How I Moved to Europe with my Dog: Tips and Lessons Learned
When we made the decision to move from the USA to Austria, the biggest concern was how we were going to move our dog with us. I did so much research on the subject that it made my head spin. After reading through website after website, I felt overwhelmed and confused by all of the regulations and paperwork I was presented with. My hope is that by sharing this information I can not only save someone else the headache of figuring all of this out but also provide some reassurance from someone who went through the whole ordeal. This blog post is not a substitution for the regulations and information shared by the appropriate authorities referred to in this post.
About my situation:
- I moved from the USA to an EU member country
- I moved a small poodle-mix dog, he does not have any behavioral problems. His name is Laika and he is a 6-year-old rescue dog.
- I started the process of going through the vaccinations and paperwork about one month prior to departure
- We traveled to Austria by airplane, I will not be reviewing information on how to ship your dog by boat – this was not an option for Austria since it is landlocked
Now that you know about my situation, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of moving a dog abroad!
- What is best for your dog: The most important thing to consider is whether moving your dog to Europe is really what is best for your pet. Extended travel and moving to a new home can be very difficult for a pet – consider your pet’s health and any behavioral issues before committing to the move. Consult your veterinarian if you have questions.
- Do your research: Before you start any paperwork make sure that your pet is eligible to be travel and eligible to immigrate. Some countries and airlines have restrictions on the breeds of dog they will accept. For example, I found out that it is illegal to have a dog with a docked tail in Switzerland and my rescue dog had his tail docked by a previous owner. We flew into Switzerland before arriving in Austria and I was terrified that they would not let him board the connecting flight – don’t worry, we made it!
- Regulation information for exporting your dog from the USA can be found through the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
- Regulation information for importing your dog from a “third country” (what the USA is for the EU) can be found on the European Commission website
- There is a maximum of five pets per person for immigration
- Pets will need a Health Certificate filled out by a USDA certified veterinarian and stamped by the USDA
- Each pet must have identification with a microchip. You can verify whether your microchip will work for the readers of your new country by contacting the microchip company directly or asking your veterinarian.
- Each pet must have a valid rabies vaccination.
- If your pet is younger than 3 months – additional requirements may apply. Please refer to the appropriate authority for additional information
- Review the FAQ provided by the USDA in detail
The process of getting the Health Certificate paperwork completed was by far the most stressful part of moving to Austria. My veterinarian was unsure of whether he was able to fill out the paperwork so I contacted the USDA for a referral to another veterinarian office. After several visits to get the paperwork completed with my new veterinarian, I sent it off to the USDA office only to find that the veterinarian filled it out wrong. Since this paperwork had to be completed within 10 days of departure to Austria, I was beyond stressed. Luckily the USDA was kind enough to fax the edits to my veterinarian directly and I was able to touch base with them on a daily basis until it was completed.
- Paperwork may need to be translated to the language of the country you are moving
- When sending your paperwork to the USDA, be sure to include a self-addressed, pre-paid envelope for the USDA personnel to rush the documents back to you. The USDA will not pay for return shipping.
- There is a fee for the USDA to process your paperwork, be sure to contact them directly for the up-to-date cost to include as a check with your mailed paperwork.
- Educate yourself as much as possible about the paperwork before having your veterinarian fill it out. The mistake I made was assuming by the veterinarian would know how to fill out the paperwork when the paperwork can vary country to country.
- On arrival to your new country, you will hand over the paperwork to customs. They will review the paperwork and certify it for you to begin time in your new home.
- Check the requirements for your arrival airport to determine if the personnel that reviews Animal Immigration paperwork has specific work hours. In Austria, any arrival time is fine, but in other airports, they require that you arrive within certain hours.
- Once you have gone through immigration, be sure to keep this paperwork to assist you in applying for a European Pet Passport.
Regulations for traveling with an animal may vary airline to airline. There are some airlines that will not permit animals in the cabin unless they are protected under Disability regulations (i.e. guide dogs). There are some airlines that will not transport animals (British Airways) and require that you arrange shipment with a partner company.
- Before you book your flight, be sure to review the pet policy of the airline in detail. This was a major deciding factor for me when flying to Austria since the variance in cost to transport my dog was between $100 – 800 in addition to my ticket.
- Have questions? Contact the airline directly. Even after I had read the pet policy for several airlines, I was still unclear if all of my needs were going to be met. I contacted several airlines and spoke with them in English about my concerns. Some helpful questions –
- What is the cost? Can my pet travel in the cabin? What are the dimensions of the required animal travel carrier? Are there any restrictions on the number of animals that can be transported per flight? How do I secure a reservation for my animal?
- If your pet will travel as cargo – Who will secure my animal in the cargo? Can I accompany my animal to be placed in cargo? Are there any policies about animal sedation? What are the requirements for food and water during flight? If there is a layover – will I be able to attend to my animal?
- Quarantine? Be sure to review your country’s policies on animal quarantine before travel. There was no quarantine period for Laika when we immigrated to Austria.
- What if my pet is rejected for immigration at customs? This is the nightmare scenario that no one wants to experience, but it is very important to fully understand what could happen if your pet is denied immigration to your new country. Why would an animal be denied? Reasons can range from an animal looking severely sick to your paperwork not being properly filled out and the penalties are severe (ex: In Switzerland, if you are unable to pay for the immediate return trip of your pet, the pet will be executed). Knowledge is power – know the reasons for denying an animal entrance to the country and ensure that it does not happen to you and your pet.
- Weigh the pros and cons of a direct flight vs. a flight with an extended layover – how will your animal handle the journey?
- My experience: After reviewing several airlines, I decided to fly with Swiss since it is only $100 to fly with a pet in the cabin. My flight was 15 hours with a 1-hour layover in Zurich. Amazingly, the first 13 hours of the journey went really well. Laika was not sedated and stayed quiet in his carrier in the cabin with me. Throughout the flight, I would give him water from a water bottle I had brought with me and regularly check on how he was doing. Once we arrived in Zurich, I took him to a relief area and let him walk around the airport while on a leash. The second leg of the flight was more difficult since the seat spaces were much smaller and I was on a crowded flight. I could barely put my feet on the ground and store him fully under the seat in front of us – it was not a good time. Thankfully, the flight from Zurich to Vienna is very short so it was manageable. Once we arrived in Vienna and went through Immigration, we had a nice walk outside in the snowy city streets.
- As mentioned earlier, check to ensure your arrival airport will be able to review your paperwork at the time of your arrival.
- You will submit your paperwork with the Immigration authorities of your final destination. When I was traveling I was unsure of whether I would have to review my paperwork at my layover airport (Zurich) or my final destination airport (Vienna). While your passport may be reviewed at the initial European airport you land in, you will wait until your final destination to review the animal immigration paperwork.
- Once your paperwork is reviewed and certified – CELEBRATE! Buy yourself a drink at the airport bar and hug your pet because YOU DID IT!
- Check if your arrival and layover airports have animal relief areas before you arrive
- Before traveling, get your pet used to being inside of his/her carrier. Initially, I would put Laika inside of the carrier and leave the top open for a short period of time to get him used to the idea of it. Eventually, I transitioned to putting him inside of the carrier while I watched a movie and placed him under the coffee table with the carrier closed. By the time we left for our flight, Laika was used to being in the carrier and did not seem to be stressed out by it.
- Pack supplies for your pet in your carry-on bag. My veterinarian recommended that I bring a water bottle, some food, paper towels, and pee-pads for emergencies in the airport. One of the veterinarians also mentioned that if it seemed like Laika really had to use the restroom during the flight I could take his carrier with me into the airplane restroom and layout pee-pads for him to relieve himself on. It never came to that, but I thought it was a resourceful recommendation.