Traveling Internationally With Your Dog: A Complete Guide

Bond Vet now offers international travel certificates. Book an appointment here and read below to learn how international travel with a pet works.

Flying internationally with a dog can be stressful for humans and pups alike. And there are some important safety considerations when planning an international trip with your dog.

Fortunately, most dogs are able to travel just fine — and after the stress of travel and a short adjustment period, they settle happily into their new location whether a full relocation or a vacation. But there are many things to consider — and LOTS of planning to do — ahead of time to make the trip a smooth and safe one. 

Should You Fly Internationally With Your Dog?

When going for an international trip, some dogs make excellent travel companions, while others may do better with a pet sitter or at a boarding facility.

Moving overseas means a pet parent is much more likely to take their dog with them. 

However, some pet parents choose to find a new loving home for their dog, because of concerns for their safety or wellbeing, or if it’s not possible to bring them along. For example, pets in poor health or older pets might not be able to travel safely. 

Also, certain countries have “banned breeds” they don’t allow due to concerns of aggressive behaviors, and some don’t allow pets traveling from areas that have a higher incidence of rabies. While all of this may feel unfair, unfortunately there’s not much wiggle room on these rules.

The good news is, most of the time, dogs can come along and experience the new adventure with you — it just requires thorough planning ahead of time.

Is International Travel Safe for Dogs?

The vast majority of dogs are able to travel just fine and arrive at the destination country safely — albeit a bit stressed from the journey. But research and planning are necessary to make this happen.

Maximizing safety means planning ahead and avoiding potential hazards. Talking to your vet is a great place to start, to make sure your pup is healthy enough for travel.

Some of the biggest safety concerns are extreme temperatures (especially hot weather, when heat stroke can occur) and breathing difficulties.

Breathing difficulties are primarily a concern in snub-nosed breeds like bulldogs, since their respiration isn’t as efficient as other breeds. For this reason, some airlines won’t accept these breeds for travel in cargo at all.

Many airlines also have restrictions on pet travel during hot weather. Even in the absence of restrictions, it’s safest to schedule your take-off and landing times late at night or early in the morning, when temperatures are cooler.

Additionally, there are many practical considerations such as finding a sturdy carrier to prevent injuries or escape, and deciding whether your pet will travel in the cabin or in the cargo hold. 

While cargo travel is safe for most dogs, it does carry some risks compared to the cabin. You won’t be able to see or monitor your dog during transit. Sometimes the handling of your dog’s crate is rough. Loading and unloading from the plane also presents risks of exposure to extreme temperatures. On the other hand, the cargo hold is dark and quiet, so some pups just relax and sleep once they’re on board. Bear in mind that your pup will be separated from you for longer than the length of the flight — you’ll need to check them in early and you’ll reunite with them after immigration.

Is Flying Internationally Stressful for Dogs?

Unless your dog is a seasoned traveler, it’s likely they will experience some stress during travel. This makes sense, since pets in cargo don’t understand what’s happening, i.e. being separated from you, feeling pressure changes or turbulence during the plane ride, etc.

That being said, the stress is usually short-term, followed by a short adjustment period to your new home. Then, many dogs resume their lives and enjoy all their favorite activities as usual.

If your dog is very anxious or has a health condition (such as heart disease) where too much stress could be dangerous, then stress may be more of a concern for them. While sedatives are typically not allowed on planes for safety reasons, talk to your vet about other ways to lower their stress level and prepare them for the trip, whether they’re in the hold or below the seat in front of you.

What’s Required for Travel to Your Destination Country?

After deciding to take your pet with you overseas and talking to your vet, the next step is to determine what’s needed for your furry friend to enter the destination country.

These guidelines are largely based on preventing the spread of diseases that are a risk to human health (such as rabies and certain parasites), and as such, these rules are typically NOT flexible.

It’s important to obtain the most up to date information from a trusted source, and to follow guidelines EXACTLY. Failure to comply with the requirements could result in your dog being denied entrance.

This may sound scary, but the good news is that many pet parents have gone through this process smoothly and successfully. It’s just a matter of doing your homework.

While every country has different requirements, here are some of the most common components…

  • An international health certificate (completed within a specific time frame, usually within 10 days, prior to your arrival date) and any other paperwork required by the destination country (the country you’re traveling to). A pet passport may or may not be useful, depending on where you’re traveling (but it doesn’t replace a health certificate). Also, check the requirements for any countries you’re transiting through, as some have requirements for pets even during layovers. For more information on requirements by country, check the APHIS pet travel site.
  • Government export paperwork from the country of origin (the country you are traveling from).
  • A microchip. Many countries require this permanent form of identification, to ensure the pet being brought in is the same one specified in the paperwork. Also, some require the microchip to be given BEFORE the rabies vaccine, so plan for this prior to getting your pup’s vaccinations updated. Bear in mind that some places require a different microchip than the one your dog already has, in which case they’ll have two — 
  • Up-to-date vaccinations. A current rabies vaccination is nearly a universal requirement. And for many countries, this means a yearly booster rather than a 3-year vaccine. Also, some countries require additional vaccinations (and even if they aren’t required, it’s usually a good idea to update vaccinations for your dog’s protection). But don’t wait until the last minute, as they may be required 30 days in advance of travel.
  • Blood titer tests. This is primarily for rabies-free countries, which often require a rabies titer blood test within a certain time frame prior to travel. Some countries may require additional infectious disease tests.
  • Parasite prevention. Some countries have strict requirements for topical and internal parasite treatments, administered and documented by a veterinarian within a specific time frame prior to travel. 

It’s never too early to start researching the requirements to travel with your dog! For some countries (especially rabies-free areas, which includes Hawaii) the process can take several months.

Because the process can be quite complex, not all veterinarians offer international health certificates. The travel exam and paperwork need to be performed by a veterinarian that’s accredited by the USDA. Bond Vet is proud to offer international health certificates, so give us a call or book an appointment here — we’ll advise on timing and help you with all the paperwork.

Another option is to work with a reputable pet transport company. In this case, a vet visit with a USDA-accredited veterinarian is still needed, but the company can help you with the requirements and with scheduling your transport.

Do Dogs Need to Be Quarantined During International Travel?

Understandably, one of the most common questions about traveling overseas with a dog is: Will my dog need to be quarantined? 

While quarantine may be scary, fortunately, most countries DON’T require it, assuming all travel requirements are met. However, in some countries (primarily rabies-free countries), quarantine can’t be avoided and can range from a week to six months.

Should You Fly or Take a Ship?

Maybe you can reach your destination by car, train, or bus. But in most cases, some type of overseas travel is necessary — and the most common international travel method is by plane. 

Traveling via ship is also an option in some cases. If you decide to go this route, do your research just the way you would if your dog was traveling by plane. Different cruise lines have different policies.

Since air travel is most common, that’s what we’ll focus on here. But keep in mind that many of these tips are applicable no matter how you and your pup are getting to your new home.

Flying with a Dog Internationally

Start by researching your options. Which airlines fly to your destination? Will they use a partner airline for connecting flights? And, of course, what is their pet policy?

Pet policies vary a lot between airlines. Here are some criteria to consider and compare when booking your flight…

  • Will your pet travel in the cabin, in the cargo hold, or as a cargo shipment (in the cargo hold on a separate flight from you)? Cabin travel is typically limited to pets small enough to fit under the seat, or service/support animals. And some countries(the United Kingdom, for one) don’t allow pets in the cabin when entering the country, even if the airline flying there allows it. 
  • Airlines have a limit for how many pets can travel per flight — and that limit is even tighter for pets traveling inside the cabin. Book as far in advance as you can to ensure your pup has a spot.
  • If possible, book a direct flight.
  • Get your pet’s reservation confirmed in writing. Call the airline directly. It never hurts to check in too many times or be too careful when confirming your pet’s ticket, so consider calling again as it gets closer to your travel date.
  • If your pet is being shipped as cargo, ask if the cargo area is pressurized and temperature-controlled. When you board, you can also let the pilot and a flight attendant know your pet is on board.
  • Ask where to go to check your pet in, and how early you need to be there.
  • Inquire about the fees for traveling with your pet.

Which Airlines Are the Most Pet-Friendly?

Well-traveled pet parents have different opinions based on their personal experiences. So, be sure to research as much as you can. Check online reviews and blogs, speak to anyone you know who’s traveled with a pet, and ask the veterinarian or pet transport company doing your paperwork for their opinion. 

Lufthansa often ranks highly on lists of pet-friendly airlines. But of course, the airline you select will also depend on which airlines fly to your destination and what their pet policies are.

Airlines must also report the number of animals who are injured or die on their flights, so it’s possible to look up this information.

How to Travel Internationally With a Dog: Crates, Potty Breaks, and Other Necessities

Proper restraint is important when traveling with your dog, to ensure they don’t get spooked and run off or get injured. 

The biggest consideration is probably which crate to use. Crates for use in the cargo hold must be strong and sturdy, while carriers used in the cabin may be soft-sided to facilitate fitting under the seat. Your pet is required to remain in the carrier during travel.

Either way, don’t purchase a crate or carrier until you’ve checked the requirements of the airline (and pet transport company, if relevant). 

Attach your pet’s name and information securely to the carrier.

Airlines have specific requirements for crates or carriers for pets during travel. Check and follow these recommendations exactly, and look for carriers that meet IATA (International Air Transport Association) guidelines.

So far as food and water, the specifics vary depending on how your pet is traveling and the airline’s policies. 

Cargo has specific guidelines for food and water, as well as for bowls that attach to the carrier door. Ask the airline about when and how your dog will be fed, and what supplies they need you to bring for your dog. Some recommend freezing water to put into the water bowl, so it won’t spill and will gradually melt for your dog to drink during transit. You may have more flexibility with your supplies during cabin travel.

Either way, bring extra food for after your arrival, so your dog can keep eating their usual food (this will decrease the risk of stomach troubles). Carry the food in its original packaging, as some countries don’t accept pet food that’s been transferred to another container.

Some recommend not feeding your dog for a few hours before travel, to reduce the chance of motion sickness. Check with your veterinarian as some pets may have different needs.

Another good idea is to place absorbable materials (such as a puppy pad) in the carrier in case of a bathroom accident during transit. Some airlines even require this.

Some airports have pet relief areas, but you may need to keep your dog in their carrier until after you go through customs. Bringing extra puppy pads along is never a bad idea.

Whenever you take your dog out of the carrier, whether it’s a layover or your final destination, use a secure harness and leash to ensure your pup stays close to you. Stress or overstimulation could cause a dog to dash away. Attach a tag with your dog’s identification to the harness, too.

If you’re not sure what care will be provided to your pet during a layover when they are traveling in cargo, or where to take your pet for rest or a bathroom break during a layover, ask about it.

Minimizing Stress for Your Dog During Travel

Sedation isn’t typically allowed or recommended on flights, especially for pets in the cargo hold, since it can affect their breathing and interfere with their body temperature regulation.

However, there are other measures you can take to reduce stress. One of the best strategies is to get your dog used to their carrier prior to travel. Leave the carrier open at home a few weeks before your trip, and offer treats, attention, or praise when your dog is in it. This will help them see it as a positive, safe place.

Also, ask your vet about stress-relieving options that might be safe for travel, such as certain supplements or a dog pheromone product. They may also prescribe a medication for motion sickness.

What to Do About Pet Medical Concerns During Travel

Look up veterinary clinics in your destination country, so you have somewhere to go in case of an urgent medical need upon arrival. For minor concerns, consider carrying a pet first aid kit.

If you are working with a pet transport company, ask if they arrange for a veterinary exam upon arrival.

Returning to the US With Your Dog

If you return to the US, the process of bringing your dog back home will be very similar to your initial process of moving overseas. Unfortunately, your dog won’t automatically be allowed back. Instead, you’ll need to do research and paperwork as you would for any international destination.

As of the time of this writing, there is also a temporary ban on importing dogs to the US from high-risk rabies countries. You can check the CDC’s website for more information.

Where to Learn More

A great resource is the USDA APHIS site, which includes a handy pre-travel checklist, FAQ page, links to find a USDA accredited veterinarian, requirements by country, and more. The US Department of State also offers some valuable information.

For airline policies, check the website of the specific airline you plan to use. Also, consider calling them for their most up to date policies, in case the website hasn’t been updated in a timely manner or if recent Covid-19 protocols have affected travel for you and your pet.

A USDA-accredited veterinarian who routinely does international health certificates, as well as a reputable pet transport company, can also be very helpful.

While all of this may sound like a lot of work, it’s worth it to ensure your pooch can travel with you safely and will be allowed into the country with you with no hiccups. 

Just take it all one step at a time, and plan as far in advance as you can to reduce any complications or stress that could arise from rushing. And be sure to plan some fun things to do with your pup once you arrive at your vacation destination or new home.

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