You’re enjoying your vacation at some exotic locale when you meet and begin to care for a stray dog. It starts slowly, a few scraps of food here, an embrace there. But before long you feel a tug at your ribs, a quickening, and you know this must be what all the poets talk about. So what happens when you fall head-over-paws in love with a dog overseas? Here is a comprehensive guide to bringing your pup back home.
Find a Local Vet
Visit a local, licensed veterinarian to obtain a health exam along with the needed health certificates and vaccinations for your pet’s air travel and passage through customs. They are the first stop on your international adoption adventure!
Rabies Is Scary
A rabies vaccination is required for all dogs entering the United States from a country where rabies is present. If you adopt your dog in a country that the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) determines is “rabies-free” you may not need the rabies vaccination if your dog has lived in the rabies-free country for the past six months or since birth.
Interlude: Why Not Just Get Your Dog A Rabies Vaccine Anyway?
Great question. A few reasons. Pups must be at least three months old to be given a rabies vaccine. And dogs that have never been vaccinated against rabies must be vaccinated at least 30 days prior to arrival in the US. So if you want to adopt a two-month old puppy, you may need to extend your stay another two months. I don’t know anyone with that many vacation days. For this reason, parents of dogs from rabies-free countries may choose to continue to US customs without the rabies vaccine. (Dogs older than 15 months who have previously received a rabies vaccination that has since expired are only required to receive a booster vaccination and don’t need to wait the 30 days before arriving in the US.)
The only other vaccination necessary for entry to the US is for Screwworm. If you are traveling in a country affected by Screwworm, you must have a certificate signed by a veterinary official of the region of origin stating that the dog has been inspected for screwworm within 5 days before shipment to the United States.
The EU and The Microchip
For travel through European Union countries, your pet must have a microchip and the proper supporting documentation. Some EU countries will accept all major brands of microchips and others will only accept the 15 digit ISO microchips. When you visit the vet in an EU country, they will also help you with the microchip documentation process.
Contact your airline ahead of time to make sure it permits the transport of pets, and if so, reserve a spot. Always be sure to triple check with your airline to make sure they can accommodate your new family member at each stage of the journey home. Keep in mind that there may be partner carriers (not just the airline with which you booked your ticket) and different airlines for different legs of your journey, so make sure you check with each of them. In some cases, there may be breed restrictions.
Local veterinarians will also know where pet kennels can be purchased. Depending on where you are, kennels may take time to procure. Specifically approved airline travel pet kennels are often required as well.
Let’s take Delta Airlines as an example. Delta allows dogs to fly both in the cabin and in the cargo hold. They charge $125 each way for in-cabin pets and $200 each way for pets flying down below. But in-cabin pets and their carrier must fit under the seat in front of you, and they do not allow any pets to fly as cargo from May 15 to September 15. They also reserve the right to discontinue pet transportation in the cargo hold if extreme temperatures are anticipated. And they are right to do so. Transporting your pet in the cargo hold of a plane can be dangerous. While millions of pets fly safely each year, a small percentage are harmed during the voyage. If you are adopting a large dog who will not fit in the cabin of the plane, this is a risk you must consider.
Be sure to pack enough dog food and water for your flight. This may seem obvious, but flights can be delayed, canceled, or rerouted, adding hours or, in nightmare scenarios, days to your trip. It is also a good idea to pack a simple first-aid kit, along with towels, wipes, and baggies for your dog’s inevitable bathroom events. A great comprehensive list can be found here.
What If I’m Driving or Train-ing Across the Border?
The requirements for dog entry into the US are the same no matter what mode of transportation (car, bus, plane, or train) you use to cross the border into US territory. Contact your train or bus company for more information on travel guidelines for dogs!
The Humane Society International estimates that it can cost anywhere from $150 – $2000 (and up) to bring an adopted dog into the US. Much of this depends on travel and airfare, veterinarian costs, and the strength of the dollar compared to the local currency. Luckily, there are no fees for bringing a dog into the US. Dog “imports” are duty free under U.S. Customs regulations.
You’re Home! Now What?
As soon as you arrive home with your new best friend, be sure to contact your state animal health officials to make sure you comply with all your local pet laws. In most cases, unvaccinated dogs that are permitted to enter the United States under CDC regulations will need to be vaccinated against rabies as soon as they arrive at their final destination in the US. You can find a nation-wide list of state animal health officials here.
There is some debate on whether it is wise to adopt internationally when there are stray dogs in need far closer to home. There is no right answer. If the choice is between not adopting and adopting away from your local community, by all means, adopt. There is no telling when or where you will meet the dog of your dreams.
As you consider whether adopting from abroad is right for you and your family, here are some helpful links:
CDC’s Guidelines for Bringing a Dog into the United States
USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
HSI Info Page on Adopting and Transporting Pets Internationally
Helpful Travel Products from PetTravel.com