How to Move an Aquarium

Safely transporting fish and their tanks

Relocating fish and their aquariums to a new home — especially for a long-distance move — requires careful thought and preparation. And though the task can be time-consuming and more involved than moving other types of pets, it’s possible to do it successfully. To help ensure your aquatic friends and their tanks travel safely, gather the necessary supplies, and follow the steps below.

Fish in an aquarium, ready to be moved.


Grab these supplies

Make sure to have these materials on-hand:

  • Net
  • 5-gallon buckets or cooler (use new containers or ones that haven’t been in contact with chemical products)
  • Siphon hose
  • Small plastic bags
  • Duct tape
  • Packing tape
  • Foam sheets
  • Packing paper
  • Paper padding
  • Bubble Wrap®
  • Moving blankets
  • Medium-sized boxes

Helpful tips

Before moving an aquarium and its fish, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Designate a location in the house. Think about the layout of your new home, and decide where to place the tank. Make sure the area is near an electrical outlet, isn’t exposed to direct sunlight and has plenty of space.
  • Take a picture. It’s a good idea to take pictures from different angles so that you know how the filter systems and all other parts and accessories are set up. If you do this while the fish are still in the tank, turn the flash off to avoid startling them.
  • Prioritize the fish. The aquarium should be the last item you pack and the first thing to unpack. The goal is to have the fish away from their normal environment for the least amount of time possible.

Steps for moving fish

Removing fish from their usual environment for long periods may stress them out. Since a long-distance move requires several days of travel, you might consider giving them to a local friend or family member and buying new ones once you settle in, instead of moving them. But if you do decide to move them, carefully follow these steps:

  1. Stop feeding 24-48 hours in advance. This will allow enough time for waste to pass and the aquarium’s filtration system to clean it out.
  2. Choose the best transportation method. Keep in mind it’s not safe or practical to transport your fish in the tank, and moving companies (including U-Pack®) won’t allow them to travel in the moving equipment. Rather, the best way to transport them is in your own vehicle and will depend on the travel time:
    • Less than one hour — For local moves, fill one-third of a plastic bag with tank water, and use a net to catch and place one fish per bag. Ask a local pet store about adding pure oxygen to each bag so they can breathe. Once they’re ready to go, place the bags in a cooler, and stuff bubble wrap around them for protection.
    • One to six hours — It’s best for fish to travel in five-gallon buckets for longer moves. Fill the buckets about halfway with water from the tank, and then use the net to scoop 3-4 fish into the container (separate the aggressive ones). Seal the buckets with air-tight lids, and duct tape the lid to prevent spills.
    • Moves that last multiple days or weeks — For extended trips, ask a local pet shop about options for boarding fish and shipping them via airmail.
  3. Reacquaint your aquatic friends with the tank. After arriving at your new place, be sure to regulate the aquarium before putting the fish back in (more on this below). While your fish readjust to their normal environment, watch out for unusual behavior like erratic swimming — this could indicate a problem with the water’s ammonia level. Contact the local pet store if the behavior of the fish doesn’t change or gets worse.

Steps for moving a fish tank

Transporting an aquarium means draining, disassembling and properly packing it. When going through the process, it’s essential to follow each step to avoid damaging the glass and structure. Here’s what to do:

  1. Unplug the lights and heater. Give these parts time to cool down before continuing the process.
  2. Remove plants, decorations and the filter. Place all live plants in a five-gallon bucket that is half full of water from the tank. After that, take out all the décor (rocks, gravel, ornaments, etc.), clean them with warm water, dry them, and wrap them in packing paper or bubble wrap. Finally, remove the light, pump, heater and filtration system (pack the filter damp to preserve good bacteria). Once everything is wrapped, pack it into one moving box, and label fragile.
  3. Drain the water. Aquariums weren’t designed to be transported carrying water — the pressure could cause the glass to break if jostled around too much. Plus, moving companies won’t transport them full. The best way to drain a tank is to use a siphon hose. For local moves, try to save 80 percent of the water by siphoning it into 5-gallon buckets. Using the same water reduces the chance of toxic ammonia spikes (a dramatic, poisonous increase in the water’s ammonia level). For longer moves, it’s best to empty the tank, and start over with new treated water.
  4. Pack the aquarium. The safest way to pack a tank will depend on its size:
    • Small to medium — Remove the lid, and wrap it separately in paper padding. Then, put the aquarium inside an appropriate-sized moving box, placing cut pieces of foam sheets around the structure and on top to prevent shifting. Fill any empty spaces with crushed packing paper. Label the box fragile aquarium.
    • Large aquariums — It can be hard to find a box big enough for large tanks, so use moving blankets instead. Wrap the glass part in packing paper, and then add a layer of bubble wrap (consider filling the inside of the tank with blankets or pillows for extra protection). Wrap the entire piece using moving blankets, and secure it with packing tape.
  5. Load it carefully. Because it’s heavy and breakable, don’t try to lift and load an aquarium by yourself. Once inside the moving equipment, sit it on an even, level surface, and don’t place anything on top. Secure the aquarium with straps or ropes to prevent shifting.
  6. Reassemble and regulate. Once the tank arrives at your new house, start reassembling it. Add in the gravel or sand, rocks, décor and plants first. Then, refill it with water, and set up the filtration system, heater, pump and light. Before adding the fish, you’ll need to regulate the water, temperature, pH balance, chlorine level and ammonia level (ask a local pet store to test the water). After the tank is safely set up and regulated, you can return your aquatic friends to their natural habitat.

Have questions?

If you have questions about moving fish and their tanks, leave a comment below, and we’ll answer shortly.

Find more step-by-step packing processes in our comprehensive packing resource!