Note that this article is specifically for domesticated pets (dogs, cats, and ferrets) entering the European Union. For other traveling animals and different destinations, you can check www.aphis.usda.gov for more information.
Traveling with pets to a new country can be stressful. There is a lot to remember and you want to do everything you can to make your pet stay happy and healthy on its journey. I recently undertook this task and I have plenty of advice and knowledge to share to make you and your pets adventure as smooth and stress-free as possible.
What you need to know
Each country has different requirements. The European Union countries (those part of the Schengen agreement) requires a rabies vaccination, chipped and documented from your states Import-Export Service Center. To get the step by step guide of how to legally transport pets from the United States to the EU you can check out https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel to get detailed information.
I urge you to follow the steps exactly as they specify on their website because going out of order will make things much more complicated. I also highly recommend for you to start the process immediately. The whole documentation and doctor visits take up to a month from start to finish, so don’t waste any time. As for the cost, I have a small cat and spent no more than $250 on everything – vaccination, visits to the vet, legal documentation, crate, and airline check-in fee. Bigger animals probably have higher fees at the vet and with the airline.
Preparation Before Transportation
If your pet is new to the crate experience it’s important to help your pet get acquainted with the space it will be living in for the duration of the trip. Start by placing the crate in the living room or bedroom and leave its point of access open. Put food in or around it and encourage your pet’s curiosity to sniff around and remain calm around it. This will make things less difficult and stressful for you and your furry friend.
In the Cabin or in Cargo
In preparation for the trip, it’s important to ask your vet, a few important questions in regards to how and where your pet should fly. Smaller pets should fly in the cabin and larger animals must stay in the cargo bay. You have the option you put your smaller pet under the plane in the cargo, but it’s not something I would not recommend unless a large animal or under special circumstances. In order for your pet to stay in the cabin, it must be able to fit in the space below the seat in front of you. Otherwise, the pet is too large and must stay in the cargo bay for the duration of the trip.
Pets In the Cabin
If you decide to take your pet with you in the cabin they must stay in a “soft box” that weighs less than 10 kg (including pet). This weight varies for each airline so be sure to research the correct requirements for your pet based on the airline’s needs. A soft box just means it is not a plastic crate, but a crate that is made of fabric material. This material MUST be waterproof, this is in case the animal urinates during transport.
Container size also depends on the airline’s requirement so before you go out and buy a new crate, check what the dimensions are for your airline. It must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of yours. As with all extra carry-ons, there is a fee. Usually no more than $150 depending on weight.
Note: you will not be allowed to take your pet out of its crate during the flight. They must remain in at all times.
- You can keep an eye on your pet and comfort them if they begin to feel unwell.
- The cabin in pressure and temperature regulated.
- You can keep the crate clean if your pet goes while on the plane.
- If your pet makes a lot of noise it can cause people around you to feel uncomfortable or upset.
- Carrying your pet on and off the plane can be tricky if you have multiple carry-on items.
What you will need for the trip if traveling in the Cabin:
- Documents – pack all of your documents. Everything in you might need for your pet’s trip overseas.
- Leash – this is optional. If you cat or dog has a wild or unsteady temper it’s best to leave them in the crate for the duration of the trip. They will probably feel more comfortable to not have to interact too much with the outside world.
- Calming spray – this stuff is amazing. I highly recommend it.
- Pee-pee pads – These are perfect for long flights and moments we hit a bit of turbulence they may have to go. You may also set one out the corner of the airport to them a place hang out on.
- A few plastic gloves – just in case they decide they have to go you want to be able to get the pee-pee pad out and toss it. No one wants to leave their pet in a smelly crate and no one wants to smell it.
- Resealable plastic baggies – bring freezer bags in case you need to remove something smelly and don’t immediately have a place to put it.
- Two small cups or bowls for food and water – I have seen those really great collapsible plastic travel bowls that are perfect for these kinds of adventures. I ended up just using a paper cup I found at a nearby restaurant in the airport and tossed it away what she was finished.
- Snacks -they probably won’t be hungry but just in case pack a little something for them to snack on.
- A T-shirt or pillowcase – This is a comforting tool that your pet can smell or cuddle up with it if they are feeling a bit upset.
- A scarf or small blanket – Even though the cabin temperature regulated it can get pretty cold in there anyway so wrapping a scarf around the crate may help keep the warmth in. It’s also a good way to cover the crate from all of the business and bring lights of an airport. If they don’t see all of the chaos they might feel more comforted in the semi-dark.
- Earplugs – If you think you pat may make a lot of noise it’s a good idea to have ear plugs with you. You may want to offer them to other people sitting near you in case your pet makes their travel experience painful.
Pets In the Cargo Bay
For pets that weigh less than 70 kg (including the container), they can be transported in the cargo bay. They must be placed in a hard shell crate. If they are staying in cargo for the duration of the trip they will need a sturdy crate that won’t break or crack if a piece of luggage falls on top of them.
There are different size requirements and prices for pets traveling a short-haul and long-haul. Check your airlines for these requirements. Prices for large pets in a long-haul flight make cost up to $250-300.
- Your pet will be transported
- Cargo bay is where all the luggage is stored so your pet may have a suitcase placed on top on their crate.
- If there is turbulence the luggage my topple on top of your pet’s crate.
- It is not pressure or temperature regulated.
- You hope that your pet is in good hands while the airline transports them in and out of the plane.
Note: It’s important to call up to 30 hours in advance to let the airline know you will be traveling with an animal either in the cabin or cargo bay.
Awake or Sedated
For some pets with a more aggravated manner sedation may be a better option it keep them calm and easier to transport. There are some downsides to sedating your pet. Sedation tending to slow blood flow and can leave your pet prone to low body temperature. Sedation may also cause disorientation and anxiety to your pet when they wake up.
There are some downsides to sedating your pet. Sedation slows blood flow of your pet and can leave your pet prone to low body temperature. Sedation may also cause disorientation and anxiety to your pet when they wake up.
Instead of the sedation, I recommend a spray that, more or less, has the opposite effect of catnip. A few weeks before the trip, you should spray this spray around the crate and living space of your pet (just a little, animals are sensitive to smell, so a little goes a long way) just to get them used to it.
Home Sweet Home – Almost
When you arrive at your new home be sure to keep your pet in the house or apartment for at least a week. Getting your pet slowly acclimated to its new surrounding is important and takes time. Make sure to let them do whatever they are comfortable doing and don’t pressure them to move too quickly.
A California Cat Living in Tuscany
I decided to bring my cat, Nambi, with me in the cabin where I could make her journey as comfortable as possible. While I don’t consider her a “travel cat” she has lived with me in Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and Richmond California. She has traveled many times with me in the car up and down the state’s coast.
For our move to Italy, we packed everything we needed, obtained all of the documents and began our adventure together. I highly recommend the calming spray, it worked wonderfully!
Once in transit, I was amazed by Nambi’s demeanor. She was quite, calm and relaxed the entire way. From San Francisco to the Berlin airport where we waited for 4 hours; until we took another plane (two hours) ride to Florence, drove one hour in one car, 20 minutes by another car until we got to our new home in Montevarchi.
I can happily say that Nambi is very happy living in Tuscany and as long as she is happy so am I.
Remeber to discuss all of this with your vet and see what they suggest you do for your pet.
Have any questions? Comment below and I will give you more details on my personal experience.
Stay stress-free and check out What’s in your Carry-On? to know what you need to pack for yourself.