Travelling with Pets

August 19, 2020

One of the questions I get asked most is how we travel with Bao, so I thought I would break it all down for you! Travelling with your pet for the first time can feel a little overwhelming and complicated, but I promise that once you navigate and understand all the rules and regulations, it’s really straightforward and simple.

I think a lot of people believe that getting a pet means giving up their freedom to travel. You don’t have to! Zane and I moved to Europe for the sole purpose of travelling, and while Bao has definitely added an extra dose of responsibility to our travel lifestyle, it’s also been really fun to bring him around with us. We get all the benefits of having a dog like unconditional love and cuddles, and still get to do all the travelling our hearts desire. We’ve even brought him bar hopping in Berlin with us until 3 am!

We chose Bao specifically because we knew we wanted a dog that would always be small enough to travel in-cabin with us. I think it would be cruel and traumatic to travel so much back and forth with a larger dog that needed to be placed in the cargo.

I’ll break this post down into 4 parts: the airline pet carrier we use, how we first brought Bao to Canada (we purchased him from a breeder in the U.S), how we first brought Bao to Europe and what its been like travelling back and forth with him since, and lastly what it’s like travelling around Europe with him. This is a long post, but if you are seriously considering or are about to travel with your pet I think you will appreciate the detail. I know I wanted to know everything about travelling with pets when we first got Bao!

Our Pet Carrier & Airline Regulations

We spent a good amount of time researching the best pet carrier for flying, and ended up getting the Sleepypod Air in-Cabin Pet Carrier. I LOVE this carrier! We have flown on multiple airlines with it since and it meets all airline regulations. My favourite features are that it is extremely durable, compresses, has a strap to secure it to your suitcase, and that it has double mesh. This last part is important because it gives Bao more privacy. People always want to look at Bao because he is so cute (duh!), but when they stare it freaks him out. With this carrier, Bao can easily see out (which is important because he needs to see us or else gets scared) but no one can see in. The carrier weighs 4 lbs, and Bao currently weighs 10 lbs and is about his full weight now. Most airlines have a weight restriction of max 18 lbs which includes the pet and carrier, so this is perfect.

It’s important to note that you can’t just show up at the airport with your pet, because airlines have a maximum number of pets they allow in-cabin per flight. The best way to add your pet to your reservation is to call within 24 hours of booking your ticket, that way if the plane is full you can change to a different flight that has space without any additional charge. However, I’ve definitely called weeks outside of that grace period, have had to change my flight and have never been charged. Whenever I call they ask for Bao’s weight, the weight of the carrier and the carrier dimensions. You’ll notice the Sleepypod has its regular dimensions, and then its compressed dimensions – I always give the compressed dimensions because they comply with all airline regulations. I have never had the carrier dimensions measured at the airport, and only once, in all my times of travelling back and forth with Bao between Canada and Europe, has an agent weighed him. I also have to pay an additional fee each time I bring Bao on a flight, which I pay at check-in and is usually $100-$150 per flight depending on the airline.

Our Pet Carrier

How we brought our puppy to Canada

Like I previously mentioned, we purchased Bao from a breeder in the U.S., from Portland, Oregon. The easiest way for us to bring him to Toronto was to have him fly from Portland to Buffalo, and then drive to Buffalo and take him across the border ourselves. We were going to have a Pet Nanny make the trip from Portland to Buffalo with him (that’s a real thing btw – someone you hire to travel with your pet!) but luckily we had a Toronto friend who was travelling back from Portland, so she just changed her flight to Buffalo and we picked them both up. Getting a puppy into Canada from the States isn’t that difficult if you’re working with a reputable breeder. Our breeder knew all the paperwork that was needed, which was basically proof of purchase, proof of all his puppy vaccines and another certificate signed by a vet basically verifying that he was healthy, etc. – all these things the breeder got done for us and just handed them over with Bao. When we got to the border we unfortunately had a really mean border agent. It was laughable how much he hated us for no reason, he kept on making the most sarcastic comments and straight up insulting Zane haha and then he made us pay duties on Bao, which I think was around $600. I know other people who have crossed the border with their new puppy and had a nice border agent and didn’t have to pay any duties, so I think it really depends who you get! But it was all fine – we had the paperwork, we paid the duties and then we were back in Canada. Also, these duties only applied because we purchased Bao in the States and were bringing him home to Canada for the first time. Whenever I enter Canada from Europe with Bao, I only pay about $30 in duties for him.

How we moved our dog to Europe & travelling between Europe and Canada

Moving with Bao from Canada to Europe the first time around was definitely more complicated than bringing him into Canada from the States. It didn’t matter that we were moving permanently to Europe, all the paperwork we had to do would have been the same as if we were just going on a short vacation with him. Also, we were moving to Germany which is part of the Schengen zone. The Schengen area is the 26 European countries that have no internal borders with each other, and so the paperwork for bringing a dog over is the same for all of those countries. The UK is not part of this zone, and so it is an entirely different situation and I’ve heard a lot more complicated.

This process took a lot of research and multiple vet visits. I first had to find and print off this very specific Government form for bringing a dog into Germany from Canada. I then had to bring the form to a vet and have the vet fill it out and sign at each place. Bao needed more shots since he was a puppy, a stool sample to test for parasites and worms, and another full physical. I think we had to go to the vet twice for this because there was a lot that needed to be filled out and we didn’t get it all the first time. Bao also needed to have a microchip implanted with a tracking code. This was also very important because it is scanned at the airport upon arrival in Europe, and they won’t let you through customs without it. The other tricky thing was timing Bao’s rabies shot – he needed to have a rabies shot within a certain number of days before travelling to Europe. He couldn’t get it too early before we left, but he also couldn’t get it too late because it needed time to be activated in his system. The vet also had to sign off on this and show additional paperwork for his rabies vaccine. Once that was all done, I had another form that needed to be endorsed by an “official veterinarian”. This confused me at first, because I thought our vet in Toronto was an “official veterinarian”, it wasn’t some bootleg, non-licensed vet we took him to. But actually what this means is a vet appointed by the Government to endorse these forms. I had to contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, find out where the closest “official veterinarian” was to me, and make an appointment. The closest one was in Markham, so I drove out there with Bao and the forms signed by my vet. The official looked over all the forms and then gave the official endorsement signature and stamp on the last page. Finally, we were ready to fly!

The first time I travelled from Canada to Europe with Bao was when the agents were the most thorough. They really inspected all his documents and weighed him in the carrier (only time it’s ever happened). One thing that is very unfortunate about North American airports is that dogs must remain in their carriers at all times (except for when passing through security). I make sure to line the carrier with pee pads and have lots of extras in my carry-on. I also bring a little bowl to fill with water and some treats, although I have found that Bao doesn’t really like to eat or drink when flying. During the flight I just put his carrier underneath the seat in front of me, it’s so easy! Throughout the flight I will take his carrier with me anytime I go to the washroom, because he will get scared if he is left alone and also I like to let him out in the washroom to stretch his legs. I recently learned that this is actually not allowed haha, but I always do it anyways and no one has said anything. We don’t give Bao any drugs or natural remedies to calm him down while flying, and he’s always been fine. Every now and then he will whine for a little bit, but he doesn’t bark, howl or try to escape. I think we got really lucky that he is an easy traveller!

Each time we arrive in Europe with Bao, when we pass through customs they always scan his microchip to check that it is working and the number matches what is in his documents. The first time we arrived we had all these different documents that I mentioned above, and they inspected all of them. But, once in Europe you can actually get something called a “puppy passport” from your vet, and this makes it so much easier to travel with your pet because all of the information is in one place. Upon arrival we immediately made an appointment with our local vet in Hanover, Germany to get this puppy passport, which looks like a regular passport and is a government document. The vet writes down all of your pets information (date of birth, sex, breed, etc.), records all the vaccines and when they are valid until, the microchip number, the owner(s), and verifies it all with a special stamp and signature. With this passport we are able to easily travel back and forth between Canada and Europe with no issues. I don’t have to make multiple vet appointments before each flight and get special forms signed by vets and officials (which I think I would need to do each time I wanted to travel back to Europe if I didn’t have this passport). I just show Bao’s passport at the airport and off we go. So the only difficult part was bringing Bao to Europe that first time, because once we got the puppy passport it’s been so easy to travel with him back and forth. The puppy passport works in Canada too, and whenever I arrive in Toronto with Bao I just show his passport at customs, pay the $30 in duties and we’re through.

Travelling with our dog in Europe

One of my favourite things about Europe is that it is so dog friendly. Bao doesn’t need to be kept in his carrier in the airports, he can walk around on a leash. He is allowed to stay overnight in all hotels with us, restaurants, bars, and pretty much everywhere else! We’ve brought him to Christmas markets across Europe and even a Michelin star restaurant in Berlin once. We travel mostly by train in Europe and while technically dogs are supposed to remain in their carriers on the trains, everyone keeps their dogs on their laps or the seat beside them. It’s actually amazing how easy it is to travel with your pet here and bring them along with you everywhere. I wish North America could adopt a similar attitude!

I hope this helps break down a lot of the questions people have about travelling with pets. If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments below and I’ll answer as best I can. Pets don’t have to hold you back, they are the best companions and man’s best friend for a reason! I love travelling with my Bao-Bao.