Import and care rules for pets in Europe

Pets are priceless companions for humans. According to Statista, in 2022, at least one in four households in Europe owned a dog. Cats are even more common — researchers counted 127 million cats living in European homes. Other pets (rodents, aquarium fish, birds, reptiles, etc.) collectively make up 115 million.

Despite the love for pets (and perhaps because of it), Europeans are very strict about the rules for importing animals into Europe. In this article, we will explore how to safely and comfortably take a cat, dog, or other pet abroad.

We previously discussed the most in-demand professionals in the EU.

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Not only cats and dogs are kept as pets. According to Statista, decorative birds, aquarium animals, and reptiles are popular. People also keep rodents — rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, rats.

Can exotic animals be imported? This is a question that must be discussed with the Ministry of Agriculture in the destination country. Otherwise, you may face unexpected problems. For example, Germany allows bringing no more than 3 rabbits. But you have 4, and all of them are equally beloved.

Certain breeds of dogs and cats are prohibited in Europe. Carefully check the rules for exporting dogs and cats. Make sure to consult with the embassy of the country to see if you can bring your pet. Lists are updated — in 2023, the UK banned the import of American Bully XL.

Keeping a future pet is allowed in an apartment or a private house. Purchasing a pet independently is permitted for individuals aged 16 and above, otherwise, parents/guardians must be present. The animal must have a European veterinary passport. This passport is also required to travel freely with your pet across European countries.

A person who adopts a pet takes responsibility for its health and well-being and agrees to adhere to general rules for handling animals. For instance, to buy a dog or another animal in Germany, you will need to pay a maintenance tax of 100-150 euros. In England, walking a dog in a restricted area is punishable by a fine of up to £1,000.

The fundamental rights and responsibilities of citizens are outlined in the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals of 1992. Specifically, it includes a prohibition on ear and tail docking without medically proven necessity. The owner must ensure the well-being of the pet with the following 5 freedoms:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst.
  • Freedom from discomfort.
  • Freedom from pain, injury, and disease.
  • Freedom to express natural behavior (spending time with the owner, alone, with similar animals).
  • Freedom from fear and distress.

Poor treatment and cruelty are punishable as minor or serious offenses. For example, in France, penalties include:

1. Unintentional harm to life: a fine of 450 euros.

2. Cruel treatment: a fine of 750 euros.

3. Intentional harm: 1,500 euros.

4. Serious bodily harm, sexual violence: 30,000 euros and/or imprisonment for 2 years.

A 2019 study indicates significant variations in penalties across Europe. For instance, in Bulgaria, the fine for particularly cruel treatment is only 500 euros, while in Ireland, one can face imprisonment for five years for the same offense. The UK imposes fines of up to £20,000 for violations of animal welfare rules, may confiscate pets, and prohibit their ownership.

Strict training methods, such as shock collars, declawing for cats, or vocal cord removal for dogs, are prohibited in Europe.

If you are willing to consider the needs of your pet during relocation to Europe, it is recommended to start the preparation by choosing the destination country. Consider whether the climate will suit your pet and if you can maintain the necessary temperature conditions in the new home.

Also, find out about the laws regarding pet ownership in the countries you are considering for immigration, and the rules for living in an apartment/house with a pet. Can you bring your cat/dog/lizard/ferret/rat, and so on? This question should be clarified in advance with the embassy of the chosen country.

To fully prepare your pet for the move, allow at least a month. If you start planning all the activities in advance, the relocation will be comfortable, and you will have time to address unforeseen situations.

Next, let’s discuss the procedures, certificates, and documents needed for exporting a dog or cat abroad.

In all European Union countries, there are approximately the same rules for importing domestic animals. However, keep in mind that only 27 out of 50 European countries are part of the EU. If the destination country is not on the list, then the requirements will differ from the standardized EU rules.

Checklist for preparing a pet for the trip:

  • No later than 26 days before entry: implant a microchip and vaccinate the pet, obtain an international veterinary passport for the animal.
  • 5-10 days before entry: obtain health certificate No.1 and exchange it for the European certificate of animal health.
  • Enter the EU.
  • Within 4 months after entry: obtain the European pet passport.

Regarding quarantine in the EU: in most countries, it has been abolished. However, for example, the rules for importing dogs and other animals into Spain include a 21-day quarantine. It’s better to clarify in the embassy in advance.

If you are moving permanently, pet insurance is not mandatory.

The rules described here and below are applicable to dogs, cats, and ferrets.

1. Microchip for Animal Transportation

The most crucial requirement is the implanted 15-digit microchip, which must comply with the ISO 11784 standard. While 9 or 10-digit chips are permissible, customs difficulties may arise, so it is recommended to purchase a new implant.

Exception: If the animal has a clearly readable tattoo applied before July 3, 2011.

Note: Microchipping should be done BEFORE rabies vaccination. Technically, implantation and vaccination can occur on the same day, but you will need to prove that the chip was placed first before administering the shot. Some owners ask veterinarians to record the microchipping a day before the actual visit.

2. Vaccination of Domestic Animals

The next step is for the pet to receive the mandatory three-year rabies vaccination. This must be done at least 21 days before departure. There are specific conditions for this vaccination:

  • It is not administered to animals younger than 12 months, meaning very young puppies or kittens cannot be brought in.
  • If the animal has been previously vaccinated and you are following the vaccination schedule, waiting for 21 days is not required. However, if you missed the vaccination date, the “countdown” starts anew, and the 21-day rule comes into effect.

Other vaccinations are not obligatory, but check in advance whether specific vaccines like DHPP (combination: against distemper, adenovirus (hepatitis), parainfluenza, and parvovirus) and Bordetella (against kennel cough) for dogs, or FVRCP (combination: against viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia) for cats are required in your case.

3. Health Certificate for the Animal

Importing pets is done through an international veterinary passport and veterinary certificate No.1, which must be exchanged for a European certificate of animal health.

You can obtain an international veterinary passport for the animal at a clinic. Ensure that the document includes information about:

  • The pet
  • Its owner
  • Vaccinations administered
  • Deworming
  • Microchipping

Only a veterinarian is authorized to fill out the passport.

Veterinary Certificate No.1 is obtained at stations for animal disease control (it CANNOT be requested at a private clinic). Take your pet to the veterinarian, presenting the animal’s passport. The certificate contains the same information as the passport, plus the region of residence, the status regarding dangerous diseases, and examination results. It is obtained 5 days before departure.

Subsequently, at the veterinary control point at the airport, the animal will receive a European health certificate, also known as “Annex IV”. If you are traveling by train or car, you still need to obtain the certificate — at the airport, train station, or border crossing. This document is valid for 10 days.

If you have several animals, one health certificate can include up to 5 of them. However, the validity period is reduced to 5 days.

In traveling with a pet, solving logistics issues is as important as gathering all vaccinations and documents.

Study the policies of airlines regarding the transportation of your specific furry (or not so furry) friend. In most cases, there are no issues with small and medium-sized animals, and they can even be taken into the cabin. Large dogs (like Golden Retrievers) require special attention and preparation. Not every airline agrees to take responsibility for transporting a large animal.

Check the rules on the airline’s website, or preferably through a phone call to the airline, to avoid problems during boarding.

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Choosing a Pet Carrier for Air Travel

To ensure the comfort and safety of your pet in the cargo hold of the plane, the carrier should not only be comfortable but also comply with the recommendations of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Do not ignore the requirements of the chosen airline, as they may vary depending on the organization’s regulations.

The primary rule is that the animal should have the ability to stand up and turn around inside the carrier, lying down with extended limbs. To calculate the crate size, record the following measurements of the animal:

  • A: From the tip of the nose to the base of the tail.
  • B: Height from the ground to the standing elbow joint.
  • C: Width at the shoulders.
  • D: From the top of the head to the ground when standing. If the ears are erect, measure from them.

The crate size is calculated as follows:

  • Length = A + (B * 0.5);
  • Height = D + 3 cm;
  • Width = C + 2 cm.

For the import of brachycephalic dog breeds into the EU, choose a crate that is 10% larger than the calculated value. Provide these measurements to a consultant, and they will assist you in selecting a suitable-sized carrier.

The crate must be sturdy enough to endure air travel. Recommended IATA materials include metal, rigid plastic, or wood. Plastic crates are often the most widely used. The carrier must also meet the following requirements. It should:

  • Be ventilated on three sides.
  • Have a smooth interior without chips or sharp edges.
  • Have a non-disassemblable, sturdy, and leak-proof floor.
  • Feature a robust metal door with pins protruding at least 1.6 cm above and below the door.
  • Be labeled with a noticeable sticker depicting the animal, owner’s contact information, and transportation company details.

The use of carriers with plastic fastenings is permissible, but metal is preferred. Large crates should have recesses for forklifts, and small ones should be equipped with handles on the sides for safe handling.

Prepare the space to make it comfortable for your pet: place an absorbent cushion, a soft item with your scent to reassure the animal. Avoid providing toys in the carrier, as they are generally prohibited by airlines.

It is strongly discouraged to buy a carrier with wheels, as the staff will remove them before loading. Do not buy second-hand crates to avoid risking the health of the animal, as used carriers may have transported unvaccinated or sick pets.

What to Do with Exotic Pets?

Consult the Ministry of Agriculture of the chosen country to inquire whether it is permissible to import rodents, birds, or reptiles.

Rabbits and rodents: All small pets must have a microchip. You can import up to 5 small animals. Instead of vaccination, they undergo a 21-day home quarantine and must undergo tests for helminths and salmonellosis. Afterward, the animal will receive Certificate No.1, similar to dogs and cats.

Birds: They must be chipped or ringed, undergo tests for avian influenza, ornithosis, helminthiasis, and salmonellosis. They also receive a certificate. If your feathered friend is rare or endangered, transporting it is only allowed with CITES permission.

Reptiles and amphibians: They must obtain an international veterinary passport and a European certificate of animal health.

To transport an animal to a European country not part of the EU, familiarize yourself with its laws. In some states, rules may vary significantly. Here are a few examples:

  • Norway: Animals must be treated for tapeworms at least 24 and 120 hours after arrival.
  • United Kingdom: It does not recognize international or EU-standard pet certificates and passports. Entry requires a certificate of the health status of pets issued by the UK.
  • Iceland: Quarantine lasts for 4 weeks, and the owner must obtain an import license from the Veterinary Directorate of the country before arrival.

Attempting to cover the requirements of all 23 non-EU European countries in one article is an impossible task. Consult the embassy of the country for advice and develop a specific plan for your case.

Moving with pets to another country usually means that the relocant plans to stay there for a long time, possibly even permanently. However, this does not imply a complete break from the homeland, as many close people remain there.

Maintaining contact with them, especially providing financial assistance, can be facilitated through the Korona app.

Make transfers to 50+ countries using the convenient app, where, with currency conversion, the commission is 0%.

The Korona app is available for free on the App Store and Google Play. Download it now.

In our blog, we write extensively about life and work in Europe. Read more articles from our catalog.