It’s now been about 5 months since the ‘Roaming Dogs’ embarked on their adventures to Europe and the UK and I thought I would share information about the process — hopefully to make it easier than running down the 800 websites, unclear/ poorly-written instructions, etc. Please note — if you have a big dog (or any critter that’s too big to be carry on luggage) only part of this post will be useful for you.

Bottom line — traveling from the US to the EU/UK isn’t a big deal anymore IF you’re organized.

So, I’ve broken this down into a few sections: (1) Getting ready to travel; (2) The UK requires extra considerations; and (3) The travel day(s). I’ve also included the forms that you must get filled out because I couldn’t readily find them, most vets won’t have them on hand, AND the sites where you can download them typically charge $10 — as if. They’re all linked to pdf’s.

Getting Read to Travel

This is the most important part and takes some foresight.

  1. Book your tickets, then call the airline to reserve your pet space. Even though your pet is probably quieter and less offensive to humans than most small children who fly and that they have to travel as “carry on” luggage, airlines only allow a limited number of pets on any flights (domestic or international). So, once your ticket is booked call the airline and tell them you will be traveling with your pet. You will not pay for the privilege of having to keep your pet in its bag at your feet until the day you fly (yes, that is open disdain for airlines). If you’re flying coach, I STRONGLY recommend booking the extra legroom seats — trust me on this one. You can plan for usually around an extra $70-80 per seat for this.
  2. Make sure your vet is USDA certified. In order for your vet to complete all of the paperwork for your pets to travel internationally, the US requires the vet be properly accredited with the USDA. Large’ish practices will typically have one vet who is, but you can’t just assume that your regular vet/ vet practice is.
  3. Get your pet(s) microchipped. This is a good idea anyhow because once they’re microchipped, you get a little tag for their collars that indicates they are chipped. You go to and enter your information, any vital information about your pet (e.g., if they’re on medication), and you can even upload a photo. Then if your dog is ever lost, they can be scanned and much more easily returned to you. This isn’t as common in the US as it should be. Please note, this MUST be done at least 30 days before they receive a rabies immunization in order for that immunization to ‘count’ for international travel. The cost will vary — for us, in New York, it cost $90 per dog to give you a point of reference.
  4. Get your pet(s) a rabies vaccination. For travel into the EU and UK this is the ONLY required vaccination. This must be done at least 21 days before travel (please note the special consideration for the UK below). This means that you need to start getting your pet(s) organized for international travel at least 2 months in advance if you’ve never had them microchipped AND if you don’t have a current rabies vaccination (if you have a current rabies vaccination but no microchip, you’re going to have to get the rabies vaccination again anyhow).
  5. Make an appointments with your vet and the USDA office within 10 days of travel. This bit takes some coordination. All of the paperwork has to be filled out and dated within 10 days of your initial departure date (don’t worry, it’s valid for your return trip to the US). You must FIRST visit your vet so that they can fill out the documentation and then you take it to the closest USDA office. Here’s a listing of the USDA offices. In our experience, they can be a royal pain to get ahold of and don’t have very convenient appointment times, so you should get this appointment set up first and then get in to see your vet the day before.
  6. Take the following forms to your vet appointment: You will need both of these forms fully filled out by your vet — (1) DogAirline_Certifcate and (2) the UK_(1)_Vet_Cert_Rev12. These forms are standard no matter which EEA country to which you’re traveling — the difference is that some forms are also in the native language for the country along with English… you don’t really need that the English language version is fine. Your vet will also fill out a triplicate  USDA form. Once your vet fills everything out, you’re ready to go to the USDA appointment. This will cost you a regular office call for your vet.
  7. Take your filled out forms to the USDA appointment. You only need to take those three forms with you — your pets don’t need to go. We showed up for our appointment, the man took the paperwork and disappeared for about 15-20 minutes while we hung out in a ‘luxurious’ government office lobby and came back and everything was USDA stamped, signed, and approved for travel. This costs $37 (as of July, 2012) for both pets because they’re on the same USDA form.

Congrats, at this point — your pets are ready to travel to the EU! It’s a lot of crap paperwork, costs a little bit, but it’s relatively painless once you know what to expect. Like I said, it just takes some planning ahead of time. If you’re traveling to the EU, you get on the plane with your pooches and you’re set to go.

And Then There’s the UK

Here’s the good news if you’re traveling to the UK, if you’ve done all of your paperwork (see above plus the other paperwork described below), then as of February 2012, your pets no longer have to be quarantined when traveling to the UK.

And then there’s the annoyance. No one can travel directly into or out of the UK with their pets on a plane. This means that if your destination is the UK, you can either pay about $1000 PER PET to have them shipped and it’s on a special carrier so you will not be departing nor arriving at the same time as your pet. BLECH! That’s a bunch of crap, but it’s their island and they make the rules.

Here’s what we did — we flew into Amsterdam and then took a ferry to the UK. There are a number of departure and arrival points for ferries from the Netherlands to the UK (ranging from Newcastle in the north to London in the south). Please note that most ferries DO NOT allow pets to accompany foot passengers, you have to have them in a car. However, Stena line (traveling between Harwich, England and the Hook of Holland) does allow foot passengers to travel with their pets, you just have to book a pet kennel once you’re on board (no, they don’t get to stay in your cabin with you).  The ferries are alright, but they’re all overnight will cost a couple of hundred dollars and your pets are kind of stuck in a kennel with a bunch of other dogs (please make sure they have all of their vaccinations including kennel cough) or in your car and you can only visit them for short periods a few times in the evening/ morning.

Alternatively, if you’re up for a bit of a road trip — fly into any European destination, rent a car, and drive to the UK. You end up going through the Eurotunnel from Calais, France to England. The crossing takes 35 minutes, you and the pets all hang out together in the car for the crossing, and then you’re there. Same thing on the return trip. Honestly, this is probably the easiest on you and the pets … plus when you’re in the UK you might be driving on the wrong side of the road, but you’re at least driving on the correct side of the car ;).

Again, if you know the score, it’s not too bad — it’s just making a decision about what’s best for you and your pets (especially the pets part… you, I don’t worry about so much).

Now, the other thing about the UK is that they’re very rabid about having no rabies in the UK (yeah, yeah bad pun). They haven’t had a case here for decades and they want to keep it that way. That’s why they’re so strict about flights, etc. Your pet should have a blood test to identify that they are, in fact, sufficiently immunized against rabies. This is the blood titer test — it measures the levels of the antibodies. Your vet can do the blood draw; however, the blood is then shipped to the ONE lab in the US that runs these tests (it’s in Kansas) and the results will take about 6 weeks — so it’s important that you really plan ahead if you’re going to the UK.  This is the Blood_Titer_Test_Application_Form that your vet will have to fill out and while the test isn’t that expensive, the blood draw and shipping costs are — I think it cost us about $300/dog to get these tests done.

We had current rabies vaccinations and the microchipping, but because we were traveling in the summer, our test actually took about 8 weeks to come back. When you travel to the UK, this isn’t necessarily checked; however, if the border agent that you draw up that day happens to be … in a mood … and you don’t have it, your pet can be quarantined until the test is run anyhow. So, you’re much better to have it done ahead of time instead of risking a jerk having a bad day and putting your pet in prison …

Travel Day

Alrighty — so you’ve planned ahead, you have more paperwork for the critters than you can imagine, they’ve been USDA certified (sounds like a side of beef or something), and you’re ready to go. You’ll need to make sure that your pet carrier (usually soft duffle-style bags) is alright with your airline — go here for pet airline information. The airlines think they’re awesome, so they’re kind of a pain in the ass about everything. The most important thing is that your pet can move around alright in their bags — ours are about 10-12″ tall (at the shoulders) and that’s about as big as you can really stuff into the bags and have them be comfortable. Also, it’s helpful if you have those sheepskin liners — they’re comfy and if they have an accident while traveling it’s not the biggest thing ever because they’re absorbent.

So, here’s what to expect or think about based our experience:

  • Don’t tranquilize them. Our vet recommended strongly against any ‘mood relaxers’ for the pets because there are substantial health risks. Dani is a bit of a high strung dog and we thought she might not be a good flier, but as it turns out once she was in her pet carrier, she was fine. The security they feel being with you and being in the pet carrier actually makes it easier on them. But, just like kids — unless you’ve traveled a lot with your pets, you just have to see what they’ll be like.
  • Remember, there’s NO WHERE to walk your pets from the time that you go through security until you walk out of the airport at your destination. It’s not going to be a fun day for your pet, so don’t let them gorge on dog food or suck down water at will the day of the flight… you want to be careful that they’re not dehydrated, but really watch their water intake. 
  • Have your pets in the travel bags when you enter the airport.
  • When you check in for your flight, you’ll need to pay for the privilege of carrying your pets on as luggage. It ranges for the airlines, but we were supposed to pay $200 per dog per direction (the woman was kind of incompetent and only charged $200 total and I didn’t correct her).
  • The check in counter will want to see your pet’s health certificate. They’re likely not going to be interested in the USDA certification stuff.
  • When you go through security, you’re going to have to take the pets out of their travel bags to go through security don’t forget to take off their collars. It’s just so their bags can be scanned. You will be a nuisance to people in line because you’ll take longer — everyone will cope with it … you and your pets are less of a nuisance than most peoples’ children. If you’re traveling with someone, have 1 person deal with the bags and ‘stuff’ and 1 person deal with the dogs. Carry them, don’t walk them.
  • Whenever possible, get a baggage cart — not only is this probably more comfortable for your pet, but 10-20 pounds of beast gets darned heavy when you’re trudging through an international airport.
  • Once you find your gate… if you can find a place that’s a bit out of the way, take your pets out to let them stretch. As long as you’re not an idiot, no one’s going to say anything. Give them a little drink of water.
  • On the flight you have to keep them in their bags the whole time, but if they’re well-behaved, you can probably open up the zipper lid and let them sit up. Again, as long as they’re contained in their bag no one’s going to say anything. You will likely get sucked into conversation if you’re sitting next to a random person ;).
  • To keep them hydrated on the flight… give them some ice from time-to-time. It gives them something to do, they think they’re getting a treat, and keeps a bit of moisture going for ’em.
  • Once you arrive at your destination, have your paperwork readily available but we weren’t stopped going through customs. We also didn’t wave a flag saying “see our pets”, but they were in their pet carriers and readily visible. As soon as you can — get them out and let them have at least a quick potty break. The only time we had to show their paperwork was getting on the ferry to come to the UK.
  • Think about your ground travel. In Europe most public transport allows pets with no problem — public buses and trams regularly have pets on them. Cabs and other private transport (including rental cars) are another issues — it’s sometimes tough to find someone willing to take them … even if they are in the pet carriers. We were just pushy with the cab driver and he took us. We tipped and called it good.
  • Remember, to plan ahead with your accommodations. Just like in the US, some places allow pets and some do not.

Really, the flight is a pain in the ass — for the pets and for you. It sucks to schlep them around for everyone. However, it’s not a drama. If your pets are used to traveling then it’s no big thing. If your pets have never been in a pet carrier bag, you should probably give them a few dry runs at being in it and being in it for a while. We took our dogs on about a 6 hour roadtrip and put them in their bags to see how they’d react.



About Audra Diers-Lawson

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