If you’re planning to move internationally and you have a dog, you may already realize that taking them with you is not an easy process. I had my own struggles when moving my dog-child, Mitzy, from California to Spain. So I am here to attest to two things: moving your dog internationally is possible, but yes it is a pain. I hope this post can help you to make it as simple and pain-free as possible, as I also understand how important it is to not leave them behind.
First off, you will want to consider the following questions:
- What time of the year will you be traveling?
- What country will you be traveling to, and what are their requirements for pet travel?
- Will your dog be traveling with you (on the same flight) or separately, as cargo?
- Will your dog be traveling in the cabin or cargo area?
- What airline will you be flying with, and what are their pet policies?
- Ïs your dog physically healthy enough to be flying?
- What supplies will you need for your travel (airline approved crate)?
- How much money will this all cost?!
One thing is for sure: you will need to allow plenty of time. Many countries require your pet to be vaccinated, and in some cases require a waiting period after vaccination. You will also need to consider the time it will take to get an appointment with your vet, get the paperwork done, possible blood titer testing and waiting period (at least 3 months) to avoid quarantine if you’re coming from a high rabies country, etc.
The reason I mention the time of year is that most airlines will not allow animals to fly in the cargo area if the origin, destination, or any of the stop over cities have a temperature below 45ºF or above 84ºF. This is because once the plane is on the ground and the temperature control is turned off, animals can suffer from extreme temperatures, and in some cases, die. You’ve probably heard the horror stories of dogs dying during this process, but don’t let these hyped up stories get to your head. Thousands of dogs fly safely every year. I highly recommend to check the weather of all of the cities you and your pet will be in to make sure the temperatures are not too hot or cold. The best times of year to fly with your dog as cargo are spring or fall.
Every country has different requirements for pet travel, and I highly recommend checking pettravel.com to see what your country’s requirements are. You can also download a “pet passport” for a fee, which for me was completely worth the $15. They give you all the documents you will need for your destination country, as well as some helpful tips and instructions.
To save money and stress, it’s best to travel on the same flight as your pet (whether it be with you in the cabin or in the cargo hold). If you send your pet on a separate flight, it will cost you a LOT more money. Take my case for example. I flew with Iberia and paid a $300 fee for my dog to be checked as luggage in the cargo hold. If I would have sent her on a separate flight, it would have been over $1,000.
Now, how do you decide between taking your dog in the cabin or the cargo? There are size and species restrictions for animals flying in the cabin. The requirements vary by airline, but generally speaking, if your pet is over 8 kg (17 lbs), they will need to go in the cargo hold. If your pet goes with you in the cabin, they will have to fit under the seat in front of you in a small crate and remain in the crate for the entire flight. The main message here is: check with your airline for requirements. And even more importantly, check airline requirements before purchasing tickets. This is crucial-I almost purchased tickets with Norweigian airlines because they were offering a great deal. Once I checked their pet policy (they do not allow animals in the cargo on flights between the US and Europe), I looked at other airlines.
Requirements vary by which country you are leaving from and where you are going, but generally it is required to have your dog examined by a veterinarian (and even if not required, I highly recommend this). Bring all of the paperwork to be filled out with you. Ask your vet if he/she thinks your dog is healthy enough to fly. Regarding sedation, generally it is not recommended. Sedating your pet can affect their breathing, ability to pant and cool off, and heart rate. It is better for your pet to be a little scared than to have a breathing issue! Your dog will at minimum need a microchip and a rabies vaccination. Keep in mind that the microchip needs to be “internationally recognized” (ISO 11784/11785 pet microchip that is a 15 digit and non-encrypted). If you’re unsure, look at the microchip number. If it has letters, you will need a new one. Another requirement I faced was that the microchip must be inserted before the rabies vaccine is administered. Once the rabies vaccine is administered, you will need to wait 21 days before traveling. Keep in mind, however, that the health certificate cannot be completed and signed more than 10 days before your flight. This take some planning, and may require 2 vet visits if your dog needs a rabies vaccine.
On to the crate! Here are the main things you need to know about getting a proper crate for airline travel (note, this is for the cargo hold):
- Get a crate that is large enough for your dog to sit, stand, and turn around without hitting their head
- The crate must be made of a sturdy material (hard plastic or metal)
- The crate should have holes for air circulation on all sides
- The gate should have a funcioning locking mechanism that the dog cannot open
- It should have 2 bowls that clip onto the gate, which can hold food and water
- The crate should be fastened with metal pieces (if yours are plastic, they are easy to replace by purchasing an airline crate kit, or going to your local hardware store)
- Place “live animal” stickers on at least 2 sides of the crate
- Bring a small pack of zip ties with you to the airport. Once your dog is in the crate and ready to go, you will need to secure the front gate with zip ties
- Make sure to have comfortable, absorbent material in the bottom of the crate (I used a dog pee pad and a kennel bed)
- Place a piece of clothing that you’ve worn and not washed in there with your dog. Your scent will keep them more calm.
- Attach your dog’s paperwork to the crate
- Attach a small bag (1 meal’s worth) of dog food to the crate
- I recommend also attaching a paper with your dog’s photo, name, your name, and a small description of your dog’s temprament. This lets the handlers know what to expect if they need to open the door to give food or water.
- Don’t place anything in the crate that is hard and could hurt your dog if there is bad turbulence and it ends up flying around in the crate
Getting to the airport and checking in is a bit tough, especially when you’re carrying a bunch of bags and a big dog crate. I suggest using a smart cart or something similar once you get to the airport. It’s a good idea to give your dog one last walk outside the airport before putting her in the crate and checking in. Try to let her run if possible. Once your dog is checked in, breathe easy and remember that the baggage personnel realize they have an extra responsibility with your dog. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but then relax on the flight.
Once you arrive at your destination, go to the baggage claim (or other designated pet pick up area) and retrieve your pet as quickly as possible. She will be ready to get out and take a nice walk! Remember that your dog may have some jet lag too. Allow a few days for your dog to get in the swing of things again.
Money wise, it all depends on what your dog needs and what you already have. I spent about $500 once it was all said and done. In the end though, it will be worth every penny to have your pup with you when you get to your new home.