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Toby is being trained in his plane travel bag.

How to Get Ready to Fly with Your Dog

Curious about pet document requirements for flying overseas with your dog from USA to France, Germany, Italy, and other EU countries (mostly on Delta)? Are you wanting to fly overseas and dog got your tail? (For EU Citizens traveling to another EU country, you will need something you can only get from a European-based Vet… called a Pet Passport.)

Imagine arriving at the airport counter and being red-flagged for a mistimed rabies shot, an oversized pet carrier, or not making a reservation for your pet (only a few dogs are allowed on each flight). You miss your flight. Your reservations for your stay are non-cancellable. Your ride home just left for a backpacking trip in the woods. Jiminy Crickets!

Overseas Pet Travel… What’s Involved?

When traveling from the USA to Europe with your dog, knowing what, how and when to fulfill pet travel requirements is paramount; timing is everything. Don’t:

  • be too early with your pet passport,
  • mistime vaccination with microchip, and 
  • don’t forget to make sure Fido has a spot on the plane.

But there’s a bit more to it than that. 

Most European Union countries follow the same guidelines but don’t trust anything written here or on the internet. Rules and regulations can change quickly, so do the research. Simply Google “pet travel from ___ to ___” and look for both the country and your airline requirements. Email, call that country’s regulatory agency, do whatever it takes to avoid last-minute panique!

Toby in Travel bag
Hey Boss. Did you say get in the car, we're going to see friends? Or France?
Carry-Bag for dog travel accessories on plane

Before Purchasing Airline Ticket

  • Make sure that the airline you’re planning to book flies overseas. Last checked, Delta does. American does not.
  • Ask the airline reservationist if they have room on the plane for your dog(s).
  • Call back to make sure that the reservationist indeed booked for your pet. Make sure you book directly with the airline, not Orbitz, etc.
  • Check to be sure that you have reserved a seat where pets can travel (Dogs are NOT allowed on International Business Class, International Delta One, and Delta Premium Select, nor in Emergency exit row or bulkhead). We usually book on Comfort + to make room for the bag and Master’s long legs.
  • Take your dog to the vet to make sure that they have no existing problems that might prevent them from passing a health exam.
  • Buy a pet carrier and train your dog to get used to being in it for long periods of time. Use treats to get them into the bag. Maybe use a different word than bag, such as Sac (in French), as they may associate the word “bag” with “bath.”


A soft-sided carrier ventilated on at least four sides with dimensions of 18” x 11” x 11” (45 cm x 28 cm x 28 cm) is recommended as they say this will fit on most Delta aircraft. We’ve found that it doesn’t, so if your dog is of a short breed, suggest a shorter height on the carrier.

They used to have pet weight limit of 17 pounds with bag, but they have never weighed this out (or we’d be putting Toby on a diet). We don’t see weight listed anymore since they took away the ESA animal option. The main thing is that they can fit comfortably in the bag, be able to stand up, and turn around. It should also be leakproof, in case, you know… so make sure you pack supplies for cleanup on aisle nine.


Your pet must have a USDA Health Certificate (HC), signed and embossed by the USDA in order to fly to Europe from the USA. If you missed it, European citizens will need to obtain the Pet Passport, which is a different deal. The USDA HC can only be obtained from a USDA licensed veterinarian. The list of certified vets provided on the USDA website is not accurate. Don’t Ask Jeeves. Call around. We were quoted everything from $200 to $800, which may or may not include the health examination.

Here’s the deal: schedule the vet visit to get your Health Certificate exactly 10 days before travel (the date you arrive if going on a red eye) to make sure there is enough time for Fed Ex to deliver the completed and endorsed USDA certificate papers to your door.

More on this later, but for now, let’s review the three big steps you need to take for documentation. Sounds fun, right? You’ll have a lot more fun on your trip if your Toby is with you.

Get the Right Microchip

Make sure that your dog has an ISO-compliant microchip (15 digits). This must be implanted into the skin between shoulder blades and be working. You don’t have to register it every year if your pet doesn’t wander, but the chip has to be readable by a scanner. Place the microchip ID tag as well on their collar/harness and make sure the chip number is written on the Health Certificate.

“Primary” Rabies Vaccination: 

  • The information below is straight from the USDA website. It seems confusing as to whether a booster or 3-year shot qualifies. Our vet checked with the USDA and they said 3 years qualifies, so even the info on the USDA website may not be accurate:
  •  The first rabies vaccination your pet gets after its microchip or after any lapse in coverage is a “primary” rabies vaccination according to EU rules. 
  • For all pets vaccinated in the United States, a “primary” rabies vaccination is only valid for 1 year. Even if your pet is an adult animal and receives a three-year vaccine, if it is a “primary” rabies vaccination according to EU rules, it is only valid for 1 year. 
  • If your pet does not receive another rabies vaccination within 1 year of a “primary” rabies vaccination, it means the vaccination coverage lapsed and you must start over. Even if the vaccination coverage only lapses by a day, the next rabies vaccination is again considered a “primary” rabies vaccination, and it is only valid for 1 year.

“Booster” Rabies Vaccination:

  • If your pet does get its next rabies vaccination within 1 year of a “primary” rabies vaccination, this “booster” rabies vaccination can be valid for 1-3 years, according to the vaccine manufacturer’s instructions. 

Note: If your pet’s most recent rabies vaccination before traveling to the EU is a “booster” rabies vaccination (rather than “primary”), you are responsible for providing all relevant rabies vaccination certificates to prove there was no lapse in coverage since the “primary” rabies vaccination.

Reminder! Rabies Vaccinations do NOT count according to EU rules if:

  • Your pet got the vaccination before it had a microchip; or
  • Your pet got the vaccination without first having its microchip scanned.

21-Day Waiting Period

After any “primary” rabies vaccination, your pet must wait 21 days before traveling to the EU. Your pet can travel to the EU less than 21 days after a “booster” rabies vaccination, but then the previous rabies vaccination must also be included on the health certificate.

Want to simplify your paperwork? 
Ask your veterinarian to give your pet a 1-year rabies vaccination (after scanning the microchip) at least 21 days before your travel to the EU but less than one year before your travel date (for example, 3-6 months before the travel date). Doing it this way also makes it easier for the USDA endorsement office to review, which means you get your endorsed certificate back faster.


The EU has two versions of the pet health certificate: the “non-commercial” and the “commercial.” Both health certificate versions require an Accredited Veterinarian to issue (complete, sign, and date) the health certificate and then USDA to endorse (countersign and emboss/stamp) the health certificate before your pet’s travel. However, it is much easier to meet the timeframes for the “non-commercial” health certificate than the “commercial” health certificate, so keep this in mind when arranging your pet’s travel. Per USDA verbiage:

“Non-commercial” Health Certificate

  • You should use the “non-commercial” health certificate if you or a designated person** is traveling within 5 days before or after your pet(s), and 5 or fewer pets are traveling.
  • Though uncommon, you can also use the “non-commercial” for 6 or more pets traveling to the EU for specific events like competitions, exhibitions, or sporting events.
  • The “non-commercial” health certificate is valid for 30 days after the Accredited Veterinarian issues it. 
  • The USDA must endorse the completed health certificate within ten days of arriving in the EU. See STEP 3 below for more information on the endorsement.

Declaration: The final page of the EU Health Certificate contains a Declaration that must be completed and signed by the pet owner or designated person** before the pet travels to the EU. The Declaration must accompany the pet and health certificate to the EU.

Note: You may use the “non-commercial” EU health certificate to travel within the EU for up to 4 months as long as your pet’s rabies vaccination does not expire. If you take your dog to Finland, Malta, Ireland (including Northern Ireland) or Norway after entering the EU, your dog must be treated for tapeworms by an EU veterinarian 1-5 days before entering those countries.

Step 3:  After your pet’s Accredited Veterinarian has issued the EU health certificate, you must have the health certificate endorsed by a USDA Endorsement Office

  • “Non-Commercial” health certificate: The endorsement must happen within 10 days of your pet’s arrival in the EU. 
  • “Commercial” health certificate: The endorsement can happen any time within 48 hours after the Accredited Veterinarian issues the certificate.

The USDA Endorsement Office will be able to provide specific information about the process and fees associated with the endorsement of the EU health certificate. Learn more about Endorsement Fees.

Once you have the certificate in hand, place it and the vaccination doc in a waterproof folder, and put it in your carry-on the day before the flight, along with paper towels, potty pads, jerky treats, and any calming devices. If giving your dog CDG, Gabapentin, or any other, make sure the dog is used to taking it and it doesn’t induce what the paper towels are packed for. That’s about it for the pre-flight check.

Once you have all your documents completed and in hand, the only person that will most likely check them is at the airline counter. We’ve never had anyone at a Passport Check ask for them, aside from the return airline counter. Don’t think you’ve wasted all that time and money, as you won’t make it past the airline counter if these steps are not taken. If and only if you’ve followed the rules to a T, they will gladly take your money ($200 each way at time of writing). Arrive at least 3 hours on the dog’s nose and head to the Special Service Counter if they have one open. To learn about what to expect on the day of flight, check out the next post!


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