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Traveling or moving to another country can require a lot of planning and effort. Depending on your destination, there are vaccinations, visas, and paperwork to contend with. And that’s just for the humans! If you take your dog with you on your travels or relocation, the necessary research and preparation are even greater. It’s not as simple as a pet passport. (Although read on for more information about that.)

The United States doesn’t determine the requirements for dog travel – each destination country has its own set of policies with respect to examinations and health tests, vaccinations, medical treatments, and paperwork. That means you need to be diligent when planning your trip and investigate what your dog needs for each country on your itinerary.

Getting Help With Dog Travel Requirements

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a great resource for dog travel guidance. Their website lists helpful references and answers frequently asked questions. Their international pet travel checklist is a great place to start.

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APHIS also offers a country-by-country listing of travel requirements. Because there are no worldwide regulations, this listing allows you to determine exactly what you need to do for each destination you plan to visit with your dog. For example, one country might require your dog to be microchipped whereas another might not. Or your dog might need tapeworm treatment for a certain country. Keep in mind that you should check these requirements every time you travel because they can change frequently.

You should also verify your research with the consulate or embassy of the country you plan to visit in order to ensure you haven’t missed anything. It’s your responsibility, not your veterinarian’s or travel agent’s, to make sure your pet has met every requirement of the new country. If you fail to meet the requirements, you might not get the necessary health certificate beforehand and will likely encounter problems when you arrive at your destination.

What is a Health Certificate for Dog Travel?

Most countries will need a health certificate for your dog before allowing entry. This paperwork is also known as an international health certificate, an export certificate, a veterinary certificate, or a veterinary health certificate. Regardless of the name, a health certificate is issued by your local veterinarian after he or she examines your dog and performs or verifies all the vaccinations, treatments, and testing required by the destination country. Your vet will need to fill in the certificate before signing and dating the document.

If you plan on visiting more than one country, note that your dog’s health certificate is not universally valid for all countries. Because each country has its own set of requirements, there is no one-size-fits-all standard certificate. Your dog will need a health certificate valid for the first destination country. Then the requirements for additional countries will depend on the mode of transportation, for example, car versus ship. The length of time your dog will be spending in each country may also be a factor. You are responsible for determining what is necessary at each border. For help with dog travel to multiple countries, contact your local APHIS Veterinary Services Endorsement Office.

Finally, the company transporting your dog, whether it’s an airline, cruise line, or pet shipping company, may have additional conditions above and beyond the health certificate for the destination country. For example, there may be crate and shipping requirements. Be sure to check with everyone involved in your dog’s travel to ensure you meet all requirements along the way. You don’t want to have your travel hit a snag before you even leave the United States.

APHIS Endorsement of Your Dog’s Health Certificate

Although not a condition for all destination countries, many also require the health certificate be endorsed by APHIS after the vet has completed his or her part of the paperwork. This is a final review process so APHIS officials can verify the accuracy of the health certificate and double check it meets the requirements of the destination country. You don’t have to take your dog to the APHIS office; however, APHIS will need the original health certificate as well as all supporting paperwork like test results and vaccination certificates. You can either mail your documents to your local APHIS Veterinary Services Endorsement Office or arrange for an in-person appointment. Be aware, there is a user fee for health certificate endorsement.

When APHIS endorsement is necessary, be aware that the vet who issues the health certificate in the first place must be USDA-Accredited. If your regular vet does not meet these standards, you will need to find a USDA-Accredited vet in your area before starting the process.

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Veterinary Help With Dog Travel

Based on your research and consultation with your vet, you should know the necessary steps for completion of your dog’s health certificate. For example, does your dog need any vaccinations, treatments, or tests? Is a microchip required? You could be looking at multiple appointments to get everything taken care of. Therefore, it’s essential you leave enough time to get everything done. You might need to start planning many months in advance.

You also need to look at the time frame in the destination country’s regulations. For example, your dog might need to have his physical exam in a certain window of time before travel. Or vaccinations might need to be given so many weeks in advance. Some treatments can take time to take effect. All these factors mean you should meet with your vet to start the process as soon as you know your travel details.

Don’t forget about potential diseases and parasites that might be found in the destination country. There may be medications available to protect your dog, such as for heartworm. Although heartworm preventative is recommended year-round, even in the northern United States, many dog owners with snowy winters confine heartworm medication to the warmer months of summer. But depending on your destination country, you might need to consider a preventative regardless of the season. Do your research and consult with your veterinarian about any conditions your dog might be at risk for during your travels.

Be aware that most countries will need your vet’s original ink signature on the health certificate. But in this online world, it’s not surprising that APHIS has a digital system for health certificates as well. However, whether your vet can use the digital system is up to the destination country. To help clarify each country’s requirements, APHIS has developed a color-coding system on their country by country listings. For example, red means original ink from both the issuing vet and the APHIS official. This will be clearly explained on each country’s page, so when researching your destination country, keep an eye out for what exactly is needed on your dog’s certificate.

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Pet Passports

Although some people might use the term pet passport to refer to any documentation that is required for dog travel, the European Union (EU) does issue an official Pet Passport. These documents are obtained from an official vet in any member country of the EU or any other designated country. The purpose is to simplify travel between countries in the EU. Note that you cannot obtain an EU Pet Passport in the United States.

Returning to the United States

When you bring your dog back to the U.S., you will have to meet the rules set out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. First, all dogs must appear healthy before being allowed into the country. Second, a Rabies vaccine certificate may be needed depending on where your dog has been prior to arrival in the United States. There are no exceptions to these rules even if your dog is still a puppy, a service animal, or an emotional support dog. If you fail to follow these rules, your dog may be denied entry into the U.S.

Be aware that other government departments have their own additional requirements for bringing dogs into the U.S. For example, if your dog has been in a country where screwworm is known to exist, entry to the U.S. will only be allowed with a certificate signed within the last five days by a full-time veterinary official from the region of origin. The certificate must declare the dog free from screwworm or state the dog was treated until free of the disease. Finally, each state can have its own state regulations concerning dog travel, so check with your destination state’s State Department of Agriculture or the State Veterinarian’s Office to ensure you can bring your dog back home at the end of your travels.

Related article: Airline Pet Policies: A Guide to Dog Travel Requirements for Flying
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