The International Pet

Moving your pet abroad is sometimes complicated

International travel is a fact of life for many on Capitol Hill. Whether it’s for the State Department, the Armed Forces, or just for personal reasons, moving overseas also means bringing our pets along. And this can be surprisingly complicated. Sometimes it takes more paperwork to bring a pet into a country than a person!  Hopefully I can provide some helpful tips to make this experience a little less stressful.

The best advice I can give is plan ahead! Almost every problem I have encountered over the years comes down to timing. Common problems include a test that needs to be done but is going to take weeks to come back from the lab, a vaccine that was needed at least 30 days before departure but the pet is leaving in a week, or a form that needs to be endorsed by the USDA but the pet is traveling the next day. Planning ahead can prevent a lot of headaches.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that there are no universal international travel requirements for cats and dogs. Every nation makes their own rules. No matter where you are traveling to, it helps to check with that nation’s consulate for specific travel requirements. The consulate is the definitive authority on requirements for travel with your pet into their nation.

Another important and helpful resource is the regional USDA APHIS Veterinary Service office in Richmond, Virginia (804-343-2560). This office serves DC, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. They have experience and familiarity with pet travel to most nations and can often provide specific guidance. They also have a website ( that lists known requirements for many nations. Just remember, the nation’s consulate is still the definitive authority.

Many, but not all, nations require dogs and cats to have a microchip. Unfortunately, many microchips sold in the U.S. are not on the international (referred to ISO) standard. The Bayer ResQ chip used at AtlasVet is on this standard, but many others or not. If your pet already has a non-ISO chip, it may have to have a second one put in!

A current rabies vaccination is required just about everywhere. The European Union (EU) requires that a rabies vaccine must be given after an ISO microchip is placed. If the vaccine was done before the microchip was put in, the vaccine must be repeated. Some countries require the rabies vaccine be given at least 30 days but no more than one year before the travel date. The need for other vaccinations, such as distemper, parvovirus, and leptospirosis vary widely. Many nations have no specific requirements for these vaccinations, while a few require uncommon vaccines that may need to be special ordered for your pet.

A few countries require specific blood tests before pets can enter the country. The most common is the rabies titer, which verifies that the pet has been properly vaccinated and is protected against rabies. It takes 4-5 weeks to get results from a rabies titer test, and some nations will not allow pets to travel into the country until 6 months after the rabies titer is done, so make sure to plan ahead to make sure everything goes smoothly. A few other nations, primarily in Africa, require some other unusual tests before travel. It is worth noting that Hawaii, while obviously not international travel, does require a rabies titer and a 6 month waiting period because it is an island state and is rabies free.

Of course, a health certificate issued by an accredited veterinarian will be needed. The standard form is the USDA APHIS form 7001, commonly referred to as the international health certificate. This is usually required to be dated within 10 days of the travel date, but requirements vary from as little as 5 days to as many as 30 days. Your pet must have a complete physical exam on the date the certificate is issued, so be sure to schedule an appointment ahead of time. Some nations, such as the EU, require additional documentation. These forms are usually available online or at the clinic, but in some cases you must obtain these forms yourself and bring them with you for the veterinarian to complete. Many nations require the health certificates to be endorsed by the USDA after they are issued. This involves sending or taking the forms to the USDA office in Richmond for verification and is commonly looked over step.  If this is required be sure to give yourself enough time to have the paperwork sent to the USDA office in Richmond. 

As you can see, there are a lot of little details that can make international travel with our pets tricky. A little bit of planning and research ahead of time can prevent big headaches down the road. Your veterinarian is here to help!  Make sure there is an USDA accredited veterinarian on staff and that they are familiar with perform international health certificates.  Safe Travels!


Dr. Keith de la Cruz is currently the Treasurer/Secretary of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association and is a Past President of the Northern Virginia Veterinary Medical Association.  He is newest associate veterinarian at AtlasVet (1326 H St NE).