Wondering how to travel with your pet from USA to Europe in 2022? It may sound daunting at first, but it’s actually a pretty easy process.
If you’ve been following me on Instagram for a while you must have seen that my cat, Poofy, is a great travel cat. He travels with us on planes, goes on road trips and walks on a leash like a dog. But, we’ve only traveled with him around the US before as he was born in Colorado.
Unsurprisingly, when we moved to Europe for the first time in 2019 Poofy obviously came with us straight away, one of the most popular questions became: how did you move with a cat to Europe?
Let me tell you that if you’re coming from the US to Europe transporting your pet couldn’t be easier. Here is how to do it.
How to Travel with a Pet from the US to Europe
Many people prefer to hire a company that specializes in pet transportation, but after I saw their prices I found it ridiculous. It’s so easy to transport pets on your own and arrange all the necessary paperwork for less than $400, that there’s no point in paying someone $1000-35000 to do it for you. It feels like a robbery to me.
Unless you have some exotic pets or breeds that are banned from some airlines or have to transport over 3 pets at once, there’s no point in hiring a company to do it for you.
Where Can My Pet Travel With Me in Europe?
Most EU countries have pretty straightforward rules, with the exception of Ireland, United Kingdom and Iceland. These countries require all pets to arrive in cargo instead of the cabin.
However, some airlines have banned 21 dogs breeds and 4 cat breeds as they’re more sensitive. If your pet is on this list below you might want to check directly to find out how to proceed.
I know that for instance, Lufthansa asks you to sign a form saying that you take full responsibility if your pet dies.
Potentially banned or problematic breeds:
- American Bully
- American Pit Bull Terrier
- Belgian Malinois
- Boston Terrier
- Brussels Griffon
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Chow Chow
- English Toy Spaniel/Prince Charles Spaniel
- Japanese Chin/Japanese Spaniel
- Lhasa Apso
- Shar-Pei/Chinese Shar-Pei
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier/”Staffys”
- Tibetan Spaniel
- Exotic Shorthair
Can My Pet Travel in the Cabin with Me?
When you want to travel with your pet, the first thing you need to figure out it whether your pet will be able to travel with you in a cabin, or has to be shipped as cargo. This depends on the airline, size and type of your animal and country you’re traveling to. If you’re traveling to any of the countries from the list below (even when it’s just transit to your final destination), you can only ship your pet in cargo:
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
- Republic of Ireland
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
- United Arab Emirates
Pick an airline accordingly, as some as more pet-friendly than others. I can only speak for Delta, Alitalia and Lufthansa on long-haul flights, as I’ve flown my cat with them on several occasions, but I also heard that KLM is great for pet travel. KLM even has a special pet terminal in Amsterdam where you can go and visit your pet traveling in cargo.
If your pet is small enough (under 8kg / 17 lbs) avoid cargo at all costs. I heard multiple stories from people whose pets almost got lost and whose posts did get lost, unfortunately.
For any other destination, especially in continental Europe, small dogs, cats, and household birds can travel in the cabin for a one-way fee, usually collected at check-in.
They require a container and officially should remain in them for the duration of the flight, but it’s not a strict rule that’s being enforced if the animal behaves and doesn’t bother other passengers. I’ve actually never seen a dog even having a container, leave alone being inside it.
Poofy is actually better outside of the container but usually spends 50% of the time sleeping in it. If he had to be locked in a container all the time on a long flight, without a possibility of peaking out, he’d cry and bother people. This way he doesn’t even make a meow once and many people are later surprised that they never heard him during the flight.
Full Disclosure: The way your pet travels obviously depends on your pet, airline, staff and situation. If your cat is nervous, doesn’t walk on the leash, and isn’t used to people, don’t ever let him out of his container. Poofy is a bit special, unusually calm and never bothers anyone – in fact, everyone just wants to pet him.
How to Book Your Pet’s Plane ‘Ticket’?
Each airline only allows a certain amount of pets in the cabin (either 2 or 4 depending on the aircraft), so the moment you book your flight call the airline and book your pet in. The agent will ask you about the weight of your pet, his age, and the dimensions of the kennel.
You’ll be required to pay a pet fee at the airport upon check-in. For US domestic flights the fee is usually around $125 each way, including stopovers.
Internationally, if your pet travels in the cabin or kennel in cargo is about $200, BUT only if you fly directly to a country of your destination. What does it mean?
If I’m flying to Italy, but I choose to have a layover in Germany it means that in Germany I’ll have to pay a pet fee again (it applies to both pets in the cabin and those traveling in cargo).
If it’s your first time flying with a pet I’d advise against international layovers, because paying a layover fee often gets complicated because you have to find a place where you can actually pay and it’s not at a check-in counter and definitely not at the gate and no one really knows who to pay. If you have a short layover you might miss your flight basically.
Another detail of traveling in-cabin with your pet is that pets cannot fly business or first class on most airlines. If you’re flying with a baby or toddler on top of your pet (basically what we do every single time) technically your pet cannot “sit” in the bulkhead row where to bassinet is or at an emergency exit.
However, Lufthansa moved us to bassinet seats twice automatically in their system having a very surprised flight attendant, but Poofy just rode on the seat and the baby slept in the bassinet.
READ MORE: How to Travel with a Cat & Leash Train Your Cat
Pet Travel Requirements for International Travel: Plan at Least 30 days in Advance
There’s no quarantine for pets coming to/from the EU from/to the US, so you don’t have to worry about it. You can bring your pet home straight away.
Other rules are very straightforward: rabies vaccine, microchip, and USDA vet’s certificate.
Step 1: Microchip: 30+ Days Before Departure
Your pet must be 16 weeks old if traveling to the U.S. from other countries and must be at least 15 weeks old for European Union travel.
If your pet isn’t a microchip that will be your first step. It’s essential that the microchip is implanted before the rabies vaccine is given, so you cannot really do it all in one go. A rabies vaccine given prior to microchip insertion is invalid and your pet won’t be able to travel.
For Europe specifically, your pet must have an “ISO 11784/11785 compliant 15 digit microchip”. I’m saying officially because if you microchipped your pet before most vets will give it a pass without giving him a second microchip – we got a pass, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Poofy has been microchipped and vaccinated shortly after he turned 4 months, so we didn’t have to do it again.
Step 2: Rabies Vaccine: 21 Days Before Departure
Even if your pet is entering from a “rabies-free” country (US is considered rabies-free), it will still need a rabies vaccination after microchipping. The vaccination must be done more than 21 days before entering the country.
If your pet already has a rabies vaccine that’s valid you don’t need to get it again.
Step 3: Get a Veterinary Certificate: 10 Days or Less Before Departure
You will also need to arrange a Veterinary Certificate filled by the vet who’s USDA certified. Call your vet and ask if they have anyone, and if not they’ll point you to another place.
The Veterinary Certificate must be filled in by a licensed veterinarian within 10 days of your flight out. Don’t leave it for the last minute (unless you decide to do what I did – keep reading), because after you get it you’ll have to overnight it to USDA to receive a stamp.
This EU Health Certificate is valid for 4 months, so you can travel within Europe freely with it.
My Experience Traveling with a Cat to Italy & later France
Our experience of moving with a cat from the US to Italy was pleasant and easier than we imagined. However, we’ve traveled with Poofy numerous times before, so we knew what to expect from the flying itself. He doesn’t mind traveling by plane and being in the car, and usually enjoys looking at his surroundings at the airport.
Basically, all we had to do was to schedule an appointment with an accredited vet 10 days before departure from the US. As we were traveling from Texas to New Hampshire and before and staying there for a week, we got an appointment in New Hampshire.
We gave the vet a paper needed for Italy downloaded from USDA website (link here) and that was it. The vet had to inquire about the number of his rabies vaccination with his old vet, but it was just a matter of a quick phone call.
Once we got his health certificate filled out it was a matter of getting the stamp from USDA. We could have overnight it to Albany, NY office, but as we were flying out to Milan from NYC (it was cheaper and the flight was direct) we decided to schedule an appointment and stop by on our drive.
They scheduled our appointment very easily and we spent about half an hour waiting for the paperwork to be checked and stamped. If you’re worried about not getting paperwork back on time do that – it’s so simple!
At the airport we processed to the check-in and apart from paying the pet fee, no one ever asked us to show his documents. We usually book a window and middle seats when we travel with Poofy, so he can enjoy some privacy, but this time we got upgraded to Delta Comfort seat and had to sit in an aisle and middle seats.
The cat didn’t seem to mind though and as usual, spread out on both of our laps and slept there for most of the flight, before crawling back to his carrier for more naps.
When we arrived in Italy, we took his carrier and just walked out. No one asked us for cat paperwork at the immigration (in fact, we went through the automated one), or when we were leaving customs. I heard it’s a common thing that you’re never asked to show any paperwork for your furry friend in Italy, but it’s better to be on the safe side and have it ready. Please don’t risk your cat or dog getting deported for not having the necessary paperwork!
Update 2022: Poofy has been to Europe back and forth a few times and moved to France with us as well, and only once did we encounter issues as the checking agent didn’t know how to process a pet fee. It’s really a simple process, so don’t fear it!
Poofy has traveled around Italy, France, visited Poland, Switzerland and German. After his first trip to Europe he doesn’t need a USDA certificate anymore, because…
EU Pet Passport
If you’re just visiting Europe or staying for up to 4 months (assuming you’re American your tourist visa will be valid for just 3 months).
If you’re staying long-term you could and should get your pet an EU Pet Passport. It’s valid for life and handy to have especially if you’re traveling between US and Europe often. This is also the reason why we don’t need to get another USDA document now because Poofy has a European Passport.
In some countries, like Spain for example, anyone can walk in with their pet to a certified vet, pay the passport fee and get a passport. The vet will check your pet, and his documents and fill them in.
However, various countries won’t issue your pet a passport unless you’re a legal resident of this country or hold citizenship. Italy and Ireland are some of those countries.
We were unable to obtain Poofy’s passport in Italy due to our residency fiasco. We got another certificate of health from a local Italian vet stating that Poofy is good to fly (not a hard process, we walked in and it took 5 minutes honestly) and flew with him to Poland. Then we got him a passport thanks to my Polish citizenship.
Returning from Europe to USA with your Pet
You don’t need anything to get back into the USA from Europe with your pet as long as the rabies vaccine is still valid.
At first we were told not to use our Global Entry, but the next time we were told it’s fine to use Global Entry when you re-enter with your pet.
Do you have any questions about transporting your pet to another country? Ask ahead!
Thursday 13th of April 2023
Hi Anna, thank you so much for sharing your experiences, it is very helpful!. My cat Ciara walks on a leash everyday, loves to ride in the car and has flown from the US to Chile and back twice now and she does great in planes and airports as well. However, we are planning a vacation to Italy and we were skeptical, not sure if taking her with us would be too complicated or inconvenient, but after reading your post I feel really good about taking her with us. Thank you!
Thursday 13th of April 2023
That's exciting, enjoy!
Friday 7th of April 2023
Thanks for this most helpful article. I am mostly concerned about my cat "Alfie" because it has been very stressful for him when we only drive 5 miles to his vet. Is there something I can get for him to calm him? I just got back from Rome and the flight with one connection was 16.5 Hours.
Monday 10th of April 2023
We've never given our cat anything, because he's calm but my previous cat would meow for hours no matter what... some cats are just like that and the only thing that helped her was giving her snacks.
Tuesday 4th of April 2023
Girl. respect! Well done! Keep on going, Wish you the best!
Wednesday 29th of March 2023
An amazing article. My boyfriend and I are considering moving to the UK in a few years but we wanted to get a dog! Would there be anyway to avoid cargo the whole way to UK. If we got a small dog, do you think it would be best to fly first to a country in europe that allows the dog in the cabin, then do a short transfer flight to the UK with the little pooch?
Wednesday 29th of March 2023
To avoid the cargo you'd need to go by car via ferry or Eurotunnel to the UK from France, because animals in cabin - no matter how small, aren't permitted AT ALL in the UK, regardless of where you're coming from.
Friday 17th of March 2023
thanks for all your detailed sharing. Such a fun post and Poofy sure is a mellow happy traveler. Ive been putting of traveling back home to Italy with my cat Tiggy for 2 years. He is NOT a good traveler and can't even manage a 10 minute trip to the vet with out massive drama. Originally, 8 years ago I brought him here to California via cargo ( he was born in Itay) Now its time to go back. here in my state of CA during covid and since no appointments for the USDA stamp are allowed. You can only receive your embossed copy by mail which timing wise does add some stress. However if your vet is set up with the VEHCS electronic system you can at least upload it directly and if your country is not coded for a hard copy, you can also receive it back vis the electronic system. I have just been told that since the vet health certificate is valid 30 days...it is possible to send the documents earlier than the 10 day window required for the USDA stamp....as long as the stamp approval is issued and dated no earlier than 10 days , you just give your flight dates . I cannot absolutely vouch for the yet as it is not written on the USDA website. But that is the info in California anyway.