You need to have four things in hand to take your dog to France from the United States:
1. Proof, in the form of a “Rabies Vaccination Certificate,” that your dog’s rabies vaccination is current. According to the French Embassy, “every animal must have a valid rabies vaccination, even if less than 3 months old. If it is the first rabies vaccination for the pet, you must wait 21 days between the last shot of the vaccination protocol and departure.”
2. A state health certificate (officially called a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection), filled out and signed by your veterinarian. This is the document you typically acquire before flying with your dog to another state (in Washington state, they’re a half-page document, but it varies by state). They’re also a feature of international travel from the U.S., and most airlines require that they be completed within 10 days of travel. Since the same exam can support both this state health certificate and the health certificate you need to get into France (below), you might want to schedule just one appointment with your vet, within 10 days of departure.
3. A health certificate (“Certificat Vétérinaire”) of the correct form (if you are traveling on the same plane as your dog, make sure you have the form saying “for non-commercial movements”), filled out and signed by a USDA-certified veterinarian and endorsed by the USDA. Let’s break that sentence down into parts:
a. I wrote yesterday about getting the correct, current form of health certificate for pet travel overseas. The best way is to go to the USDA’s website and download the form for the country you’re visiting; consider making a follow-up call to your local USDA office to learn about any very recent changes. The form is free.
b. My regular vet turned out to be USDA-certified — call yours, and see if you’re already in the right hands. Make sure your vet fills out and signs the form in BLUE ink, not black ink. Together, the exam and the two health certificates cost us just over $260.
c. You can either make an appointment and bring the completed form to your state’s USDA office for endorsement (that’s what I chose to do, since I’m anxious and the office is only a couple of hours away), or you can send the form to the office by overnight service, enclosing a return pre-addressed, pre-paid envelope. The endorsement process takes about fifteen minutes; in our case, the fee was $35 (payable by check, money order or credit card).
4. Your dog needs to be chipped with “a microchip (standard ISO 11784 or annex A ISO standard 11785).” The saga of microchipping is truly complicated, but I believe that your best choice is to chip your dog with a 15-digit ISO standard 11784 chip (Chloe has the ResQ chip, because our vet had them in stock; if your vet doesn’t have 15-digit chips in stock, you can order a Datamars chip from PetTravelStore.com). You can take your dog to France with a 9-digit chip, which are common in the U.S., but if so, you have to carry your own scanner with you (!). Please note a quirk in timing: Your pet must first be microchipped, and then get the rabies vaccination France requires, and then 21 days have to pass before travel!
That’s a lot of text, but I’ve given you a lot of details. Reduced to its essentials, your dog needs a microchip and a current rabies vaccination, and two health certificates.
The Certificat Vétérinaire is “valid for 4 months after signature,” according to the French embassy. The state health certificate is good for 30 days after your vet signs it. Given those time frames, if you’d like to give yourself more than 10 days to get the Certificat Vétérinaire endorsed, you can — you just have to pay for a second exam, since you still have to bring your dog in to your vet within 10 days of travel for the state health certificate.
Please note that if you’re taking a very long vacation, keep an eye on the expiration date of your dog’s rabies vaccination. To reenter the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your dog “must have a certificate showing they have been vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days prior to entry.” The rabies vaccination certificate that your vet attached to the back of the Certificat Vetérinaire will allow your dog back into the U.S., but only if it shows that your dog’s rabies vaccination is up to date. If your dog’s vaccination is due to expire while you’re out of the country, time her revaccination so that it occurs more than 30 days prior to reentry, and get a new vaccination certificate from a French veterinarian.
One last note: Hang on to your original Certificat Vetérinaire and your original state health certificate! Make several copies before you leave, in case someone wants to keep one.