When Timmer called me to tell me he had just found out we were moving to Germany, my first thought was “cool we’ll be able to travel so much!” but not even a split second later I thought “what are we going to do with the dogs?!” Figuring out how to move the dogs abroad with us was my number one priority and probably the most stressful part about our move. I researched all of our options, and then was surprised by the long list of to-do’s we had just for the dogs.
Of course driving a car and taking a train were not options to move our dogs across the ocean (unfortunately). Brooklynn, our 7 year old, has major anxiety in the car and won’t ever sit down, even after four hours of driving. Finnegan, our 1.5 year old, has major separation anxiety and has been known to completely destroy and break out of his crate. Yikes! So obviously being in the same car or same train car would have been my number one choice.
I even looked into chartering a plane (LOL) to move us abroad. Yep, way too expensive.
Then I looked into ships. Oh yes, there is a dog-friendly cruise ship that will take you from New York to Hamburg, Germany that promises White Glove services to your dogs staying in their kennels. How perfect would it be for me to take a lovely relaxing cruise, with our dogs on board, knowing they were being taken care of and pampered by the Kennel Master?! The problem is that they only have direct cruises to Hamburg every few months, and the pet kennels get booked up at least a year in advance. Could we go a whole year without living with our dogs? I don’t think so.
I thought about registering the dogs to be Emotional Support Dogs so that they could ride in the cabin of the plane with us. It seemed so easy to do online, and it would give us the peace of mind knowing they were fine because they would literally be at our feet. We ultimately decided not to go that route because we didn’t want to take advantage of a system designed for people who really needed it, especially while moving with the military. Plus, two dogs at our feet on a tiny plane for 8 hours seemed very uncomfortable.
Finally our decision came down to flying our dogs on the same flight vs. flying them out a day later. We thought about sending them later so that we wouldn’t have to deal with all of our luggage (we had six checked bags plus our carry ons) and two dogs and two big dog crates, all at the same time. However, once we looked into sending them unaccompanied (i.e., via cargo on a different plane), we realized you had to use a third-party company to drop them off to the right spot, check them in, turn in the forms, etc., and those third-party companies are expensive. Totally not worth it, if you have the ability to avoid it.
We all remember the animal drama with United Airlines last year. I’m sure they’ve put new processes in place, but I was not going to risk it with our pups. After a lot of research on the different airlines, I learned that Lufthansa is one of the best at flying animals, both on the same plane and separately on cargo planes. They make sure the pets have the same air pressure and temperature as the humans on board. If the dogs have to wait awhile before the plane comes, they have handlers down there to give them food and water.
If you are flying your dogs anywhere, I highly recommend researching the nuances of each airline — each one has their own rules about crate sizes, what can be inside of the crate, food and water bowls, etc. For Lufthansa we had to make sure that our dogs could stand up tall and still have 3 inches between their ears and the top of the crate, and that they could easily turn around inside of the crate. Lufthansa also allowed us to put a puppy pad (in case of accidents), and a blanket or small bed inside of the crate. We had to attach a food/water bowl to the inside of their door, and we could leave instructions for the handlers to feed the dogs at a certain time and to give them water.
The To Do List for Moving Dogs Abroad
Book it — Once you decide how you are going to move your dogs abroad, it’s important to book it immediately. We found out the hard way that for most airlines, there are only a certain amount of pet spots on each plane. Lufthansa only has three pet spots per flight, and all three were already booked by the time we got our orders and our flight. Luckily we were able to push back our flight one day in order to get our dogs on the same flight as us!
Research Country Rules & Restrictions — Each country has their own list of restricted breeds, and certain countries have rules around pets and quarantine (looking at you, UK). Luckily for us, Germany doesn’t have quarantine requirements.
Microchip and Rabies Vaccine — This is very important. To travel with your pet to the EU, they have to be microchipped BEFORE they are vaccinated. Any vaccinations before the microchip is inserted doesn’t count, and they’ll have to be re-vaccinated. Also, it has to be the correct type of microchip, an ISO compliant one (i.e., it must be the 15 digit microchip). Brooklynn unfortunately had gotten a non-ISO microchip back in the day, and had to get another one!
They can get their rabies vaccine on the same day as their microchip, as long as the microchip goes in first. This is also very important – they must have their rabies vaccine at least 21 days before entering the EU. So plan ahead!! And make sure to have a copy of their rabies vaccine certificate with their microchip number on it!
Buy the right crate — Again research your airline to make sure you have the right size travel crate! Most airlines require the hard plastic crates, with ventilation on all four sides, secured with metal hardware. We got both of our dogs the Sky Kennel off of Amazon and the Petmate Kennel Kit, which comes with the metal hardware, puppy pads, an attachable food/water bowl, and zip ties.
Also, if your dogs aren’t used to being in crates, make sure to spend a few weeks getting them used to being back in a crate to make the day of flying less stressful! A few weeks before leaving, we started putting Brooklynn in her crate to get her used to the crate life. At first she hated it, but we started feeding her in there and by the time we left, she was fine with the crate.
Health Certificate — This is another super specific requirement. TEN days or less from your flight date, you have to go to a USDA Accredited Vet and have them fill out and sign a health certificate for each pet. The health certificate is only valid for ten days, and it must be signed by a USDA Accredited Vet. Not all vets are USDA Accredited, so it is very important that you double check on this before scheduling an appointment.
USDA APHIS Endorsement — Once you have the signed health certificate, you have to take it to the USDA APHIS Veterinary Services Endorsement Office. You should make an appointment for this in advance!!! There is only one of these in Georgia, so there was a couple there who drove in from Savannah (4 hours away) just to get this endorsement. Definitely plan ahead for this.
The Day Of
The morning of our flight, we took our dogs to one last play date at our favorite dog park to tire them out in the hopes that they would sleep for most of the flight. For anxiety, it is not recommended to give them any sort of tranquilizer or anxiety medicine that would mess with their respiratory system. We gave them some meds from our vet that just made them sleepy. *If you are going to give your dogs any sort of medication or anxiety relief, make sure to try it on them once or twice before the flight!
At the airport, we checked in our luggage at the Lufthansa check in gate. They also made us put our dogs inside of their kennels to confirm that they fit according to Lufthansa’s rules. Finally, it was time to drop them off at Oversized Baggage and say our prayers. Honestly, I should have taken some anxiety meds – I was way more worried than they were. When we dropped them off, they seemed totally fine, and I was so glad we had two of them two keep each other company.
Fast forward to landing – I had read multiple times that the dogs would be out at baggage claim by the time you got off the plane and collected all of your bags. Fourty-five minutes after we had gotten off the plane, collected all six of our bags, and frantically asked an airport worker who didn’t speak English at least five times where our dogs were, our dogs were nowhere in sight and I started panicking. Finally they arrived via the moving luggage belt at the oversized baggage area. I had honestly expected to hear Finn crying from miles away, but he was silent except for his wagging tail, so I guess the sleepy meds did their job. The dogs were totally fine! Sleepy, but fine and alive.
Our kiddos are adjusting perfectly to Germany. Restaurants are super dog friendly, Germans think they’re cute, and they enjoy going on long walks to explore their new town. In Kaiserslautern (K-Town) we have had to walk around to find suitable areas for our dogs to use the restroom because they are picky divas, but we are excited to move into our new house in September where we will have a fenced in yard for the first time!
We need to get the dogs registered in the vet system in Germany and get their Pet Passports, and when driving with them in the car, they have to have a harness and seatbelt. Driving in Germany without your dog restrained is against the law! Overall, things are going well for our crazy little furbabies.