How to Fly Internationally with a Dog

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How to fly internationally with a dog | Long Haul Trekkers

No one want to fly internationally with a dog. It’s not fun. It’s a lot of work and it’s stressful for both human and the dog. Different airlines have different requirements for pet travel. Plus, it can be pricey, depending on the size of your dog.

I’ll never understand why the sub-two-year-old behind me screaming itself into exorcism can travel for free, yet I have to pay $300 to put my dog in a box and travel at the bottom of a plane, but that’s the way it is.

Sora has flown with us on three separate occasions on two different airlines (Lufthansa and LAN). Since each airline has different rules, we are unable to provide universal information, but the guidelines below should help get you started.


Talk to Your Vet

Before taking your dog on a plane, check with your vet to ensure that your dog is in good enough health to fly. Also know that some dog breeds, like pugs and other snub-nosed breed are not permitted to fly due to their body mechanics that cause respiratory failures.

Flying internationally with a dog requires specific paperwork from your veterinarian.

Sora visiting our veterinarian at home in Portland before heading to Oslo.

Country Requirements

The most frequently asked question we receive from people about traveling internationally with a dog is whether we had to place her in quarantine, and for how long. It seems a common misconception that when one travels with a dog that it must face a quarantine period.

Fortunately, for those of us who wish to take their pups along on their travels, only a handful countries require quarantine. Rabies-free nations generally impose the quarantine period. Depending on the origin of the country (meaning the country from which your dog enters, not the country where your dog resides with you pre-travel), rabies-free nations may deny entry if you enter from a nation with high incidents of rabies.

Many, but not all countries require the following:

  • ISO microchip (which is a different frequency than the chips used in the United States)
  • Recent rabies vaccination (where rabies vaccinations last 3 years in the US, we’ve found that most countries require annual shots)
  • Blood titer test in some cases
  • Tick and tapeworm treatments administered a certain number of hours prior to entry
  • Health certificates administered by your veterinarian no more than 10 days prior to entry
  • Government Export Paperwork from the country of origin (Department of Agriculture or USDA equivalent)
  • Pet Passport, if available otherwise paper certificates

This all sounds like a lot, and initially it is, but once you’ve gone through the process once, you have most of what you need to take your pup to other countries. The most important thing to remember is to look ahead at where you will be traveling and understand the entry requirements for each individual country. Pet Travel is a great place to start, but always supplement the information by going to the destination country’s pet import policies and emailing the right contacts.

You will be given a phone and fax number to call and fax your notice of entry to the airport veterinarians who will check your dog’s credentials after the flight. Make this phone call 24 hours before you land.


Working with the Airline

Call your airline before booking your flight to understand their rules about pets and ensure that your dog will be allowed on that particular flight. Airlines can only accommodate a few animals per flight, so you want to get your request in early. Ask if the cargo area is air-conditioned. This is essential to your dog’s health.

Lufthansa requires a minimum three-hour layover with those traveling with dogs as cargo. Be sure to check your individual airline’s rules about dogs and layovers. During the layover, the staff take animals to a dog area where they are walked, fed, given water, and go to the bathroom in between flights.

Also keep in mind that airlines enforce temperature restrictions and will not fly with a dog if the forecasted temperature exceeds 85℉ or drops below 45℉. It’s best to find a flight that arrives early in the morning or late at night.

Once you’ve booked your flight, call again and make sure they know that you will be bringing a dog on board. You can never call them too often.

Kennel

Airlines have very specific requirements for kennels, depending on the size of your dog. Make sure to follow these guidelines exactly. They can refuse your dog if the kennel does not meet their guidelines. Lufthansa has a great PDF that specifies the exact rules for flying with your dog. Make sure to go over this a few times before and leading up to your departure.

Lufthansa and LAN required water and feeding bowls attached to the inside of the kennel. These can purchased online or at your local pet store and secure to the kennel with hooks or bolts.

Flying internationally with a dog requires water and food bowl attachments.

We also ensured Sora felt safe in her kennel leading up to our flight. We purchased the kennel a week before departure, and fed her inside the kennel so she would associate the kennel with being a positive place. It’s not much different than crate training. We also lined the kennel with her favorite dog bed and topped her bed with puppy pads in case she needed to relieve herself during the flight.

Bed lining for flying internationally with a dog

We lined the inside of Sora’s kennel with her dog bed, topped with a couple puppy pads.

As for the kennel itself, make sure to purchase one that is International Air Transport Association (IATA) certified. These kennels are designed for flying and met all the criteria. Don’t purchase a random kennel off Craigslist and think you can fly with it. The kennel must meet specific rules to ensure the dog’s safety. We found IATA to be the best place for helpful information on kennels and country-specific rules.


When purchasing the kennel, measure your dog according to the IATA sizes and choose the kennel size that best fits your dog. The kennel sizes run in 4 categories and are standardized based on size. You can find the size needed by using the Guidance for Dimensions of Container at IATA.

IATA kennel diagram shows dimensions for flying internationally with a dog

The IATA provides all the information you need to find the correct kennel.

Kennels can be expensive, we won’t sugar coat it. It seems a waste to purchase a one-time use kennel, but finding a rental is tough, especially if you’re only flying one-way. We found that buying one in advance online saved nearly 50% than going to the corner pet store. Just make sure to measure your pet in advance to know the correct size.

Buying Recommendation: Buy a kennel that is well known for quality and is approved for airlines. We like the Dexas Collapsible Travel Bowl as it has wheels on the bottom which are fantastic for pushing the kennel through the airport. 

We also suggest lining the kennel with puppy pads and a dog bed. We like the basic no-frills puppy pads (no need to spend a lot of money as they’re all the same) and highly recommend the Kurgo Loft Wander bed as it fits inside kennels well.  

Food and Water

Flying on a full stomach might upset your pup, so it is recommended not to feed your pet more than four hours prior to the flight. Continue to give your dog water leading up to takeoff, and make sure to give him a walk outside the terminal before heading through security to make sure he’s eliminated as much as possible.

Buying Recommendation: Bring along a small portable water bowl so your pup has access to water at any time. We love both the Kurgo Zippy Bowl and the Dexas Collapsible Travel Bowl.

Takeoff

Don’t be afraid to ask the staff at the gate to check on the status of your dog. We asked before each flight to ensure Sora made it onto the plane, as well as after we landed in Frankfurt for a layover.

Be sure to let the captain and the flight attendants know that you are traveling with your dog in cargo, so they are aware in case anything goes wrong with equipment like air conditioning or cabin pressure during the flight.


Landing

On our particular flight, Sora came out on the conveyor belt with the rest of the luggage. Resist the urge to let your dog out until you have cleared customs, airport staff will tell you to just put her back in the kennel. Your dog will likely be scared, overwhelmed, and disoriented. Give the dog some calming verbal praise and if your dog is food motivated, a few dog treats through their kennel.

At customs, they will ask for all of your paperwork, stamp it all, and then hopefully you’ll be on your way. Once outside of the airport doors, let that pup out to go potty and do some down dogs!

Buying Recommendation: Having a treat pouch ready is key to being ale to reward your dog positively. We like the Kurgo Go Stuff-It Dog Treat Bag as the carabiner can clip to your pants. 

Have you had to fly internationally with a dog ? What tips would you add to this list?

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23 Comments

  1. Ahh really useful information! I’m going to be settled in Russia for a while from May and I’m considering getting a dog when I’m there and then travelling with him/her, but haven’t been sure if it’s fair. I’m partly motivated by your instagram to think that it’s possible though…

    Do you know if some airlines allow smaller dogs in with carry on, or are they always required to go in the hold?

    • Sorry for the delayed reply Amelia – have been without WiFi for a very long time! How lovely that you’re thinking of getting a dog!

      I think the “is it fair” part really depends on the dog. For Sora, travel has helped her with some behavioral issues tremendously. She used to be very nervous around new people and now she loves being pet by new friends. If your dog is highly active and you know that traveling won’t allow you to devote the time he needs for exercise, then yes, perhaps it is unfair, but in our experience and in the experience of others with whom we have spoken, our dogs are quite happy to be with us 24/7.

      As far as small dogs on planes, I think the general rule is that dogs weighting under 8kg/15lb are permitted on board the plane in a carrier.

      • 8kg is a pretty small dog!

        • Right? I’ve taken cats that weigh more than that on a plane. It probably all depends, but I think what is really more important is that the animal can turn around in his carrier. If your dog weights 10kg and can stand up and turn around, they probably won’t say anything. But don’t hold me to that!! 🙂

          • Hello! I thought I’d chime in, as I travel internationally with a small dog (that’s what my website is about). I agree that initially, it is a pain to get your dog international-ready, but once you do it, you have a much better idea of what to do the next time, and the whole process is much smoother.
            I personally would be a wreck the entire plane flight if I had a dog below the plane (plus it can get very expensive), so I chose to rescue a small dog that could fly in-cabin with me. He is 17 lb (~8kg) and does great! Traveling (and preparing for traveling) has really helped with his social skills. And yes, he is about the size of a large cat.
            I grew up with large dogs and never thought I could deal with a small dog, but he has been a wonderful surprise in how capable and adaptable he is. There are a ton of plusses to traveling with a small dog, like not having to pay for train/bus/ferry tickets if he travels in his carrier. If you are looking at dogs, I’d recommend looking at smaller ones – there are plenty out there that make amazing pets! Good luck!

          • Thanks so much for chiming in, Elena. I will have to check out your website!

            It’s definitely stressful to have Sora below, completely out of our control. Having a small dog certainly has its perks in terms of air travel (plus, your right, it’s muuuuuuuch cheaper, much, much cheaper). I can see how traveling with a small dog would make things infinitely easier – like you, I have had an aversion to small dogs, and also have come to learn that it all depends on the dog. Dogs of all sizes are lovable.

          • Nice to meet you! Yes, I had my reservations, but, as you said, it depends a lot on the dog, and on training the dog. Unfortunately, the reason why a lot of them are so badly behaved is because people treat them differently than they do large dogs (though, of course, there are some dogs that are just difficult!). Because of this I was determined that my dog be well-behaved!

            Glad traveling has helped with Sora’s behavioral issues! It’s wonderful how travel can helps humans and dogs alike!

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  3. Hello! quick question: if you have a small dog and bring him in the airplane cabin with you what do you do if he needs to potty after a long international flight and you have another layover? I know that if you check the pet as cargo the staff will let them out to potty but if you have your pet in the cabin with you what do you do in that situation?

  4. Hi,
    We are traveling from San Diego to Israel with our German Shepherd this summer.
    Do you think a non-stop flight would be less stressful than a day or two layover in New York, and then continuing non-stop to Tel Aviv?

    • Hi Ruvi, that’ll be a long flight with your pup! I personally think a layover will be better for your dog. That will give him/her the opportunity to stretch and have a bathroom break.

      Definitely talk to your vet for advice as well. Find a travel vet and see what they suggest, as they are experts on this topic.

  5. Hi. How is the process of reentry into the states? I am planning a trip to japan for 2 and a half weeks and hopefully will take our dog, but I want to make sure we dont get caught up on reentry.

    On the entry side it seems like we will be faced with a 12 hr quarantine. Do you know if that is generally a tramatic experience or are they well taken care of?

    Best
    Ryan

    • The US was easy peasy. Coming from Colombia, we had to get updated rabies, flea and tick, and heartworm, plus have the vet certify that she did not have screw worm. We needed a health certificate from a local vet, plus one from the government agriculture department (UDSA equivalent). They didn’t ask any questions or for her paperwork upon entry. We haven’t had to put Sora in quarantine, but 12 isn’t that long compared to others. I’m sure your pup will be scared and wondering what’s going on. Call ahead of time and ask what it’s like for them. See if you can include a toy or blanket so that he feels more comfortable and has a reminder of something familiar.

      I’ll be interested to know how it goes, as we are thinking of Japan as a future destination! Good luck!

  6. This was so helpful! I want to travel a lot but recently got an emotional support pet!

    • Oh good! I’m so glad it could be of help for you. Sora is also an ESA, so if you have questions about that, feel free to reach out.

  7. hi! i’m taking my emotional support dog on a long flight from israel to pittsburgh and i was wondering what to do about the potty situation since she will be sitting in the cabin (and we do have a layover in iceland).

    • Hi Sarah. The potty situation is tricky as it can be a long flight for dogs. Here is our usual approach:

      * Make sure the dog goes potty outside the departing airport. Don’t pass security too early before the flight as the dog will have wait even longer. We try and give ourselves enough time without having the run or feel stressed, but still minimizing the wait time.
      * At layovers, we research in advance if there is an indoor potty area for dogs. If so, we take Sora there, time permitting. If not, we carry puppy pads. The goal is to try and get Sora to go inside the airport and we quickly wipe up the pee with the pads. We have trained her to know the command “go potty” so that she understands we are asking her to do this. We can coach you on how to do this if you’re unfamiliar. I’ll note that Sora refused to go one time and we knew she had to go, so I found a low traffic area of the Frankfurt airport and started jogging with her. That got her to go.
      * On the plane, we absolutely don’t let her go potty. That is where an ESA and you can get into some trouble.
      * Lastly, do not give your dog a lot of water. Yes, you can give a little as you don’t want dehydration, but the goal is not to pee.

      So in short, it’s all about the puppy pads and minimizing your timing. Any flights over 12 hours is a deal breaker for us and most airlines won’t let you bring a dog on a flight for that long.

      Have you read this on bringing an ESA to Iceland? http://www.icelandair.us/information/special-assistance/travelling-with-pets/

      The requirements are strict and I would make sure you have everything figured out in advance. For example, what happens if your flight is delayed past 3 hours? Or your flight is cancelled?

      Does that answer your question?

      -dave

  8. Hi! I stumbled on this blog while preparing to fly internationally with my dog, Perrie. She’s a 6lb Pomeranian who flies in-cabin. I have a few questions–we’ve flown with her before, but this is our first time heading abroad!

    Our final destination is Albania (TIA) and we’ve got two layovers: one in Ontario (45 mins), and one in Istanbul (4 hrs). Flying from DFW, and our longest flight is about 10 hrs.

    1. She’s an ESA- even though she flies for free in the US, I went ahead and bought her a ticket for our flight(s) abroad, just to be safe. She’ll be wearing her vest, though, and we have her ID card on her bag–does her ESA documentation need to be translated? I’m not so worried about Albania, since we’re both fluent speakers and have family there, but our layovers in Canada and Turkey concern me.

    2. None of the countries we’re going to are part of the EU, so I’m not quite sure what ‘passport’ she needs. I’ve already scheduled the vet appt for her health certificate, and she’s ISO microchipped/up to date on rabies w/ documentation, but I’m not sure what else she needs documentation wise. Again, not so concerned about entering/leaving Albania, but I’ve never flown in/out of Istanbul before. Will she need a specific ‘pet passport’ for Turkey, even if it’s just a short layover? (Less than 4 hours)

    3. In your experience, how has getting through customs been while abroad? Do you show Sora’s ESA paperwork? Do agents ask many questions?

    Thanks in advance for all your help!!! We’re flying Turkish Airlines if that helps at all…our trip is coming up quickly, and as excited as everyone in Albania is to see Perrie, we’re all pretty nervous about the journey!

    • Hi Bee,

      Loads of great questions. I’ll do my best to help out with the answers.

      1. She’s an ESA- even though she flies for free in the US, I went ahead and bought her a ticket for our flight(s) abroad, just to be safe. She’ll be wearing her vest, though, and we have her ID card on her bag–does her ESA documentation need to be translated? I’m not so worried about Albania, since we’re both fluent speakers and have family there, but our layovers in Canada and Turkey concern me.

      We have not had the documents translated. However, it really depends on the country you’re going to for connections. For example, our flight to Europe via the US would recognize Sora as being an ESA, however, we’ve been told (and the rules changed after our last flight) that any further connections would require her to them fly cargo as it depends on your departure country and final destination.

      2. None of the countries we’re going to are part of the EU, so I’m not quite sure what ‘passport’ she needs. I’ve already scheduled the vet appt for her health certificate, and she’s ISO microchipped/up to date on rabies w/ documentation, but I’m not sure what else she needs documentation wise. Again, not so concerned about entering/leaving Albania, but I’ve never flown in/out of Istanbul before. Will she need a specific ‘pet passport’ for Turkey, even if it’s just a short layover? (Less than 4 hours)

      You don’t need a Passport. It’s just a book that keeps all your paperwork handy and by no means a requirement. You can simply have all the health records with you and present them. You’ll need to make sure you dog has all the appropriate shots for your final destination, in this case Turkey. So you should double check their requirements. There are plenty of websites that can also tell you the information, but it’s best to check with the government website(s).

      3. In your experience, how has getting through customs been while abroad? Do you show Sora’s ESA paperwork? Do agents ask many questions?

      It’s been fairly easy for us. Most of the time the customs agents are curious and love your story, but it really can depend on the person and how their day is going. I wouldn’t worry too much, people fly with dogs all the time. It’s not like you’re traveling with your pet crocodile.

      -dave

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