This post is part of 30 Ways in 30 days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. This series seeks to give you the practical, real world steps you need to take to get from wherever you are, to exactly where you want to be– traveling the world and living the lifestyle you want.
One of the most frequent questions I receive is about bringing your pets overseas. Can you do it? Yes. But before you pack up Fido in a regulation sized airline carrier, consider a few things:
Having your pet with you will limit the kinds of transportation you can use. Many buses, trains, subways and shuttles won’t allow pets, or if they do, they may require them to be caged or muzzled.
Having a pet can make flying much more expensive and limit your options for airlines. While many airlines do allow pets, not all do, and if your cat or dog is over 25 lbs, expect that list to get even smaller. Combined with fees for your pet, this can double your price in some cases (Consider this example: For a certain NYC to Paris flight the cheapest option is $600 but that airline doesn’t allow pets. The cheapest pet-friendly ticket is the actually the fifth cheapest option at $1100 not including pet fees).
You won’t have the flexibility to move as quickly. For many that’s not a problem, but when traveling with your pet, you should be thinking in terms of months not days at any destination. Finding pet-friendly accommodation will take longer and for the sanity of your pet, you’ll want to have some kind of routine.
I’ve traveled with pets– my two 80 lb+ lab retrievers. They’ve camped with us across the US and Canada and lived with us in Madrid. I’ve also left the dogs behind, having them stay with relatives while we backpacked in Central America. Personally, I prefer traveling with the pups, even though it takes more planning and cost. It was really fun walking the dogs around Madrid and they loved all the attention they got from locals.
What do I need to do?
1. First you need to determine every country that you will be visiting on your trip. Each country has their own regulations (although most of Europe shares the same rules) and while it’s usually easy and simple to comply, it’s not always possible to do so on the fly.
2. Look up the rules for each country. I use pettravel.com. There are 190 countries listed, but in general, the rules include some combination of the following requirements: at minimum a letter from your vet saying it’s a healthy animal or a rabies certificate. They may also need a USDA certified form (or for non-US your official agency) from your vet (you’ll need to get the form, have your vet fill it out, send it to the USDA and they send it back stamped) and/or they may want your pets micro chipped (be sure that your use the international standard chip, so it’s readable everywhere, not just at home). A very few countries require advance permission. An even smaller number won’t allow your pet at all (Iceland, unless by special permit) or will require rabies blood/titer testing, a 6 month process before you leave (UK) or has mandatory quarantine (Australia). These are just generalizations, so be sure to look up each country’s rules (which can also be different depending on if where you’re coming from).
3. Check each airline’s website for their rules around pets. For going to Europe, I’ve always used Iberia, which was the cheapest and allowed x-large travel kennels, something to consider if your dog is Lab-sized or bigger. Each airline has a page about their pet policy, but sometimes it’s so well hidden, you’re better off calling to ask. Be careful not to get transferred to cargo shipping, which is not the same and will cost a lot more.
4. When booking your flight, be sure to call the airline directly, rather than booking online. If it’s a 25 lb+ animal, they will create a pet reservation, as there are limits to the number of pets for each flight (first come first serve). They will probably not charge you for the pet fee until you arrive at the airport. (Some airlines have rules about time of year– either too hot or too cold and they won’t take pets in the hold).
5. The size of your pet will determine what kind of carrier you need. If you have a small pet (>25 lb), you’ll need a carrier that fits under your seat (they label these at the major pet stores). For larger pets, they need an airline approved kennel. They go for about $60-$120 depending on the size. To the top of this, you’ll want to tape a leash, water bowl and food, in case you and your pet get separated for any reason.
6. Arrive at the airport early! If you’re medicating your pet, either with sleeping pills (talk to your vet) or something over the counter (we use three benedryl per dog to knock them out), give it to them when you arrive. If you’re checking your pet into cargo, expect to be whisked off to have your dogs weighed, pay for their tickets and bring them to a separate security line, all before you check in for your flight.
7. When you arrive at your destination, if your pet wasn’t under your seat, it’ll be waiting for you in baggage claim. As you pass through customs, they’ll check your paperwork and scan the microchip (if required).
- We like to have a private transportation for us, since the dogs are so big and the cages are huge. Whatever transportation you decide to use, just be sure your pet is allowed.
- Renting an apartment, instead of staying in hostels or hotels, is a great alternative for those traveling with pets. Even renting by the week, can allow you the flexibility to leave your pet alone for a few hours (many hotels don’t allow this, if they do allow pets) and if you hire a dog walker/cat sitter you can even take off for the weekend.
- Many ferries do allow pets. Usually, if they allow cars, they’ll allow your pet (but it may be confined to your car for the duration).
- It’s relatively cheap and easy to find college student/travelers abroad willing to watch your animals for the weekend, in exchange for a place to sleep or a few bucks.
- Having your own transportation with animals makes a big difference.
- If you have a dog, bring poop bags! These are hard to find when traveling, but a complete life saver for being a good dog owner abroad.
- Try to plan your trip so you minimize flights and long drives.
- Be ready for some negative behavior. If you’ve never moved with your pet, they may get a little mad about moving overseas. It’s not that it’s a new country, it’s that it’s new. When we moved from Texas to Boston, our dogs did some revenge peeing for about a week (Oh are these your favorite shoes? How about after I pee in them!). Be patient, try to establish a routine as quickly as possible and give them lots of positive attention.
If you decide to leave your pet with someone else
I know this is a really tough decision, but believe me, it’s harder on you than them. In fact, the heartbreaking part is that your pet will adapt, and get used to their new “owners”. Our dogs barely seemed to recognize us when we returned. It comes back over time, but that was the saddest part for us. Now it’s like nothing changed. Your pets will adjust. If you’re planning a whirl-wind year around the world, it may make more sense (although you’ll miss each other) to leave your pets with someone you trust. While we handle change as exciting, it can be very stressful for an animal, so you may be acting in their best interest by leaving them in a stable environment.
1. Tell us: are you planning on traveling and have pets? What are your plans?