Traveling Abroad with Pets

Are you moving abroad and want to take pets with you? Learn from the mistakes I made when trying to bring my cat to Germany with us.

First of all, our cat Penny is from Germany and we brought her to the U.S. with us in 2009 when we moved back here. I remember taking her to a vet in Germany and getting her a micro-chip and a passport – that’s right, in the E.U. pets that travel are issued passports (called Heimtier-Ausweis in German). We booked her on our flight with Delta and we brought her over. Unfortunately I did not make note of how much this cost at the time, but I don’t remember it being exorbitant. I remember how stressed I was leaving her to board the plane, I was wracked with guilt for what I was putting her through. During our layover in Chicago I had to pick her up at baggage claim and go through customs where they made me remove her from her crate so they could search it and then I had to re-check her and say goodbye again. It was difficult but it worked and although she seemed scared when we finally arrived in Phoenix, she recovered quickly.

Penny as a kitten
Penny as a kitten

Here we were seven years later moving back to Germany and of course leaving Penny behind wasn’t an option for us.

We assumed that bringing a pet would be like it was the last time. Then we started researching the requirements. What do you need before your pet can travel with you to Germany?

Requirements for bringing a cat to Germany:

  • Micro-chip – ISO compliant
  • Current rabies shot – must be after the animal is chipped & must be administered at least 21 days prior to travel
  • Pets returning to the EU with a valid EU Pet Passport do NOT need a clinical examination
  • EU Health Certificate – issued by a USDA certified veterinarian, only valid for 10 days
  • USDA APHIS Endorsement of EU Health Certificate
  • Crate regulations – check the size regulations for the airline you take – we were forced to purchase a larger one

Mistake #1: Booking with British Airways

We have flown multiple times with British Airways and are in their miles program. It turns out, British Airways outsources pet travel to another company: IAG Cargo. Instead of costing a couple hundred dollars like other airlines, they wanted to charge us $847 to ship our cat. And this was just an estimate they gave me with literally no guarantee they could book her. They told me I couldn’t book her until two weeks before my departure. Talk about stressful! It’s not fun being unsure whether your pet can travel with you until two weeks before a big move. When I contacted them two weeks before my departure they said NO to every day I tried to request because she would arrive in Berlin outside of normal business hours (M-F 9-5) and nobody would be there to receive her. Obviously we were really mad at ourselves for not looking into this before booking with British Airways. I tried several times to reach out to them to get help in booking the flight for her but they continued to be very unaccommodating.

Finally, I decided I was done dealing with IAG Cargo and I opted to pay a ridiculous amount of money to cancel my flight with British airways and re-book with a different airline. Mind you, this was still cheaper than paying the price IAG Cargo quoted me!

I booked a new flight for myself with Scandinavian airlines.

Mistake #2: Not double-checking what the vet was doing

I scheduled an appointment with the vet and told them ahead of time what I needed. We came in 21 days prior to travel to get an updated rabies shot for Penny. No physical examination was necessary since she has a valid EU Pet Passport. I talked to someone there who had experience doing the health certificate and sounded competent so I felt I could relax a bit. I gave them all my information and scheduled an appointment to come get the paperwork exactly 10 days before I would travel.  You can’t get the health certificate until 10 days prior to your pet’s arrival in Germany, but you also need it endorsed by the USDA within that short time frame. Depending on where you live, this could be simple or very complicated. Naturally, for me it was complicated! The only USDA office that serves Arizona is in Albuquerque, so this meant I would have to ship the health certificate to them by air bill with a prepaid return air bill included. They say that their normal turnover on Health Certificates is 48 hours so I needed this all to happen with only five or six business days before I departed.

This gorilla in Albuquerque was flipping me the bird

The day I came in to the vet for my appointment was on a Friday and I was about to leave town for the weekend. I expected them to have the paperwork ready to hand to me so I could hurry it off to be mailed to Albuquerque. Instead I was quite horrified when they asked me for my airline, my layovers and my destination address, then told me I could pick it up when it was finished at the end of the day. This was not what I expected and I thought it was clear from our communications that I would pick up a completed health certificate that morning. Apparently not!

I tried to contain my rage and went home to think about what I would do next. I counted the days on the calendar and was really not feeling good about trusting the mail and the USDA to return the health certificate to me in five business days.

Then I suddenly had an idea: I looked up the driving distance from Phoenix to Albuquerque – about seven hours. If I drove there and handed them the Health Certificate in person, I would at least be able to take things into my own hands instead of worrying all week about it arriving on time.

I called my vet and told them I would pick up the health certificate on Monday, then I called the USDA in Albuquerque and made an appointment for Tuesday.

I drove all night to get to my 9am appointment with the USDA in Albuquerque and when I arrived, my jaw dropped to the floor, “Your vet didn’t fill out this entire page and they did this page wrong,” the guy said to me. He called up my vet and chewed out the poor girl on the phone and told them to fax over the corrections and then he told me to “go out and enjoy Albuquerque”.

I took his advice and wandered around the zoo for a bit until he called to tell me that the vet had faxed over the corrected and completed forms and that the Health Certificate was ready for me to pick up. I spent 14 hours driving and about 4 hours in Albuquerque waiting, but it was better than sitting on pins and needles all week!

Penny is angry in Newark

Mistake #3: Booking a flight that is operated by more than one airline

The new flight I booked was with United from Phoenix to Newark and with Scandinavian airlines to Oslo and then Berlin. I thought I would be able to book my cat just with Scandinavian airlines but instead I had to book my cat separately with both United and Scandinavian airlines. That meant two separate fees and two different sets of requirements for her kennel (United had the stricter kennel requirements – they want the kennels to be very large). It also meant that I had to collect Penny in Newark and re-check her with Scandinavian Airlines. This took about three hours, luckily my layover was long enough!

At this point I was expecting pretty much everything to go wrong, but upon arriving in Berlin I was delighted to see that all of my luggage and my cat had arrived. I was all alone with two large suitcases, a carry on, and a cat crate so I struggled to drag it all over to the customs officer and then with trepidation, held out my paperwork for him to look it over.

“Why don’t you get a cart for all your bags?” he asked me in German.

“Uh…I don’t have any change.”

He shook his head at me and went into his office, then he came back with a plastic coin, got me a cart and helped me load everything on to it.

He helped me push it through the doors into the lobby and then he said:

“Don’t leave your baggage alone, there are thieves.”

And then he walked away.


So there you have it, my story had a happy ending, if you don’t add up all the expenses and the years of my life shaved off from stress…

Cost of transporting Penny back to Germany:

  • New regulation-sized crate: $47.99 (we bought this one)
  • Rabies shot valid for 1 year: $29.99
  • Office Visit: $49.50
  • EU Health certificate: $150
  • APHIS Endorsement: $38
  • Air Bill:
  • IAG Cargo:
  • Fee to cancel British Airways flight: ridiculous
  • Cost of one road trip to Albuquerque: my sanity

Total Cost: I’d really rather not even calculate it!

All this mess for a barn kitty
All this stress for a barn kitty

You may be asking yourself, why did you go to all this trouble and expense for a stupid little barn cat anyway? And the answer is because we are stupid and we love her.  In my opinion, when you make an animal a part of your family and something like an international move comes up you don’t really have a choice!

I hope that you have a much better experience than I did traveling with a pet internationally and that by sharing my mistakes, I will help others avoid making them.

Please remember to research the requirements thoroughly for your airline and destination – below are some links that will help you.


Find out the requirements for taking your pet from the U.S. to a different foreign country

Find an accredited veterinarian 

Find your local APHIS Veterinary Services Endorsement Office

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