Since David was the primary caretaker for all the documents related to our dog’s importation into Saudi Arabia, I asked him to please guest post the details for anyone who may be going through the same process. It requires a lot of footwork (and paperwork and money), but we are certainly glad to have our Pigpen along with us here overseas. And now over to the expert:
Pet travel, whether for leisure or permanent relocation, is a difficult process. It is harder to move and relocate a pet dog than it is to relocate a human to a foreign country. To our fellow Foreign Service pet owners, we feel your pain and are available anytime to “pay it forward” and share our experience. Pet travel is expen$ive. Hotels and airlines charge high fees to accommodate a pet. Lesson one for hotels: La Quinta Inn and Suites is a GOOD choice for pet owners traveling within the U.S. Sure, some of you accustomed to Hilton/Marriott and other like brands may scoff at that name, but LQ Inn and Suites really isn’t that bad, especially when you’re moving and doing the vacation routine requiring you to stay in multiple hotels. The fees add up, considering average hotel pet fees are around $100. LQ Inn does not charge pet fees whatsoever. The quality is more or less Holiday Inn, so no complaints. When you have a pet, what difference does that stuff make anyway?
Pet health certification for travel is also difficult. Make sure you do your research. For Foreign Service, I highly recommend doing a lot of the initial research online, then reach out and talk to other pet owners at post. There’s A LOT of helpful information out there. If you figured out you have to get USDA certification, you’re on the right track. Realize that different vets charge drastically different prices for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection (APHIS) examination that leads to the official paperwork (APHIS form 7001) that goes to the USDA. Some veterinarians charge upwards of $400 for the examination, others charge as low as $80. There really is no rhyme or reason except possibly demand. We found the more expensive prices to be in the Washington D.C. metro area (MD/Northern VA) where there are a lot of military/Foreign Service customers doing the same thing. We used a popular veterinarian and pet boarding facility for our initial pet health inspection required for the pet import paperwork and although they had a competitive rate of just $150, we found their quality of service subpar and attention to detail lacking. I wasn’t impressed that they were widely recommended in similar circles. We had to do a separate pet health inspection for the actual pet importation documents used to admit the dog not only to our next post, but also at our rest stop in Germany. Germany falls under the European Union and is under the European Union pet importation standards. We had to get our dog USDA and EU certified, which could have easily cost in the hundreds in the DC metro area. Thankfully, we did the exam in California (during vacation) at a well rated vet who only charged $82 and did both USDA/EU certifications. Here’s another tip: Depending on the state you get your USDA/EU pet exam, some USDA vet offices in that state will only accept vet certificates from that state. I read this on another blog that said this for Texas. Since I’m so careful about this stuff and want there to be zero errors come customs time, I mailed the documents via USPS Express Mail to the USDA office in Sacramento. These guys were above and beyond helpful. For starters, I actually was able to speak to a live human being who understood my concerns and worked with me when there was an issue regarding the dog’s paperwork.
Here are some of our lessons learned:
First: Have paperwork documenting your dog’s ISO chip implantation and date implanted. This HAS to be done before rabies. It was more of an issue for the EU paperwork. I would have been in trouble if I tried this with another USDA office we previously worked with outside CA since they could never be reached on the phone.
Second: Have an original rabies certificate that has the vaccine serial/lot number, expiration date, and any pertinent detail. Some vets may not understand this and only put the date/name/signature.
Third: Anticipate the crate you’ll need consistent with airline standards. For us, having a Beagle puppy and a crate at the start was great for training/familiarization, but I did not anticipate his growth enough to meet the particular airline’s standards. Some airlines require at least 3 inches of clearance from the dog’s head to the ceiling of the crate (for safety reasons especially in turbulence). In our case, United airlines does, but Lufthansa doesn’t, but we’re on a United flight on a codeshare with Lufthansa…you know where this goes. So yes, we had to spend another $80+ and upgrade his crate since the old one, although roomy for him, was creeping close to his head.
Fourth: If you’re able to go to the airport the day before or anytime before travel, do so. Take your dog to the airport. Let him/her “sniff” around and familiarize himself with the environment so it isn’t as stressful on the day of travel. Talk to the airline and reconfirm everything you’ve researched. We did this for our vacation and work-related travel airports and it cut a lot of uncertainty and stress. In fact, the day of travel was relatively stress free! I say “re-confirm” because, as you fellow FS pet owners may know, things will fall through and not go as planned. In this case, Lufthansa (after the third time reconfirming our pet), did not have our pet logged in their system. Also, you can obtain helpful paperwork and fill out for the crate ahead of time. We also planned where I would drop my wife and the high volume of cargo plus the pet while I went to return the rental car (this process can take a good hour, so factor that in) and meet back with her to check the baggage in.
Fifth: Keep copies of vaccination records, health certificates, extra photos of the dog, etc. in a neatly organized binder with plastic document protectors. This will save you a lot of heartache, especially when dealing with the unexpected. You never know when an airline employee/customs official will challenge you and ask for a copy of something.
Six: If you’re about to become a pet owner, consider the long term and what breeds may be easier to export to whatever post. This is where having a Beagle helped. He’s not a big dog and so the crate fees were less ($200 vs $400 on Lufthansa). He wasn’t a snub nosed dog (i.e. Pug), so that took out the risk of breathing difficulties in flight, and isn’t a fight dog, so he is likely to be accepted into a greater number of countries that typically ban those breeds. There’s a wealth of information in addition to the above I can share, but for now, I feel the lessons provided were the major points and the rest can be figured out through messaging us or research. DO YOUR RESEARCH AND ASK OTHERS.