Pets on Planes

“If they can’t come with us, we’re not going,” my partner and I agreed: If our three Miniature Schnauzers – our children, now that our biological one was grown – couldn’t travel with us and be allowed entry into the EU, we wouldn’t follow our hearts and minds to Portugal and Spain … much as we were distraught and disillusioned with what has been happening in the United States.

That meant not only would we expect our dogs to fly in the cabin with us – not the cargo hold – for all three flights from Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Madrid, Spain … but it also presumed that they would be allowed to pass through Immigration in Spain and then into Portugal without any beastly requirements.

Bringing our furry family members with us would become the most complex and frustrating part of making a new home on the other side of the big pond.

The “kids,” as we refer to them, had lived with us in Florida, Wisconsin, and Virginia. But whenever we traveled to our vacation bolt in southern Spain, we’d leave them at home with carefully vetted pet-sitters.

Now, our future depended on them being there with us.

Fortunately, due to our own personal maladies, the dogs were qualified as “service” animals with the airlines. Unfortunately, there are three of them and only two of us.

American Airlines was the only carrier that would allow two people to bring three designated service dogs aboard … and that was only after (working with our travel agent) we completed their forms, had medical testimonies vouchsafed by our doctors and submitted to the airlines, and were interrogated in telephone interviews by airline officials.

We qualified and our dogs were approved to travel with us!

But that just covered their transportation. Getting them into the European Union was another matter that would require entirely different documents and protocols.

They’re called “pet passports” in the EU. But they’re issued only once you’re inside the EU. Emigrating from the United States, one needs to complete a reasonable facsimile – an official EU Health Certificate – specific to the language and place of entry. For us, that was Spanish, as our entry to the EU would be through Madrid’s Barajas airport.

The eight-page bilingual document, requiring a separate 22-page set of instructions for completing it, attests that each of the named and described dogs has received a state-of-the-art microchip (manufacturer’s name and number identified) followed by a new rabies shot (with batch number and effective dates identified). It had to be filled out by a USDA-accredited veterinarian and then certified by the appropriate United States Department of Agriculture office in our state.

Was our vet USDA-accredited?

“Darned if I know,” Dr. Randy laughed. “I’m certified by the American Veterinary Association and by the Wisconsin Veterinary Association. Does that count?”

Nope. He had to be USDA-accredited.

Try finding the USDA office in your state specifically charged with handling documentation for pets traveling abroad. It took us two weeks through a variety of sources and referrals to find that USDA office in Madison, Wisconsin.

The amiable USDA rep who helped us deal with the process confirmed that Dr. Randy was, in fact, USDA-accredited and advised us to have him inject the microchips and rabies shots between three and four weeks before we traveled, and to go back and have him sign all the paperwork ten days before leaving. We were then to send the docs via overnight mail from our city to the USDA’s office in Madison ($50) and to enclose a postage-paid return overnight envelope (another $50) so that, theoretically, we’d have them in hand a week before our travel. Apart from the vet costs, we’d need to pay the USDA’s $38 certification fee.

Signed, sealed, and delivered!

Our dogs were ready to enter the European Union, traveling with us as passengers aboard our American Airlines flights.

We arrived early the next morning in Madrid, not knowing who – or where – we’d be asked to show the dogs’ docs. Not the customs agent who stamped our passports. Nor the immigration agent whose station we needed to pass through after retrieving our luggage.

Just as we were about to leave the airport building for the rental car area, a man dashed out of an adjoining vestibule. “The paperwork, please, for the dogs,” he asked in Spanish.

We handed over our new, eight pages of documentation.

He looked only at one page, bypassing every sheet of paper with the dates and signatures and certifications. Of interest to him only were the microchips, which he waved over each dog with a wand to confirm that the numbers listed on our papers agreed with the numbers shown on the wand.

They did.

It was a long, complicated, and exacting trip that lasted some 18 hours with our dogs.

Would we do it all over again if the need be?

You bet we would!

How can you begin a new life in another country without your “family” … even if they’ve got four legs and fur?

Considering traveling with your pets on a plane? Here are links to the pet policies of several airlines that fly directly between the USA and Portugal or Spain:

American Airlines:

Delta Airlines:

United Airlines:

British Airways:…/travel-assist…/travelling-with-pets

Iberia Airlines:

TAP Air Portugal:

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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