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Home > Goldfish > Shipping and Moving Live Goldfish: Vet-Approved Step-by-Step Guide 2024

Shipping and Moving Live Goldfish: Vet-Approved Step-by-Step Guide 2024

Goldfish in a plastic bag

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Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Whether you are looking for the best way to ship your goldfish or if you are merely curious how your goldfish made its way to your door, this guide will give you insight on how to humanely ship or move with your goldfish while minimizing unnecessary stress.

Shipping goldfish is an interesting process. Goldfish can be shipped in a variety of ways that can also be applied to moving with your goldfish.

Moving with your goldfish can be stressful, but there is more that can go right than wrong. If a few measures are taken, your goldfish can have a safe and stress-free journey to their new destination.divider-fish

Part 1: Shipping Goldfish

Goldfish fry_zoosnow_Pixabay
Image Credit: zoosnow, Pixabay

The shipping process for goldfish should be made as comfortable as possible. Goldfish are easily stressed which can cause them to develop health issues during or after transit.

Following the guidelines below can help to ensure your goldfish is not overly stressed while being shipped. Keep in mind that the shipping process should not exceed 6 hours as the build-up of ammonia will most likely harm the fish before they arrive. However, in some circumstances, this grace period can be extended using the tips we’ll discuss shortly.

Step 1 – Determine Destination

Determine the destination of the goldfish and calculate how long an estimated journey could take. It is best to keep the travels under 12 hours long and night-time is the best choice in the summer, whereas the morning will be better in winter. This will prevent your goldfish from being exposed to overly harsh temperatures. Keep in mind you should not ship your goldfish if it is snowing heavily, extremely hot, or storming. Some services will also not deliver during these conditions which will mean your goldfish is in the bag for a dangerously long time.

Step 2 – Choose Delivery Service

Choose a good livestock delivery service beforehand that delivers quickly. They should be qualified to carry livestock and deliver the animal with little stops or rough handling on the way. The delivery service should be made aware that they are carrying live goldfish and the words “fragile, live fish” should be written in permanent marker across a large section of the container. Draw an arrow indicating the right way the box should be placed. This will help prevent your goldfish’s container from being accidentally placed upside down or sideways.

Step 3 – Fast Your Fish

Fast the goldfish for two to three days before shipping. This will lower the amount of waste your goldfish will produce inside the bag. Ammonia will build up rapidly in such a small body of water.

Image Credit: panpilai paipa, Shutterstock

Step 4 – Pack Your Fish 

Prepare a bag that can accommodate the size of the fish you are shipping and fill it halfway with the current tank water it is in. Ideally, you should only place one fish per bag. This way, the losses are minimized in case a bag bursts or leaks during the shipping journey.

Add in a few drops of a fish-safe stress reliever. It is best to also add in a commercial ammonia neutralizer. These products bind with ammonia and offer your fish a greater grace period before their water becomes too inhabitable. They may also change the color of the water as an indicator of ammonia levels. The water usually turns green or yellow once the medicine has been used up.

Leave a section of the bag filled with air. The bag should not be overfilled with air to the point it looks like it will burst, as this can pose a risk of the bag popping during delivery. You can place a second bag around the first to reduce the chances of that happening.

Step 5 – Ship Your Fish

Place the bag in a thick styrofoam shipping container and NOT a box. This is ideal in a situation in a case a bag does break. The styrofoam will hold the water and increase the fish’s chance of survival. A box is porous and will absorb and leak the water out, slowly killing the fish. You can also add stuffing inside of the box to prevent the bag from moving around. The stuffing should be made of a material that does not absorb water.

Once you have completed those steps, your goldfish will be good to go on its shipping journey. You should liaise with the person expecting the fish to ensure that they are home when their fish arrive.


Part 2: Moving with Goldfish

Image Credit: panpilai paipa, Shutterstock

If you plan on taking your goldfish with you when you move to a different house or state, you should not keep them inside of the tank. Moving with a goldfish should also be done promptly under 48 hours at most.

Step 1 – Gather Necessities

Here are the necessities you may require when it comes to transporting your fish. Most of these can be purchased from a pet store.

  • Plastic bags to hold your fish
  • Oxygen tanks
  • Ammonia neutralizing medicine
  • Two spare water containers or empty water bottles (these should have lids or covers)
  • Spare empty plastic containers, Tupperware, or other containers with secure lids
  • A fish net
  • Multiple spare buckets of manageable size
  • A few spare towels that are large enough to cover those buckets
  • Tank sealant glue (in the unfortunate event that an aquarium cracks during transport)
  • Household ammonia (easily obtainable from a hardware store or your pet store)

Step 2 – Water Change

Feed your fish their usual food for the day, and then change at least 20-25% of the water in your aquarium 3 days before your trip. Please note that this advice assumes an appropriately stocked aquarium. More heavily stocked aquariums will require more extensive changes.

aquarium cycle_hedgehog94_Shutterstock
Image Credit: hedgehog94, Shutterstock

Step 3 – Stop Feeding

Two days before your trip, stop feeding your fish. You should also remove automated feeders (if any). This minimizes the waste they produce during a long trip. Healthy adult goldfish have no problems dealing with a fast of a few days. If your fish are young or unwell, try postponing your trip (if possible) or seek veterinary advice before fasting and transporting your fish.

Step 4 – Move Day Capture

The day of the move, fill a plastic bag with some aquarium water (until it is about half full) and gently scoop up your fish and place one goldfish in the bag. As always, ensure each goldfish has their own bag. Add the ammonia neutralizing medicine and stress medicine, then put oxygen into the bags and seal them. Double up these bags and place them in a styrofoam box or other container with a lid.

hand holding a plastic bag containing goldfish
Image Credit: HomeArt, Shutterstock

Step 5 – Drain Tank

After your fish have been placed in their transport bags, ensure that you drain the tank all the way to the substrate (if any). Try salvaging some aquarium water in buckets or spare containers, depending on how much space you have on your transport vehicle.

Please be mindful that aquariums should NOT be moved when they are full of water. Aquariums are designed to be stationary. Uneven water pressure hitting the walls of a full aquarium that is being moved can cause glass aquariums to crack or shatter.

Man cleaning a dirty fish tank
Image Credit: victoras, Shutterstock

Step 6. Pack Plants, Filter, and Substrate

If your tank has a substrate layer, you should place it in a bucket with a very thin layer of water (just enough to cover the substrate).

Pack aquarium plants in plastic bags with some aquarium water and oxygen. Alternatively, plants can be placed in buckets with their roots submerged in aquarium water. Cover the buckets with a moist towel to ensure they don’t dry out during the trip.

Your tank’s filter media should be kept wet throughout the move as well. The nitrifying bacteria used in your tank’s cycle will perish if they dry out.

Step 7. Drive Slowly

Drive slowly and carefully, avoiding speed bumps whenever possible. If you plan to stop for the night, do not leave your fish in your car unattended. Instead, bring them in with you where you will stay for the night.

Never leave fish (or any pets) in an unattended locked car during the day; they may die from heat stress. Trying to keep your car at a temperature of around 20-22 °C (68-71.6°F) is recommended.

The goal with a long-distance trip is striking a balance between stopping for partial water changes (with spare aquarium water you salvaged) and not taking too long to reach your destination. To do so, use an empty container to remove some of the water from the plastic bags, and replace an appropriate amount of water from your spare supply. Do not tilt a bag to remove water, as you might lose your fish! You should also ensure that you reoxygenate the bags every time you do this.

Most people opt for water changes once every 3 to 6 hours. As a general rule, if your fish seem to be doing fine throughout the trip, prioritize covering the distance to your destination over a water change. If they seem to be gasping or air, appearing lethargic, or changing their color slightly, prioritize a water change.

The bacteria in your tank’s filter feed on ammonia provided by your fish on a daily basis. During a trip, they won’t have this source of nutrition and therefore, it’s advised to drop a small amount of ammonia in the bucket holding your filter media before your trip (1 or 2 drops). This should provide the bacteria with food for about a day. Repeat this process the next morning (for a long trip that takes more than a day).

Step 8. When You Arrive

Setting up your aquarium quickly once you arrive at your destination is crucial. To do so, work in reverse by adding in the filter media, substrate, and plants first. Next, place any salvaged aquarium water you brought along. Fill up the aquarium with fresh de-chlorinated water as needed, and install any other appliances (such as your aquarium light & air pump). Turn everything back on and ensure it is working properly.

Ensure you check the parameters of the new water source you’re going to use for your fish. If they are vastly different from the parameters of your previous water source, you should acclimate your fish to the aquarium with extra caution.

Goldfish tank with gravel substrate
Image Credit: Hineck, Pixabay

Step 9. Acclimate Your Fish

After a long trip, it is important to acclimate your fish to their aquarium over a period of about 30-60 minutes. This is to avoid giving them a shock when they first arrive in potentially new waters.

Step 10. Monitor Your Fish

It is best to not feed your fish for about a day after arriving (they may likely be too stressed to eat anyway). Keep a close eye on them, and monitor your water parameters periodically, especially during the first week after a relocation.

If you feel that your fish aren’t adjusting well after the move, or seem to be taking a turn for the worse, you should promptly contact your veterinarian or a fisheries expert for advice.


Alternative Method For Large Goldfish

Goldfish can grow over a foot long, and at times it might be too difficult to find a bag that can accommodate your fish. An alternative way is to place them in a large container with a secure lid. Drill a hole in the container’s lid just big enough to pass an air tube through. Attach an air stone to the tube and submerge it in the water. Attach the other end of the air tube to an air pump with a battery (or one that can be operated with the ports in your car).

Public Modes of Travel (Flight, Ship, Train)

If you’re planning to use non-conventional public transport for your fish, you should always contact the relevant authorities for information about transport requirements and their procedure. It is also important to check if you can legally transport your fish to their destination (some jurisdictions may not allow this).



Shipping or moving with fish is somewhat complicated, but possible with the correct preparation and precautions in place. As always, the key is to ensure that the journey is as short and safe as possible. We hope the tips in this article will help you accomplish this, should the need to transport your goldfish ever arise.

Featured Image Credit: Alina Veneralova, Shutterstock

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