Thursday, April 7, 2016

Pet Travel

Here's one of those specifically-targeted posts for people traveling on government orders. Hang tight, normals. We'll return to our regularly scheduled programming soon.

So, you're about to PCS with your pet. Congratulations, and I'm sorry. Traveling with an animal can be expensive and stressful. We're lucky to have a little, rat-dog that can fly in cabin with us. You might not be so lucky, but I'll still try to give you some guidance on what to do. I'm not an expert, and will be mega-bummed if you exclusively rely on my advice, and then sue me if something doesn't turn out right. I'll win the case, but I'll still be mega-bummed. 
Pet Travel Within the U.S.
Where to Start:
Go to your airline's website, and find their section on traveling with pets.
  • Read it thoroughly before you call to ask questions. Most customer service reps don't know their own rules on pet travel, so you'll either end up with someone on the phone who won't be able to answer your questions, or someone who will "answer" your questions by reading you the entire policy and procedures manual.

When to Start:
As soon as you book your flight, you'll need to call to reserve a spot for your beast.
  • This is especially important if your pet will be flying in cabin. Every airline restricts the number of in cabine animals they'll allow per flight.
  • If you're going to Hawaii, read their import requirements before you book anything.

What You'll Need:
Will depend on the airline, and whether they've decided to crack down on pet policy enforcement.
  • Airline Reservations for your beast.
  • Money: You'll have to pay an extra fee to transport your pet, even if they'll be flying as your carry-on allotment in cabin.
  • Proof of Rabies Vaccination within a specific time frame (e.g. not more than a year, not less than a couple weeks)
  • Health Certificate: If your airline has cracked down on policy recently (looking at you, Delta), you'll need to get a health certificate from your vet within 10 days of travel, saying that your animal has a rabies vaccination and is healthy enough to fly. Here's a link to that:
  • Info About Your Dog/Carrying Case: You'll have to know how much your dog weighs, and specific information about their carrying case, including size and weight. Hard sided cases are required for checked and cargo transport. Soft carriers are required in cabin.

You May Need:
To check with the specific import requirements in your destination state. The easiest way to go that is to google, "pet import requirements for [state]." For the most part, this shouldn't be an issue. Most states don't know or care whether you fly in with your animal. One notable exception is Hawaii, which will quarantine the crap out of your animal if you don't strictly follow their import requirements. Here's a link to their site, with all the information you'll need to make sure you don't lose your dog and half a million in fines:

Pet Travel From U.S. to International Post
Where to Start:
Read about our USDA experience.

Go immediately to the USDA APHIS website for country-specific information:

  • They will tell you everything you need to know. Start making a "to do" timeline. If you have questions, contact them right away:

Let your post know that you'll be coming with an animal.
  • Shipping and Customs will want to know what to expect, and your animal will be a big factor in housing decisions.

Go to your contract airline’s website to see what their pet policies are.
  • You will need to make a reservation for your pet as soon as you have your reservations.
  • You will pay exorbitant fees, most likely between $200-2000.
  • You shouldn't need any more documentation than what your destination country will already require.
  • Some airlines won't take any animals. If that's the case, you'll have to work with whoever handles travel in your sponsoring department to see what travel options are available to you.
  • You'll have to cover all the costs of transporting your pet. In the end, it might be easier to find a company that specializes in transporting animals, and shell out the big bucks for them. Here's an entire association of dudes that will figure this crap out for you:

When to Start:
Hopefully you've been able to factor your pet into your moving decisions. If you weren't able to do that, go to the APHIS website as soon as you know where you're going.
  • Write out a timeline for your pet travel "to do" list. You'll need a minimum of 3-4 months, but heaven help you if you're going to an island country. Start early so you don't look like Johnny Depp's wife who thought she didn't need to follow import laws, and is trying to take some sort of weirdo stand against Australian import laws. Bless her heart.

What You'll Need:
At a minimum, you'll need:
  • Proof of rabies vaccination within a specific time frame (e.g. not more than a year, not less than a couple weeks).
  • ISO Microchip (like HomeAgain). Most places will require the microchip to be inserted before the rabies vaccination is administered. Pay attention to time-specific regulations.
  • Country-specific Health Certificate issued within 5-10 days of travel. Go to the USDA website and print off the correct certificate and instructions. Take both to your vet, and watch them as they fill it out. Don't let them deviate from the form, or use their own.
  • (Probably) a USDA endorsement of health certificate. That means you’ll have to go to your vet first, and then to your local USDA office for a stamp and signature. If you're in DC, you’ll either have to take a trip to Richmond, or rely on FedEx Express. USDA Richmond is extremely helpful and knowledgeable. They'll do everything they can to make sure you have the correct documents, whether you go in person, or mail it to them.
  • Airline Reservations for your beast.

Other requirements are country specific. Some countries require a blood test of the rabies vaccination, certified by specific veterinarians. A few countries require de-worming treatments.
The timing of requirements is specific and crucial. APHIS will lay it out for you, and tell you exactly what you need. If you’re still worried, get in touch with the Shipping and Customs people at your destination post, and double check the requirements with them.

You May Need:
To have a loud breakdown at some point along the process. That is totally understandable. The best advice I can give you is to repeatedly refer back to the USDA APHIS website. It is the best, most comprehensive place for all the information you'll need to travel with your pet. Let APHIS be your guide.

Pet Travel Internationally
Where to Start:
Go to the USDA APHIS website to see generally what your destination country requires, and find links to country-specific websites.
  • Be aware that the USDA website is specifically geared toward people traveling from the U.S. Your origin country will impact the requirements. It’s still a great place to start for information.

Talk to your Shipping and Customs department. They will save you a lot of panic, and should have a decent idea of what you’ll need to get out of the country with your animal.

Check your airline's website for pet policies to make sure they'll transport your dog, and to see what kind of documentation they'll want from you.
  • If they won’t carry your pet, start looking for a pet-sitter. MOHs (members of household) and EFMs (eligible family members) of coworkers are a great place to start. You can often, nicely guilt them into it.
  • If you’re leaving the country for good, and your airline won’t take your pet, talk to the person who manages travel within your department (GSO, for State), and find out what your options are. Be prepared to shell out for the pros:

When to Start:
Before you book your flight, if you're taking a vacation and want your animal to go with you, or as soon as you know where you're going, if PCSing from one international post to another.
  • Write out a “to do” timeline for your pet.

What You'll Need:
If you've already traveled internationally with your animal once, chances are good that the process will be a bit easier this time around. Wander back up to our section on traveling from the U.S. to an International Post. It’s a pretty good foundation for what you’ll need when you’re abroad.

At minimum, you’ll need:
  • Proof of Rabies Vaccination, within a specific time frame (e.g. not more than a year, not less than a couple weeks).
  • ISO Microchip
  • Health Certificate, usually issued within 10 days. May or may not need to be endorsed by a government agency.
  • Airline Reservations for your beast.

You May Need:
A rabies blood test, an official endorsement for your health certificate, de-worming, and whatever other hellish things island countries require for import, or your origin country requires for export.
  • We found out the scary way that Greece requires a specific, endorsed export document when you leave the country with your animal.
  • USDA APHIS will always be a great place to start for information, even when your origin country is not the U.S. It will direct you to the specific regulations for each country. Do not assume you're covered, though, without looking at country-specific regulations, and talking with Shipping and Customs at post.
  • Talk to Shipping and Customs at post. Really. Save yourself the panic.

**For pet travel within EU countries, an EU Pet Passport is definitely a worthwhile investment. We were able to score one from our local vet. The passport will allow you to travel between EU countries without having to figure out their country-specific health certificates for customs.

  • The U.K. and some of the Scandinavian countries will require you to de-worm your pet a few days before you come into the country, and that will have to be noted on the Pet Passport.
  • Your stupid airline may still require a separate health certificate, depending on how stupid they are. Check with them when you book your flight.

**For pet travel from EU to US to EU: An EU Pet Passport is great if you travel home to the States, and then back to Europe with your beast. If you have the EU Pet Passport, you won’t have to have an endorsed health certificate to get back into the EU. That means you can just go to your regular vet to fill out the health certificate that your stupid airline will require, without having to then go to your local USDA office to have them sign your form. Here’s that certificate again:

Pet Travel From International Post to the U.S.
Where to Start:
Go to your airline's website, and read their pet policy.
  • Make sure you can fly with your beast.

Check the USDA import website, which will tell you to check with the CDC website, which will tell you to check with the State Vet website for your destination, which will refer you back to the CDC and the USDA.
  • Unless you're going to Hawaii, U.S. import requirements are really straightforward. You’ll need a rabies vaccination and a health certificate. If you want to double check to make sure your state doesn’t require something extra, google "pet import requirements for [state]."
  • The USDA has a new website that will give you specific requirements for entry to the U.S., and will link you to each state's website for more info. Thank you, USDA!

Talk to Shipping and Customs to make sure there aren't strange export laws in your origin country that will throw you off when you try to leave with your animal.

When to Start:
As soon as you have your flight reservations.
  • If your contract airline doesn't carry animals, you'll have to talk to whoever arranges contract travel at your post (GSO, for State) to learn what your other options are. You may have to suck it up, and hire a professional company to help transport your pet home:

What You'll Need:
U.S. import regulations are really lax, compared to a lot of other countries.
You will need:

You May Need:
An endorsed health certificate from your country of origin, but probably not. Hawaii requires a lot more, and I frankly don't want to get into that, so check them out for yourself:


  1. Thank you for this post! It's of great help for folks traveling with pets for the first time (or subsequent times, for that matter).

    1. It doesn't usually take me half a month to respond to comments. I'm getting worse at this. I'm so glad this post is helpful. It's so frustrating trying to figure out what you need to do to move your pet.


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