Traveling abroad with your dog
The French love dogs. At least that's what I decided after viewing the final episode of “Sex and the City,” where Carrie, sitting in a café, glances over at the diner seated next to her—an enormous bull mastiff. So, when the opportunity arose to spend two months on the Côte d’Azure with a side trip to Paris for work, I decided to bring my shih-tzu, Jersey, with me. We flew Continental—our favorite airline—to Paris, where we were scheduled to switch to Air France for the flight to Nice.
Jersey on the Riveria.
Jersey, at 17 pounds, was the perfect size for airline travel, at least in the US. As a frequent flyer, Jersey’s logged well over 100,000 miles on domestic flights. US airlines allow dogs and cats to fly in the cabin of the plane as long as they’re in carriers that fit under the seat. Air France, however, has a six kilo (13.2 pounds) restriction. Jersey, mon petit chien, was two tiny kilos over that lightweight limit.
But I had options. Jersey could fly in cargo (unthinkable, to me). Or, I could take a train from Paris directly to Antibes. Or, I could rent a car and drive there myself. Or, I could sob in frustration and anger and prey on the Air France personnel’s pity. I went with Option Four.
"Stop crying," the Air France rep snapped. "I mean it," she said. "You cannot cry." I didn't realize crying wasn't allowed on Air France. Frankly, my experience with the airline led me to believe they'd be accustomed to dealing with tearful travelers. When my tears could not be assuaged, the Air France rep told me to go get lunch, and come back in an hour.
“I will take care of you and that little dog too,” she said, seemingly oblivious to the fact she was playing Wicked Witch to my Dorothy.
Despite a delayed arrival, once we touched terra firma in the South of France, the rest of the trip was très magnifique!
Traveling internationally with your dog is not only doable, but possibly ideal, especially for those who are planning extended travels to countries that do not require quarantine. The UK, Australia, New Zealand and other island nations generally have strict quarantine laws that make traveling with your pet unadvisable.
Some of the choicest destinations in the world, however, including most of continental Europe and Central and South Americas, Canada and India, extend all due hospitality to your dog. France (except for its eponymous airline) welcomed Jersey with more enthusiasm than it welcomed me. Jersey accompanied me to quaint cafés and five-star restaurants, where he was allowed to wander through the kitchen and dining areas. He browsed the boutiques on Place Vendôme and Rue St. Honoré. He enjoyed his own seat on Eurorail. Further, the French appreciated Jersey’s highly discerning personality so often mistaken for snobbishness in the US.
Jersey was not one to gush, but I could tell his trip to France was a highlight of his life. And let’s face it, regardless of destination, your dog would rather be with you than anywhere else in the world.
Traveling with your pet requires planning. When booking your flight, be sure to book your pet’s flight too. Most airlines limit the number of pets allowed in each cabin. If you book online, phone the airline after receiving your confirmation to add your pet to your ticket. Fees for flying a dog, either in the cabin or in cargo, vary from $50 to $150, each way.
Regardless of size, a licensed, certified service dog flies free in the cabin on US airlines. Foreign airlines, however, are not obligated to honor a US service dog’s hallowed status.
If you want your dog to fly in the cabin of the plane, confirm weight limits with every airline on which you’ll be flying. In my case, I wrongly assumed Air France operated under the same guidelines as Continental.
Make sure you give your dog the opportunity to relieve themselves during transcontinental flights. Just before deplaning, I put a doggie diaper on Jersey and quickly whisked him into the restroom to clean it up. During flights, I gave him ice cubes to lick and snuck him out of his Sherpa bag whenever possible.
International pet travel falls under the aegis of the US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS), which requires your dog obtain an international health certificate from an APHIS-accredited veterinarian. This is a fairly simple process: Your dog gets a checkup for general health and to ensure that rabies, distemper and other vaccinations are current. Virtually every licensed vet in good standing in the country is APHIS-accredited. You can confirm your vet by contacting your local APHIS Veterinary Services Area Office. Click here.
Once the international health certificate is obtained from your vet, it must be endorsed by your local APHIS Veterinary Services Area Office.
Each country has its own rules for tourist dogs. The countries of the European Union, for example, require your dog be chipped with a European-compatible microchip. For a list of countries and their foreign pet requirements, click here.
In Antibes, Jersey and I stayed in a condominium; in Paris, a hotel. Finding dog-friendly accommodations, in my experience, is rarely a problem. Visit kayak.com to search for pet-hospitable hotels.
Make sure your dog always wears a tag that includes your email, foreign phone number and address abroad.
The benefits of traveling with your dog are enormous. You get to share your travels with your best friend, and enjoy peace of mind knowing your dog isn’t home missing you. You’ll spend a bit more money on airfare and, possibly, accommodations when traveling with a dog. But those costs are far less than I paid—$60 a day or more—for a dog-sitter.
There’s another benefit to traveling internationally with your dog: You’ll meet other dog owners, and dog owners tend to be the nicest, most interesting people in the world.
I'm a lifelong traveler and dog owner. My travel blog, Wandering Lotus, is syndicated on BlogHer.