As anyone who knows us knows, our French Bulldog, Bella, is like a member of the family. At one point, that meant spending an insane amount of time and money at the vet. (Dermatologist, physical therapist, the list of specialists goes on.) Now, it mostly manifests itself in her heavy travel schedule.
Many expats find someone to care for their pets when they move abroad. In many ways, it makes sense. Air travel can be very stressful for animals, and the import/export requirements can be stressful for you. But for us, leaving Bella behind wasn’t an option. And, as we’ve found out, the requirements aren’t THAT hard to comply with once you finally figure them out.
At this point, Bella has flown back and forth between the U.S. and Prague, the U.S. and Oslo, and between European cities. It has required plenty of extra vet visits, but we’ve really enjoyed exploring with her.
If you are interested in doing the same with your dog, here’s what you need to know:
Traveling from the U.S. to Europe
This is probably going to be the most challenging part of the journey. The reason: Pets in the U.S. don’t have passports! (More on those in a second…) As a result, the first time you import your dog to Europe, you’ll need to have a vet check out your vet and have the USDA endorse a health certificate for the pet. All within ten days of your arrival in your destination country, which can be pretty stressful. (Not to mention expensive for all that Express Mail.)
Because we were relocating for Fernando’s job, we had the benefit of a pet relocation specialist (yes, those are a thing) to help us with the process. But that didn’t stop me from doing an insane amount of research to make sure that Bella would get into the Czech Republic without a problem. Fortunately, other than the timing of the animal health certificate, the requirements weren’t stringent. Basically, she needed a microchip and proof of rabies vaccination.
In most cases, these same requirements will apply regardless of which European country you are going to. But you should always check the specific requirements for your destination. I also recommend doing so at least two months before your trip to make sure that you have enough time to satisfy the requirements.
Once in Europe: Get a European Pet Passport
The first time someone in Prague asked me if Bella had a Pet Passport, I rolled my eyes. Dogs don’t have passports, I thought.
Except in Europe, they do.
The passport is essentially an animal health certificate that also serves as a vaccination record. Thus, not only is it required for traveling across borders within Europe, it is handy for things like proving to the dog hotel that your pet is up-to-date on their vaccines. (At least in the Czech Republic. I’ve heard that in some countries, such as Spain, your vet will provide you with a separate booklet documenting her vaccinations.)
A couple notes about the European pet passport:
Be vigilant having a veterinarian from outside Europe write in the pet passport. Although it is NOT true (as our former vet told us) that they can never do so, there are only certain pages that they can write on. Specifically, if the pet passport requires a signature by a “veterinarian” than any veterinarian, including one in the United States, can sign that page. If, however, the pet passport requires a signature by an “authorized veterinarian” it can only be signed by a veterinarian in Europe. As a practical matter, this means that information regarding rabies vaccination must be completed by a vet in Europe while the pages regarding other vaccinations and treatments (such anti-echinococcus).
Unless or until your dog receives a rabies vaccine/booster in Europe, you’ll probably need to carry proof of microchip implantation date when you travel. We had this problem during our first year in Europe because the “date of application or reading of the [microchip]” was after the date of the rabies vaccine. As a result, every customs official who examined her paperwork thought that we hadn’t complied with the requirements until she got her booster shot this year.
(Note: if you are in Europe with your dog for less than four months, you don’t need to go through this process as the animal health certificate is valid for that period. You may, however, need to obtain additional treatments during the journey, such as the anti-echinococcus treatment discussed below.)
Traveling Around Europe
I suspect I messed this up more than once when we were living in the Czech Republic. Because we would often drive, no one ever asked for her paperwork. Living in Norway, however, this is not the case. We always fly. And as a result, her paperwork is always checked. Although we’ve yet to take her any place that requires more than a microchip, pet passport, and up-to-date rabies vaccine, I always check the requirements for the country that we are visiting as soon as we know where we are going so that I can arrange for any necessary treatments.
Traveling from Europe to the U.S.
This is probably the easiest thing to prepare for. Because from what I’ve seen, the U.S. has some of the most relaxed pet importation requirements in the world. (It is much easier to take a dog from Mexico to the U.S. than the other way around, for example.)
Basically, your dog must look healthy and be vaccinated against rabies. The latter isn’t a federal requirement if you are traveling from Europe, but since every state requires proof of rabies vaccination, you’ll need it.
So, if you have a European pet passport, you should have everything you need.
Just one caveat. States can impose additional requirements on the importation of animals into the state. Although I’ve never heard of this being a problem, you should find out the requirements for any states that you are entering (particularly if you are flying) just in case.
Returning to Europe from the U.S.
This is where the real beauty of the European pet passport lies. Generally speaking, if you have the pet passport, you don’t need to do anything (unless your specific destination within Europe requires a treatment such as anti-echinococcus).
If you didn’t have a European pet passport, you would need to go through the USDA rigamarole, just as when you did for your initial entry into Europe.
Special Considerations: Airlines
Of course, you will also need to check with whatever airlines you are flying to determine if they have any special requirements. This includes whether they have any limitations on breeds—for example, we’ve found that Lufthansa is the best option for flying between the U.S. and Europe with a French Bulldog.
Special Considerations: Czech Republic
I’ll never forget our first trip back to the U.S. with Bella. Although the U.S. government only appears to require proof of rabies vaccination (which we had) I had been told that our dog needed to be seen by a vet in the Czech Republic 3 days before travel to ensure that she was healthy. So that’s what I did. Then, at the end of the appointment, I was told that I would need to go to the State Vet to have her paperwork legalized—and that they were only open for a couple more hours before we were leaving Prague.
It worked out. The state vet completed the paperwork, and she was allowed to enter the U.S. (and then reenter the Czech Republic) without a problem. But I’ve still never found these requirements on an official government website, so I recommend talking to your vet and also calling the necessary government offices in advance of traveling to or from Europe.
Special Considerations: Norway
Our current home is one of the trickier countries for traveling to and from with a dog. There are two primary reasons for this: (1) anti-echinococcus treatment; and (2) port of entry limitations and notice requirements.
Norway is one of the few countries in the world where a particular type of tapeworm does not exist—and they are determined to keep it that way. This means that every time you take your dog out of the country she needs to get a special deworming pill—administered by a veterinarian and documented—before returning. (If you are traveling from the United Kingdom, Finland, Ireland, or Malta, you do not need the pill. But in the vast majority of cases, you will.)
The “ordinary” rule, and the one that will apply to your initial entry into Norway, requires that a vet administer the pill 24-120 hours before entering Norway. The date and time that the drug is administered must be documented (usually in the pet passport).
As you can imagine, this requirement can be somewhat burdensome, particularly if you would like to take your dog on short trips abroad. (Who has time to find a vet in a foreign city that you are only visiting for 72 hours?) But luckily, there is an alternative—the so-called 28-day rule. Under this rule, you have to give your dog two treatments in Norway at least one and no more than 28 days apart, and then continue providing treatment every 28 days. Of course, if you will be out of Norway for more than 28 days, you won’t be able to rely on this rule.
Port of Entry Limitations and Notice Requirements
If you are entering Norway from outside Europe, additional restrictions apply. Most notably, you can only enter through certain ports of entry (including Oslo Gardermoen airport), and you must call or email the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) 48 hours before entry soaph that they can arrange for a veterinarian to meet you and inspect your dog and her passport before entry.
Summary of Requirements
- Before the initial transport from the U.S. to Europe
- As soon as possible, research requirements of destination(s) and airline(s) to determine if any additional/different requirements apply
- Have dog microchipped, if necessary
- Have dog vaccinated against rabies after microchipped and at least 21 days before travel, if necessary
- Arrange appointment with USDA-accredited veterinarian for health certificate completion no more than 10 days before entry into Europe (I recommend 8-9 days in order to ensure sufficient time to receive APHIS endorsement and protect you in case of flight delays; but if you need anti-echinococcus treatment, you may need to wait; in that case I personally would have the APHIS endorsement done in person if at all possible)
- Arrange a veterinary appointment for anti-echinococcus treatment 24-120 hours before entry into a country that requires it, if applicable
- Have health certificate endorsed by APHIS (depending on the timing and whether there is an APHIS office where you live, it might be most convenient to do this by overnight mail)
- Upon arrival in Europe
- Visit local veterinarian to have European pet passport issued if staying more than four months in Europe
- Before traveling within Europe
- Research requirements of destination(s) that you are considering taking your dog to in order to determine feasibility
- Before traveling to the U.S. from Europe
- Make sure rabies vaccination (and documentation) is up-to-date
- Check if the state you are entering the U.S. through has any additional requirements
- Check the re-entry requirements for the country you will be returning to in Europe, if applicable
Note on definition of “Europe”
For purposes of this article, “Europe” refers to countries that are part of the European Union, plus Norway and Switzerland. The latter are not members of the EU but follow these guidelines.
USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service—Here you can search for step-by-step instructions for your destination(s). I would always cross-check this against that country’s own government websites, but this is an excellent place to start. You can also get information about the APHIS endorsement here.
Have you traveled internationally with a pet? Any lessons learned you’d like to share?