How to Organize your International Pet Travel: What You Need to Know

By Cheryl Smyth

International pet travel – or the art of taking Fido along when you go abroad.

Of course, by the pet, I mostly mean dog, although cats are popular companions too. Dogs make particularly good travel companions – a dog offers rapport, unlike human traveling partners. They don’t argue (about restaurant choice, for example); they are willing to tag along anywhere.

On the other hand, your pal may suffer from the same fears as we do – heights, small spaces, and other phobias.

pet travel - dog with sunglasses

Pet travel rules vary from country to country, and you’ll find a list of resources at the end of this page. Some countries love our animal friends and welcome them with open arms while in others, animals are exploited, used, or ignored. Some require microchip identification, some may enforce lengthy quarantine periods, and most require a full vaccination program.

Some countries won’t let animals in at all.

International pet travel – the basics

Whatever your mode of transport or destination, there are basics to consider.

  • Some dogs won’t be able to travel at all – the old, very young, sick, or homebody types are best left home.
  • Those who can may have sensitive stomachs, so food may be an issue. Finding a store that sells his food could be a challenge. If you’re driving, you can carry his food, but you won’t be able to pack much in your backpack or suitcase.
  • Wearing a pet identification tag etched with his or her name, your mobile phone number, and email is important at home, but even more so on the road. If you’re spending time in one place, a temporary tag with an emergency number or your temporary home number is also a good idea.
  • Items you pack for yourself are also a good idea for your pet, such as a first aid kit. Treats, towels, familiar toys, bags for waste, and a leash or two are more items to include.
  • And remember, dogs need to stop every few hours, so make sure you’ve planned breaks in your journey.
  • Dogs chase other animals – a rabbit is one thing, but a grizzly bear another (the bear might follow your dog back to you and then where will you be?) So to avoid porcupine quills or skunk scent, find out about wildlife before you go – and bring a strong leash.
  • Diseases, such as heartworm, Lyme disease, or erlichiosis can be common year around in warmer parts of the world. Your dog may have to have heartworm and tick protection at times of year that you wouldn’t even think about at home if you are from northern areas.

One last word – it takes time to get your dog ready for a long trip, whether for vaccinations, international pet insurance or the paperwork that is often required. So if Fido is accompanying you – best start planning early.

Pet travel in North America

Traveling back and forth across borders (Canada, United States, and Mexico) within North America is fairly easy. Generally, all that is needed is a valid rabies vaccination certificate, though exceptions exist. Dogs may be inspected for illness at the border.

If you are traveling to the United States from overseas, you may require particular Import Permits. You’ll also have to check the individual state as each has its own regulations. 

Canada and United States are dog-friendly and off-leash parks are fairly common. Mexico has numerous pet-friendly vacation spots. For more information on pet-friendly travel in North America, see the resources at the end.

There are plenty of rules around travel with dogs, though. For example, they aren’t allowed in restaurants, shops and many other public buildings in North America.

Ontario Travels with Tessi

Though Canada is a relatively safe country, the remoteness of many of its regions concerns me. Since adopting Tessi, my dog, I’m less apprehensive about traveling alone, if only for the fact that she is very friendly and would probably scare off a potential attacker with her wet kisses. Tessi also makes an awesome companion as she loves to experience new places as much as I do. Small obstacles, such as the staircase at the Spirit Rock Conservation Area in the Bruce Peninsula (called the Bruce by locals), are well worth the joy Tessi brings me as we travel our small part of the world.

We’ve savored our outings onshore, where I’ve admired the Caribbean-like Georgian Bay and Tessi has busied herself sniffing around the rocks interspersed with grass and weeds. I had never been concerned about any small creatures we may have trouble with… I realized how fortunate we had been when told later that the Massasauga snake’s nasty bite can result in serious wounds in a human adult and death to a dog Tessi’s size. The creatures make their home around the rocks Tessi had been sticking her nose in. I also realized I needed to wear something more substantial than sandals. Solid shoes and thick socks would have been smarter. 

While hiking on the rugged shore, I was too busy keeping an eye on the bordering forest for any appearances of black bears, which live throughout most of Ontario, to worry about what may be around my feet. Having grown up in the southern area of the province where there are none of the huge animals, I made sure I understood what hiking involves in bear country before heading north the first time with Tessi. Keeping her leashed ensured she wouldn’t chase a bear; because once a dog realizes the chase wasn’t a good idea, he or she will return to you with the bear following. 

By Cheryl Smyth  

Taking your pet to Europe

On the other hand, canines are welcome in many buildings in Europe – once you get Fido across the border that is.

Some European countries work under the Pet Travel Scheme, which allows pets to travel between member countries without quarantine. Though each member country has its own particular procedure, basically each animal requires an embedded microchip and rabies vaccinations.

Some countries may also require treatment for fleas, ticks, and tapeworms within 24 to 48 hours before entering the country. A veterinarian’s document stipulating that the dog is healthy enough to travel is also sometimes required. 

Should you take your pet to Africa?

Africa is not ideal for traveling with your dog. Many stray dogs roam the continent and may be infected with rabies. Keeping your dog away from other dogs is best – although nearly impossible, so in most of Africa taking your pet may be problematic.

International pet travel to Australia and New Zealand

Many animal-related diseases, which exist in other parts of the world, are nonexistent in Australia, so dogs entering the country are extremely strict. You’ll need to apply for an AQIS import permit and have it accepted before your pet is allowed. Your request will be turned down if the risk is deemed too high.

New Zealand considers the country of origin. Dogs from rabies-free countries will have to be tested, but won’t have to be quarantined. Dogs from countries that have a low incidence of rabies must follow a strict vaccination procedure including blood and other tests. No matter their origin all canines are inspected for ticks. 

Both countries place animals traveling from most countries in quarantine for at least 30 days.

Pet travel rules for other countries

Virtually every island in the Caribbean has different rules. Jamaica, for example, doesn’t allow any animal imports except the United Kingdom. The U.S. Virgin Islands basically needs a health certificate from your veterinarian, a proper rabies vaccination, and an examination on arrival.

India allows one pet per visitor, but regulations depend on your country of origin. They require a veterinarian certificate stating that the animal is free of parasites, Aujeszky’s disease, distemper, rabies, leichmaniasis, and leptospirosis. India is becoming quite pet-friendly as dogs are becoming increasingly popular, especially among the new rich, who tend to prefer high-status breeds. Unwanted mongrels still roam the streets, often carrying and spreading rabies. Because there are concerns about the availability of rabies vaccines some of these mongrels are being herded and poisoned with strychnine.

In Israel, up to two healthy dogs with rabies vaccinations are allowed in with each owner. No import permit is required as long as they have a veterinary certificate.

Many of the countries in South America are quite dog-friendly, even allowing well-behaved canines into their stores. Countries, such as Brazil, need a sanitary certificate and rabies vaccination.

As you can see there are as many rules as there are countries. As a woman abroad the possibility of bringing along your dog, however complex, is worth looking at seriously.

Transportation for pets

Whether you’re on a short trip or a long journey, chances are you’ll be taking plenty of public transportation.

If you’re one of the fortunate few renting a car, check the small print before you rent; not all agencies allow pets in their cars. Even the potential fur left behind is a cause of concern. Some companies insist a dog be kept in a crate at all times while in the vehicle, while others will charge more for cleaning or damage inflicted (throwing a blanket over the seat can help!) So please check with the individual location – policies can change from town to town. If you can rent a car, your dog will love watching that passing scenery.

Chances are, however, you’ll be riding buses and trains. In North America, dogs are either forbidden or forced to travel as baggage. Regulations vary on European trains. You may have to buy a ticket for your dog and even then he may not be allowed to have the seat. Buses, because of their limited space, are stricter in their policies.

The one major trip your dog will probably have to take is the flight to and from home. As a rule, dogs travel as cargo. Lighter dogs can sometimes travel as cabin baggage under the seat. Dogs as cargo require some thinking – pets have been known to die in flight due to bad health or too much heat. So follow the airlines’ instructions to the letter, and choose pet-friendly airlines.

Sometimes it’s wiser and easier to leave your pet behind. Camps, dog sitting services, and kennels are a few of the many options.

How to hike with your pet [INFOGRAPHIC]

Thinking of going hiking with your dog? Here are some handy tips for achieving the best hiking conditions for your pet (and yourself!)

How To Safely Hike With Your Dog
Graphic courtesy of Riderstrail.

International pet travel resources

The following external resources should help with additional information:
Information on Quarantines
Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service
New Zealand
Globetrotter’s Pet Travel Guide

Cheryl Smyth has been a photographer for almost 20 years and has recently added writing to her repertoire. She loves to explore the diversity of the Canadian landscape with her dog, Tessi. Some of her photography and travel stories can be found on her website 

— Originally published on 31 July 2011

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