Direct Line magazine

Travelling abroad with your pet

Updated on: 14 September 2022

A dog wearing sunglasses closes a suitcase.

Deciding whether to travel abroad with your pet

Whether heading to Paris for the weekend or Spain for the whole summer, it seems we can’t bear to leave our pets at home. According to data released by the Government, in 2017 the UK's Animal and Plant Health Agency issued 91,661 pet passports up from 68,175 in 2013.

With pet owners now admitting to ringing home to ‘speak’ to their pet, buying them a souvenir or sending them a postcard while away, it’s no surprise more are choosing to take their animal companions with them.

Dogs are the most well-travelled pets, with one in 10 owners taking them abroad. Only 7% of dog owners said their pet never influences where they go on holiday.

There’s lots to think about when going on a trip with your pet, and this guide will provide all the information you need to enjoy your time away.

Is your pet ready for travel?

Not all animals cope well with change, meaning some would be better off staying at home.

Also, remember that no matter how well-planned your trip, some stresses will be out of your control. No one enjoys a flight delay, but the wait could prove even more difficult for your pet.

To help decide if travelling with your pet is the right thing to do, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are they fit and healthy? Your pet should be physically and mentally capable of travelling. Before heading abroad, you should get an assessment from your vet.

  • How do they react to new environments? If your pet is naturally anxious, they could struggle with new places, which would make travelling an overwhelming experience.

  • Will you have the time to care for them while you’re travelling? If you’re planning to spend most of your days exploring places unsuitable for pets, they might end up on their own a lot.

  • Have you tested them out on shorter journeys? It’s a good idea to do a few trial runs, seeing how your pet reacts to being in a car, on a train or in new places. If your pet passes these tests with flying colours, there’s a good chance they’ll cope well with a holiday.

It’s ultimately your decision whether to travel abroad with your pets or leave them at home, but always get advice from your vet.

Kennels, catteries and other alternatives

When deciding whether to travel abroad with your pet, you should always put their best interests first, which can often mean travelling without them. But many people worry about leaving their pets behind, affecting how much they can relax on holiday.

Around the UK, there are plenty of reputable kennels and catteries, as well as professional pet sitters, and they’re a great alternative to taking animals abroad.

Owners often worry about leaving their pets with people they don’t know, so to put your mind at ease look for recommendations and reviews. You can do this by talking to other pet owners or by searching online. If you have doubts, arrange a visit to see the kennel or cattery and meet the people who look after the animals.

Pet sitters are a good alternative, and they should be happy to provide references and answer any questions you might have. Invite them to meet your pet and see how they interact. People tend to prefer pet sitters when they have quite a few animals, or their pet is timid. It means your pet can stay in familiar surroundings while you’re gone, with minimal change to its routine. Just make sure you leave your contact information, as well as the name and number of your vet and any medical or dietary needs.

You may also have family, friends or neighbours who can look after your pet while you’re away.

If you really don’t want to leave your pet behind, but don’t think they’ll manage a trip abroad, you could always try a staycation. The UK is a nation of pet-lovers, and there are many pet-friendly places to which you can take dogs and cats.

Organising transport for your pet

Many people who travel abroad with their pets are unprepared. In research by Direct Line, vets said it was common for owners to ‘forget’ key travel preparations:

  • 21% forget tape worming treatment for their dog

  • 9% forget to leave enough time between having vaccinations and going abroad

  • 8% forget to update the rabies vaccination

When taking pets abroad, planning is vital. Owners need to have the right documentation, up-to-date vaccinations and know that their destination accepts pets. Getting a tapeworm treatment in the country you’re visiting can often be a particular challenge, especially if you don’t speak the language, so research beforehand to make sure you know what facilities are available.

The importance of pet passports

Before the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), travelling abroad with your pet was difficult and time-consuming. Animals would have to spend time in quarantine, either in the UK or abroad.

Passports have made it much simpler because there’s no need for quarantine. UK pet owners can take their dogs, cats and ferrets to other EU countries and return without forced isolation.

PETS was introduced in 2000, but major changes came in 2012. To get a passport your pet must be:

  • At least 12 weeks old.

  • Microchipped – must be an ISO 11784 compliant 15-digit pet microchip, and the microchip number should appear on all vet and vaccination certificates.

  • Up-to-date with vaccinations – all details, including vaccine name, manufacturer and expiry date should be recorded in the pet passport by a registered vet.

  • Treated for tapeworm (dogs only). Again, the treatment date and time must be recorded on the pet passport by the vet.

Once you’ve sorted all the requirements and got a pet passport, it’s valid for your pet’s lifetime unless they’re extremely well-travelled and fill up the pages – in which case they’ll need a new one.

In the UK, all pet passports are issued by vets that are local veterinary inspector (LVI) authorised. If this means you need to go to a different vet to usual, remember to take your pet and their vaccination and medical records.

Bear in mind there could be a waiting period before you can enter certain countries, even with a passport.

Travelling without a pet passport complicates the process. Within the EU, you’d need a veterinary certificate from the country your pet is travelling from. You also need to arrive within 10 days of it being issued. Elsewhere in the world, you could run into more problems.

Airline rules and regulations

If your destination is on the other side of the world, your travel options are pretty limited.

Every airline has its own rules about whether pets are allowed onboard and where they spend the flight. Some won’t allow any pets on their commercial flights. Others have quite accommodating rules. Here’s a breakdown of some major airlines:

  • EasyJet. Animals aren’t permitted on EasyJet flights, except for service dogs.

  • Ryanair. Does not allow pets in the cabin or in hold, except for guide dogs.

  • British Airways. Recognised assistance dogs can fly free-of-charge in the cabin. All other pets must fly in the cargo and are handled by their sister company, IAG World Cargo.

  • Thomas Cook. Dogs and cats weighing less than 6kg can be carried in cabins, but must travel in a closed hygienic watertight bag or basket.

  • Virgin Atlantic. Only cats and dogs are allowed onto flights, and can even earn air miles with their Flying Paws scheme.

  • Lufthansa. Pets are allowed and will be transported either in the cabin or the hold, depending on the animal’s weight and size.

  • Emirates. Animals aren’t permitted, apart from falcons between Dubai and some places in Pakistan.

When pets are allowed, charges can apply. Exact fees will vary, so it’s best to contact a few airlines to try and secure a good deal.

Air travel can be dangerous for pets, especially if travelling in the cargo hold. Although rare, deaths do occur. According to statistics from the US Department of Transportation, animals die on planes at a rate of 1 per 20,000 animals transported.

Travelling by ferry

From UK ferry ports you can reach the likes of France, Ireland, Holland, Spain and the Channel Islands.

Although taking a ferry is slower than flying, it’s generally cheaper and less stressful. Usually, pets can’t travel on deck, but ferries on some longer routes will provide dedicated kennel facilities so you don’t have to worry about leaving animals in your car.

Travelling by train

According to National Rail, passengers can take dogs, cats and other small animals without being charged. There’s a maximum of two animals per person and the following conditions must be met:

  • Dogs must be kept on a lead unless contained in a basket

  • Dogs without leads, cats, birds and small animals must be carried in an enclosed basket, cage or pet carrier

  • Animals or their containers must not occupy seats, or else you’ll be charged

  • Animals are not allowed in restaurant cars, except for assistance dogs

  • Guide and assistance dogs are allowed on sleeper services if they’re booked into single-cabin accommodation

  • The Caledonian Sleeper allows dogs but charge for a heavy duty clean

  • You need to book at least 48 hours in advance for all dogs travelling in sleepers

  • Train companies can refuse carriage or entry to any animal (Byelaw 16)

There’s also the Eurotunnel, connecting Dover to Calais. For just a small charge, it’s a quick and easy way to cross the Channel. The journey takes just 35 minutes and you stay in your car with your pet.

Travelling by car

Make sure you know what the Highway Code says about driving with pets. According to the National Animal Welfare Trust, 41% of people don’t know what they should do.

Rule 57 of the Highway Code states you should ensure “dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly”.

Recommendations for restraining animals in cars include a seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard.

In the UK, the Animal Welfare Act makes it your legal responsibility to ensure your pets are happy and healthy. The RSPCA has produced these guidelines for travel:

Travelling with pets: a safety overview from the RSPCA

Travelling in a car Travelling by train Travelling on a ferry Travelling by plane
Take plenty of water Travel when it's cool and less crowded Make ferry officials aware Have a vet assess your pet
Don't feed for two hours before Make sure your pet is secure Have a vet assess your pet Choose the most direct route
Take regular breaks Make train company officials aware Avoid travelling on a hot day that could lead to your pet being left in the car Travel when it’s neither too cold or hot
Fulfil all legal requirements Check there’s enough ventilation Make sure your pet is secure, with enough ventilation Introduce your pet to a flight container

Fulfil all legal requirements

Source: RSPCA – Transporting your pet

Returning to the UK

Don’t make the post-holiday blues worse by neglecting the rules of bringing your pet back with you. The key things you need to know include:

  • The vaccinations you need to depart must still be within the expiry date

  • Dogs should have tapeworm treatment when returning from some countries

  • Your pet must come back to the UK no more than five days before or after you

If you don’t comply with the rules, you risk your pet being quarantined until officials are happy the animal is in good health. The awareness of these requirements among dog owners is varied. The Direct Line research found that while 87% of owners know their dog must be microchipped, just one in eight (12%) is aware their dog has to be treated for tapeworm before returning to the UK, despite it being an official requirement for re-entry.

Pet owners also might not know that countries are divided into three categories by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), with different rules over pet movement:

  1. EU member states and European Economic Area countries e.g. Switzerland or Norway

  2. Listed third countries – those which don’t present a risk of spreading disease (e.g. Australia and New Zealand), or have effective systems in place to report, control and manage rabies (e.g. the US)

  3. Unlisted third countries – those which don’t have listed status because their veterinary systems aren’t as reputable, there is a higher rabies incidence, or they’ve never applied (e.g. India, China, Sri Lanka)

You can find a complete list from

The importance of pet-friendly accommodation

When going abroad with your pets, it’s not just travel you’ve got to think about. You’ll need somewhere suitable to stay when you arrive and not everywhere will welcome pets.

Pets have additional needs, so finding somewhere that meets your requirements will take some research. As an outline of what you should be looking for, here are the key requirements for dogs:

  • Somewhere to sleep. For dogs to rest, they need to feel secure. Try and keep their sleeping arrangements similar to what they have at home. If possible, bring a blanket or bed they usually sleep on, as they’ll settle quicker.

  • Somewhere for exercise. Most dogs need at least one walk a day. It should be part of their routine, and that’s no different on holiday. Look for local parks or open spaces where dogs are welcome.

  • Pet-friendly local attractions. To make sure you don’t have to leave your dog behind all the time, think about where you’d like to go and whether dogs are allowed. For example, restaurants might let you sit outside with your dog, most supermarkets won’t let you take them in and you’d have to check with individual tourist attractions.
  • Local vets. In case something does happen to your pet, make sure there’s a reputable vet nearby. Do your research and have an emergency number saved in your phone.

Great European locations to take your pet

Without a doubt, travelling abroad is easiest within Europe. If you’re looking for inspiration for your first trip with your four-legged friend, look no further than these recommendations:

  • Bruges, Belgium. Not far from the UK, dogs are welcome in a lot of cafes and pubs here. Most of the attractions are outside so you can happily wander with your pet.

  • Prague, Czech Republic. Want to let your dog off the lead while walking with a beer in hand? Prague’s Letna Park is the place to do it. You’ll be able to find restaurants which accept pets, and it’s even possible to take your dog to the cinema.

  • Berlin, Germany. Berlin stands out in Europe as its public transport is particularly pet-friendly, meaning you can stay a bit further out and still explore the city.

  • Norway’s fjords. Although public transport isn’t very pet-friendly, cruise liners are more welcoming of pets. Plus, the country has a lot of open space to explore and let off some steam, which is particularly useful for energetic dogs.

  • France. Suggestions of where to take your pets in Europe wouldn’t be complete without mention of France. The whole country is very welcoming to pets. Dogs are allowed almost everywhere, even at many of the tourist attractions. It’s not uncommon to see locals sat having dinner at a local restaurant with their pets, and yours are equally welcome to join you.

Whatever animal you're travelling with, it’s important to research your destination. Every country treats the arrival of pets differently. Some are more welcoming than others. Doing your prep means you and your furry friend will have an enjoyable trip.

Tips on keeping your pet calm and comfortable during travel

Travelling can be stressful enough for humans. For animals who don’t understand what’s going on, it’s hard to relax. Thankfully, you can make it easier for them. Even once your pet is ready for travel, there are simple things you can do to make sure they’re calm and comfortable for the duration of your trip. These include:

  • Taking familiar smells from home. Pets are incredibly sensitive to smell. If they have a blanket or bed that’s easy to transport, take it with you. Smaller items, such as a toy, can work as well.

  • Being vigilant with health risks. Foreign countries might be home to unknown risks, so it’s important to do a bit of research. There are certain types of caterpillar (the processionary caterpillar in Spain, for example) that are a major risk to animals, causing great irritation, rash and pain.

  • Always have water and a portable bowl on hand. To keep healthy hydration levels, pets need access to their own water supply.

  • Try calming remedies. In case of unexpected stresses, such as a delay, it’s worth taking remedies like Bach Rescue Remedy drops and Adaptil Dog Appeasing Pheromone Spray to calm your pet if needed.

  • Stick to a routine, where possible. Even if it’s just in the mornings and evenings, make sure you keep regular timings for key events – eating, sleeping and exercising.

  • Consider investing in a GPS tracking device. Losing your pet abroad would be a nightmare. With modern GPS devices smaller and cheaper than ever before, it’s worth thinking about getting one you can attach to your pet’s collar.

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