How To Safely Transport Your Fish When You Move

How To Safely Transport Your Fish When You Move

Goldfish in plastic bag

If you are moving homes, you will also need to move your pets with you. All pets require special attention when planning a move, but fish are particularly difficult to keep healthy on the go. Fish can become stressed if they are not properly cared for.

Not sure how to keep your fish healthy when traveling over long distances? You will at least need water, a water filter, and a container or bag. Our guide will equip you with the information you’ll need to safely transport your pet fish during your move!

How to Transport Live Fish Over Long Distances

Businesses like Pet Van Lines specialize in transporting pets either across the state or across the country. This service is primarily for moving pets over longer distances.

You can also ship your fish if you place them in aquarium bags and then into a cardboard packing box. Line the inside of the box with styrofoam so the bags stay in place. If you choose to ship your fish, be warned that you won’t be able to adjust them or regulate their temperature at will. There’s no guarantee they’ll have a smooth ride in the mail or will get there with clean water.

The most reliable method of transporting your fish is to take them in the car with you. If you are nearby, you can check on their containers for leaks or cracks and watch your fish for signs of discomfort.

Monitor Your Fish For Signs of Stress

Fish are easily stressed when not in their tanks… like while traveling in a car for a long distance. There is a good chance not all your fish will survive the move if they are not treated carefully. 

If you are driving, store fish in an area where you can monitor them, like the passenger seat. Check your fish periodically to see if they are clinging to the surface or gasping. These could be signs of stress.

Cover fish with a blanket or towel to keep their bags dark, as this helps them relax. But remember to avoid the temptation of lifting the blanket too often to avoid irritating them with too much light.

Readjusting Fish to Their Tanks

Aquariums are delicate ecosystems, so reintroducing fish to their habitats will take a few days. Fish may even avoid eating for a day or two after a move.

Before returning your fish to their tanks, make sure the tanks are refilled with water. Consider preserving your aquarium water filters in a plastic bag. If you don’t wash it, you will preserve the nitrate-producing bacteria on the filter. That means your fish will have an easier time adjusting to the water.

PetRelocation suggests keeping as much of the original tank water as you can to reduce the stress of reintroducing fish to their aquariums. Between 20-50% of your aquarium’s water is optimal for preserving natural bacteria that help keep fish healthy.

Safely Transporting Fish In A Car

Plan for your move a few weeks in advance because caring for fish responsibly will take time. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination if you can. Remain calm while driving and try to avoid sudden movements, as these could rustle your fish. Drive slow and steady.

If possible, aim to move all your fish in one trip, or at least the same day to avoid leaving any fish alone in their container for more than 24 hours.

Selecting A Travel Container

Containers like buckets and bins are commonly used to carry fish, but aquarium bags are lighter. If you are struggling to find extra space in your car while you move, bags may be preferable. Do not move fish in their aquariums, since this can spill water, wear on the sealant, and damage the tank itself.

If you are using a bucket or storage bin, you’ll want to be sure you have a lid. Do not transport your fish in a container without a lid, as water could spill out. Further, you will want to drill a hole through the lid and feed the tube of a portable air filter to the water inside.

Goldfish in plastic bag

Aquarium bags are built specifically to carry your fish from tank to tank and they are considered the most trusted method of transporting live fish. While they may not seem like the most durable option, bags are the preferred container for shipping fish by many fish enthusiasts and breeders.

The container you use may depend on the size of your fish. Aquatic Veterinary Services recommends using a 5-gallon bucket with a lid for fish under 8 inches long, and bags for fish over 8 inches long. Ten gallons of water weighs about the same as 83.5lb (or 37.8kg) and will be tough to carry, so try to keep containers under 5 gallons for easy transport. Only fill your container or bag halfway to cut down on excess weight.

Don’t let your bags roll around loosely on the floor, make sure you put them in a box or a temperature-controlled container like a cooler. Double-bag your fish, fasten the top, and lay the bags down on their sides as extra protection against ruptures.

Transporting Aquarium Equipment

Fish tanks are awkwardly shaped and fragile, so move them with caution. Hire movers or ask a friend to help you transport aquariums since they can be heavy.

If you are keeping water from your aquarium to reintroduce your fish later, store it in a separate sealed container or bag. Keep your aquarium dry when moving it.

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Equipment You’ll Need

Domestic fish are held in tanks and depend on equipment to optimize water conditions for their survival. But when you move, you will not have the same equipment easily accessible, so make sure you’re stocked up in advance. Aquarium bags, filters, and conditioners are all crucial for portable fish care.

You can find the following items at almost every pet store or specialty fish store, but they are also widely available for purchase online.

Aquarium Bags

Fish travel best in aquarium bags a little less than halfway filled with water from their own tank. These bags are affordable options for short-term fish transportation. Plus, it’s simpler than you might think to bag your own fish.

Each bag can hold 8-10 small fish like neon tetras, 4-5 medium fish like angelfish, or 1-2 larger fish. Avoid bagging aggressive fish together.

Girl holding a plastic bag with fish

Water Filter

Most fish produce ammonia through their gills, yet this chemical can be deadly for them if it is allowed to accumulate in their water for as little as a few hours. This is why aquarium fish rely on water filters which enrich tank water with oxygen and clear ammonia from the water.

A battery-operated water filter is an affordable way to ensure your fish stays ammonia-free during your move. These will be especially useful if you plan to carry your fish in a bucket or bin.

Water Conditioner

Liquid water conditioner detoxifies ammonia and nitrates and removes chlorine from your aquarium water. This is not a replacement for a water filter, but conditioner is a great way to ensure your water’s health.

Most conditioners can keep water healthy for fish for up to 48 hours at a time.


Carefully transporting your fish over long distances isn’t rocket science. But if you handle your fish sloppily, you can stress them out, or worse. You can ship your fish in the mail or hire a pet transportation service, but transporting them in your car allows you to check for signs of stress and easily make adjustments.

You’ll need the right container and the equipment to keep your fish healthy on the go. Use containers like aquarium bags or a sealed bucket or storage bin. Make sure you’re equipped with a battery-operated water filter and water conditioner. You’ll also need to bring your fragile aquarium, which could be tricky to move by yourself. If possible, bring the original tank water and uncleaned filter to readjust your fish to their new home.

The safety of your pets and the equipment they need is essential when you move. By following our guide, you can learn how to properly care for your fish when transporting them in the car or over long distances.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I buy supplies for my fish?

You can find fish supplies at pet stores like Petco or PetSmart. Here you can purchase portable water filters, water treatments, and aquarium bags. You also buy equipment online on Amazon or aquarium websites like AquaCave.

How do I use aquarium bags?

Bag your fish using the same water from your aquarium. You can roll the sides down to add the fish and water, then roll up the sides when you are ready to seal it. Keep the bag a little less than halfway full of water. Tie it using a rubber band rather than making a knot in the bag. Consider double-bagging for extra protection.

How do I know if my fish are stressed?

There are a few common signs of stress in fish. Watch for lack of appetite, gasping at the surface, and abnormal swimming patterns. Diseases like ich can also manifest as white spots on the fish and can be a sign of stress.

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I am from Sacramento, California and earned my BA in Literature from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. I am currently enrolled in the English MA program at University of Oregon, researching forest management policy and environmental studies. In my free time I enjoy watching basketball, cooking, reading, gardening, and trying new hot sauces.