Moving To Europe IV – Pet Transport Paperwork (Microchipping, Vax & Health Certificates)
Moving to Europe means bringing our whole family with us, including our paws. This complicates our travels, but our paws are an integral part of who we are, so it’s simply another set of details that need to be worked through.
Thankfully we’re not total noobs at this kind of thing. We’ve had our cats for ~15 years and they are well-seasoned feline nomads. They flew from Florida to California (when they were little kittens), from San Francisco to Hong Kong (around 2004, when we moved there for work) and then from Hong Kong back to the USA (when we returned several years later). The base procedures have changed a tad in the past 10 years, but ultimately the process hasn’t. It involves figuring out how you’re going to transport them, then making sure you have the right vaccinations and certificates completed before you travel. It’s complicated, but honestly it’s not that complicated.
It’s a big topic though, so what I am going to do is split it up into TWO posts that will hopefully cover all the details you’ll need, should you ever decide to travel internationally with your own paws.
Today’s post will cover the paperwork side of the issue, including all the necessary docs & vaccinations that your pet will need before they can travel. My next post will cover transportation options (yes, there’s more than one way!) including details on the best pet carriers & getting your pets as comfortable as possible for their long journey.
So, let’s dig right in…..
Start With The USDA Website
One of the absolute best resources I’ve found for figuring out pet travel requirements from USA to (basically) anywhere is the USDA website, and it’s super easy to use.
Simply click on THIS LINK, chose the country you are planning to travel to from the drop-down menu, and then click on “View Requirements”. You’ll get a nice, detailed list of everything you need to do to take your pet abroad, including timeline & any specific vaccinations or documents that need to be completed before you go. It’s pretty nifty!
The exact requirements vary depending on the type of pet you’re taking, as well as how old they are, how they’re traveling (with you, or separately from you) and which country you’re going to, but as long as you read (and follow) the instructions to a T, you should have no issues.
Personally I think USDA website is pretty darn complete and covers everything you need to know, but it never hurts to cross-check import requirements on the corresponding website for your destination country, just for good measure. For example for UK you can check gov.uk site, and for France there’s THIS site.
NOTE/ Be Aware Of Banned Breeds -> Certain breeds are prohibited in certain countries (e.g. Pit Bulls are not permitted in most of Europe), so it’s a good idea to check that your breed is not on any banned list before you start your travel plans. This list of banned breeds by country is a good starting reference.
What Is Required For Cats & Dogs Traveling To Europe?
As I mentioned above, the first place you should go is the USDA website. Chose your destination country and then follow the exact instructions for the pet you’re planning to transport. Don’t just rely on my blog post (please).
With that said, I read through the requirements for taking cats and dogs to ~10 different European countries and found the procedure to be pretty much identical across the continent. There were a few minor differences (e.g. for UK, Finland, Malta, Norway, and Ireland, dogs must have an additional treatment for tapeworm (Echinococcus) 1-5 days before arrival), but other than this, every country I looked at required the following 3 basic steps:
- Around A Month Before Departure: Get your pet microchipped with an ISO compliant microchip and THEN vaccinated w/ rabies. A minimum of 21 days must pass AFTER the rabies vaccination before you can travel with your pet, so doing this around a month ahead of time is a safe bet. You can certainly do it earlier (no penalty for this), as long as you make sure the rabies vax is still valid by the time you travel. You can also do it later, as long as at you allow at least 21 days to pass after vaccination before you travel. Either way, don’t leave this one until the last minute!
- Within 10 Days of Arrival: Get a health certificate from a USDA certified vet. This certificate must be issued within 10 days of ENTRY into your destination country, so pay close attention to your dates of travel. For example if you’re traveling overnight, you’ll need to make sure your certificate is dated max 10 days before your arrival date in EU (not your departure date from US). Doing the certificates around 7-9 days before departure is a safe bet and give you a bit of leeway in case you encounter delays or other issues en route.
- Between 1-10 Days Of Arrival: Once your health certificate is complete you will need to deliver it to the USDA for endorsement either in-person or by overnight mail. The certificate MUST be endorsed before you can travel with your pet.
A Month Before Travel -> Implant An ISO Compliant Microchip
For those of you who are not familiar with a microchip, it’s a permanent method of electronic identification for your pet.
Basically it’s a teeny little RFID device (around the size of a grain of rice) that is implanted subcutaneously (just under the skin) between the shoulder blades at the back of your pet’s neck. Each chip has a unique number that can be detected with a microchip scanner and, as long that number is registered online (you can check where/if your chip is registered in the official AAHA database HERE), it’ll identify the pets owner, as well as your contact info. This is super important in case your pet is ever lost. But it’s also important for international travel too.
For travel to Europe, the key thing to know is that your pet should have a 15-digit ISO compliant (11784 and 11785 standard) 134.2 kHz microchip. This is the universal standard for microchips, accepted across the EU (and many other countries in the world too).
Unfortunately if your pet was originally microchipped in the US, you probably don’t have one of these!
The US has lots of different brands & types of microchip, but unfortunately most of them are only 9 or 10 digits long and operate at 125 kHz or 128 kHz, which means they are not ISO 11784/11785 compatible. For example, Polly originally got microchipped by the the rescue organization where we adopted her from in San Diego. Her microchip is fine for use within the US, but it’s only 9 digits long, and functions at 125 kHz, which is not ISO compatible. So, it cannot be read by international-standard (134.2 kHz) scanners and is not compliant for travel to the EU.
How do I know if my pet’s microchip is ISO compliant or not?
- Check the number: If it’s 15-digits long it’s ISO compliant. If it’s 9 or 10 digit it’s likely not.
- Check the manufacturer: If you know the manufacturer of your microchip, you can check by manufacturer here: http://www.datamars.com/…/PetLink-Microchip-Guide_USA.pdf
What If My Pet Already Has An ISO Compliant Chip? If your pet already has a 15-digit ISO compliant chip you are GOOD TO GO on this step of the process. No need to get another chip implanted as long as the one you have can be reliably read (get your vet to scan it to double-check).
What If My Pet Doesn’t Have An ISO Compliant Chip? If your pet does not have an ISO compliant microchip, then you can either choose to have a 15-digit pet microchip implanted or you will need to carry your own microchip scanner* on your flight into Europe. If you plan to travel regularly (say, you’re planning to RV across EU) then I feel it’s worth gettin an ISO compliant microchip, even if that means microchipping your pet a second time. It will significantly simplify your travels and ensure your pet can be scanned and identified anywhere in Europe (super important in case your pet gets lost, for example).
*NOTE/ Some EU customs posts DO have the ability to scan non-ISO compatible chips. For example the Lufthansa Cargo Animal Lounge in Frankfurt carries Universal Scanners that can scan any type of chip, even non-ISO. So, it depends a bit on exactly where you land and what kind of scanners the customs inspectors have on hand. To be on the safe side however, if your pet has a non-ISO chip it’s best to either carry your own scanner, or get your pet re-implanted with a 15-digit ISO compatible chip before travel.
Where Can I Get One? To get an ISO compliant chip in the US, you can either find a vet who deals with them (most USDA-accredited vets will have them in stock), or you can buy one yourself (e.g the Datamars Microfindr™ Slim is a nice option) and take it to your vet for implant. Just make sure your vet has the required scanning equipment, so that you can check the chip is functioning both before, and after implanting (scan it before implant, scan it after to re-check), just in case.
A Month Before Travel -> Rabies Vaccination (After Microchipping)
Once your pet has been implanted with an ISO microchip, you’ll need to get a valid rabies vaccination. The order of things is super important here:
Rabies vaccination must occur AFTER microchip implantation. The rabies vaccination may be administered the same day as the microchip implantation but any rabies vaccination done before a microchip is implanted is NOT valid.
Basically anything that happens before your pet ISO microchip is implanted doesn’t count for international travel. So, for most folks this will mean getting a new rabies vax, even if your pet recently had one done. Any vet can do the rabies shot, and you can choose either 1, 2 or 3 year duration (Europe accepts them all, although some countries require that you travel within the first year of validity), but you’ll want to keep a record of the date the vax was done as proof that it was completed AFTER the microchip was implanted.
Timing Is Critical: Once this rabies shot is complete 21 days must pass before your pet is eligible to enter the EU. This is a mandatory waiting period, and the main reason you want to get your pets microchip & rabies shot completed early in your travel arrangements. I recommend getting the ISO microchip & rabies at least a month before you plan to depart the USA.
What If My Pet Already Has An ISO Compatible Chip + Rabies Vax? If your pet already has a 15-digit ISO compatible chip + rabies vax, then you simply need to check the date of the last rabies vax. As long as it was completed AFTER chip implantation and you travel within the first year of validity (required for many EU countries), you are GOOD TO Go for the next step.
Within 10 Days Of Arrival -> The Health Certificate
Once you’ve successfully completed ISO chipping, done the rabies vax, and you’ve waited the mandatory 21 days then you are ready for the final step of your pet documentation -> your pets health certificate.
What Is It? This is a formal, internationally recognized Certificate of Veterinary Inspection. For Europe it has a specific format (Annex IV, Part 1 of Regulation no. 577/2013) and the only real difference between EU countries is which language(s) are printed on the form. So, for example for France, the form is in both French & English. For Germany, the form is in both German & English. For UK it’s in English only.
Who Can Complete It? You will need to find a USDA accredited vet to complete and sign the form (the latter must be done in BLUE ink). You can either Google “USDA accredited vet” in your area, or just call around local vets to ask if they are USDA accredited and familiar with international health certificates. You can also contact the USDA Veterinary Services for your area to check or ask about accredited vets.
Where Can I Get It? Your USDA accredited vet should have these forms in stock, but if not the best place to find one is on the USDA website. Simply click THIS LINK, choose your country, click your pet type and travel details and it’ll take you directly to the correct form. Make sure to also download the INSTRUCTIONS for how to complete the form, just in case.
When Must It Be Completed? If your pet is traveling with you (or traveling within 5 days of you), then this form must be issued within 10 days of entry into the EU. If your pet is going unaccompanied there’s a much shorter 48-hour limit.
Within 10 Days Of Arrival -> Get The Certificate Endorsed By USDA
Once the health certificate has been completed by a USDA certified vet, it will need to be mailed or taken by hand to your local USDA office for endorsement (basically they will sign, stamp & seal it).
Check THIS LINK to find the office covering your area.
The timeframe to get all this done is very tight, so if you are sending by mail, use an overnight service for delivery, include a self-addressed, return-overnight mailing envelope in the package, and make sure to double-check the mandatory fees to include in the mailing. If taking by hand, MAKE AN APPOINTMENT (call your local office) to ensure you have a specific slot to get the certificate endorsed.
For most EU countries the current fee is $38 per certificate (can cover up to 5 pets).
Is There Any Quarantine? (Short Answer NO)!
Finally I just wanted to address the question of quarantine. This used to be a big problem a few years back, especially for folks traveling to UK, but thankfully things have changed and I’m happy to say it’s no longer an issue. As long as you follow the correct import instructions for your destination country (see USDA website) and have all the correct documents in hand, then there is ZERO quarantine when traveling from USA to anywhere in Europe, including the UK. Of course if you don’t follow procedure, or your documents are not in order, then all bets are off. Bottom line -> make sure you follow procedure 🙂
Feeling Overwhelmed? Consider A Pet Relocation Specialist!
Feeling overwhelmed by all this? Then, you might want to consider a Pet Relocator or Pet Transport Specialist to help you through the process.
It’ll cost some extra $$ to go this route, but in return you’ll have someone to hand-hold you through the entire transportation procedure. This will not only include documentation, but also details like choosing the best airline routes, getting bookings, help going through customs (at the airport), crate selection (for transport) and other questions that might crop up along the way. There are tons of reputable companies out there such as Pet Relocation, IPATA International and Airpets America (just to name a few) so it’s not difficult to find someone to work with.
We’ve actually done it both ways.
In 2004 (when we moved to Asia) we used a Pet Relocator simply because it was our first time traveling internationally with our paws. It was a great experience and we felt very comforted by the fact that someone knowledgeable “had our back” each step of the way. Now that we’ve had some experience (many flights, two international moves with the cats) we feel more confident handling it ourselves. So this time around we’re branching out and doing it solo.
How We’ve Prepared: All 3 paw members of the Wheelingit Crew got their microchips (and rabies shots) done last month at Oakland Park Animal Hospital in Oakland Park, FL. The vet there was great! He’s USDA certified and had all the equipment (chips, scanner etc.) on-hand. Implantation was a breeze (none of the pets minded) and the rabies shot was done right after, on the same day. Our 21-day waiting period is already complete, so we’re well ahead of schedule one this one. For the remaining 2 steps, we’ve got an appointment to go back to this same vet 1 week before we leave to get the Health Certificates completed. Then we’ve got a final appointment at the USDA office in Miami (by the airport) to get the certificates endorsed and sealed 5 days before we leave. I’m doing everything in person (just in case) and have left few days padding in the schedule to account for any flight delays or issues that might come up (paws crossed none do!)
Coming Up Next -> Pet Transport Options (by Sea, By Air, Pet Carriers & More)