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Traveling with a Pet to Europe from USA

Traveling with a Pet to Europe from USA

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:

Dog Breeds

  • Affenpinscher
  • American Bully
  • American Pit Bull Terrier
  • Amstaff
  • Belgian Malinois
  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Bulldog
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Chow Chow
  • English Toy Spaniel/Prince Charles Spaniel
  • Japanese Chin/Japanese Spaniel
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Mastiff
  • Pekingese
  • Pug
  • Shar-Pei/Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Shih-Tzu
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier/”Staffys”
  • Tibetan Spaniel

Cat Breeds

  • Burmese
  • Exotic Shorthair
  • Himalayan
  • Persian
Travel with a Pet from the US to Europe
Poofy getting cultured in Italy 🙂

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:

  • Australia
  • Barbados
  • Dakar
  • Dubai
  • Hong Kong
  • Iceland
  • Jamaica
  • 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.

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cat on a plane

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flying with a cat

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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

Poofy in Poland

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.

pet travel to Italy
Poofy waiting for a car rental at the airport in Milan.

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…

Poofy is a dual citizen

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.

pet travel to Italy
Poofy is still learning about the purpose of Italian bidets…
Traveling with a Pet from the US to Europe

Do you have any questions about transporting your pet to another country? Ask ahead!

Stephanie Draime

Monday 11th of March 2024

Thank you for such useful information! I have one important question, I heard that from Italy specifically back to the USA you need an export documentation? Is that true? Thank you!

AnnaEverywhere

Monday 18th of March 2024

Not that we were ever asked for anything extra.

Leah McClimans

Sunday 14th of January 2024

Hi Anna, I’ve brought cats back and forth between Ireland and the US a few times but the rules keep changing so I thought I’d check with you (so grateful for this blog). We live in Cork 9 months a year and South Carolina three months. I’m currently waiting another week before my kittens rabies shot is valid and then I want to bring him to the US. He’ll have an EU pet passport. I want to avoid cargo and the expense of a professional handler. I’ve been told Aer Lingus and American/Brit Air won’t allow pets in the cabin but Delta/United and KLM will. Is this your experience? If I book my flight out of cork, it will have two legs at least—cork to Amsterdam and them Amsterdam to the US. Do I have to book my car on both flights separately? Just wondering how to coordinate this. What if I get him on one flight but the second ends up being booked up w pets? When I get to Amsterdam will I need to pay another fee in the airport for the layover? I’m a little stressed because from prior experience the rules seem to change frequently and people at the airport are often unsure what to do. Also we have a large hard carrier now. What would you recommend for in the plane? Thank you in advance! Leah

AnnaEverywhere

Monday 15th of January 2024

Great question honestly, because normally when you check pets in cargo you don't pick them up on your layover, so it's something you would need to pre-arrange with KLM directly but they're great with pets so shouldn't be an issue.

Hard carrier for the cabin won't cut it, because they might not fit under the seat unless it's even smaller than the max. dimensions (and most hard carriers aren't). Get a soft carrier for sure, but then for cargo you need a hard carrier which makes things weird and the reason why we rules Ireland as a potential place to live in Europe despite my husband being actually a citizen :(

Christina

Thursday 21st of December 2023

Hi, I live half of my time in the States and Greece. I have a Yorkshire terrier who always travels with me and he has his EU passport as well. However, I am looking to see if it’s not necessary to get the USDA International health certificate if I go for just 3 months or less in Europe?

AnnaEverywhere

Monday 22nd of January 2024

No because he has an EU passport so he can go back.

rey

Tuesday 21st of November 2023

Is there any way to travel with a 50lbs dog from us to europe, with him not being a cargo, but travelling with us? Like how about emotional support dogs, or special airline companies, or how about sailing? And/or what else is possible? He is recently adopted and i wouldnt put him through that process of being a cargo.

AnnaEverywhere

Tuesday 28th of November 2023

Emotional support dogs aren't eligible to fly on most airlines anymore and Europe doesn't acknowledge them anyway.

There are various private airlines that sell tickets to pet owners - like https://www.k9jets.com/ for example and it's your best option. Alternatively, you can cruise with your dog on Queen Mary but it's multiple days and he'd have to stay in a pet kennel while you can visit him daily for a few hours which honestly doesn't make it better than cargo and then you enter the UK which also creates issues.

Melissa Clem

Saturday 4th of November 2023

Hi

I might be traveling to Switzerland in June 2024 and staying for 3 months at least and possibly moving to Europe. I am trying to register my American Pit bull terrier as my service dog and she is being trained soon.

I will make sure microchip is correct according to this email and even though had 3 year rabies can do again if the microchip she has is not the one in this article. Not sure about the USDA thing, does the vet take care of that? I thought service dogs could just travel anywhere as long as there certified and they have shots up to date?

Any tips for me? I would be traveling from either Washington state or Arizona.

Thanks Melissa Clem [email protected]

AnnaEverywhere

Tuesday 14th of November 2023

Only certified vets can take care of the USDA thing, not every vet has this ability. Every country has different requirements in regards to service animals, but most still have to meet the same entry requirements as pet dogs.

One thing to make sure if is check ALL regulations. For example, Switzerland forbids import of dogs with docked tails and that applies to service dogs too so it gets tricky.

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