How to Travel with Your Dog

Dog at the airportChristine Gilbert loves her dogs so much so that she brings them (almost) everywhere she goes. She’s currently perfecting her Spanish in Central America. You can follow her blog, Almost Fearless, to see what she’s up to.

When my husband and I adopted our two large, slobbery Labrador retrievers (Molly and Jack), everyone told us that would be the end of our carefree travel days. Each one of them weighs 80 lbs, loves to run around, and has more chew toys than your average teething infant.

Last summer, we brought them to Madrid with us. They flew on Iberia Air, stayed with us in our apartment, and got to know the locals very well (“Que Bonitas!” the locals would say). We learned that traveling with your pets, no matter how big they are, is completely possible. All it takes is a little planning, patience, and jumping through the right hoops. With a microchip and vet certificate, we were clear to travel to most places in the world.

Here are ten tips for taking your pet overseas:

1. Plan ahead. Some countries like the UK require special tests 4 months before you arrive. The site Pet Travel lists the entry requirements by country. Even for Europe, all pets must be microchipped. The Vet Cert has to be signed by a USDA vet. The steps aren’t complicated, but waiting times can vary.

2. What’s in a breed? If you have a pug or other short-nosed breed, many airlines will not allow them due to increased difficulties they may have breathing on the plane. I’ve heard lots of folks who bring their short-nosed dogs with them overseas, though, so check with the carrier to make sure they’ll let you.

3. Check or Carry? Determine if you are going to check your pet as cargo or bring them on the flight with you. If your pet is less than 25 lbs, it’s up to you. If your pet is over 25 lbs, then they must be checked in the cargo area. If you’re checking your dog, then you need the correct sized carrier. See #6 below.

4. Call ahead. Some airlines require you to call and make a reservation for your pet; others do not. To avoid confusion, call ahead and find out their policy. You’ll also want to inquire about any temperature requirements — there are times when it’s just too hot or cold to fly with a pet in cargo.

a dog on an airplane5. Calculate total cost. In our case, the cheapest flight at $2000 roundtrip charged a whopping $1600 in fees for our dogs (Total: $3200). A more expensive flight at $2500 roundtrip was with an airline that only charged $200 for the dogs (Total: $2700). Note: Go non-stop if you can.

6. Make sure Fido Fits. When buying a pet carrier, we brought our dogs with us into PetSmart and had them test out sizes. Your pet should be able to stand up, turn around and lay down comfortably. Note: The carrier label should say “Airline Approved”.

7. Get your shots. For most of Europe, you just need to have a USDA certified vet fill out a form stating your pet has had the appropriate rabies shots. In many places, you also need up-to-date rabies vaccines at least 30 days before departure.

8. Forget sleeping pills. While you may want to pass out with some Ambien on the flight over, don’t do your pet the same favor. Any type of tranquillizer is discouraged, as they can make it difficult for your pet to breathe in the pressurized cabin. Instead, our vet suggested Benedryl, and the dogs slept like babies (check with your vet first before you buy though!).

9. Food and Drink. Don’t forget to tape food and a water bowl to the top of your carrier if you are checking your pet into cargo. You’ll want to label these as such, in case you get separated from your dogs in an emergency and they need to feed them.

10. THIS SIDE UP. Be sure to label your carrier with lots of warnings and your contact information in case you get separated. We taped big stickers with our dogs’ names on each cage, so the people handling them would remember these are friendly puppies… not just another piece of luggage.

Once you get your pets to your destination, you’ll be amazed at what a great ice breaker they can be. Walking around Madrid with our dogs provided to be an entry to people’s lives we wouldn’t otherwise have had. And instead of spending 3 months waiting for us to come home, Molly and Jack got to eat tapas, wrestle Spanish dogs, and walk around Retiro Park on Sunday afternoons. When we left, they were just as sad as us to leave!

Christine Gilbert loves her dogs. She loves animals in general. She’s currently perfecting her Spanish in Central America. You can read her travels on her blog, Almost Fearless.

  1. I, too, travel frequently with my dog. She generally goes in the cabin with me since she is just about 25 lbs. But I’ve never taken her overseas. I am really glad to read about your experience!

  2. Oh that was a good post. I’ve heard some horrible pet stories from my sister who works on an airline. I think the best one was when some really expensive parrot came off the plane but then died afterwards from being next to the planes exhaust pipe. Kinda funny.

  3. I travel with my dog all the time and have also written an how-to article on traveling with dogs.

    But this year it’s gotten increasingly more difficult to travel with my dog, even though she’s an 18 pound pug. Airlines that used to charge $50 for carry-on pets are now charging $100 one way. It’s also more difficult to sneak them on!

    And rental car companies and hotels are increasingly introducing no-pet policies, accompanied by hefty fines of $100 USD or more for “excessive pet hair” in your rental car’s back seat, for example.

    I’ve found to be a really useful travel planning resource for people with pets, as it lists accommodations and other activities that are pet-friendly.

  4. I think people who travel with their dog are horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible people – I can not imagine how traumatizing it must be for a dog to be stuffed in a box and shoved in the belly of a dark airplane for 15 hours… Just so their selfish can have their dog with them in Hawaii.

    Every dog I have ever owned I loved just like any other member of my family – I would never put my sisters 5 year old son in a cargo box and toss him in the cargo hold on a 747, and I sure as heck would never do that to my dog!

    In my humble opinion this is animal abuse

    Shame on anyone that does that!

    • John Paul

      So what do you do if you live in Hawaii for 6 months out of the year? What do you do if you are taking a year off and traveling the world? Do you just give the dog up? And I don’t know about you, but if I was given the opportunity to go to Hawaii for free but had to fly there in the cargo area, I would go ahead and ask for the crate.

  5. NomadicMatt

    @James: While I appreciate the comment, please let us try to keep this civil. Many dogs get carried on planes and i would never go so far as to call these people horrible. I welcome all opinions here on this site as long as they are respectful.

  6. That little furry thing in the picture is ridiculously cute.

    Another plus to traveling with pets might be that some places in the world are incredibly dog-friendly. I”m thinking of France in particular where people bring their dogs everywhere: on the metro, in stores, sometimes even restaurants.

  7. So glad with your success traveling with those big guys with you. Thanks for wonderful tips there, hope we could have a nice travel too with our 60-lb dog..

  8. Jeff

    It is far more difficult to bring a dog to the United Kingdom than this article implies is true for Europe. It is very difficult, expensive, and not for the capricious-hearted.

  9. jesse

    I am the proud owner of a 4lb chihuahua, I am in Hawaii and going to L.A. Coming back to Hawaii I researched and found out the dog could not travel with me and would have to be put with the baggage. Of course I will not put her in the baggage car. I checked with a few other airlines with the same response. Have you any suggestions. I must get back to LA won’t leave Sophia in Hawaii. Can you think of anything
    Thanks Jesse

  10. stella

    i have 2 maltese-together under 25 lbs. they are trained to potty on potty pads and will go in the airplanes bathroom on the pads. they would much rathe go with me than stay at any kennel.
    they love their soft sided cattiers and will sleep in them if i leave them open,lying around the house. remember people, dogs are dennig animals.

  11. It’s what we do! Travel with a small dog (3.5 pound Chihuahua) – in fact our entire blog is dedicated to that one topic. It is so much easier than most people think. The world is really becoming more pet friendly. More airlines, more hotels and even quarantines are starting to lift – including the one for the UK (although you still can’t fly into the UK). There are going to be some hold outs, but I see a shift.

  12. Niki

    I traveled with my 2 lab/mixes to India from US 1.5 years ago. Lufthansa is the best airline for animal transport. They have an animal lounge in Frankfurt. It is a long trip so I took all precautions and did a lot of research. We are now travelling back to US next month. Does anyone know what documents I need for entry into US and if I need any certificate from Indian government? Also is it safe for them to travel in a plane during Dec or Jan? Some airlines don’t allow travel in summer months like May-July. Is there any restriction for winter months? Thank you!

    • Ni

      Hi Niki. My friend wants to take his labradoodle from India to U.S next month. Hope it all went alright for you and would love to know the procedure you guys went through. Thanks!

    • Ursula

      Hi Nikki
      please can you tell me more about bring your 2 dogs to India. Also did you travel around, how was it to find accommodation, as far I know they can’t go into buses and in trains only in the cargo.
      I’m from New Zealand and want to fly my dog to India and then travel overland to Europe and stay there. From NZ it’s very expensive as you have to go via a pet travel agent. Airlines don’t except private bookings. It’s $NZ 2500 one way for a small Labrador. Thou they also say you need a contact person / pet agent in India although I would be in the same plane. Please any information would be great. Thanks Ursula

  13. Thanks and very good information. I think more people would bring their pet on holidays with them but it just is too expensive. We sent a rescued dog from Malta to Madrid. Cost was €1250 with Lufthansa. They looked after the dog very well. There is a lot of paperwork also to travel with the pet. But lets hope the costs come down. And more airlines to also take pets.

    • Hello Fintan,

      I assume your price reflects a dog sent by itself via cargo.
      For people traveling on vacation, their dog can brought as checked luggage. Lufthansa will charge 200Euros for a LARGE dog from Malta to Madrid. Air France, KLM, and Delta all charge this same price also. Pet travel within the European Union is lax, if you get a pet passport.

  14. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips. Traveling with pets is very stressful for both pet and pet owners. But with all your tips, I’m sure it is less stressful. I’m so glad that I found this post.

  15. I am going to visit my best friend who moved to Australia two years ago and I should take my cat with me. I will be away for two weeks and my cat Ann cannot take care of herself, so, she is coming with me. Thank you a lot for sharing this helpful information here! You helped a lot!

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