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How to Travel Internationally With a Service Animal

2021-03-31


Traveling internationally can be quite cumbersome when you have to deal with heavy bags, transit airports, and running from one gate to another. A long trip to a vacation resort or your relatives can be even more challenging when you have to bring your pet or service animal with you. We would like to make an important distinction at the start of this post.

Service Animals (only dogs — according to the majority of legislative texts) have rights that are protected and guaranteed by law that enable them to provide an important service and help to their handlers who have a disability (mental and/or physical).

Emotional Support Animals and pets (could refer to a wide range of animals) are broadly put under a single umbrella and have no special rights and access privileges guaranteed by law as far as traveling is concerned.

Persons with a service animal are usually protected by a disability policy in place, a Human Rights Act, and in some cases transportation and access regulations depending on the country you are about to visit. We recommend that you check the local policies with a consulate and your local veterinarian.


Must-Haves on Long Distance Flights

Service Dog handlers are recommended to carry the following paperwork and keep in mind the following items when traveling abroad. The following items are considered “must-haves” for a comfortable journey as far as the airport and aircraft staff are considered:

• Service Dog Certificate along with a handler and dog ID cards

• A letter of “good health” provided by your local veterinarian

• A letter from a medical professional that verifies you need a service animal

• Pet Passport and Vaccination Card (rabies vaccine is absolutely mandatory)

• International Health Certificate

• Microchip in your service dog (15-digit numbers, recommended manufacturers: Microfindr, HomeAgain, AVID, AKC Reunite, Peeva)

• Blood Work and a recent rabies titer test (made in the last two weeks at least)

• Proof  of treatment for internal and external parasites within the last 6 months    

• Vest, leash, and a harness

Please remember to carry water for your service dog and manufacturer sealed food. It is strongly recommended to take a pet first aid course or ask your veterinarian for the basics. Service Dog handlers should always prepare “emergency money” in case there is an accident involving their furry partner.


Be Wary of the Climate Transition

Persons that rely on their service dog to perform adequately should be keenly aware of their dog’s comfort so that the dog can perform its duty unimpeded. You should check the forecast, temperature, and other climate-related factors for the transit airports and destinations when you travel abroad. It is advised that you trim or shave the coat of your dog if you are going to visit a warmer region. You can put small freezer packs in the dog’s vest to help keep it cool. An insulated vest and paw boots can go a long way when you have to visit a colder region. If you are not sure what to buy, consult your local vet.


Service Animal Policies to Consider

There is no unified service animal policy as far as airlines go. Every airline company has to adhere to government policies at the country of origin, transit, and departure. We recommend that you call the customer support team or information bureau for the airline carrier you will use well in advance, at least a month before your departure. We know a month may sound too early, but please understand that some countries process animal-related documentation slowly and you might have to vaccinate your dog, collect paperwork and prepare blood work at least 30 days before your departure.

Generally speaking the service dogs a.k.a. assistance animals are provided with the same access rights as their handlers and they can travel with their handler in the passenger cabin. However, some airlines might request the service dogs to travel in a pet carrier/kennel in the climate-controlled cargo hold. When you are accompanied by a service dog and you need to go through a security check, you can pass through the scanner with the dog. The security team will require you to remove carrying bags or pouches placed on the service dog and present them to the screening officer for screening. You might be required to go through the scanner solo and then lead the dog. Service dogs are not required to be muzzled, but they are required to have a leash or a harness at all times.


International Travel with Your Service Dog

As long as you have the required paperwork, vaccination for your dog, and microchip there should be no problems for you to enjoy a vacation in another country. Your service dog should be able to accompany you in the passenger cabin and you should have to pay a fee to have it on board. Most airlines are very accommodating to service dog handlers and it is the proffered method of transportation for long-distance trips.

Please, make sure that your service dog is not going to need to relieve itself on flights that go over 8 hours, or make sure the aircraft has a big enough restroom where your dog can relieve itself without causing a sanitation issue. It is a good idea to check for relief areas on the transit airports as well.


Service Dog Requirements Per Country


US and Canada

You have to carry certification documents for the service dog (a training certificate) and an ID card. Also, you have to provide an up-to-date vaccination card and make sure that the dog has an ISO-compliant (International Standards Organization) microchip implanted.


Mexico

Service dog handlers will be required to present the following items at arrival in Mexico: proof of rabies vaccination at least 15 days before entry; proof of treatment for internal and external parasites within the last 6 months; health certificate from a veterinarian; and have an ISO-compliant microchip (contains a 15 digit number that is accepted worldwide).


Australia

You will have to fill out an Assistance dog declaration form that shows the service dog has been in service for at least six months before departure. Also, you will have to agree to post-entry quarantine isolation in Australia. You will be expected to provide a letter from a medical professional that verifies your disability and need for a service dog. The paperwork for the service dog should be prepared in advance and include the training license provided by a recognized assistance dog training institution as well as the certification for the dog. A rabies titer test has to be presented and it has to have been performed in the last 14 days before arrival.


European Union

Your Service Dog must have its blood tested at an EU-approved laboratory. The blood work has to be done six months in advance of your travel date. Microchip (ISO compatible) is mandatory and it has to be 15 digits. A service dog certificate and a letter from your doctor are required to prove your disability and reliance on a service animal.


China and Hong Kong

The Chinese administration is very strict as far as animals entering the country are concerned and you will need some time to prepare, be advised. The service dog has to have a microchip with either a 9 or 15 digit code. An import permit from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has to be obtained before your arrival through the consulate. The dog has to have a rabies vaccination along with a Veterinary Certificate for Hong Kong/China issued by an accredited veterinarian within 14 days of your flight. You will need a certificate stating where the animal has resided and a Captain’s Affidavit (a type of verified statement which means that it is made under oath on penalty of perjury, and this serves as evidence for its veracity) stating your Service Dog did not leave or come in contact with any other animal during the flight. We recommend to call the Chinese consulate and make sure you have prepared the required paperwork well in advance!


Russia

Service dog handlers will be required to present a Health Certificate (must be issued within five days of the flight) and a Rabies Certificate. The rabies vaccine must be administered more than 30 days before departure and within the last year. There are additional vaccines for Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, and Parvovirus (DHLP) that your veterinarian will have to apply to your dog and update his /her vaccination card. Your animal will have to be implanted with an ISO-compliant microchip. We recommend that you carry your service dog certificate and confirm with the Russian consulate if you need additional paperwork.


Japan

An ISO microchip implanted in your service dog is mandatory. You have to submit an Advanced Notification Form at least 40 days in advance of departure with the Animal Quarantine Service (AQS). Rabies Blood Titer Test, an up-to-date vaccination card, and a Japan Health Certificate filled out by an accredited veterinarian within two days of entry will be expected. 

Please, note that a vet will have to administer two rabies vaccinations (inactivated or recombinant) within one year of arrival. Your vet has to provide proof that the dog was treated for both internal and external parasites.


Philippines

A trip with your service dog to the Philippines should be possible as long as you have an Import Permit/Veterinary Quarantine Clearance (valid for two months); a rabies vaccination within the last 30 days; additional vaccinations against canine distemper, infectious hepatitis, leptospirosis, and canine parvovirus; and a Health/Veterinary Certificate. The service dog has to be treated for external and internal parasites within the last 48 hours. You should bring your service dog certificate and a letter from a medical professional that you need a service dog.


India

India requires an up-to-date health certificate from veterinarians for pets and service dogs entering the country. The certificate has to have been issued within the last 10 days before arrival. The security officers will require the vaccination records for your service dog and a Veterinary certificate issued by the government in your home country. Your service animal might be required to travel in the cargo hold, please check with your airline provider. India is still late to adopt a proper service animal (a.k.a. assistance dog) policy and you should check with the consulate.