INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL WITH PETS: Pet passports and more!

During the pandemic, there is much discussion of vaccine passports. But have you ever heard of the pet passport? As travel has been limited to returning residents and essential travel in many countries, travel sometimes involve bringing not only personal belongings, but also pets for long-term stays. In this blog, we are talking to Marieke Lexmond, the mother of three adopted children, the four-legged variety known by their Instagram handle as @urbandogsquad. As she leads a charmed life of travel for work and for change of scenery, spending time at her homes in America and Ireland, her @urbandogsquad travels internationally more than most people. We sat down with Mrs. Lexmond to learn from her processes and tips for getting your pets ready for international travel. 

Where you do live and where do you normally take your pets for international travel?

I live in New Orleans, normally, and I have a holiday home in Ireland, and I try to spend the summers in Ireland. New Orleans reminds me of Amsterdam. I grew up in the Netherlands, in a small village close to Rotterdam. I went to film school in Amsterdam. My husband and I were in the film business. He was offered a job in the US, so we are here. 

I normally take my pets to Europe, to our holiday home in Ireland, and to my mothers’ in Bergschenhoek, Netherlands. I try to visit Europe twice a year. When we arrive in Europe, we usually drive throughout Europe because it is easier on the dogs. But I have flown with the dogs to Budapest on several occasions. 

Tell us about your pets, how many, what kind, and general weight.

Currently I have three pets, all dogs. They are all chihuahua mix. Pixie is about 5.5 kilos, Luna is about 4.5 kilos, and Prince is 6 kilos. I used to have pugs and a border collie, but the border collie didn’t like traveling so we didn’t take him. The pugs went everywhere with me. 

Pixie has traveled to Ireland, and she was stuck in Ireland at the beginning of the pandemic with me. I prefer smaller breeds because the airlines have a limit on how large a pet can be for carry on.

Do they like to travel?

Pixie is an excellent traveler. When I put her in the travel bag, she knows she is going to travel, and she is ready. She would bark occasionally at a person, but is generally quiet, and she attracts crowds at the airport. Ninety percent of the airport personnel loves seeing her. She has a super friendly face, and is well behaved. 

Long flights are difficult on the dogs. For instance, my husband and I used to live in LA. From LAX to Amsterdam is 11 hrs.  I give Pixie some treats when we take off and land, and don’t give her much water during the trip. I also limit food intake a half a day before, so she doesn’t need to go potty.  

Now, from New Orleans, I drive to Atlanta and fly to Amsterdam, which is 7-8 hours.  If I can’t have a direct flight, I try to get 2-3 hours of layover, then there’s time to find a piece of grass for the dogs at the transit site. In almost every airport there is a room with fake grass and fire hydrants. About twenty-five percent of the time the dogs want to do their business there, but other times, I have to take them outside for real grass. I have to go through customs again if I leave to go outside. The in-door places can smell very sterile since they are chemically cleaned, making it difficult for the dogs to go. Every airport has these areas, with varying quality, but it makes traveling with dogs easier. A big improvement!

Take us through your process for preparing the reservation side.

I call the airline to reserve a ticket for the pet on board International tickets for pets is $200-$250. You have different requirements for each airline, and pets don’t need to wear a mask!

If I travel with three dogs, I can take one in a carry-on bag and have to check in the other two.  When I check in my pets, they have to go into a designated area with the plane. But I prefer to take them all in the cabin if I travel with my husband or friends. Unfortunately with Covid and all the quarantine restrictions that was not possible.

What documents are required for your pets to travel? Is it EU specific? 

If I fly internationally, I have to consider each country’s different requirements. You can check that on the USDA site; https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel

However, in general, all countries require a USDA certificate, chip and rabies for each pet that travels. The USDA document is usually produced by your Vet, only recently they have moved that on-line for the vet to fill in. Each pet must also have a 15 digit international readable chip. Make sure that your rabies shot was given on the day or after the chip was implanted. It must be the correct chip otherwise you must redo it, as I have had to do. The rabies must be done latest 21 days before travel to Europe, and the USDA paperwork can take several days. I recommend to plan at least 5 days to handle this, so you should time yourself accordingly. I think it can be done a maximum of 10 days ahead.

If I go to Ireland, England, and Norway, they have to have a specific wormer for a specific worm that your Vet needs to administer. I have to complete this within twenty-four hours to five days before I fly (and I have to have proof with me that this is done). Even if I fly from the Netherlands to Ireland, I still need this wormer proof for the pets. In places like Australia, I can’t even take my pets, it’s impossible. 

Because I have a house in Ireland, Pixie has a European passport. I go to a vet in Europe, so the vet helps with the passport application. There a form, you need to pay a fee (20 Euros), and a new rabies shot. With this passport, I don’t need to deal with USDA paperwork. The bureaucracy is same for pets as it is for people. 

What is the process for taking your pets from Europe to the US?

You only have to show rabies certificate from your US vet, or with Pixie, I can just show the passport, which has the page for rabies. Be sure to double check with the vet for the latest requirements.

What are your pet’s routines prior to travel, in terms of packing?

They have their own suit case in which I pack the following: foldable bowls, treats, regular food, passport, USDA docs, rain jacket, and other clothing for the trip. The pet ticket is noted in my ticket when I check-in. I test out the carrying case beforehand, so they can get used to it, if it is the first time they are using the case. 

Knowing what you know now about traveling with pets, what advice do you have for other pet owners about traveling short term or long term with their pets?

It’s wise to take more time for check in.  If you really do a very short trip, like a week, I would probably not take the pet, unless I drive.  For driving, I always take my dogs. Flying is heavy on them. I only do it if I am at a location for long periods of time.  But generally, I think taking my pet is worth it. Once you’ve done it once, you just get better at it. Now I am ahead of the game, and in the US the vet takes care of everything. if it’s the first time, give yourself a month, to plan. Once you’ve done it, you can do it within 5 days the next time.  Every time you fly, you need the USDA document, regardless of how many times your pets have flown.  Recently, the USDA application process has gone online, so this is new for all of us. But if they have a passport, then you just need to have a health certificate from the Vet. So, if you can, get them that passport!

You can check out and follow the international adventures of Mrs. Lexmond’s adorable four-legged children at @Urbandogsquad, The adventures of Pixie Luna and Prince!

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