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A Guide to Travelling Internationally With a Service Animal

by Henry Peckett June 17, 2021

A Guide to Travelling Internationally With a Service Animal

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If you plan to take your service animal while you travel internationally, there are a few things you need to be mindful of. You will also typically need a minimum of six months to prepare. 

Primarily, you will need to ensure the health and welfare of the animal. This will include making sure your animal is up to date on checkups, vaccinations, medications, and identification microchips. You will need to research the individual laws and regulations of your destination as well as the necessary travel documentation for the country you intend to visit.

Ensure that you plan and pack appropriately for both you and your service animal. This includes making emergency and backup plans as well as packing everything you may need to care for and prove documentation of the animal. 

Depending on your mode of travel, there may be some restrictions on the type of animal you can take, as well as specific types of travel laws. This guide will give you an overview of what you need to know when preparing to travel internationally with your service animal. 

 

Defining a Service Animal

There are many ways that different animals provide assistance and support to an individual. Some serve as emotional support animals (ESAs) that support an individual with a health condition or emotional disorder. 

ESAs, also known as companion animals, provide therapeutic support to their owners but are typically not trained and certified to perform assistive tasks. While some ESAs will receive accommodations, they often do not have the same legal protection for travelling that trained service animals do.

A service animal is an animal that has been trained to perform tasks and functions for an individual with a disability. Dogs are the most commonly recognized type of service animal, though other animals may also be trained to assist such as cats and miniature horses. Some legal protections for assistance animals may only apply specifically to service dogs, and other types of service animals may face transportation or international travel restrictions.

While there is no global standard for the certification of an assistance animal, they are typically trained, registered, or certified with documentation by a healthcare professional and a recognized organization. Service animals are often able to access public premises and transportation while accompanying their owner. Common service animal applications include:

  • Guide animals for people with visual impairments.
  • Hearing assistance animals for people with hearing impairments.
  • Alert, response, and medical detection animals for seizures and other medical impairments.
  • Mobility assistance animals.
  • Service animals for specific conditions, such as autism.

Pre-Travel Preparation and Checklist for Your Service Animal

Before travelling abroad with your service animal, there are a few things you need to consider and prepare for. You will need to address the physical health and safety of the animal. Additionally, you must understand the laws, regulations, and intricacies of your destination. Preparing for travel by consulting with your veterinarian and getting the required documentation may take upwards of six months to a year. 

Before travelling you will need the following:

  • Documentation from your healthcare provider : Speak with your healthcare provider about procuring a professional letter or statement that explains the purpose and value of your assistance animal. This may include the exact requirements that the animal fulfills as well as the tasks the animal performs.
  • Veterinarian care : Your animal will need an updated bill of good health, a rabies vaccine certificate, and any other required vaccinations. If your service animal requires medications, you will need to ensure you have a full supply or direct access to them.
  • Proper identification for the service animal : You will need to ensure that your service animal has a microchip that meets the International Standards Organisation guidelines with a 15-digit microchip ID number. Furthermore, your service animal should have the appropriate and recognizable identification gear. This may include a jacket, vest, harness, or specialized collar indicating that the animal is a service animal. 
  • Registration or certificates from an accredited animal-assistance program : While there may not be a set standard for certification, there are some governing bodies such as Assistance Dogs International that provide reputable accreditations to service dog training and placement programs. While these programs can provide certification and registration for your assistance animal, these certifications and registrations may not hold legal authority.
  • Contact the embassy of your destination(s) : There is no set global standard or law for regulating or admitting assistance animals, so it is essential to research each destination that you will be visiting. You will want to ask about any quarantine policies or any other laws and regulations that will impact your service animal and ability to visit. More so, you may also need to contact the department or ministry of agriculture at your destination(s) to inquire about any other intricacies, quarantines, or vaccinations you may need to consider.
  • Contact disability organizations or service-animal associations operating at your destination : Contacting a local or country-specific disability or service-animal association can provide deeper and more fine-tuned insight into what you should expect as well as your rights while visiting your destination. These types of organizations may also provide insight into cultural attitudes towards your service animal that are beneficial to know before travelling.  
  • Consider applying for a pet passport : Though a service animal is not considered a “pet,” a pet passport can assist in the ease and facilitation of travelling in European Union countries. If you choose to pursue a pet passport, ensure that it accommodates your travelling needs and destinations. 
  • Consider applying for pet or travel insurance that covers your assistance animal while you travel : Insuring your service animal may not be necessary to gain entry to your destination country. However, it can provide great benefits and relief in the case of an emergency. Pet care coverage and travel insurance will provide financial assistance and medical support if your assistance animal becomes ill. Additionally, animal insurance can provide pet care coverage, or send your animal back to your country of residence if you have a medical emergency and cannot care for them.
  • Understand the re-entry requirements for your home country : In addition to seeking the regulations and policies of the countries you intend to visit, you also need to remain knowledgeable about the re-entry requirements for your own country. These may include screening for specific types of diseases and parasites, as well as any quarantine requirements.

You may also consider having any documentation that you procure translated into the native language(s) of your intended destination(s). You will need paper copies of all your documents, but it may also benefit you to create digital copies that you can display from a handheld or transportable device. 

By keeping your devices protected from physical damage with phone cases , iPad cases , and MacBook cases , as well as the appropriate cybersecurity measures, you can keep your documents safe and accessible wherever you are and whenever you need them.

Travel and Welfare Considerations for You and Your Service Animal 

Alongside the proper paperwork and documentation that you need to prepare before travelling internationally, you should also consider the health and welfare of both you and your service animal. This includes:

  • Considering the additional stresses for the animal while travelling to unfamiliar environments, as well as environments that may be less accessible than what you and your working animal are used to.
  • Creating backup plans for yourself if your assistance animal becomes sick or overwhelmed and cannot perform its duties.
  • Having a medical emergency plan if you or your assistance animal becomes ill. This may include having the proper insurance, as well as getting their veterinarian documents translated to the language of your destination(s). 
  • Preparing to deal with feral animals in destination countries that could pose a threat to the health and safety of you and your assistance animal. Additionally, knowing what types of disease risks or parasites you may encounter while you travel so that you can seek medical treatment for your animal immediately when you recognize symptoms or sickness.
  • Creating an emergency plan if you need to leave the country quickly. This may include making preparations for the assistance animal such as boarding or alternative flights, as well as necessary preparation for yourself if you must become separated from your animal. 

Packing Checklist for Your Service Animal

In addition to your paperwork, documents, and devices, you will also need to bring the necessary items to care for and make your assistance animal as comfortable as possible while travelling in unknown environments. Consider the following items: 

  • A pet suitcase that can contain all of your service animal’s items.
  • Wearable and personalized identification such as a harness, vest, and collar. 
  • A sturdy leash or guiding harness.
  • A favorite and comforting toy.
  • Treats.
  • Extra food.
  • Water bowl and a portable water bottle.
  • Waste bags.
  • Any medications that your assistance animal requires.
  • Bed and special blanket your service animal is familiar with.
  • First aid kit for your service animal.
  • Considerations for special situations and environments during travel that may include:
    • Sun protection.
    • Life vest.
    • Potty spot.
    • Disinfectant sprays and wipes.
    • Beach towel .
    • Medication for motion or seasickness.
    • Coat, vest, or rain jacket for cold or wet weather.

Preparing for Types of Travel

Different modes of transportation will have distinct requirements. The following sections act as a guide to provide you with general and important information. However, it is essential to contact the transportation provider and check local laws and regulations to ensure that you have the necessary documents to meet the requirements of their policies. 

Air Travel 

If you are preparing to travel internationally on a commercial flight, you will first and foremost need to contact the airline to inquire about their policies regarding flying with service animals. Some airlines may only accommodate dogs as service animals, so it is important to ensure that your animal can be accommodated. 

Every airline service and country will have its own unique needs, requirements, and paperwork, but in general, you will need to:

  • Contact the airline ahead of time to let them know you need accommodation.
  • Provide all necessary documentation.
  • Fill out the required paperwork. This may include specific paperwork provided by the airline, as well as paperwork for entering the country of your destination.

The airline may also request:

  • The opportunity to observe the behavior of your service animal. 
  • That your animal stays at your feet during the duration of the flight.
  • That you purchase an additional seat for your animal.
  • To transport the animal in the cargo hold, or ask that you board a different flight with more room if your current flight does not have space to accommodate you and your service animal.
  • That your animal wears an identifying harness, collar, ID, or other material that indicates that the animal is a service animal. 

Airlines may deny the transportation of an animal if it poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others, or displays threatening behavior. Contacting the airline as early as possible in your planning can help alleviate some stress, and ensure that you have all your documentation and requirements in order. 

Additionally, arriving early at the airport will give you enough time to ensure your animal has a chance to go to the bathroom and board the plane smoothly. 

Travelling by Water

There are options for water travel, including private ships and boats, commercial boats, as well as cruise ships. Each mode of water transportation may require unique paperwork and documentation, so it’s best to contact the organization directly and ensure that you have the correct documentation to meet their needs.

If you plan to exit the ship at a destination port, you must have the proper documentation for entering the country with your assistance animal. You may be required to have your animal checked by a vet before reentry to your country of origin and you may need to schedule this before re-boarding the vessel. 

Some ships may also have a policy specifying that your service animal is not allowed to leave the ship at the port. If you plan to travel by water with your service animal you may need to additionally consider:

  • Not all boats, ships, or public landing ports have been designed with accessibility or to accommodate assistance animals. You may need to contact the company or port directly to ensure they can make arrangements to accommodate you. 
  • Some cabins on ships are limited in space and may be uncomfortable for you and your service animal. If possible, contact the vessel operator, tour operator, or booking agent to ensure you are given a room with proper accommodation.
  • Some vessels may ask for documentation from an organization that proves your animal has been professionally trained. 
  • If your animal displays threatening behavior that could put others at risk, the vessel may not allow your service animal to board. 
  • Some vessels may have a specific area to allow your service animal to relieve themselves. You will need to ensure you know where these areas are and that you have the proper materials to collect your service animal’s waste. 
  • Most sea vessels will not be equipped with veterinary services and you will be responsible for the health and safety of your service animal. Furthermore, you may need to speak with the vessel operator to design a specific recovery plan if your service animal goes overboard.

The following cruise lines provide specific details for policies and how to accommodate service animals on their vessels:

Travelling by Car

If you plan to travel in a vehicle to your destination country, you will need to ensure that you have all the required documentation to transit across the border. You will need to contact the embassy and department or ministry of agriculture to ensure that you have all the necessary documents and meet all required policies for your service animal. While preparing to travel with your service animal by car, you may need to consider:

  • Ensure that your service animal is comfortable and secure in the vehicle, either in the footwell of the passenger seat or in the back seats of the vehicle. 
  • If the service animal is in the back seat of the vehicle, utilize a safety belt that attaches to the animal’s harness and the seat belt.
  • Ensure that you stop every two to three hours to allow the animal to relieve themselves. 
  • Ensure that the animal has regular access to water during travel.
  • Check the ventilation of the vehicle to be certain the animal has enough airflow. 
  • Do not leave a service animal in an unattended vehicle.

Public Transit

If you intend to take public transit such as a train, bus, or coach while you are travelling internationally, you should contact the operator to inquire about their service animal policies and support. If you plan to take transit that will cross the border of different countries, you may need to ensure that you have the proper documentation for each stop or country you enter. Some trains and busses can provide extra space or accommodation for service animals if they are notified ahead of time. 

Tips for Service Animal Requirements for Common Destinations

Every country will have unique requirements for preparation and documentation to gain entry with your service animal. The following section provides insight into the policies and regulations for some popular destinations, but to ensure that you meet all requirements, it is essential to contact and inquire with the embassy of your chosen destination. 


The UK :

  • Many British travel companies recognize assistance animals that are trained and certified through Assistance Dogs International or the International Guide Dog Federation .
  • You will be required to obtain a pet passport , an animal health certificate, or a Great Britain pet health certificate, depending on where you are travelling from.
  • Your animal will need marking and identification, vaccination records, rabies blood testing, and tapeworm records.
  • Your animal will need a microchip.
  • Some service animals may need a quarantine period.

The United States :

  • You may be required to fill out a U.S. DOT form attesting to the animal’s health, behavior, and training.
  • Your animal must be up-to-date on rabies vaccinations.
  • You will also need to contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that the dog meets the standards of health and vaccinations before entry.
  • You will need to obtain a health certificate from your veterinarian you might have to acquire it within a specific time frame before your departure. 

Costa Rica :

  • Import requirements for animals in Costa Rica , including service animals, require a health certification from a licensed veterinarian. 
  • You may be required to get your assistance animal a rabies vaccination within 21 days of entering Costa Rica.
  • You may also need to receive a health certificate from your country’s department or ministry of agriculture. 
  • Your service animal may be required to undergo internal and external parasite treatment within two weeks before entry.

France :

  • To bring a service animal into France , you will need to ensure that the animal fulfills the cumulative health requirements, and your animal may be subject to inspection by customs authorities.
  • Your animal must be microchipped.
  • You must have current rabies vaccinations documentation as well as a rabies blood titer test
  • The animal must be more than three months old. 

Japan :

  • You may be required to get a Japan-specific pet passport .
  • Your service animal must be microchipped.
  • You must fill out an Advanced Notification form at least 40 days in advance of import.
  • Your service animal may be required to undergo an exam and treatment for internal and external parasites, as well as a rabies blood titer test. 

Additional Accessibility Travel Resources

The following resources provide supplementary information or valuable insight into organizations that offer support, guidance, or information to make travel more accessible.

  • TravelGuides.org offers insight and information for accessible travelling, as well as travel resources such as travel agents and operators that are experienced in disability issues.   
  • The Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality provides tips, information, and resources for accessible travel. 
  • World on Wheelz is a travel resource that provides travel reviews, tips, and information, and can also assist in booking an accessible trip.
  • WheelchairTravel.org provides access and information about accessible travel agents, medical equipment rentals, personal care assistants, and wheelchair van rentals
  • Reduced Mobility Rights Limited provides information, advocacy, and consultation for accessible travel. 
Henry Peckett
Henry Peckett


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