How to Move Your Pet Overseas: It's... Complicated, Y'all
Updated: Jan 26, 2022
Coming in hot this week with a Very. Practical. Post. but it's a question my husband and I have been asked constantly since moving to Lithuania: how the heck did we move our dog overseas from America?
And that, my friends, deserves a high quality response - because it's a pretty daunting process. Some of this information will obviously be specific to Lithuania, but much of it will be relevant to anyone making a big move with their furry friend(s). Big thanks to The Scientist for his assistance with, well, most of these steps. And also a big thanks to Audrey for being such a good sport with all of it - here's a cute transport photo of her to illuminate the whole process. So, grab a mug of arbata or kava and let's get down to it!
Get your pet microchipped. Okay, you heard me, but not just any microchip - it needs to be a 15-digit microchip. If yours is not, I recommend just getting a new one. And if you can, get a print-out of your pet's microchip information from the website. Honestly, I'd even recommend investing in a three ring binder just for pet documents. You'll thank me later...
Get your pet vaccinated for rabies at least 21 days before you leave. This needs to be done AFTER microchipping - you want to ensure it doesn't expire before you arrive in your new home country. And because we're all cute here, get a print-out of the rabies document and put it in that folder. This document should include: the vaccination date; the expiration date; vaccine type; vaccine lot number; your information; your pet's information; your vet's information, including their signature.
Get an IATA-compliant crate. Not all crates are approved, so I'd stick with the ones that are truly compliant. Even these will need the plastic bolts exchanged for metal ones (next step). Crates will need to be a certain size (y'all ready?): twice as wide as your pet, as long as your pet from nose to tuchus, plus half the distance from their foot bottom to belly, and as tall as them while standing upright with their ears perked up. (It's... complicated.) Some breeds have even more extensive requirements, so be sure to research for your specific pet. Our pet is a greyhound with unusually long features, so, ... my husband just built her crate. No big deal. He just does things like that.
Purchase and install the appropriate stickers, padding, and bolts on the crate. They may come with the crate; otherwise, here's a helpful link.
Call your airline of choice to find flights that can accommodate your pet. As a warning, you'll be working against cargo size, the number of pets allowed on a plane, and layovers - but you'll find the right flight! We went with Lufthansa because of their high standards and positive reviews interacting with pets.
Book your tickets, and then call the airline again to add your pet to your itinerary. Lufthansa didn't have us pay over the phone, but we did have to provide Audrey's dimensions from Step 3 for our agent.
Get the health certificate document for your country, and fill out as much information as possible. This is not absolutely necessary, but it increases the chance that your USDA vet will agree to complete the document in the next step. So, not a bad idea. This is the link for the Lithuanian document - just change the country name in the URL to match whichever country you're headed to. This is important, y'all - it ensures that the document will be written in English and the language of your new country. We were able to complete fields [I.1, I.5, I.18, I.20, I.28, II.3 and III].
Go to a USDA-accredited vet to complete the health certificate - within 10 days before you arrive in your new country. Not all vets are accredited, so find one here. The truth is this: not all vets will want to go through the paperwork effort to submit the health certificate, so make sure you are explicit about the purpose of the visit before arriving. You should absolutely bring those microchip and rabies document print-outs. They'll most likely want to submit the health certificate digitally at this link, and should also provide you a copy of the printed certificate. (You know where it goes!) Make sure the certificate includes: the vet's information; date; signature at the end of section II (page 6 on ours). Take a sip of tea before the next step. Okay, moving on.
Send the certificate to/from USDA-APHIS for stamps of approval. Find the appropriate location for your state at this link. You'll need to send the health certificate, microchip document, rabies vaccination document, and a self-addressed return envelope to the APHIS office. We recommend doing FedEx Overnight delivery for both directions, since you'll have very little time to complete this process. You'll appreciate the wiggle-room in case you come across any errors.
Confirm that APHIS filled out the remaining fields in the certificate (I.2, I.3, I.4, and II.a (on pages 2-6; should include a number, stamp, and signature). They should also have included their information: name; date; signature; stamp on their section at the end of section II (again, on page 6).
Before you know it, it'll be time to leave the country! Feed and water your pet(s) about 3.5 hours before departure, and ensure they have the proper amount of food and water for the trip.
Bring your pet to the airport in their crate, plus all of the above documents to check in between 2-3 hours before take-off. Be sure the crate door is zip-tied shut on each side! The airline will have a specific person come out to confirm you've met the requirements. (This part made me super anxious, but it should go smoothly if you've followed the crate rules.) Then, they'll likely have your pet taken to a specific area to pass through their own bag check. They're the bag, ha. And then, finally, you say goodbye to your pet for the plane ride there, and promise them twenty treats on the other side.
Is this a lot? Yes! But it's super important to get it done correctly if you want everything to go smoothly. I'd be having a completely different experience in Vilnius if my dog weren't here with me, so it's worth it. But, it's a lot of work to compile in the right time frame. Trust me, I know! Hopefully, this list is helpful for my fellow intrepid travelers with furry friends.
I will say this, before we part ways: Once we arrived in Lithuania, we were expecting to pick Audrey up from some specialized pet area. ... Nope! She came out on the conveyor belt with all the other bags. I was stuck somewhere between amused and confused, but we had to act fast! So, we muscled our super-excited dog and her handmade crate off the belt, instead of watching her pass us by with all the other luggage. So, here's a hot tip: look out for that when you enter your final destination. You're welcome. ;)
Until next time - viso gero! With love from Vilnius...