pet fish in fishbowl in front of map

How to Move an Aquarium: Moving with Fish

pet fish swimming in aquarium

Moving an aquarium can be challenging, but it’s definitely possible to safely transport your fish if you are moving to a new home. The stress of a move can affect your pet fish, so it’s best to only relocate them if you are moving a short distance. For longer moves (more than a few hours away), we recommend finding a new home for your fish to protect their safety. However, if you are moving only a short distance and planning to move an aquarium, here are some tips to consider for safely moving your fish.

There are two separate processes involved with relocating your fish: 1) Moving the Aquarium or Tank and 2) Moving the Fish. You will want to avoid moving the fish in their tank, so it’s best to think of these steps separately. We’ll cover both below.

Moving an Aquarium

The hardest part of moving a fish tank is keeping aerobic bacteria alive. This filtration system keeps the fish alive, so it’s crucial to maintain the right balance. It takes less than a few hours to upset this balance; without a flow of oxygen-laden water, aerobic bacteria will waste away within a day.

If your move requires a drive of less than an hour, your bacteria colony may be able to survive. But if your drive is longer than that, you will need to regenerate the bacteria. Remember that you will need to account for time spent outside of the drive alone, too. Calculate how long it will take to deconstruct, pack, unpack, and set up the tank in your new home. The total time might be a few hours. If so, follow the steps below.

1. Move your fish into a holding container.

2. Drain the water away from your tank. If your move will be short, keep some of the water in the tank to help preserve the bacteria colony.

3. Take your tank apart. Aquarium plants might be able to survive a short while, as long as their roots are kept wet. It’s possible to bag these plants with some water and carry them to your new home. If your move is short, place your filter medium in a sealed container (ideally, an unused pail or another chemical-free, hard-sided container) without cleaning it. For long-distance moves, either clean or throw away filter media. You can pack pumps, heaters, and other aquarium components as you would pack any fragile appliance for a move.

4. Move the aquarium tank yourself. If possible, carry the aquarium with you when you move, rather than having professional packers or a moving company handle this item.

5. Reassemble your tank at your new home. For short moves, it’s preferable to have enough dechlorinated/treated water on hand to fill your tank and get the water filtering. After a long move, you will need to set your tank up as if it were a brand new tank. This includes waiting a week before putting your fish back into the tank. Start slowly, by adding just a few fish to get the nitrate cycle set up. After the aquarium environment is stable, you can add in the pet fish you are moving from your previous home.

pet fish in fishbowl in front of map

Moving Your Fish

There are three main questions you will need to consider when moving your pet fish:

  1. Where will you put the fish while moving the aquarium?
  2. How should you pack your fish?
  3. How will you care for your fish during the move?

We will discuss each of these questions and provide some options below for safely moving with your pet fish.

Where to Keep Fish During a Move

Two common options for fish owners who are looking for where to put their fish during a move are a friend’s fish tank or a pet store tank.

Some (but not all) pet stores may be able to offer you fish boarding and can feed your fish for you while you are moving. If you find a pet store that offers boarding services, thoroughly review any paperwork or contracts. Make sure you fully understand the details, so you know exactly which responsibilities the pet shop is taking over. Some pet stores can also pack and air-ship your fish to you for an additional fee. Keep in mind this can be very expensive, because you will likely need to leave your fish there for at least a few weeks.

How to Pack Fish For a Move

For a short amount of time (a couple of hours), you can put your fish in sealed bags, half-filled with air. Using oxygen instead of air to fill the bags can help extend the time frame slightly. For shipping, you can place the bags in a cushioned, compartmentalized container, and ship them by air. This is the same method that shippers follow when sending fish to pet stores. For larger fish, or longer trips, a sealed bucket is preferable instead of a bag for each fish.

Caring For Pet Fish While Moving

It is important to keep the water at an even temperature by placing the fish in a sealed or compartmentalized cooler. During a move, your fish may be feeling too much stress to eat. However, well-fed fish can survive for up to a week without food. As long as your fish have been well fed before your move, they should be fine. Also keep in mind that adding food to the tank is not advised in this situation because it will degrade the water quality.

If you are planning for a long car trip, using a battery-powered air pump and airstone is a good idea. After the move, accustom your fish to the new tank environment gradually, just as you would when adding new fish to the tank.