It’s hard to believe, but it’s been two years to the day since we moved to Europe. Saying goodbye to our house in Oregon on the 4th of July, our journey began with a 5-hour drive to Seattle to stay with my sister overnight. The next day, she dropped us off at SeaTac Airport, where Travis and I boarded a plane with two cats and a dog, bound for Switzerland. After 30+ hours of non-stop travel by plane, train, and automobile, all five of us arrived, utterly exhausted. Just over a year later, we moved internationally again – this time overland to Germany.
Looking back on the last two years, I’m absolutely amazed at all the changes our pets have weathered and how much tough stuff we’ve figured out. Bottom line, bringing our pets with us has been totally worth it.
Whether you’re planning your own international relocation and are trying to figure out what to do with your furry friend, or you’ll be repatriating soon with a new critter, hopefully some of our tips for moving overseas with pets will be useful.
1. Start early, but don’t panic if you haven’t.
Not only did we move from the US to Switzerland in a fairly short time frame, but we were so busy selling our belongings, getting our house rented, and dealing with the myriad details that come with relocating overseas, we failed to even begin to look into the requirements for moving our pets until a couple of weeks before we were planning to depart for Europe.
While it’s best to start planning early, if you think you have no choice but to re-home your pets because you’re in a time crunch, think again! Prioritize, tackle one requirement at a time, and don’t hesitate to ask questions. Fellow expats are a good resource, your veterinarian should be able to walk you through much of the paperwork, and if you’re moving from Alaska, Washington, or Oregon in the US, the regional branch of the USDA which handles the final travel paperwork is outstanding.
2. Find out the import/export requirements.
This one may seem like a doozy at first, but if you’re importing a dog or cat from the US into many EU countries, the requirements will seem fairly simple in hindsight. It’s worth noting that if you’re entering the EU, you’ll need to meet the import requirements for your port of entry as well as potentially different requirements depending on your final destination. Since we entered Europe via the Frankfurt Airport, we were required to meet Germany’s import regulations even though our destination in 2014 was Switzerland.
- Microchip – The type of chip varies with the country. All three of our pets had US microchips, but we were required to have “ISO Standard” chips implanted that comply with European requirements. Our pets each now have a US and a European microchip.
- Rabies Vaccination & Certificate – Germany requires that the rabies vaccination must be at least 21 days old before the animal’s final pet exam prior to travel. If your pet needs a microchip, it must be implanted before the rabies vaccination is given. The chipping and rabies vaccination can be done in the same appointment as long as the chip is implanted first.
- Vet Letter – You will need to prove that your pet is up-to-date on the required vaccinations for the country of import. Ask your veterinarian for an official letter confirming your pet’s vaccinations with corresponding dates.
- EU Vet Health Certificate – Your local veterinarian should be able to provide you with this form and is responsible for completing it. Make sure they – and you, when you sign it – use blue ink. Though the form is lengthy (ours was 10 pages), multiple dogs and cats can be listed on one form. The name of our form for Germany was the ANNEX II, which included pages in both English and German. Note that this form is time sensitive – you must enter your import country within 10 days of the vet’s dated approval on the form!
- International Health Certificate – As with the previous form, this needs to be completed by your vet 10 days before travel. Our vet completed them during the same visit, but it’s a good idea to confirm prior to that appointment that they have the forms on hand. The form our vet completed was USDA APHIS Form 7001. We received one for each pet.
Oddly enough, one of the most common questions we’ve been asked about moving overseas with pets is, “How long were they in quarantine?” They weren’t! Though many countries do require a quarantine – particularly island nations like Japan and Australia and the US state of Hawaii – much of the EU does not when you’re importing from countries with low rates of specific diseases and comparable standards of disease prevention in vet care.
3. Make an appointment with your vet.
I know this probably goes without saying, but you’ll need to visit your vet. In fact, you’ll likely end up meeting with your vet several times before your pet is ready to travel. Be prepared for your vet’s busy schedule and possibly their unfamiliarity with the paperwork. Because many of the import requirements are time sensitive and must be completed between 10 and 21 days before travel, keep in mind that this might cause additional stress to your pet, particularly if they hate going to the vet. Making it a “fun” experience filled with treats and reassurance will help.
4. Final approval for pet travel from the USDA.
The last but incredibly important step in the lengthy paperwork process (depending on your destination) will likely be approval from the USDA APHIS – United Stated Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. This process is actually pretty easy, since you’ve already spent weeks traipsing to the vet and getting paperwork filled out. For final approval, gather up the required documents and mail them to your correct branch of the USDA. There, a qualified vet specialist will review your paperwork, hopefully approve it, and send it back before your travel date.
- Microchip Implantation Record
- Rabies Certificate
- Vet Letter
- EU Vet Health Certificate
For us, this was the most stressful step. Because of the tight time frame of getting the documents mailed to the USDA, approved, and mailed back, I would absolutely recommend Fed Ex, or even hand delivery, if possible. Luckily, we were in contact with the regional USDA APHIS office in advance so they knew to expect our paperwork and expedited it back to us. It arrived July 3rd, the day before we left Oregon.
Make sure you have a stiff drink on hand to celebrate when it arrives!
5. Book travel with an airline, ocean liner, or rail company that allows pets on board.
Assuming that you’ve opted to have your pet travel with you rather than hiring a pet transport company, now you just have to figure out how to make that happen. Air travel is probably the most common, but rail travel often has more relaxed (and cheaper) regulations and can be less stressful for your pet. Some passenger ships allow pets on board, though the fees can be high and destinations limited.
Before choosing your method of transport, carefully review the guidelines on either the company’s website or by confirming directly with a representative what their requirements for transporting your pet are. Most airlines that allow pets limit the size, weight, and even breed and have specific dimensions and rules with regard to the crate.
My husband and I flew from Seattle to Frankfurt via Lufthansa Airlines and from Frankfurt to Geneva with Condor Airlines. We were each only allowed to have one pet with us in the cabin, and each pet had to weigh less than 8 kg (Lufthansa) or 6 kg (Condor) with the crate included.
Since our 14-pound (6.4 kg) Fatty McFatPants cat was too heavy to fly in-cabin, he was the obvious choice to fly in the cargo hold. Though I worried about him on the long journey, the airline employees and security staff members we encountered were all considerate and sensitive to his needs. Besides being hot and perhaps a bit dehydrated when we were reunited with him in Geneva, he arrived safely. When we move overseas again, we plan to consider options that will allow all of our pets to remain with us throughout the duration of travel.
6. Anticipate the total cost.
The total cost of vet appointments, vaccinations, and transportation fees will vary widely depending on your breed of pet, the size, your country of import, and your chosen method of transport. We can still give you some idea of the fees to expect, however, particularly if you’re moving overseas with a small dog or average sized cat. Our pets were up-to-date on vaccinations so we didn’t have those costs. Prices below are per pet, with no appreciable difference in fees for our 9-pound cat, 10-pound dog, or 14-pound cat.
- $55 – Vet appointment for European microchip implantation and required updated rabies vaccination.
- $118 – Final vet appointment for a full annual exam and completion of the international health certificate ($40).
- $38 – Fee payable to the USDA APHIS for review of pet travel documents and official completion/approval of health certificate.
- $15 – One-time Fed-Ex delivery fee
- $154 – Combined airline fee for both Lufthansa Airlines and Condor with no price difference for our dog and cat in the cabin and one cat in the cargo hold.
- $5 – Acepromazine, a tranquilizer prescribed by our vet for Brisco who traveled in the cargo hold. Though our vet didn’t recommend it, she offered it in case he was severely stressed. He was so nonplussed, he was purring when I held him at security while TSA searched his crate, so we opted not to give it to him.
- $10 – Misc items like piddle pads, treats, and disposable litter boxes.
- $0 – Airline approved pet crate. We already had three pet carriers that met the requirements for Lufthansa and Condor, so we didn’t have to buy any. If you don’t have one, factor this in for your total pet travel costs. For our dog and cat who traveled in-cabin, each had a soft-shell mesh zippered bag. Airlines typically have the allowable dimensions and weight restrictions listed on their website, but nobody measured ours. They were both clearly small enough to fit under our seats. For Brisco in the cargo hold, we used a larger hard-shell crate and wired the top and bottom together to make sure it was extra secure.
TOTAL – $395. Per pet! Keep in mind that this is also only for one move. Remember that you’ll have to repeat a similar process when repatriating, though the costs could be wildly different depending on your host country.
7. Prepare your furever friend for the trip.
- Air-Approved Crate – Introduce your pet to the crate as far in advance as possible. Ideally it will be comfortable, smell familiar, and make your pet feel safe. If you’re staying at a hotel or temporary lodging upon arrival in your host country, your pet may need to spend additional time in the crate, so the more like “home” it is to them, the more relaxed they’ll be.
- “Piddle Pads” – Also called puppy pads, these things are a life saver! They come in multi-packs and are exactly what they sound like – super absorbent pads typically used for potty training puppies. They’re ideal for lining the bottom of your pet’s crate to soak up any accidents during the journey. Tuck a couple of extra ones into your carry-on, just in case…
- Treats – Whether this be food treats, your dog’s favorite blanket, or catnip for your kitty, try to pack a couple of things that they like and will help calm them while traveling.
- Poo Bags – Not only might you need to take your dog out for a potty break during a layover, but poo bags double nicely as a water bowl until you reach your destination.
- Disposable Cat Box & Litter – This might sound crazy, but trust me when I say you’ll thank me. The first thing your kitty is going to want to do when you’ve stopped traveling and are finally in a quiet place is use the cat box. Heaven forbid that day falls on a Sunday when every store in Switzerland is closed! For a couple of bucks you can pick up a 1, 2, or even 3-pack of super lightweight, biodegradable litter pans (at least in the US). If you use them to line your suitcase (obviously when they’re brand new), you can simply pack around them. We packed three, along with a large Ziploc full of clean litter, and each liner lasted for about two weeks for two cats before degrading. Particularly since we stayed at four different Airbnbs and hotels during our first month in Switzerland, it was ideal to be able to use each litter box for a week or two, then dispose of it when we changed lodging.
8. Other things to consider
- How long will you stay in your host country? If you’re planning to be abroad short-term, perhaps just 6 months to a year, it might be better for both you and your pets to farm them out to family or friends until you return. When we moved to Switzerland, the job commitment was an anticipated 3-5 years, so we never considered not bringing all three of our pets. When Trav’s job ended unexpectedly after just 6 months, I was riddled with guilt about putting them through the stress of an overseas move, but it all worked out for the best now that we’re re-settled in Germany.
- Do your pets have medical issues? If your pet is old, in poor health, or requires ongoing specialized vet care, the stress of moving overseas might be too much for them. Finding a vet once you’ve “landed” can also be challenging, especially if you don’t speak the language of your host country. As we learned, a language barrier can prevent you from accurately communicating the needs of your pet to a foreign vet.
- Do you already have housing lined up? If not, finding housing overseas with pets can be challenging. Particularly in Europe where many apartments are quite small, property owners often deny applicants with pets unless the property size is quite large. Though we easily found a pet-friendly flat in Switzerland (with an incredible landlord), this was not the case in Germany, where we were denied repeatedly either for having a cat, a dog, or both.
- Does your host country allow your pet breed to be imported? Import regulations in Europe regarding transporting puppies, certain breeds that are considered aggressive, and animals with docked ears and tail are far more strict than in the US.
As I sit here typing this on a beautiful summer day in central Germany, Touille’s happily chasing her ball in the yard. Tica’s curled up in the sun at my feet. Brisco’s prowling the fields near our house, industriously ridding the entire neighborhood of mice.
Moving overseas with pets is neither easy nor cheap, and not all pets are good travelers any more than all destinations will openly welcome your animal friend. But if your pets are family like ours are, make sure your furry best friends join you on your overseas adventure of a lifetime!
- Start here –> Official website for USDA APHIS
- PetRelocation is a great website with general info about pet import requirements for over 150 countries.
- Pet requirements on board Lufthansa Airlines
- Pet requirements on board Condor
- For anyone in Eugene, Oregon who might be moving overseas with pets, Dr. Barbara Maki and Dr. Cameron Jones at Amazon Park Animal Clinic are outstanding.
- Please note that much of this information is applicable to dogs and cats only and that it is based on our experience relocating from the US to Switzerland via Germany. Make sure to check with your own country’s import requirements.