Taking Your Animal to Europe – Dos and Don’ts

I cannot tell you how many people asked if I was taking the fat cat with me to Munich and were shocked that I said yes. I guess it’s fairly common to give up your pets when you move?? For me, it was never optional. Could you leave this face behind?? I couldn’t.

Look into my eyes and tell me what it is you see… (sorry been listening to a lot of Bone Thugs lately)

In case you are planning on a similar move or you’re just curious about the process, I compiled the following list of dos and don’ts:

DO your research. Reference and cross-reference everything you learn. Look at the pet policies on every possible airline. Some don’t allow pets at all – some allow them in the cabin (i.e., Lufthansa, SAS) – some only allow them in cargo (Icelandair). All airlines have weight limits, hence why I had put her on the treadmill for awhile to get her down to the max weight on Lufthansa. Also, each country is a little different in their regulations so google the crap out of this topic.

DO NOT buy one of those packages that includes all the instructions and the forms (such as those from Pet Travel Store). If you abide by my next tip (and really why wouldn’t you), you don’t need it.

DO get a USDA-certified vet that has likely done this before. For one, they have to be USDA certified in order for the paperwork to pass muster. But the bonus is that if they have done this process before, they can give you advice and answer the 973 questions you will have. And if your vet hasn’t done this before, find one that has. My vet, who is in the Arlington area, has done this literally thousands of times for folks in the State Dept or military, so they had all the forms, knew all the rules, etc. Totally great.

DO NOT be afraid to ask questions of your vet, the airline, anybody who might have the slightest idea of what to do. “Where do I drop her off?” (baggage drop like normal) “What’s the process at security like?” (take her out and hold her while the carrier goes through x-ray) “Where will she go?” (the airline staff took her since she was going in the cargo -otherwise she’d stay with you) “Where do I pick her up?” (oversize luggage) “What kind of carrier can I bring?” (for cargo: only a hard one that has screws/bolts, for cabin: one that fits the airline regs) “Is there something in my teeth?” (always)

DO schedule your vet appointments strategically, plan ahead and allow enough time. This isn’t something that can be done on a whim. You can ask your vet for advice as soon as you know you are taking them with you. In my case, the cat had to be microchipped before she had her rabies vaccine, which had be done at least 21 days in advance of your arrival in the country.

She was microchipped when we adopted her a few years ago. However, that was only a 10-digit chip and the new Europe regulations say it must be a 15-digit chip. So fat cat now has two microchips but yet rarely gets off the couch… I digress.

You then have to schedule your final visit no more than 10 days in advance of your travel date as the certification is only valid for 10 days. They will do the check up, sign the paperwork, then typically overnight it to the USDA office in your state/region who will review/certify then overnight it back. So much paperwork for one little critter.

DO NOT expect this to be a cheap endeavor. Both of these vet visits cost way more than I expected. Not to mention it cost $150 to put her on the plane. Hence why a good friend once made the remark “Give me $100 and I’ll take care of it.” In hindsight…I kid.

giphy (9)

DO buy the “pet airline travel” kit that some pet stores sell. Mine included “live animal” labels, extra screws/bolts for the carrier, a food/water dish, and zip ties. You can buy all this stuff separately but I’m lazy so thus a big fan of the kit.

DO NOT use the aforementioned food/water dish if your airline doesn’t require you to have it. Icelandair didn’t but I put it in there anyway. You know where it ended up? On the floor at TSA. Thank you clumsy security guy. You’re a peach.

DO NOT delay in booking your flight like I did. I really wanted to fly Lufthansa. They allowed her in the cabin and had direct flights. Unfortunately, they were insanely expensive by the time I booked. Also, most flights only allow a certain number of animals so if you know when you want to travel, just book it.

I ended up flying Icelandair, which, while not ideal, still ended up being a great experience. She had to be placed in the cargo hold, which I’m sure traumatized her (she’s still not 100% normal) but to be honest, she’s a bit of a butthole in her carrier. God help me if I had her with me in the cabin and she decided to howl the entire 9 hour flight over. So it was probably all for the best.

DO book your flight with a layover through another Euro country. I was told that when I picked her up, I’d have to declare her at customs. Okay, fine. Except when I arrived at Munich, the customs office was closed…likely because our flight had arrived via Reykjavik.

I asked an airport worker what to do but they had no idea and suggested I take her to another customs office in the airport. The officers there looked like I had seven heads. One guy flipped through the paperwork casually for all of two seconds and gave it back to me and just went “okay.” Really? That’s it? Are you going to tackle me in the parking lot? I can’t imagine that this is a typical experience.

DO NOT regret going through all the above. It just wouldn’t feel like home if she wasn’t with us.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Mo says:

    FYI…It is even more expensive to ship a dog abroad. I did it for a friend of mine a couple years ago. I was so worried about her dog and sending her alone across the pond. She did great.


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