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Interstate health certificate, shot record, international health certificate, pet passport: Sorting out the documents

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about how Alaska Airlines has changed its pet travel policy to require a health certificate for travelers with in-cabin pets. That was newsworthy because for the past several years, no major U.S. airline other than Hawaiian had that policy. Health certificates are, and (essentially) always have been, required for crated pets traveling as baggage/cargo, but for in-cabin pets they were a thing of the past — so much so that there was confusion in Dog Jaunt Nation over what I meant by a “health certificate.” A flurry of posts on Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page later, it struck me that it’d be helpful to see what an interstate health certificate looks like, and make it clear that it’s a different beast than a shot record or the documentation you need to take your pet abroad.

Interstate health certificate

This post, though much edited, will tell you nearly all you need to know about interstate health certificates. What’s missing is a picture of the certificate (sometimes formally known as a “Certificate of Veterinary Inspection”). Washington state’s certificate is a half-page document that looks like this:

The different states' forms vary in appearance, but they cover the same info

The different states’ forms vary in appearance, but they cover the same info

It’s signed by your veterinarian after she conducts a brief but thorough physical exam of your pet, and consults your pet’s vaccination records. Getting one requires making an appointment with your vet and, because it involves both tech and vet attention and time, a fairly substantial payment (typically around $50).

Once signed, an interstate health certificate lasts for 30 days; it’s typically required to be signed within 10 days of travel; and those two time periods are normally not a problem except when there’s an unexpected delay on the front end (consider getting your certificate shortly before you’re scheduled to depart) or you’ve planned a very long vacation (keep an eye on your certificate’s expiration date, and be prepared to get a new one, from a vet at your destination, for your return trip).

Shot record

Another document you can get from your vet is your pet’s shot record:

I'm not winning any awards for this picture, and the document got drenched in today's rain, but you get the idea

I’m not winning any awards for this picture, and the paper got drenched in today’s rain, but you get the idea

You’ll note that this document is labeled a “vaccine certificate,” and if your vet has a similar form, you might be misled by that word “certificate.” But as you can see, this is just a list of Chloe’s vaccinations and their current status.

It does not cost anything. Your vet’s front desk staff will print one for you on request (if you discover a need for one while you’re on the road, your vet will likely fax you a copy, but please note that that will only happen during your vet’s business hours).

A shot record is a useful object, and I always travel with the current version of Chloe’s, because you never know when it might be needed. Infrequently, a hotel will ask for it, and pet daycare facilities always do. It is not, however, an acceptable substitute for a health certificate, because it is not a statement signed by your veterinarian vouching for your pet’s health at a particular point in time. (And please note that an interstate health certificate would not address the needs of a daycare facility, since it focuses on rabies and doesn’t mention bordatella/kennel cough.)

International health certificate

When you’re preparing to travel abroad with your pet, you assemble a packet of documents required by the country you’re visiting. In this post, I included photos of the documents we gathered to take Chloe on our last trip to France (please note that the packet included a “Rabies Vaccination Certificate for the State of Washington,” which also includes the word “certificate” in its title and also does not qualify as an interstate health certificate!). This packet will look much the same for all EU countries, but other countries’ forms will vary a bit. [4/6/15 The form for a health certificate for pets traveling from the U.S. to the E.U. changed a few months ago — be sure to download and fill out the current form.]

I’ve given you advice on how to find the correct, current forms for the country you want to visit, and I won’t repeat that here. This post is just to show you that an international health certificate (ours was called a “Veterinary certificate to EU”) is a different creature than the interstate health certificate Alaska Airlines now requires. The EU certificate is bilingual (French & English) and five pages long, and here’s one [PDF] from a randomly-chosen non-EU country (Brazil) — as you’ll see, it’s also bilingual (Portuguese & English) and it’s three pages long.

International health certificates require an examination by your vet, and depending on your destination, your vet may also have to perform and record the results of additional procedures, like a rabies titration or a treatment against Echinococcus multilocularis. You’ll pay significantly more for your international paperwork than for an interstate health certificate.

Once signed, your international paperwork typically needs to be presented at your destination country within 10 days (but please do not take my word for it — that’s a crucial detail you’ll want to nail down for yourself). How long it lasts varies by country — our EU paperwork for Chloe was “valid for 10 days from the date of issue by the official veterinarian until the date of the checks at the EU travellers’ point of entry and for the purpose of further movements within the Union, for a total of 4 months from the date of issue of this certificate or until the date of expiry of the anti-rabies vaccination, whichever date is earlier,” while the Brazilian form states that it’s “valid for 60 (sixty) days from the date of issuance.”

What about those pet passports you’ve heard about? They are also for international travel, but, officially, they’re only meant for residents of the E.U. That said, we got one for Chloe when we were last in Paris, and several Dog Jaunt readers have done the same thing. The tech who handles our Seattle veterinarian’s international paperwork recently told me about a client of theirs who  frequently travels to France, and uses an E.U. pet passport to do it [but see Audra’s very helpful cautionary comment, below]. Here’s what it looks like; as you’ll see, it covers the same info as the international paperwork you’d typically assemble. On our next trip to Europe, I plan to have our normal international paperwork in my back pocket, so to speak, and attempt using just Chloe’s E.U. pet passport (appropriately updated and signed by her U.S. vet) to get there, around, and back.

As you contemplate upcoming travel, think carefully about what documents you’ll need and their “good for” dates (you’ll want to keep a sharp eye on your dog’s rabies vaccination expiration date too). As an example, my frequent flyer miles are on United, so I could return to the U.S. using the same documents that accompanied Chloe into France (assuming that her rabies vaccination falls into the proper time window), and continue on my merry way to Seattle. But after December 4, travelers who arrive in the U.S. and transfer to an Alaska Airlines flight will need to provide an interstate-style health certificate signed and dated by a vet no more than 10 days earlier, if that’s the first Alaska flight in their itinerary — and what if they were on a two-week vacation? (You’d find a vet at your destination, and get them to examine your pup and fill out a form of certificate that would satisfy the local U.S. authorities, as personified by the Alaska Airlines ticketing or gate agent you encounter. Do-able, never fear, but you’ll need to think ahead.)

How I hope that Alaska Air remains a voice crying in the wilderness on this one — well, except for Hawaiian, but if I was a rabies-free island I’d be careful too. Let me know if I’ve left your questions unanswered. These documents are a tricky business!

11 comments

  • Marie

    I have been flying 3x a year for the last 5 years from San Diego to Knoxville TN where we have a retirement home. I have been paying good $$$ for vet certificates every time I fly, with alot of the times having to secure a certificate for each “end” of my trips. Knoxville is a smaller airport so most larger planes do not fly into Knoxville, which means I have to connect either in Houston, Dallas, Charlotte, Chicago or Atlanta. After one trip through Atlanta we decided NEVER to fly through there if possible as their employees all seem to have the attitude “why do I have to work?” when all my friends sit around and collect welfare or disability. Most of the trips have been uneventful and I try to book with enough time to take Ilse outside for her business in between connections. Unfortunately that always means having to go through TSA again. My most recent trip (with frequent flyer miles) was from San Diego to Miami to Charlotte to Knoxville. Unfortunately when I took Ilse outside in Charlotte to the “green grass” area an employee yelled at me to take her down another 150-175 feet to the “bench area”. She worked in a little booth and I guess didn’t want a 13 pound dog doing her business near her booth. There was no signage for pet area and by the time I got Ilse back into terminal and dealt with incompetent TSA employees and then hurried about a 1/4 mile to the gate I missed the cutoff time for boarding. Then I had to walk back quite a ways to the customer service area to get rebooked for the next flight.

    Usually I never have a problem and Ilse is a phenomenal traveler, never making a sound on the plane but there are always challenges flying. Back to the vet certificates….I sometimes stay longer than the 30 days validity of the certificate so I have to get one in TN to return to San Diego. At $60 a pop it’s just another expense to the “vacation” and what seems very frustrating is out of all the times I’ve flown…about 12 times with Ilse, I have only had ONE request to see the documents. Needless to say, I never want to bypass this step because it would only take one time of not being able to fly to ruin the experience. All I can say is, I wish the Airlines would offer frequent flyer miles for the pet since they charge $125 each way on my round trip flights and she doesn’t take up a seat, or have a coffee or soda…come on airlines….a little customer service would be nice!

  • Michele

    Thanks for the airline update. I was considering not getting the certificate to fly on Alaska for the Thanksgiving holiday after I spent $75 to get one in August that wasn’t requested. It’s kind of insane that we have to pay an average of $275 RT to travel with a pet that qualifies as a carry on item. Why aren’t we getting miles for this?!

  • Audra de Bont

    I just wanted to comment about the pet passport. I have traveled frequently with my Chihuahuas back and forth to Arizona from The Netherlands. My dogs do have pet passports that I use for travel with them. However, your statement about having a US vet sign your EU passport is not legal. I have copied some information directly form the USDA APHIS website for you:
    “Pet Passports: Dogs, cats, and ferrets returning to Netherlands after traveling to the United States may be accompanied by an EUPet Passport issued prior to leaving the EU. An EU health certificate is not required, and APHIS should not endorse the Passport.
    If an animal needs a rabies booster while in the United States, this information cannot be entered into the EU Passport by a US veterinarian. A regular EU health certificate must be issued by the accredited veterinarian and endorsed by APHIS.”
    I don’t think a US vet can enter anything into an EU pet passport according to this statement. You might want to call the USDA before having this done. Good luck to you and I really enjoy keeping up on all your posts, thank you! 😉

  • Thank you, Audra! The whole thing is iffy, because U.S. citizens really just don’t get to have an E.U. pet passport — and yet it is working for some people. Perhaps the authorities in France are less detail-oriented than those in the Netherlands? On balance, I think it’s just too risky to rely on the pet passport alone, and I plan to keep equipping myself with the proper paperwork and APHIS endorsement the rules require. At the same time, I’ll likely also have my vet fill out my pet passport, because I do have the feeling that it’s more recognizable to European authorities. No harm having both the belt AND the suspenders.

  • Jana

    Hi! Thank you for the time of blogging this info! It’s very helpful advice! My husband and I have done many road trips with our 18lb Australian Shepherd, but she will be going on her first plane ride in December.
    We are moving to the Seattle area next week and we’re driving on the way up there from CA. However, we’ll be back for two weeks for Christmas, and that’s when we’ll be flying. I’m shocked that the departure flight and return flight all have to be within 10 days of the issued certificate (at least for Alaska Airlines). We have credit for Alaska so that’s the airline we’ll be using.
    I do want to ask you about vets Seattle. Which vet do you take Chloe to? From what I can tell your recommendation would be lead us to a wonderful practice! 🙂 Thank you!

  • Zahava

    Regarding the comment that wished that dogs could earn frequent flyer miles, Jet Blue now does this for traveling pets, although the point value is relatively low.

  • I’m so sorry for the delayed response, Jana! Welcome to Seattle — we’re in a bit of a transition ourselves, because our beloved vet has just upped and moved to Michigan, but I’m feeling good about our decision to go to a different office in the same practice. It’s the Greenlake Animal Hospital (http://www.greenlakevet.com) — that way, too, we’ll still have access to their traveling vet van, which does home visits for vet-tech tasks (and sometimes you can get a vet to come along — our cat Otto got his rabies vac at home, because that day there was a vet on board — so much less stressful than an office visit).

  • Antoinette D Chapman

    I am travelling from Texas to Wyoming with my 12 weeks old puppie, can you please help me about what necessary documents I need to bring with me. We will be traveling in a car. Thank you very much.

  • Hello, Antoinette — Theoretically, you should look at the rules for each state you pass through (most will be very similar), and equip yourself with the documentation they list (often a health certificate, though some states, including Texas, don’t require them). Here’s a link to a list of the states, with further links to their rules about animal importation. I can’t tell you not to follow the rules. I can tell you that when Chloe and I and a friend drove home to Seattle from Florida, I did not get a health certificate for her. I did carry with me a copy of her shot record and a copy of her most recent rabies vaccination certificate, both printed out by her vet’s front desk staff.

  • Frank

    Thanks for info. We are moving our beloved afghan hound from Venezuela to Pullman, WA. So, since the plan is from log time ago we googled about different pet relocation companies in US. But now, close to moving date, they change price double (close to 6KUS) to move Alanna from MIA to Pullman. So, we are seriously thinking to drive from Miami to Pullman. So, after customs clearance in Miami what other regulations are required by travelling by road? Only rabies vaccination, health certificate? Thanks.

  • Hello, Frank — That is a heck of a big price tag. I know that drive (not too long ago I drove from Tampa to Seattle in my in-laws’ minivan), and the upside is that you’ll see some really beautiful parts of the country, whichever route you choose. Yes, the same documents you use to bring Alana into the U.S. (http://www.dogjaunt.com/2012/02/bringing-a-pet-into-the-united-states-a-readers-research/ ) will carry her across the U.S. While it is unlikely that a situation will arise where a health certificate (separate from the CDC-required rabies certification) will be asked for, en route, it is officially the rule for most of the states that you’ll be crossing that your pet have one. (That said, when Chloe and I did that drive, I did not have a health certificate for her. I had a copy of her then-current rabies certificate and a print-out of her shot record. On the other hand, her U.S. veterinarian was always available by phone or fax; you might feel more comfortable, until you get yourself in the hands of your pup’s new U.S. vet, dotting all the “i”s and crossing all the “t”s.) Safe travels, and welcome (soon!) to Washington!

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