Traveling is by no means a stress-free experience. As you add extra factors into the equation (travel companions, extra luggage, etc), it only increases the likelihood that something could go wrong. Regardless – I love traveling with my dog, Marshall. I’d spent a handful of years traveling for work, and every time I left him at home on each trip, it was the worst feeling ever. So whenever I get the opportunity to take him with me, I always jump at the chance. To date, this had been limited to domestic trips – California, Virginia, Massachusetts. Everything was fairly straightforward. Until one day I decided to bring him with me and Brian on our Thanksgiving weekend trip to Berlin and Prague.
Jump to the Takeaway
Not too long ago, I’d found a great deal on SkyTeam business class tickets to Europe in the fall. I’d settled on flying into Berlin, flying out of Prague, and taking the train somewhere in between. As usual, I made a reservation to board Marshall while we were away.
I’ve read so many articles about how dog friendly Paris is or how others have traveled to Rome with their four legged friends and I can’t help but feel a tinge of jealousy every time I hear about this. I’ve traveled to so many places, but have only ever domestically traveled with Marshall. As someone who used to live two weeks at home and two weeks on the road every month, it kills me to leave behind my dog.
With the upcoming trip, I had no intention to bring Marshall on this itinerary. I prepped for this trip like I would any other – researching some must-visit sights, making restaurant reservations and exploring any quirky little known things to do. I’d never heard of either city being particularly dog friendly, so the thought had never crossed my mind. Until one day, I was making a reservation at a restaurant in Prague and saw this on the restaurant’s web page:
Dog Friendly. Interesting.
I decided to call my vet and thought I might as well ask – what do I need to do to bring my dog to the EU?
For the most part, it was fairly simple. I had to bring my dog in to the vet for a pre-trip check up within 10 days of our departure date, after which they would issue him an EU health certificate. During the check up, they’d do some standard health checks and make sure his vaccinations were up to date. In the EU, it turns out – the most important vaccination they care about is the rabies vaccination. Fortunately Marshall had well over a year before he was due for his next shot, so they gave him a bill of clean health and provided us with his health documentation.
Thinking back to every article I’ve ever read about dog travel, it always seemed that the story stops there.
Well, it doesn’t.
The vet informed me that due to some of the countries I would be visiting (I’m a little fuzzy on if it was all of them or just some of them), Marshall’s EU health certificate had to be signed off by the USDA – and this is done within the 10 days between which the certificate was issued and your date of departure.
As a resident of New York City, I had two options in getting this done:
- Overnight his paperwork to Albany, New York, where it would be reviewed and signed off.
- Visit the USDA office near JFK and have it signed off there.
If you decide to visit in person, your dog does not actually have to be present in order to get the paperwork signed – in fact, I’d guess they prefer you leave your four legged friend at home.
I had received Marshall’s health documentation about 5 business days before wheels up, so realistically, the chances that they would receive the documents in Albany, sign off, and get it back to me before my trip commenced was fairly slim – and I wasn’t about to take this chance. My vet gave me the website for the USDA – which provided the specifics I needed to contact the local office by JFK to get his documents signed.
The USDA is the only official government organization that approves regulations and provides information on animal travel across borders – and it’s worth mentioning that when doing research on this, you should be checking their website first – all others out there are simply reiterating the information they provide. It’s a bit scary that when you google “travel with your pet to the EU”, their website does not come up first – it’s buried behind several other unofficial websites. Be sure to check with the USDA first on any inquiries you might have about traveling with your pet to make sure the information you are receiving is current and accurate.
On the USDA website, I found the contact number for New York – but it gave me the number for Albany. Knowing that there was an office near JFK, I refreshed the page a couple of times and eventually, the information for JFK loaded.
After a couple of attempts to contact the office, I finally managed to get in touch and make an appointment. When making an appointment, they only accept applications for travel that will occur within 3 business days of your appointment. If you have more time in between, they will ask you to mail your documents to Albany. When you make your appointment they will ask when your date of departure is – but they did not ask again during the appointment. I’m not sure if this was a one-off or if they simply don’t follow up after they initially asked.
Appointments at the USDA in New York City are available between 8:30 AM and 1:30 PM, Monday thru Friday (with an hour closure for lunch at around noon). If you do not make an appointment, they do not take walk-ins.
I was very lucky that Brian was able to take the day to handle heading to JFK on a sunny Friday morning. He arrived a little late for his 8:30 AM appointment, but it didn’t seem to be too much of an issue.
The USDA is located in a very nondescript, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type of building. It’s easy to get lost looking for it (as Brian and his Uber driver did), so here’s a couple of pictures to hopefully save you a few minutes:
When he arrived, he was stopped by a security guard and asked if he had an appointment. He let them know that he did, and the guard confirmed with some employees that this was in fact the case.
There were a few other people in the room who also had 8:30 appointments. When it was finally his turn, he spent a few minutes speaking to the USDA clerk, who looked through the documents before heading to the back of the office to input the information into their system and finally providing his seal of approval. The entire process took about an hour (most of which was spent waiting). There is a $38 fee payable to the USDA in either check or credit card (Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are accepted) – though the website says that only personal checks or money orders will be accepted. Be sure to call your local office in advance to ensure they take credit cards before visiting.
While he waited, he noticed several people attempt to enter the office without an appointment. These people were told they would not be seen without one and were sent away. Some people apparently stepped outside and called to make a same-day appointment, and were lucky that there was availability (would hate to have come all the way out to the airport only to have to return on another day).
Once the paperwork was signed off by the USDA clerk, we were all set for our trip!
Having to work out an in-person visit or worry about mailing your documents was easily the most challenging part of the process – especially because you have such a small window of time to do this in.
Hopefully you’ll decide to bring your dog on your trip with more lead time than I had and can simply mail the files to the USDA’s office in Albany instead of having to work out a trip to the office. In the end, the trip was so much more memorable with Marsh in tow – and I don’t regret having to deal with all this extra administrative paperwork just to do it.
While this process was by no means difficult, it was certainly not convenient either. If you’re keen on bringing your pet with you when you travel, it’s definitely worth looking into and deciding if it’s right for you and your travel style.
- When leaving the United States with a pet for the European Union, you must have the following in order for your pet to travel with you:
- Pet must be microchipped with a ISO compliant microchip (11784 and 11785)
- Must be vaccinated for rabies at least 21 days (prior to obtaining EU health certificate)
- EU health certificate, including proof of rabies vaccination from an accredited vet and sign off from the USDA
- In the New York office, in-person appointments are taken only 3 business days before your flight – all others must be mailed to the USDA office in Albany. Call 2-3 days ahead of your intended appointment date to make set up your appointment.
- USDA fee is $38 payable in check or credit card (though the website specifies only check and money order)
Have you traveled with your pet internationally? What challenges did you encounter when preparing for your trip?