How to Prepare Your Pet for European Travel

Mar 4, 2018

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So, you want to take your pet to Europe? Among the 12 million Americans traveling there each year, many thousands do so for longer periods of time than a vacation, and many have pets they want to take. But, unfortunately, you can’t just book a ticket and go. There are steps and paperwork that must be done before travel. Even with this paperwork done, only some airlines allow pets, and only some of these airlines allow pets to travel with you in the cabin — so be sure to check before booking your ticket.

In this guide, I describe the steps required to take a pet dog or cat that is older than 16 weeks from the United States to Europe. I recently went through these steps when preparing to take our cat, Grace, from the US to Germany. Here’s what you need to know.

In This Post

USDA Website

Your first stop when figuring out requirements to take your pet from the US to any foreign country is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website. This website provides information for taking your pet from the US to a foreign country, which is defined as exporting, and for bringing your pet into the US from a foreign country, or importing.

EU Pet Passport

If you have an EU Pet Passport, no additional paperwork is needed for your pet to re-enter the European Union. Unfortunately, EU Pet Passports aren’t available in the United States. They also become invalid if the rabies vaccination recorded in the EU Pet Passport has expired or if the vaccination wasn’t recorded by an EU veterinarian.

I’ll be getting my cat an EU Pet Passport once in Germany. If you don’t have a valid EU Pet Passport for your pet, the next section is for you.

EU Health Certificate

There are five steps to getting an endorsed EU Health Certificate. This certificate will allow your pet to travel to and enter the EU.

Step 1: Microchip

Your pet should have an ISO-compliant 15-digit microchip. If your pet has a non-ISO-compliant microchip, then you should either travel with a reader for this non-ISO-compliant microchip or have an ISO-compliant microchip implanted in addition to the non-ISO-compliant one.

Step 2: Rabies Vaccination

The rabies vaccination must occur after microchip implantation. Vaccinations valid for one, two or three years are acceptable as long as the vaccination is current when the pet enters the EU and has been administered according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Step 3: Waiting Period

After a primary rabies vaccination, the pet must wait 21 days before it’s eligible to enter the EU. A primary rabies vaccination is either (1) the first vaccination given at the same time or after microchip implantation or (2) a vaccination given after the previous rabies vaccination expired.

Step 4: Get a EU Health Certificate

An accredited veterinarian will need to complete and sign the EU Health Certificate. The EU Health Certificate is similar for all EU countries, but it is country-specific, so be sure to obtain the version based on where you’ll enter the EU. For example, the certificate for Germany is in both English and German.

We found a USDA accredited veterinarian in Tampa, Florida, whose website said they had experience issuing EU Health Certificates. We paid $62 for an exam with the accredited veterinarian and $175 for issuance of the EU Health Certificate.

Grace, the Genters’ cat, getting ready for her trip to Europe.

If the owner or a designated person is traveling on the same plane as the pet or within five days of the pet, then the EU Health Certificate must be issued within 10 days of the pet entering the EU. Otherwise, it must be issued within 48 hours of the pet departing the US.

Step 5: Endorsement of EU Health Certificate

Once the EU Health Certificate is issued by an accredited veterinarian, it must be endorsed by your local APHIS Veterinary Services office.

You can mail or hand-deliver EU Health Certificates for endorsement to most APHIS Veterinary Services offices, but some have limited hours or particular procedures. I called and emailed the Gainesville, Florida, office and was answered promptly and kindly in both interactions. I could mail the certificate to Gainesville to be endorsed, or I could schedule an appointment at the Gainesville office for endorsement.

APHIS charges a $38 fee to endorse health certificates that only require verification of vaccinations. I was able to pay this fee using a credit card. I used my Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard because I’m still working on spending for the 60,000 AAdvantage miles sign-up bonus.

I mailed the EU Health Certificate on Monday morning after leaving the vet. I needed it back by Friday afternoon, so I decided to use UPS Next Day Air both directions. Next Day Air cost $26.41 from Tampa, Fla., to Gainesville, Fla., and $32.97 in the return direction. The envelope with the endorsed certificate arrived back in Tampa on Wednesday afternoon.

Moving Around Europe

The EU Health Certificate is valid for travel within the EU for up to four months from the date it’s issued. However, the certificate becomes invalid if you leave the EU or if the rabies vaccine documented on it expires. Additionally, dogs traveling to the United Kingdom, Ireland, Finland, Malta or Norway will need to be treated for tapeworms by an EU veterinarian one to five days before entering those countries.

If your pet will remain in the EU longer than four months, your pet’s rabies vaccination will expire before leaving the EU or you expect to return to the EU frequently with your pet, then you’ll want to visit an accredited veterinarian in the EU to get an EU Pet Passport and/or vaccinations. I’ll report on my experience getting an EU Pet Passport in a future guide.

Importing Back to US

Don’t assume that you’ll be able to bring your pet back to the US without any extra paperwork.

The USDA has animal health requirements for importing pet dogs from foreign countries. In particular, dogs traveling to the US from countries affected by specific diseases — screwworm, tapeworm and foot and mouth disease — might need additional paperwork, inspection and/or quarantine. The USDA recommends checking the requirements of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the state to which you’ll be returning. The CDC says that dogs might be denied entry if they look sick with a communicable disease or if proof of a valid rabies vaccination isn’t provided.

Surprisingly, the USDA doesn’t have any animal health requirements for importing pet cats from foreign countries. They refer cat owners to the CDC and US Fish and Wildlife Service websites, which only note that animals with “evidence of an infectious disease that can be transmitted to humans” might be denied entry, as well as individual state websites.

Individual states within the US often have more stringent requirements for importing pet dogs and pet cats from foreign counties. However, these requirements vary greatly from state to state. I used the USDA APHIS website to check the requirements for pet dogs and pet cats entering three US states from other countries:

  • Florida: No guidance is given. Owners are directed to the USDA website (which provides guidance for dogs but says there are no requirements for cats and directs cat owners to check state requirements)
  • Georgia: Proof of a current and approved rabies vaccination. Must not be infected with or exposed to any infectious or contagious disease. Can’t be imported from a state or area with screwworms without a permit from the state veterinarian.
  • New York: Proof of a current rabies vaccination and Certificate of Veterinary Inspection issued 30 days or less prior to entry. Dogs must be heartworm negative.

I have Global Entry, which I don’t want to lose due to a misstep when returning with my pet. However, US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) doesn’t have many requirements for dogs and cats. As long as the pet is healthy and dog owners can show proof of a current rabies vaccination, you shouldn’t expect any issues with CBP.

Bottom Line

It’s feasible to travel with a small dog or cat to Europe, but you should plan ahead and be prepared for fees. I wouldn’t go through the hassle and fees — or put my pet through the stress — for a short trip. But, if you’re moving, traveling long term or have other reasons to travel with your pet, start the process early, and make sure you know the requirements when returning home.

Featured photo by Paul via Unsplash

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