How to bring your furry family to Europe
Updated: Jul 30, 2019
The United States has the largest population of pet dogs. As of 2018 40% of pet owners say they view their animals as family members. I am absolutely part of this statistic. My dog, Belle, is not only a family member—ok I literally believe she is my blood—but also my best friend. I cannot imagine taking a vacation for 2 weeks, or more, and not having her by my side. Airlines are continuing to change the rules on flying with animals. This is most probably for two main reasons 1) the volume of people traveling with their fury family members has increased drastically in the past decade 2) most owners don’t train their animals to behave in a certain manner in these transit situations and behavior has become a real issue on flights.
Before I share my experiences and the how-tos I want to start by saying my dog has been on well over 30 flights in her 4 short years of life. She comes with me to work and out to almost every public location I head to on a daily basis. Just like with humans, she has learned over many experiences how to act. What does this mean? Anyone who has ever been on a flight with a screaming child or watched with horror in a store or restaurant as a child throws a temper-tantrum can attest to the parenting pains associated with training any being to follow directions and social cues. Dogs are exactly the same as humans in this respect. So if your dog only is in your home and has only traveled in your car, very familiar and controlled environments, I would be very wary about bringing them trans-Atlantic.
The next prerequisite I want to highlight is size. Belle is a 12Ibs Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She is small enough to travel in the cabin and all of my experiences thus far has been in-cabin experiences. I would never suggest a cargo hold for your animals. I have read too many horror stories and do not think this would be a good experience for your dog or you.
Belle has traveled to Europe twice. The first time we flew into Germany. I grew up in Germany, my mother still lives there, and we visit frequently. That trip we traveled to Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, England, and Ireland. Our most recent trip we flew into France and traveled to Belgium and Italy.
In this article I will discuss both experiences including traveling within the EU. I will discuss the documents needed to enter each country, the types of travel available, the experience within the country including where dogs are welcome, and of course I’ll share some photos for your viewing pleasure. Please note this article is as of July 2019. Airlines and nations update their policies so please ensure you verify that nothing has changed before embarking (ok there needs to be some kind of pun about barking and embarking).
The first thing you will need to obtain is an international health certificate. There is a special certification that your vet needs to have in order to be able to issue this certificate. Check with your vet to verify who has the qualifications. This certificate needs to be issued WITHIN 10 days of your departure. So make your appointment early.
Secondly you will need to obtain a rabies certificate. This is usually given in conjunction with the international health certificate. However the dog must have an up to date rabies vaccination and if it is set to expire it must be done more than 30 days before you enter the EU.
Thirdly your pet will need to be microchipped. The location of the microchip will be marked on the international health certificate.
Finally a Pet passport is listed on some countries requirements. If you are traveling within the EU it is best to obtain an EU passport. The easiest way to do this is once you are in the EU. Belle was issued her EU passport in London—a story I will get to later in this article. You can obtain an American pet passport within the United States. I live in San Diego and the nearest office for us is in Los Angeles. I did not obtain a US pet passport because I had an EU pet passport from a previous EU visit.
I immediately make a copy of all documents and put them on a cloud file so I have access to them everywhere in the world. However for the international health certificate please note that it states it must be an original “ink” edition, not a copy. I have never once been asked for any documentation entering the continental EU. The only times I have ever show any documentation was flying within the EU. I will describe those experiences below. However I never wanted to roll the dice with my precious angel...so I always get everything just in case.
I made an appointment a month before our travel to have Belle examined. I did not want any surprises 10 days before travel, which is the timeline you must obtain the international health certificate. Belle was examined and I brought in her passport so the vet could update her rabies vacation. I reviewed with the plans for travel with our vet. This is the same vet that issued my international health certificate 18 months ago for her first trip into Germany. After getting the all clear I made another appointment to obtain her international health certificate and rabies certificate 3 days prior to travel.
The day of the appointment came and we had a slight hiccup. The normal vet we had seen was in emergency surgery (the dog undergoing emergency procedure is recovering just fine —I asked). I saw another vet that was accredited. He noticed a special notes saying that if the pet had an EU passport and had to get a rabies booster in the United States —which Belle did— that we needed to obtain an EU Health Certificate issued by a USDA Accredited Veterinarian before Belle left the U.S. This could only have been done by the APHIS office located in Los Angeles. Needless to say I was pretty upset. Mostly because I had brought the EU passport into the vet’s office a month in advance and discussed this with them. Again I have never been asked for any documentation but I was super shaken. After speaking with the vet about options he advised that the worst case scenario would be that Belle would have to receive a rabies secondary booster in the airport. I was worried but we pressed on. Upon our arrival in Paris at CDG they checked our passports and said nothing about Belle. However next time I would go to the APHIS office to obtain my EU health certificate just to be safe.
If you are traveling with your animal as a pet discuss any medication options for sleeping if you believe your animal would be more comfortable on the long flight asleep. I have never done this but Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are not hyper dogs. Use your judgment.
THE US AIRLINES — Getting to Europe
Every airline is different and has different regulations. I will outline my experience and research for 3 different types of possible airline travel with your dog 1) Pet 2) ESA Animal 3) Service Dog.
Pet — some airlines allow pets to travel trans-Atlantic flights. I read many accounts of airlines being wonderfully gracious. I would check with each airline for their policies as they change but to my knowledge Lufthansa, KLM, Air France, American and Swiss Air allow dogs in the cabin. Some airlines have a rule that pets can not be on an aircraft for any flight over eight hours. So if you are looking at going to Europe you may have to consider alternative routes leaving from the East Coast to keep the over all flight time to Europe shorter. Many airlines insist that the dog and it’s carrier must be under 8kg (17.6 Ibs). This is similar to intra-EU travel rules which I will discuss later.
Emotional Support Animal — most airlines accept assistance animals on trans-Atlantic flights. In order to be considered an ESA you must obtain a letter from a licensed psychologist or counselor. They must outline specifics of the emotional support provided and their license number. Most airlines request this documentation be added to your reservation at least 30 days in advance. You will then need to submit the documentation for review and have original copies with you at the airport. Some airlines are now requesting a sanitation form be filled out for any flight over 8 hours and submitted as well. Check with your airline for specifics.
Service Animals —airlines have different qualification for SA. Some airlines recognize psychiatric SA as SA and some do not. Check with your airline for details. Your animal does not need to be vest according to ADA but I would recommend you animal be vested for the duration of travel. It is also not required for some airlines to give advance notice of SA. Some airlines do require this so always check specifics. The airlines are allowed to ask “What type of service does the animal provide” however apart from this there is very little they are allowed to require.
AT THE AIRPORT — from US to Europe
The guidelines usually stipulate that you must arrive to the airport 2 hours before an international flight. I usually arrive an extra 30 minutes early to allow time to address any questions with my dog. The gate rep may ask you some additional questions and weigh your animal traveling in a carrier if traveling as a pet. I travel with all of my documentation in a folder in my carry-on. I have the international health certificate, rabies certificate, and pet passport. I always request the vet office email me a PDF of the dog’s entire medical history — just in case. I have that on the cloud as well as copies of all documents.
If you are traveling with a pet they usually are required to stay in the carrier under the seat for the duration of the flight. Use your judgment. Know you animal. ESA and SA dogs are allowed to sit on your lap.
ENTERING THE EU
I have never been asked for any documentation anytime I have ever entered the Continental EU. I have always had anything and not be required to show anything. However always be prepared.
TRAVEL WITHIN THE EU
Once you land in Europe you will probably want to visit a few countries. If you traveled to the EU with a ESA or SA this will be most likely not recognized by the EU, seeing eye dogs seem to be the exception. So be prepared for them to travel simply as pets — which luckily is very easy.
ACCOMMODATIONS WITH THE EU
Most hotels in Europe of dog friendly. It really isn’t even a question. I have had many places gaff and reply...of course. Always check why not.
AirBnB has made it easy to look for places that allow dogs. Even if you book a pet friendly place alert the host that you will be staying with a dog. I had one experience where a host didn’t want dogs in the bedroom. In over 10 AirBnb experiences within Europe this is the only issue I have ever run into but now I will always double check.
In Germany dogs are allowed on public transportation at no additional fee. They are not required to wear anything (a muzzle) or be in a carrier.
In France dogs under 8kg do not need a ticket to ride the public transportation or highspeed trains. Larger dogs do require a ticket. If you get stopped at a ticket check in France do not let the attendants take advantage of you and give you a fine for your small dog. I have been the victim of this 2 and have now triple checked with the French train authorities. They do NOT need a ticket if under 8kg.
In Belgium/Switzerland dogs are allowed on public transportation. No restrictions.
In Italy there is technically a rule that they need to wear a muzzle. This rule is NEVER enforced and I didn’t buy one. Once attendant asked if I had a carrier. I replied yes and asked if I needed to put Belle in it. They replied no, just wanted to know I had one. Most of the Italian train personal LOVED Belle and bent down to say “ciao Bella” “Madonna ciao ciao” and asked nothing.
Taxi’s — in France some taxi’s are weird about taking a dog not in a carrier. It is completely dependent on the taxi driver. The Ubers (Italy - Rome and France - Paris ONLY) have to allow dogs and I have never had an issue.
PLANE TRAVEL WITHIN THE CONTINENTAL EU
Most airlines within the continental EU allow you to travel pretty easily with your dog. There is usually a nominal fee between $25-$50. However most require that your dog fit under the seat and weigh less than 8kg (17.6Ibs). Belle and I flew from Paris to Venice on one such airline, Air Iberia. They had specific dimensions requirements for the carrier. I tried hard to find a carrier to meet these and really couldn’t. I called to airline to check if the weight was under 8kg (17.6Ibs) if we could travel regardless of the dimensions of the carrier. They assured me we could. I had no issues with the carrier while traveling on the airline.. I presented the EU passport at the check in desk. The agents just went crazy over Belle’s picture inside, and the fact that her name was Belle (pretty in French). They called other agents over to look at her and the picture. No one really checked anything. But I had an EU passport so it was easy. I did ask if I could have used my International Health Certificate and they said yes but the EU passport was easier.
PLANE TRAVEL OUTSIDE CONTINENTAL EU
I am specifically referring to England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. The islands have their own set of rules. Many do not allow pets or ESA/SA (unless the SA has a special certification) to travel in cabin. Furthermore the dogs must all receive a deworming vaccination within 3 days of travel. I learned this the hard way. While flying from Germany to Ireland we had a stopover in London where Belle be taken by the British Authorities in London and given an overnight stay to receive her de-worming. Needless to say I won’t be trying to travel with her to the UK anytime soon. I am not saying it can’t be done but I don’t want to risk it again. I am still traumatized from witnessing a vet take my little Belle away from me. Never again.
OH THE PLACES THEY CAN GO
In France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, and basically all continental EU countries dogs are allowed INSIDE restaurants. You do not have to sit on a patio or make any other arrangements. They love dogs in Europe. Belle was immediately brought water and special treats like eggs, cheese, and freshly cut meat. In Florence they have a special Florentine steak (a type of aged T-bone) they wrapped a bone up for her to have for a special treat later. She had old shop ladies put dog treats in their mouth and bend down to have Belle take them out of their smiling faces. In France she literally parted the seas of the crowed sidewalks. They LOVE LOVE LOVE dogs there. It makes you feel like a local and very very welcome. Animals are not strictly allowed in establishments have open air to their food products (butchers and bakeries). Although this seems like a rarely enforced rule. Supermarkets are a crab shoot. Italy seemed to completely disregard the rule while Paris was stricter. They are not allowed in museums or at many crowed attractions (Eiffel Tower — they can’t go up but can be in the gardens surrounding it).
I use a raw organic food in the US called Small Batch. I chose them for their dedication to ingredients as well as the fact that the offer a freeze dried version of their food identical in ingredients to their raw. This way Belle did not have to go through a food change over seas. That being said she did get many delicious treats along the way but never had one accident or issue. I never think it is a good idea to change their diet on a trip. However on my first trip to Europe with Belle two years ago I ran out of food the last few days. I simply went to the butcher shops that thankfully are still common practice in Europe and told him what I needed. I mixed it with some broccoli (her favorite vegetable) and viola!
FLYING BACK TO US
You do not need any additional documentation to fly into the US unless you have traveled for over 30 days. Your international health certificate should be valid. I have never been asked for any documentation to re-enter the US. Check with you airline to see if they require anything but US customs should not.
If you do travel with a small dog I would highly recommend getting a travel back pack (we use K-9 Sports Sac) as you do a lot of walking for those tiny paws. The streets are old and can get dirty. Make sure you pack a puppy shampoo for them so you can wash away the dirt that will undoubtedly accumulate on their paws and legs. I always travel with a couple of silicon collapsible bowls for food and water.
I had an absolutely amazing time in Europe with Belle and my husband. I can’t imagine her not being there. She made every experience better and richer. I know she had an amazing time there and we will be back!
I know this experience can be extremely overwhelming so for questions please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com you can also follow Belle on Instagram @littlebellpup and go back and see all of the photos from her European adventure!