How Can I Take My Pet Overseas With Me?

Journalist Susan diRende in Rome with her dog, MIzi
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If you plan to take your pet abroad, you will need special documents to get into the destination country. The process is complex and pricey. 

Travel Certificates for Pets

You get international travel certificates for pets from the USDA. This is NOT the airline travel document you fill out for the FAA. This one is much more strict and official.

There are different hoops for each country that you will be traveling to and special forms depending on how the pet will travel. For the sake  of this article, I will assume you are traveling with your pet on the same flight. 

First off, you can’t just download the right form and take it to your vet. Oh, no. The forms can only be filled out by veterinarians who have gone through the USDA certification. There are not many of those, and boy! do they charge for it. Post pandemic, I had a hard time even finding a vet who would see me in Maryland. My vet wasn’t certified and none, I mean none of the first ten vets I called were taking new customers. 

A service dog waits in an airport before boarding a plane.
Service Dogs do not need to be in a carrier bag, but they still need to have the same documents as any pet to enter the EU

Once the paperwork is done, the vet will fax it to the USDA office that handles pet travel documents for your region. You must include a prepaid postage label for documents’ return. Before the pandemic, I was able to walk in to the office and get the document right then and there. This was great because you only have a 10-day window from the time the vet examines your pet to the arrival in the foreign country. If you have a problem with the paperwork, you find out then and there, and you can fix it the next day and try again. If it’s all via fax and mail, a problem means you could be unable to take your pet at the last minute. 

What Could Go Wrong, You Ask?

What could go wrong, you ask? Well, your pet needs a chip for ID, so you get one. Only you then have to get a rabies shot. Even if it’s your regular vet who gave your pet the vaccine two months before, and could not be mistaken, the law states that the vaccine must be given AFTER the chip. Oh, and you have to wait two weeks for the vaccine to take effect. Rebooking fee anyone? Or your pet is chipped and vaccinated, and the shot is good for three years. Except that Great Britain doesn’t care. They require the vaccine be within 12 months. If it’s been over a year, you need a new shot. And a new waiting period. Talk about stress!

A veterinary microchip reader
I make sure the dog’s microchip can be read and I even take a picture of the reading just in case I need to verify something

There’s more. If your microchip is an old chip, it may not be readable by the authorities at your destination.So you travel with a chip reader and be sure its batteries are charged, otherwise you might be SOL when it comes to actually getting into the country since they won’t be able to verify the microchip. The other option is to pay for a new chip. Re-chipping does not trigger the mandatory waiting period if you have a prior chip and a current rabies shot and the new chip is added to the old one with continuous verification through both chip services.

All of which is to say you should start preparing at least a month ahead of time. But don’t make your appointment itself too early. Ten day window, remember? 

Having done this before, I had started looking for a vet who would take my dog around six weeks ahead. I finally found one who might — no promises — be willing, IF they had an open appointment, but they did not make appointments more than a month ahead of time. So I called back a month ahead and got one… In three weeks. That left only one week for the forms to be sent to the USDA in Buffalo and be returned. I paid for overnight and got the paperwork the day before my flight. 

It’s Gonna Cost You

Feeling stressed? Add to the stress the cost. The veterinarian appointment with the USDA certified that can cost up to $350. My appointment in Maryland $300 which I thought was a deal until they charged me another $125 for the electronic transfer. The USDA has to be paid as well. Another $50 (I’m just rounding numbers by this point….) And you have to send a prepaid return mail sticker to be faxed with the documents. I sent an overnight, which set me back another $50. So upwards of $500. To take your pet with you overseas.

A large Dalmatian in its crate in the cargo hold of an airplane
Only certain kinds of carriers are permitted for dogs traveling in cargo. And then, what do you do with it on the other end?

Add to that the cost of a pet in cabin ($250 each way). For larger animals that travel in cargo, you add the cost of an airline crate, and then you have to figure out what to do with the enormous thing once you get to your destination so that you have it for the return. You can ditch it and just buy another. You’ve already spent as much a regular round trip ticket. What’s another $50?

Make sure also you have extra printouts of everything. My vet gave me a rabies certificate freshly signed and that was important in the end even though it doesn’t say so on the document instructions. Because if anyone along the way wants something you don’t have, you are stranded. Stranded, but at least your best friend will be there with you.

What’s Best for Your Pet?

If you’ll be gone a couple of weeks, or even a month, you might consider other options. On a recent flight from DC to Rome, a cat somewhere on the plane was yowling in long, mournful cries for the whole 9-hour flight. It had to be traumatic. If your dog does not feel comfortable in its crate, the cargo ride can be traumatic as well. If you have a trusted relative or friend, you might consider being generous in asking them to look after your pet. But be sure they are ultra-reliable. Many very nice people fail to give animals the care they need if they aren’t themselves pet owners. Consider a professional service.

An Irish Setter on its back

There are great pet sitting services these days. Just search for house sitters and there are several companies that arrange it. I know some great people who live vagabond lives and house sit for a fee. It’s not cheap, but still less that it could cost you to travel with your dog or cat. And your pet is at its home, not in strange surroundings. Services like offer pet-customizable options at different costs like giving medications. Pets can board at the sitter’s house or stay at yours with the sitting coming to stay. These companies have insurance and you can ask how they verify the homes and sitters. You can inspect boarding places to make sure you approve of the setup. 

Susan diRende travels the world on her own and has been living with no fixed abode since the end of 2014 with a brief hiatus during the pandemic. She’s back on the road with her medical Service Dog, MIzi.  All photos ©Susan diRende


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