Authored by Gigi Chow
Thanks to the pandemic, remote work and dog ownership have been rising like never before. As dogs are family, many people are choosing not to leave them behind when traveling.
Besides typical road trips, people are venturing overseas with their dogs for the very first time. And yet, it’s no surprise that Europe is, by far, the most popular destination.
Almost daily, I get messages from dog parents planning an epic holiday or a long-term move to Europe with their dogs.
From Paris to Rome to Vienna, Europe boasts an abundance of renowned dog-friendly cities where it’s the norm to see dogs dining inside restaurants, hanging out at cafes, and taking a stroll at the local farmer’s market – alongside their humans.
If you are thinking of taking your dog to Europe, I’ve got you covered with this step-by-step guide.
This is a guest post from Gigi Chow, the creator behind the international dog travel blog Wet Nose Escapades. Since 2016, she has flown her ultra-bossy Yorkshire Terrier Roger Wellington on over 60 flights across 24 countries, spending most of their time gallivanting in Europe. She’s here to give you a step-by-step guide on how to take your dog to Europe.
How to Take Your Dog to Europe: A Step-by-Step Guide
#1 Find a Pet-Friendly Airline that Flies to Europe
The first step is to find a pet-friendly airline that flies to Europe. Unfortunately, not all airlines allow pets onboard, and some that do may only allow pets in the cargo hold.
If your dog weighs more than 16 pounds, chances are you will have to transport him as a checked pet in the cargo hold, where baggage is generally stored.
Some airlines may allow dogs up to 20 pounds or have a combined weight limit for the dog + carrier.
Airlines that do not have a weight limit for dogs traveling in-cabin will likely require that your dog can stand up and turn around comfortably inside the carrier.
The maximum carrier dimensions may differ from airline to airline with differences between hard-sided vs. soft-sided. Regardless, flying in-cabin is undoubtedly limited to small dogs unless you have a trained service dog to assist with a disability.
Pet-Friendly Airlines in the U.S. with direct flights to Europe include American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines.
#2 Secure the Flight For Your Dog
Once you’ve booked your flight to Europe, you must secure a space for your dog ASAP.
Most pet-friendly airlines have limited spots available for pets in-cabin on each flight, ranging from 2 to 6. Therefore, you must reserve a spot for your dog in advance.
This is usually done via phone after your booking is confirmed although some European airlines (e.g. Lufthansa) will allow you to do it online.
Fees for pet travel from the U.S. to Europe range from $125 to $200 one-way, while cargo fees can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, depending on the route.
#3 Shop for a Carrier or Kennel to Transport Your Dog
Once you’ve secured your dog’s flight, the next step is to find the right carrier (if flying in-cabin) or kennel (if flying in the cargo hold).
Besides keeping your airline’s maximum carrier dimensions in mind, it is imperative that you find a carrier with adequate ventilation, space, and padding to ensure a comfortable journey for your furry traveler.
In the case of a kennel, you should put more consideration into security and sturdiness to prevent a potential breakout. Get more information on how to find the right carrier for your small dog.
#4 Start Carrier or Kennel Training ASAP
This crucial step can make or break your dog’s journey!
Once you’ve found the right carrier or kennel to transport your dog on the flight, it’s time to start training your dog to feel safe and comfortable in it.
If this is your dog’s first flight, I recommend investing at least 2-3 months in carrier/kennel training before travel day.
Begin by throwing your dog’s favorite things and a few treats inside, and then letting your dog voluntarily explore. After a few days of voluntary exploration, slowly zip up the carrier (or lock the door of the kennel) with your dog inside for a couple minutes.
Increase the time spent inside the carrier as the days go on until you’ve worked it up to at least two to four hours. Daily repetition is the key to success.
#5 Prepare for the Flight
Besides carrier training, there are other ways to prepare your dog for a long-haul flight. If this is your dog’s first time flying, it’s imperative to ease his way in, which is an important step that dog parents often skip.
Regardless of your confidence in your dog’s performance on the plane, his first flight should never be a long-haul flight to Europe.
Start with one or two quick hour-long practice flights and work his way up to a four or five-hour flight before taking him on the long flight to Europe.
The more your dog can familiarize himself with the noise, crowd, and overall environment at the airport and on the plane, the better he will fare (and the less stress he’ll feel) when the real travel day arrives.
#6 Book Pet-friendly Accommodations
As you train your dog to feel comfortable inside the carrier or kennel, you should start your online search for pet-friendly accommodations in Europe (unless you are staying with family or friends).
Since Europe is notoriously known to be dog-friendly, it is no surprise how easy it is to find hotels and apartments that accept dogs.
You’ll be surprised to find many places that accommodate dogs free of charge or for a nominal fee of 10 euros per night (per dog), which is a nice breather if you’re used to paying exorbitant pet fees at hotels in the U.S.
Be sure to apply the “pet-friendly” filter on booking apps like Hotels.com, Booking.com, and Airbnb. Get more tips on finding and saving money on dog-friendly accommodations.
#7 Visit the Veterinarian
Next up, you must take your dog to an accredited veterinarian to obtain the Veterinary Health Certificate, which is essentially your dog’s “passport” to Europe.
In order for the veterinarian to complete and sign off on the form, your dog must have a 15-digit ISO microchip, rabies vaccination, and the standard physical exam.
Although everything can be done on the same visit, whether or not you get to walk out with the completed certificate largely depends on how your veterinarian operates (unfortunately, I had to make several visits before they released the certificate because there was a designated veterinarian to complete travel documents).
If this is your dog’s first rabies vaccination, there must be a 21-day waiting period before traveling to the E.U.
Although the age minimum is 12 weeks for non-commercial dog import to the E.U., I do not recommend traveling with your dog internationally until he is at least a year old or fully potty-trained.
#8 Get the Paperwork Endorsed
From the U.S.
Accredited veterinarians can submit health certificates for USDA endorsement electronically through VEHCS (Veterinary Export Health Certification System), which saves some time.
However, E.U. countries still require USDA to “ink-sign and emboss” the health certificate.
This means that the endorsed Veterinary Health Certificate must be mailed back to you UNLESS you can get the endorsement in person by going to a USDA Endorsement office in your state, which I did since I was departing from Los Angeles at the time.
You must get the Veterinary Health Certificate endorsed by the Canada Food Inspection Agency. You can find an endorsement office HERE.
For U.S. and Canada travelers, you must get the paperwork endorsed within ten days of arrival in the E.U.
#9 Be Strategic on Travel Day
On travel day, it’s all about strategy to ensure a smooth and comfortable journey for your dog.
While you should never overfeed your dog right before a flight, you should not fly him on an empty stomach either. Plan on feeding a light meal at least 2-3 hours before heading to the airport to allow time for digestion and relief.
Also, squeeze in some time for a slightly longer-than-usual walk or playtime to help him sleep on the plane.
Make sure he gets plenty of potty breaks before arriving at the airport and before boarding. Don’t forget to utilize the pet relief areas at the airport.
#10 Optional: Exchange Paperwork for an E.U. Pet Passport
Once endorsed, the Veterinary Health Certificate is valid for four months of travel (or whenever the rabies vaccination expires, whichever comes first).
The crazy part is that I’ve RARELY been asked to present the paperwork upon arrival in Europe from the U.S. (and I’ve flown into many different cities with my dog, including Paris, Rome, and Barcelona).
Although this makes you feel like all your hard work is in vain, it gives you a sense of security that you have everything in line to deal with any mishap.
The best part is that the endorsed certificate allows easy movement within the E.U. countries, which means that your dog can travel freely from France to Italy to Spain to Germany, etc. Dog travel throughout Europe is essentially at your fingertips!
If you plan on returning to Europe with your dog, you should exchange the endorsed certificate for an E.U. Pet Passport.
Upon arrival in the E.U., you should find an E.U. vet (who has authority to issue E.U. Pet Passports) and present the following information: the Veterinary Health Certificate, your dog’s microchip ID, and his rabies vaccination record.
Depending on where you are, an E.U. Pet Passport can be as cheap as 20 euros. Seven years ago, my dog got his passport in Budapest for less than 15 euros!