding your fish one or two days before moving because the last thing you want is the fish messing in the water and causing an ammonia spike.

Luckily, you don’t have to worry about starving the fish because most tropical species including betta can go for several days without food.

How Do You Move Aquarium Fish Over a Long Distance?

Basically, the process and factors you would consider while moving fish from one house to another are pretty similar to those of moving your fish over a long distance.

Below is a step by step guide on how to transport you aquarium fish either from one house to another or for a long-distance.

Step #1— Preparation

The preparation process does not necessarily start on the day you move, it includes everything you do leading up to the moving date.

The first step would be to start your water changes about five (5) days before the move. Usually, the idea is to keep doing the water changes daily, and closely monitoring the parameters to make sure everything is in order.

We, therefore, recommend switching 20 percent of the aquarium capacity with each water change.

For one to two days before moving, avoid feeding your fish because you don’t want them messing up the water more than they have to, while on the move.

Lastly, you want to wait until the last possible moment to pack the fish, if possible, they should be the last thing you pack, and the first thing you unpack.

Step #2 — Packing Your Fish for Transport

As I’ve mentioned before, the best way to transport your aquarium fish over a long distance is in a plastic bag. A zip lock bag will suffice, albeit not for long distances.

So, the more important question is how do you pack aquarium fish in a plastic bag?.

To begin with, you would need to choose the best bag for your fish, which is actually quite easy because there are many different types available in fish stores.

To pack your fish, fill the bag(s) a third of the way full with water from the aquarium, then place one fish per bag.

Avoid adding more than one fish in the bag more so if you have medium to large-sized fish, or adult fish that are bigger in size than juveniles.

You may also want to add a second bag over the first one for extra protection in case of a leak.

Adding pure oxygen in the plastic bag is recommended, especially when traveling for more than an hour. Moreover, you may need to add some insulation if you have tropical fish species as opposed to cold-water fish like goldfish and danios.

Step #3 — Transporting Your Aquarium Fish

The general rule of thumb is if you are traveling for a long distance, that is, more than a whole days drive, don’t transport your fish in a bucket or container; a plastic bag is best.

Moreover, keep in mind fish get stressed out very easily and long distances can easily kill them. Therefore, in case you stop for the night, you want to take fish with you, don’t leave them unattended in the car or trailer.

Transporting your fish in the dark state can also help keep them from getting too stressed. This is because tropical fish are used to the normal day’s cycle, hence tend to rest or sleep when it’s dark.

Step #4 — Reintroducing Your Fish to The Tank

To reintroduce your fish in the tank, you can pour the fish with the water in the tank. However, this is at best a lazy way to reintroduce them.

The best way would be to acclimate them like you do new fish, this especially if you completely disassembled your fish tank.

Moreover, you may want to use a quarantine tank to hold the fish as you observe them for any ailments or adverse effects of travel stress before reintroducing them.

Lastly, you may need to cycle your aquarium again if you removed the substrate while transporting the tank. This will help establish a new colony of beneficial bacteria and protect your fish from water chemistry.

That said, immediately you get to your destination, your fish should be the first thing you unpack. The rule when moving fish is usually the last one in is the first one out.

See this WikiHow step by step guide for more details.

Can You Move a Fish Tank with Water in it?

Another frequently asked question about transporting aquarium fish is if you can move a fish tank with water in it.

The short and simple answer, though unsettling, is it depends on how big your tank is and how far you want to move it. Small fish tanks can be transported with water and fish, but big aquariums tanks should never be relocated as a unit.

If you need to move a fish tank with water and fish in it, be sure to remove all other things including rocks, decorations, filters, heaters, and air pumps. I also recommend removing some of the water from to reduce the weight and spillage.

Even small tanks are quite heavy and fragile, so only move them with water and fish when relocating them between rooms in the same house, or while either moving next door or a few blocks from the old house.

Eddie Waithaka

Resident Content Creator and Marketer at AquariaWise who talks about aquariums and fish and aquascapes a lot.

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