Importing betta fish can be a scary thing. Especially if you always bought fish from a local store or breeder, and you don’t know how importing betta fish works. When I wanted to import my first wild betta fish from Thailand, I wasn’t sure about how this all works, and what to expect.
This is why I have tried my best to provide a clear guide about importing bettas overseas, so you can decide whether it’s a good choice for you.
How to import betta fish from overseas
At first it might seem intimidating to import betta fish, but actually it’s not that complicated at all. Here are the two things you need to do if you’re thinking about importing bettas.
1. Find a betta breeder/seller
The first thing you have to do is find an overseas betta breeder/seller. Most breeders live in Indonesia and Thailand, since it’s where bettas live in the wild and there is a very strong betta-culture.
There are numerous ways to get in contact with a betta breeder but it can be hard to find a reputable and trustworthy breeder with quality fish.
A commonly used place by a lot of sellers is Aquabid. Aquabid is a website where you can buy live fish by bidding on them against other personal sellers. Many breeders post their exact fish for sale on there and sell them via there. You can also contact the betta breeder yourself, off Aquabid if you prefer to buy fish directly.
The way I like to use it is to check Facebook groups or Instagram. Often you find profiles on Facebook that regularly post bettas for sale with their contact info on it.
If you are not sure if you can trust the and whether it’s reputable, here are some tips:
- Look for people that have experience buying from the breeder or ask experiences of forums
- Ask at which date they are going to ship the fish to the transhipper.
- Get in contact with the transhipper and ask him if he has worked with him before.
- Ask photos of the exact fish you are buying.
- Ask if you get a refund if your fish is death on arrival (DOA)
If other people have good experiences with the breeder and he gives you enough info, there is probably no need to grill him. Use your common sense and you will most likely be able to tell if your breeder is trustworthy.
2. Contact a transshipper
What is a transshipper?
After finding a good breeder, you need someone who has the permits to receive live fish from Asia. This person will receive the bettas for you at the airport, directly shipped from the breeder. They also check if they’re alive and if necessary rebag them. They then ship the fish directly to you. This is called a transhipper.
Any betta breeder works with a network of transhippers around the world to get the fish to the client. It’s not possible to get your fish to you without one.
Finding a transhipper
Your breeder will be able to tell you which transhipper he recommends or uses most and can give you some advice on how to get in contact with a transhipper.
In the US, there are various transhippers and depending on the state you live in your transhipper will pick one. Most breeders also have a list with all the transhippers they work with worldwide including their contact info.
Transhippers don’t all offer the same service though. Same as with your breeder, I advise looking up some former experiences or reviews to see the service. Luckily there will mostly be multiple transshippers to choose from.
Unfortunately, these transhippers are not free. You will have to pay a handling fee per fish (around $5) and a second shipping cost to get the fish from the transhipper to you.
This makes importing betta fish from Asia more expensive than buying local fish.
You pay the transhipper the fees for the fish and the shipping cost before your breeder ships out the betta fish. If you don’t pay the transhipper before he/she receives the fish, they will not ship it to you. In exchange for your payment, they pick up the fish at the airport, check them and put them in a new box then ship them to you.
Betta breeders have fixed dates where they send fish on, usually 1-2 times a month so all the fish shipped to the trasshippers arrive at the same time at the airport.
The cost of importing betta fish
If you buy fish locally, the only thing you have to pay for is your fish. If you buy fish overseas, you have to pay shipping costs and handling costs, too. This makes importing betta fish more expensive even though the fish are often cheaper, since cost of living is lower in Asia.
This are the rates I found are most common:
- Fish cost: $10-30 a fish. Depends very much on the quality (grade) of your betta and can be much more expensive. Most breeders give a discount if you buy a large quantity.
- Shipping cost from the breeder: $3-5 a fish, often breeders give you a discount or offer free shipping if you buy a large quantity.
- Handling cost from transhipper: $3-5 a fish
- Shipping cost from transhipper: $20-40, depends on what shipping method your transhipper uses.
Let’s say an average betta fish costs $15, if you buy a pair this would cost $30. Plus the shipping cost of $5 per fish to get the fish from Thailand/ Indonesia to the transhipper, this comes to $40. Then another 10$ handling fee and $20 for domestic shipping.
In total, getting this single pair to you would cost $70.
The handling cost and shipping cost vary per breeder and transhipper and these aren’t the cheapest rates, so this is just an estimate of course.
Why importing betta fish?
If you consider that you could get a betta pair here for $30, that’s pretty expensive for a single pair. So why would you even import fish then?
In Asia the quality and standard of fish is much higher. Most breeders do this fulltime and focus very much on breeding the most beautiful and best bettas. You can find high-quality fish for cheaper (which compensates shipping costs). In the US, these are harder to find and more expensive.
There is a bigger chance you can find rare types or special varieties over the US. The big selection makes it more easy to find the betta you want.
I breed wild bettas myself and the reason I started importing is because it was practically impossible to find the quality of betta fish I searched for in my area. Especially with wild bettas the chance on hybrids is very big and I couldn’t get my hands on pure high-quality fish.
Why not importing betta fish?
The biggest disadvantage I find is price. If you are just someone having a betta for fun and you don’t care much about the quality of your fish, importing betta fish might be too expensive for you.
Another thing is that it takes more work and a little risk finding both your breeder and a transhipper to get the fish to you. In comparison to just buying fish directly from the pet shop or from a local breeder, there goes a lot more effort into it and might be confusing at first.
It also stays a risk buying from a breeder you haven’t seen and lives on the other side of the world and relying on your transhipper to handle them well.
Many people would consider shipping fish for multiple days cruel. However if your fish is conditioned well before shipment and shipped with a special service and handled well, your fish can handle much more than the few days in the small bags. Bettas are adapted well to small and oxygen-arm environments.
Also, if you would buy your fish at the pet store it will most likely come from Asia too and shipped in much worse conditions. Most likely you already saw a video of bettas shippid in miniscule bags looking barely alive. If you buy fish yourself the chance your fish is handled with care is much bigger.
What if a fish dies on arrival?
Even with the best conditions while shipping, it might happen that your fish dies in the bag, but with good breeders this is only about 3-5% of the fish. Mostly this is just bad luck, but bad handling increases the risk of a fish dying.
Luckily most breeders offer a Death On Arrival policy. This means that if one or more fish die on arrival, they give you a refund. Make sure to take a picture or video before you open the bag so you can provide proof to the breeder.
Importing betta fish from Thailand, may seem overwhelming at first, but isn’t as complicated as it might seem. The two most important things are choosing your breeder or seller and a transhipper who gets the fish to you.
The price and effort going into transhipping is higher, which makes it not for everyone. If you are searching for higher quality fish, more unique fish and can’t find what you search near you, importing bettas can certainly be beneficial.