On January 6, 2023, we left Atlanta, Georgia on a one way flight to Europe. Our first stop was Lisbon in the beautiful country of Portugal.
We flew out of Atlanta to Boston and from there we left to Portugal. Now, “moving” across the Atlantic Ocean has its own challenges. We packed only 3 bags per person and that included everything we needed for our dog, Mogli. Yes, we packed his toys and treats, too. My husband and I reached checked one bag, had one carry on, and our personal item for the plane.
In this case, packing was the easy part. When you import and export any kind of living thing, it it’s always difficult. Think about humans and how, for lack of better words, annoying it is dealing with getting your passport. You have to take a photo with certain specifications, gather up all of your identity paperwork and head to your local court office to file for you passport. Sometimes you can mail it in, sometimes you need an interview, sometimes it’s easy and quick… just kidding it’s never really easy. Dealing with the government is never easy (in my experience). Depending on what country you go you, you have to prepare. Sometimes you need a visa, certain vaccines, medicine just in case you get the runs, etc.
The same goes for a dog. Now, each country has different requirements, however, most countries in Europe have the same protocols and require relatively the same information. In this case, we solely focused on getting Mogli into Portugal, because we were prepared to get him his EU Pet Passport in the first 4 weeks of us being in Europe. I’ll talk about the pet passport a little bit later.
Now, the first step was to make sure he was ready to go and up to date on his vaccines. The most important one is Rabies. This is the MOST important factor in traveling across different countries and continents. There are three “zones” of rabies standards.
Rabies Free (low risk)
Rabies Controlled (moderate risk)
Rabies Uncontrolled (high risk)
You have an easier time traveling between rabies free countries to other rabies free countries, or a rabies free country to a lower category, however, coming back from a level 2 or 3 rabies country to a level 1, is more difficult. Most countries in the EU, UK, and America (specifically) are Rabies Free. Regions like the Balkan, Asia, Africa, South America, etc. are at greater risk.
Going from the US to Portugal was relatively easy in this sense. Mogli is up to date on all of his vaccinations and he has never missed a vaccine “due date.” Which is important when it comes to obtaining and maintaining the EU pet passport.
Circling back to step one, it is important that he was not only up to date on his rabies, but that he had a microchip that could verify his vaccine status. If your dog did NOT have a microchip at the time of their rabies vaccination, you’ll need to get another one. Mogli was on the 3 year rabies vaccine and I did not get a microchip for him when he was a little pup, so I got his microchip at a later date, along with a year long rabies vaccine.
Now, step 2 was to get him approved to fly with us on the plane. We had to pick an airline that allowed dogs to travel internationally. Not all airlines allow this because it poses a greater risk for the company as they are acting as the “importer” of the animal. We flew with TAP air and it simply took us filling out some paperwork and getting a confirmation email. We had him fly in the cabin with us because he is a bit smaller, but the specifications vary with the different airlines.
Now, let’s chat about the dreaded paperwork.
Ultimately, you need a health certificate that is done by a vet and then authorized and approved by the USDA. You have to get the health certificate done within 30 days before departure and then get the paperwork signed by the USDA within 10 days of departure.
Simple in theory, but again, we are dealing with a time sensitive document requiring the signature of a government employee. Great.
This for us, was the most stressful part of getting to Europe. We paid $350 for Mogli’s vet visit since we have to pay for the health exam the vet conducts, a rabies vaccination, and the health certificate. Different offices vary with the price… I inquired with a few different vets that were charging $750 to start the process… so yes, I hunted for something more affordable.
The health certificate is filled out to the vet, and then the vet sends it to the USDA office, and then supposedly the USDA will mail it back to you before departure.
In our case, our vet did the paperwork wrong not only the first time, but the second, and then a third time, too. We didn’t get our document until 3 days before we left and it took a LOT of phone calls, nagging, and 2 visits to the USDA office (that said online they don’t accept in person appointments). Long story short, our vet doctor had clearly not done this before and I might have saved $400, but without taking the matter into my own hands, I wouldn’t have gotten Mogli to Europe.
My piece of advice here is when you inquire with a vet about this service, ask them to not only explain the process to you so you have a clear understanding, but also ask them how long they and their office have been conducting the service. I say it all the time and I’ll say it again, you get what you pay for. Also, try and go to the closest USDA office in person if you can so you can save the headache of waiting something to come in the mail.
Once you have thee health certificate, you can board the plane. Coming into Portugal, our border control guy didn’t even blink at Mogli, so no stress there. The health certificate lasts up to 4 months in the EU, after that, it is required to get a pet passport.
That being said, let’s talk about the EU pet passport. What is it? It’s basically a booklet that keeps track of his rabies vaccine and other required treatment to enter different countries, along with a stamp of approval from the vet that he is healthy.
At first, I was under the impression that once he had the pet passport, he could travel freely within the EU. I’m so glad we asked the questions we did when we went to our appointment because we really learned a lot. That also being said, every vet in Portugal issues pet passports and they are not hard to find and only cost about 30 euros. When you get the passport, it is valid for life, unless you miss a rabies vaccine. Really, you just have to stay up to date on the vaccines and don’t let there be a gap between vaccine administration dates.
We learned that no matter if you’re flying, driving, taking a ferry, or taking a train, you have to get a “health stamp” from the country you’re currently in within 10 days before traveling to the next country. So, when we took Mogli for his passport, we had to do a quick health screen to get a stamp to take him to Spain, and we did it in Spain to take him to Germany, and so forth. After Germany we took him to the UK, which has different requirements and a shorter timeline to bring him in as well. Essentially, you just have to have the vet administer a tapeworm pill within 5 days of arrival. If all of the paperwork to get into the E.U. was done properly, taking the extra step here wasn't too much extra work.
All in all, it’s a hassle. It’s another few things to add to your to-do-list. BUT, it is MORE than worth it. I could not explain to you have much joy my Mogli baby brings me and how much sorrow I’d endure if he wasn’t with me. Heck, I left him with a sitter while we went to Morocco for 2 weeks and I cried 4 times before we even dropped him with the sitter. LOL.
To sum things up, here’s a quick check-list:
You need a microchip with proof of the rabies vaccine on the microchip.
Don’t let the rabies vaccine “expire” before you get the next dosage
Get approval for you dog to be on the plane
Obtain a health certificate from the vet within 30 days before departure and get your USDA approved certificate back before departure.
Get your EU pet passport the you arrive, within 10 days before you leave to your next country if you decide to travel, and/or before 4 months have passed from the date you arrived so your health certificate doesn’t expire
Double check the government website you’re traveling to to make sure you don’t miss any important steps.
Disclaimer; I am not a vet or an animal import/export expert. The advice here is for Portugal and not applicable for every other country within the EU or elsewhere. Please consult a professional for these services.