How to Move a Fish Tank: Steps Involved in Moving Fish Safely

How to Move a Fish Tank: Steps Involved in Moving Fish Safely

Published: 02 Feb, 2022

Last Updated: 20 Jan, 2023

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How to Transport Fish When Moving?

As with all pets, moving with fish to a new house can be a hassle. But the delicate nature of aquariums and their inhabitants makes fish tank moving an even trickier proposition, especially if we’re talking about a long-distance move.

You need to plan for the move separately and gather the necessary moving supplies to make for a smooth move that’s also kind to your aquatic pets. Fortunately, with some bit of research and planning, it doesn’t take much to understand how to move a fish tank like a pro.

We went ahead and put together the only guide you’ll need on how to transport fish when moving. We detail the entire process step-by-step below, breaking it into the three main stages involved in transporting fish – what to do before, during, and after transporting a fish tank.


What to Do Before Moving with Fish?

Unlike most household items, a fish tank is not something you just pick up and load into a moving truck along with its inhabitants. You need to think ahead before moving day.

First, consider whether it’s ideal to move with your scaly friends or if it would be in their best interests to leave them behind, particularly when moving across the country. No, we don’t mean abandoning them…

Aquarium moving tends to stress fish easily, more so long-distance moves – so much so that the fish may fail to make it to the destination, something no owner certainly wants! If you have a close friend or relative who owns an aquarium and they happen to live nearby, ask them if they would love to keep the fish.

Otherwise, prepare to move the fish tank well in advance, keeping in mind that the aquarium is the last thing you’ll prepare and load into the moving vehicle, and the first to unload and tend to once you get to your destination.

  • Prepare Your Supplies in Advance.

    Once it’s clear you’ll be moving with the fish, don’t wait until the last minute to start gathering the moving supplies. Draw up a list of all the things you need for a seamless move. Chances are you already have some of the items, and for those that you don’t, go ahead and source in advance.

    Here is a list of the supplies you’ll need for fish tank moving:

    • Fish net;
    • Buckets for fish – 5-gallon buckets with lids if it’s a long-distance move. In the case of shorter moves, plastic baggies or small plastic containers with lids should work;
    • Buckets for plants – live plants need to be submerged in water during travel;
    • Siphon hose;
    • Bubble wrap;
    • Duct tape;
    • Packing paper;
    • Insulating foam sheets;
    • Moving boxes.
  • Prepare the Fish for the Move?

    As moving day approaches, it’s advisable to stop feeding the fish at least 24-48 hours before so that there will be little waste in the water. Good thing is, fish can go even for a week without food, so your aquatic friends should be perfectly fine.

    On the day of the move, use the siphon hose to drain the water from the fish tank and into the transporting buckets until two-thirds full. When moving with fish, it’s recommended to use the old water in order to reduce the level of shock. In the case of less sensitive fish, you can mix the old tank water with fresh distilled water.

  • Move the Fish Into the Moving Containers.

    Using the fish net, take your fish out of the aquarium and gently place them into the moving buckets with water, careful not to leave anyone behind. Aim for 3-4 fish per bucket if you have a sizable number to transport. The buckets should be thoroughly clean and devoid of anything sensitive that could harm the fish.

    Next, make small holes in your bucket lids so that air reaches the water, then close the buckets. Alternatively, you can use a battery-operated air pump if the buckets are large enough or when moving cross-country in hot weather. Use duct tape to seal the lids tightly in place.

  • Drain the Tank.

    Once the fish is sorted, unplug the tank and drain all the remaining water in it, before proceeding to remove all the plants and accessories.

    If they are live plants, place them in separate buckets containing the same water from the tank. As for the accessories – light, pump, heater, and décor – dry them nicely and pack them using paper and bubble wrap. Pack the filter separately in a sealed container. This one should be packed damp.

    When doing aquarium moving, ensure all the sand or gravel has been completely removed before transporting. You can pour it into an empty bucket, and importantly, ensure this remains wet too, in order to keep all the essential bacteria alive.

  • Clean and Pack the Fish Tank.

    The best way to clean the empty fish tank is to use a vacuum cleaner (either wet or dry should work fine). Dry it up completely once clean, then place the tank into a large moving box (if applicable) minus the lid.

    Pack the aquarium using the packing paper and use the bubble wrap to add a layer of extra padding. Fill any gaps with insulating foam sheets to keep the tank from shifting about.

  a couple during the move

What to Do During the Move?

If you’re wondering how to transport a fish tank when moving, the best way to move a fish tank is to do it in your own vehicle. The same goes for the fish. Prop them up and secure them to reduce the likelihood of tipping during transit.

However, if the tank is big in relation, then enquire from your mover if they transport fish and fish tanks. Hopefully, you’re working with a reputable moving company experienced in fish and tank moving; an ideal one that also provides protection coverage.

When loading the tank and associated boxes into the car or moving truck, nothing should be placed on top due to the fragility of the items. All the boxes should be clearly labeled as such.

  a man moving a fish tank

What to Do After Moving a Fish Tank?

Now that you’ve successfully transported your fish, the hard work is done. However, when transporting fish, what you do post-move is equally important.

  1. Decide Where You Are Going to Place the Aquarium.

    Preparing your fish tank is one of the first items that should be on the order of business when you get to your new house. Despite the fatigue and all that, this is the price you pay for being a pet owner. But it’s not like you get to do this on a daily basis anyway, so it shouldn’t be much of a big deal.

    Set up the new location putting into consideration all the basics of setting up a fish tank – should be on level ground, close to electrical outlets, away from direct sunlight, sufficient area to accommodate the fish tank and its accessories, etc.

  2. Unpack the Fish Tank.

    Scrutinize the tank to ensure it’s in good order, then put all the accessories back in place – pump, filters, heater, lights, gravel, and all. Don’t plug in the aquarium just yet.

  3. Fill the Tank With Water.

    Next, fill the tank gently with the old water you carried from your old digs until halfway. Add your live plants when you’re done.

  4. Put the Fish Back Into the Tank.

    Make sure the temperature, pH balance, ammonia, and chlorine levels are back to normal before reintroducing the fish into the tank, then put the fish back gently into the aquarium.

  5. Plug In.

    Fill up the tank using the old water and if you haven’t got enough, you can add some from the tap – provided it’s de-chlorinated.

    Plug in the pumps, filters and heater, and make sure to leave the light on for a couple of hours to help your fish adapt to the new surroundings faster.

    Lastly, cover the fish tank. And that should be that.


Moving an Aquarium.

Now you know how to transport fish when moving. With that out of the way, what remains is to observe your aquatic pets over the next several days to see how they’re faring in the new environment.

Resist the urge to feed them immediately when you set up the tank. Leave them be for several hours (even 24 hours is okay) as you monitor for any signs of sickness. Besides, some fish may refuse to eat for a day or two. That’s normal.

While you’re at it, check if everything in the aquarium is running as it should, including the temperature and nitrite and ammonia levels. Adjust everything accordingly.

You might also want to visit local pet stores to check for available supplies. If you have any concerns about the fish, the experts there should be able to help.

Moving with fish can be daunting if you’ve never done it before. But this guide should have you well covered. If you don’t feel confident in your abilities to execute the move, you might want to talk to a trusted mover experienced in fish moving.

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