We had no idea we would be bringing our dog with us from the U.S. to Europe, but who could leave this little guy for a whole year? After a lot of discussions with the kids, we decided to bring him. We are so grateful to have him with us, but honestly, our advice is -- If you have a choice, leave Fido at home. It really does add a whole other layer of detail and planning that can be quite stressful. Just imagine having to navigate airports, train stations, restaurants, and hotels with dog in tow -- in a different country. Not to mention all of the steps to get them into the country in the first place. However, if you are like us and cannot imagine your world without your furry friend in it, read on. These tips will help you understand what to expect so you can decide if your dog will become the next "International Dog of Sniffery."
TIP 1: Start Planning Ahead of Time
It is so important to plan this one out and begin the process at least 2-3 months in advance (and more if you plan to get the rabies titer test but more on that later). A good place to start is from the USDA APHIS website. This web site provides the requirements for each country and a list of accredited vets who can issue the international health certificate. In general:
Your dog needs to be micro-chipped with a chip compatible with readers in Europe (most in the US are compatible but some are not - the vet can easily check this)
Your dog needs to be up to date on all major vaccinations
Your dog should be current with Rabies vaccination
Your dog is to be in excellent health with no ticks or fleas
Your dog will have to pass a vet check within 10 days of travel (this time frame is very important and can cause some stress - more on that below)
** NOTE: Some countries require other things like parasite treatment within 15 days of travel or a series of vaccinations 21 days apart, so be sure to read up and be well prepared.
TIP 2: Check Your Vet's Status
Even if you have an established vet, they may not be qualified to complete an international health certificate. You can search here for a list of accredited vets. If your vet is not on the list, double check with them just in case the list hasn't been updated. If you have to go to another vet for the health certificate, you need to establish the relationship ahead of time. Many vets are short staffed and are not taking new clients right now so you may have to call around, beg, borrow, etc. We ran into this issue and were lucky enough to be able to use the vet my parents were connected with. Thank goodness we started the planning process early.
Also, not all vets who are accredited to issue international health certificates, are good at it. Some have a lot of experience like ours did and others will be fairly new to it. It will be important for you to know the process yourself and be ready for any set backs.
TIP 3: Save Up Your Money
The costs associated with the international health certificate can vary a lot depending on the country you are traveling to and what your dog needs to have done before travel. In fact, we have heard the process can run anywhere between $250 to $700+. The cost will depend on whether your dog will need shots, micro-chipping, etc. Even with our dog all ready to go, we paid $350 for the vet check and processing (we were quoted $500 by another vet). We also paid $35 for the FedEx return label and about $150 for the airline approved kennel, soft muzzle, crate bowls, etc. Don't forget to get heart worm medicine too :) It can all add up so be sure to be prepared with some money saved. UPDATE: Now that we have traveled extensively abroad and have flown in and out of many countries, we have seen prices as low as $125 in Germany. Remember, you have to do the same process when leaving the country you are visiting in order to get bac to the U.S.
TIP 4: Before Booking Tickets, Keep These Things in Mind
Before you buy your tickets, call or search online to be sure your airline allows pets. Look at their requirements to see if your pet is small enough to go with you in the cabin or needs to go in a temperature controlled hold. If your dog is traveling in the hold, be sure to see if your breed of dog is allowed. Some airlines do not allow snub-nosed (or brachycephalic) breeds in the hold. It is also a good idea to call the airlines before booking to see if there is even any room for your pet (Iceland Air allows only 3 per flight). Then, book your reservation. If you book online, you may have to call the airline directly to add the pet to your reservation. You will usually pay for them at the counter when checking in - costs can range from $75-200.
We highly recommend trying to get a non-stop flight to ensure your pet's comfort, but if that is not possible and your dog is traveling with you in the cabin, be sure your dog is reserved all the way through to your destination especially if changing airlines. People have run into this problem before and it is very stressful. For those of you with your dog in the hold, we recommend taping This End Up and Live Animal signs on the crate along with your names, phone numbers, flight/s info., and destination info. (as in our picture). Even though there are very few animal incidents, it doesn't take a lot of time to do this and will give you more peace of mind.
TIP 5: Schedule Vet Appointments Early
I recommend meeting with your vet to go over the process and take care of anything needing to be done well ahead of time. Then, schedule the appointment for the final vet exam early - this appt. needs to be scheduled within 10 days of travel so your vet can get the paperwork approved and back to you by your travel date. Arrange the appt. to be early in that 10 day time period to give your vet and the USDA plenty of time to send, approve, and return the paperwork. You will need to get a FedEx label prepared too. To give you an idea of the process, I included what we went through below.
OUR STORY -- 2 months before travel
We established the vet relationship with the new vet and took our dog in for an exam and Bordetella shot about 2 months before our date of travel. At that time we talked to them about our travel plans and the process for the health certificate. They scanned our dog's chip to be sure it was a European compatible chip. Then, due to having to schedule around the vet's availability, we scheduled our appt for the final issue of certificate, eight days before our travel date (but actually needed it 2 days earlier). Yeah - it felt really tight - talk about stressful.
AND -- 8 days before travel
Before the appointment, we had to be sure to get a FedEx return label ready so the USDA could send us the paperwork. This is where the experience of the vet was so important. The vet sent us detailed directions from the USDA to ensure we filled the label out correctly, so be sure to ask for up to date directions - there were some funny things we had to do like using the same address in the "to" and "from" areas. Luckily, the vet appointment went perfectly and the technician filled everything out right there so we could look over everything. We had to change the breed type to match the other paperwork from our previous vet. They sent our paperwork electronically that afternoon (not all vets do), but the computer system was down at the USDA - and it was a Friday - so... The vet tech had to wait until Monday to try again. Stress was building a bit.
Cut to Monday! Got the call from the vet tech that the paperwork went through to the USDA. The folks at the USDA approved it Monday afternoon and send it off that evening with our label via FedEx on Tuesday. We got it Wednesday and had to head out the next day to our airport hotel -- WHEW!!! I tell ya - we ended up cutting it close and we had done all we could to be prepared. I have heard several similar stories so just know it may happen to you despite your best efforts, but also know it will probably all work out. We had a back up plan for the dog just in case, but we also had a great vet team that ensured us it would be okay. That gave us a ton of confidence and really helped ease our minds.
The Rabies Titer Test - What Is It & Do We Need It?
If you are traveling in and out of different countries, be aware that some are much stricter than others about rabies vaccinations. Some countries like England require all dogs to pass a rabies titer blood test result (>=0.5 IU/ml) by an approved lab. Even though the lab process only takes up to 14 days, there is a waiting period of 3 months! Yes, you read that right - 3 months! It is best to plan for this before you leave for your travels. This is why I recommend starting your planning at least 4 months in advance if you will need the titer test. You do not want to be stuck abroad waiting for the wait period to end.
If you are committed to bringing your best friend traveling with you across Europe, it can certainly be done. All it takes is some planning and some patience. Having Chewy with us is grounding and completes us as a family. He makes us laugh, gives us an excuse to take a walk, and is the best snuggler ever! We cannot imagine getting sidetracked without him.
Nancy & Family
Walking the ramparts of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany