Sometime during my first year of practice one of our receptionists came to the back of the clinic and announced that she had a family that was moving to Australia on the phone and they wanted to know if anyone could do the health certificate for them. All of the doctors froze like frightened bunny rabbits hoping that if they stayed motionless nobody would notice they were there. I sauntered up, took one puzzled look around, and said "Sure, I’ll do it." There was a collective sigh of relief from everyone else, and from that day on I have been cursed with the burden of being the doctor who does all the international health certificates.
What I have found is that wading through the bureaucracy involved in shipping a pet to another country can be confusing and daunting, especially for someone who is already maximizing their stress levels trying to get the rest of their lives overseas. Here are a few things to know about the process that may make it run more smoothly.
The governmental organization that oversees the paperwork on the US end of things is the Department of Agriculture. They have an office located in Lakewood. They provide information on a website: www.aphis.usda.gov/ac/pettravel.html, that will get you to proper forms and a description of the steps and the timeline needed for whatever country to which you wish to take your pet.
Your pet will probably need a microchip for permanent identification. The Home Again and Avid brand chips which are the most common brands available are acceptable for any country. A veterinarian can place a microchip if your pet does not already have one.
If you are going to a place that could be fairly considered an island , for example the United Kingdom, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, plan on a long process. Islands tend to be free of many diseases like rabies and they jealously guard their disease free status. These places often require blood tests and waiting periods up to six months before entry. Six months is the absolute minimum amount of time required for planning ahead to take your pet with you, but in a pinch you can leave your pet in the US for the waiting period and have a friend ship the pet later. Non-island countries tend to be less complicated, with the exception of France which I believe requires rabies testing just to be difficult.
When we are completing an international health certificate at our clinic we fill out the paperwork and fax a copy down to the Department of Agriculture’s office so that they can tell us if anything needs to be changed. When everything is given the green light we have the owners present the original copy to the D of A’s veterinarian for the official raised stamp and signature. They will not accept a fax or other copy. This can either be done by mail or by driving it down in person, but if you are leaving in two days I wouldn’t recommend that you count on the US mail to get it there and back in time.
Keep in mind that you are dealing with a government entity. Appointments are needed for everything. The woman who assists us is always helpful and pleasant, but at 5:00pm sharp the phones are off and everyone at the office goes home. Nobody is going to stay late or make an exception for you, so plan ahead so that you can play by the rules and not have to ask for special measures. Friday afternoon is a bad time to choose to do health certificate paperwork. If it is not faxed, reviewed, and returned by 5:00 nothing is going to happen until Monday morning. If you are trying to leave on Monday morning you will be in a bit of a pickle.
Some countries will require the animals to be sealed in their carriers by the official veterinarian before going on the plane. You can either make an appointment to stop by their office on the way to the airport, or for a very large fee you can make an appointment to have the official vet meet you at the airport to seal the crate. If your flight is leaving at 6:00am nobody will be available to do this, so you need to take those considerations into account when you schedule your flight.
The bottom line is that it is entirely possible to move your pets with you to another country. There will be hoops to jump through, and in the case of Australia and New Zealand they will be flaming hoops, but in the end you can be rewarded with your cat purring in you lap on a rainy day in England, or a rousing game of fetch with you dog on the sunny shores of southern Spain.