Your Guide to Pet Passports

Your pet needs a certificate to travel—here's what you need to know.

dachshund on sitting on airplane seat; pet passport
Photo: Luis Velasco / Stocksy / Adobe Stock

Before you decide to add a furry family member to your squad, it's important to consider your lifestyle. Dogs and cats require your time, attention and resources, and you have to budget for all of the planned (and surprise) financial expenses.

If you're a frequent flier to faraway places and want to take your dog along for the ride, they will need a pet passport, just like you. While not all destinations demand this documentation, many do, so make sure you are up-to-date on the latest entry requirements to avoid any hiccups at your destination.

Here's your guide to obtaining a pet passport.

What is a Pet Passport?

You can think of a pet passport like the one you take with you when you venture outside of the country, but it also carries health information. In the United States, we actually don't label it a "pet passport"—that's a term coined by the European Union. According to Brian Bourquin, DVM, the chief medical officer and owner of Boston Veterinary Clinic, a pet passport is what European dogs and cats use to travel between EU member states, and it cannot be used to travel to America.

"In the United States, your dog or cat will need an international health certificate to travel outside of the country," he says. Though it's not called a "pet passport," it's very similar to what the European Union creates for animals.

Bourquin explains that all countries have various requirements for this health certificate, mostly tied to vaccination status and microchipping. In his experience, the islands in the Caribbean are the most strict countries, where it's most challenging to get approved certificates due to vaccine and health requirements. Even traveling to Hawaii from other states comes with strict requirements, including rabies titer tests (because the state is rabies-free).

Generally speaking, if your pet is in good health, up-to-date on all of their vaccinations and able to travel, you can obtain a pet passport or health certificate by following the guidelines for your destination.

Do I Need a Pet Passport?

If you're traveling out of the country, you'll need a pet passport that, in the United States, is called an international travel certificate. This is true if you're going for a quick week-long jaunt or a multi-month stay abroad. "You will need to show an international health certificate if traveling by air, car, or any mode of transportation into a different country with your pet," Bourquin explains.

Also in America, you will need a rabies certificate to cross the border into Canada. When you board a flight to go from one state to the other, you won't need an international health certificate, but you will need to prove your pet is vaccinated against rabies to be able to board the plane. Some states have special requirements, so it's still important to check with your vet. You may need a domestic health certificate for some interstate travel.

What Are the Requirements for a Pet Passport?

1. Vet-Signed Health Certificate

Bourquin explains that you need a USDA-accredited veterinarian in the United States to sign your pet's international travel certificate.

In America, Bourquin says veterinarians write international health certificates for U.S. pets to travel internationally for personal or commercial use. "There are domestic health travel certificates for air travel, as well, depending on where you are going that you will need to secure."

2. Recent Vet Appointment

For all travel certificates, your dog or cat has to be seen in the last 30 days by a veterinarian, so it's not something you can book on the fly.

"Before embarking on a new adventure, make sure to do your research and plan because depending on the country you're traveling to, your pet may need particular vaccines and a visit to the vet for a wellness check," he explains.

How Much Is a Pet Passport?

Bourquin says there is likely a fee of approximately $60–$100 for an EU pet passport and an additional fee for international health certificates (this fee is often based on how complicated the process is).

You should also expect to pay a processing fee that varies by state. For example, in Massachusetts, he explains you have to FedEx your certificate to Albany, NY, because there is no USDA-certified veterinarian in the state of MA. This will vary state-to-state.

Some regions have special requirements for testing and/or vaccination, so you'll need to budget for those costs as well.

How to Get a Pet Passport

1. Schedule a Vet Appointment

The first step is to book a visit with your veterinarian far ahead of your departure date. "Some clinics do not offer this service, so plan far ahead," Dr. Bourquin advises. "Ask your veterinarian if they can see your pet and provide an international health certificate weeks—if not a month—before you leave."

2. Research Entry Requirements

Go the extra mile and be prepared with all of the specific information on pet-entry requirements for the country you will be traveling to. This will not only make the process easier, but it'll avoid any mishaps that could delay your adventure with your furry buddy. The USDA has detailed the necessary steps and requirements on their website.

There are several companies that offer pet travel services for an additional fee. They work with you and your vet to ensure all health and documentation requirements are met and scheduled appropriately. Some pet parents choose this option when they are traveling to places with complicated requirements.

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