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The Beginner's Guide to Flying Internationally with Your Dog

My dog and I have visited eight countries in nine months. And guess what? Traveling with a dog is not THAT hard.

 |  Mar 19th 2013  |   31 Contributions


When I first let my lease expire, sold my things, and took off around the world to travel with my Yorkie-Schnauzer mix, Luna, I was exhilarated yet overwhelmed. I knew I would love having her with me. I knew that a lifestyle of travel was something I desperately wanted. And, of course, I worried about every little detail.

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With my sweet Luna. Photo courtesy Gigi Griffis

How would I navigate the seemingly daunting requirements for dog import and export? What if I did something wrong on my paperwork and we got turned away or, worse, Luna ended up in quarantine? Would she panic on the plane? Could she hold it during transit? 

I diligently researched, checked, and double-checked every fact, tip, and requirement. I called embassies and sent an embarrassing number of emails to my vet. I wanted to be sure that absolutely nothing could go wrong.

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Planning our next adventure. Photo courtesy Gigi Griffis

And as I took each step toward my dream of traveling full-time with my dog, my worries started to slowly fade away, replaced by confidence and a world of experience.

Today, Luna and I have been traveling for nearly nine months. We’ve been to eight countries (and counting). And we’ve never once encountered a challenge we couldn’t tackle.

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Luna is ready to travel. Photo courtesy Gigi Griffis

I get a lot of questions about how to tackle the red tape, the paperwork, and the actual in-transit details. (It would seem that my initial worries are some of the most common.) So just in case you’re thinking about taking off on your own adventures, here’s a glimpse into what we’ve learned.

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A winter morning in Paris. Photo courtesy Gigi Griffis

1. Paperwork

The first and most frightening of my worries were about quarantines and import restrictions. Because I’d never traveled with my dog before, I had no idea how strict these were, how long they took, or what the officials in each country might do if some little detail of our paperwork was incorrect. 

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In Italy. Photo courtesy Gigi Griffis

Turns out, paperwork is pretty straightforward, even if you’re going somewhere strict like the U.K., which does not have rabies and wants to keep it that way. We needed an international standard microchip (which is an easy out-patient procedure), up-to-date rabies shots (keeping in mind that Europe only recognizes the shot for one year, even though the US recognizes the same shot for three), and some paperwork filled out by the USDA-approved vet and then stamped by the USDA office nearest us.

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Luna in the mountains in Switzerland. Photo courtesy Gigi Griffis

For the U.K., we started planning six months ahead; for Belgium, preparation took about a month; and for Italy, the process was a quick seven days. 

When we arrived in the UK, it was a simple matter of having our paperwork checked two or three times by stern-faced security people and -- voila! -- we were allowed into the country. In Italy, when I asked where I needed to declare my dog, they chuckled and waved me through.

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In the hills outside Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo courtesy Gigi Griffis

2. Plane travel 

Luna had never been on a plane, ferry, or train, and I didn’t know if she could hold it for the whole trip. I wasn’t sure how much water or food to give her in transit. How much was enough to keep her hydrated but not irritate her stomach, bladder, or bowels? And even though she is therapy trained, I wondered if she’d stress, cry, or panic on the plane. 

Turns out, yet again, that the fear was so much worse than the reality. I walked Luna immediately before the flight, again during our purposefully long layover on the East Coast of the U.S., and then immediately once we were through airport security in the U.K. 

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Luna enjoys a practice airline seat. Photo courtesy Gigi Griffis

I had put an absorbent pad in her carrier, but she never needed it. In transit (she sat with me on the plane), I gave her a few treats and a couple ice cubes to lick for hydration, saving full water bowls and meals for our arrival.

And though my vet gave me a mild sedative just in case, Luna never needed it. Instead, she settled into her carrier calm and happy, sleeping for most of our time in the air. I was glad I had the sedatives on that first flight, but I no longer carry them. 

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Bonjour, Paris! Photo courtesy Gigi Griffis

The moral of the story

I’m glad I did tons of research and fussed over the paperwork. But at the end of the day, dog travel was much simpler than I ever imagined. And now that we’re seasoned travelers, I no longer carry pee-pads or sedatives. I no longer worry about the details. Concerning traveling with a dog, I have started to think that that really anything is possible. Nine months on the road with my fuzzy best friend proves it. 

Have you traveled with your dog? What were your biggest worries, and how did you tackle them? Let us know in the comments!

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