Preparing for the Move to Portugal

How to Prepare to Move Pets to Portugal

Image by blende12 from Pixabay

My family needs to move our pets to Portugal. We will have a cat and a dog arriving a few months apart, but the process is the same for both. In this article, I focus on moving dogs and cats to Portugal from the United States. I do not talk about exotic animals or moving from any other country.

Pets are family members. Just as with humans, pets need preparation to move to another country. They require specific paperwork to enter the country legally. And if the pet isn’t used to travel, give special care to prepare them for such a big trip.

Booking Your Flight

Check with your chosen airline for their pet policy before you book your flight. The policy will tell you what pets are allowed on the flight and the size limit of the carrier. The airline must know of your pet before you book the ticket.

I went to a travel agent to help me book the flight since I didn’t know how to book a ticket for Katie, our cat. The agent needed to know the measurements of the carrier to be sure it would fit under the seat. We are flying United so I’ll give you the information for them.

United has a policy of only having a certain number of pets in the cabin. I believe the limit is five. The day that I originally wanted to fly into Lisbon was unavailable since there were already five pets booked into the cabin. The travel agent searched several airports for me, but she didn’t have any luck for that date. She did manage to find a flight for the following day that would accept Katie.

Just as there is a charge for your ticket, there is a charge for the pet ticket as well. In-cabin, the pet ticket cost me $125. I don’t know the exact fee for the hold or cargo, but you can expect it to be about $100-$150 more than in the cabin.

I suggest that you make your flight reservations as soon as possible to avoid there not being room for your pet. Because I had to delay my flight by a day, I had to change my lodging and airport transfer reservations. I’m lucky that Airbnb and the driver were available the next day.

Getting Used to the Carrier

Katie needed to get used to her carrier. She had only been in it a couple of times for short trips to the vet. One thing I did with her was to put her in the carrier for increasingly longer times. I know that she will have a 5-hour drive to the airport, a 4-hour wait at the airport, and a 7-hour flight. That is a lot of time to spend in the carrier.

Katie makes her displeasure with the carrier known. She yowls a lot when she’s in it. Once she is in the carrier for an hour or so, she settles down. I think that once she boards the plane and is put under the seat, she will be quite comfortable for the overnight flight.

For animals that are too large to fit under the seat, they must be in a hard-sided carrier and placed in the hold or sent as cargo. Trained personnel will care for your beloved animal while they are away from you.

Navigating the Airport

Katie will be flying with us in the cabin, so we do have a collapsable carrier. That way, it will fit under the seat in front of us. According to airline rules, the carrier must remain under the seat with the cat inside.

Once we get to the airport and check in, we have to take her through security. For either a dog or cat, the animal must be removed from the carrier just prior to going through the security checkpoint. Hold small animals in your arms as you go through the scanner, and the carrier will go through the x-ray machine. Larger dogs can be walked on a leash through the scanner.

Your hands will be swabbed for explosive material once you’re through the scanner. Once that is done, place your animal back in its carrier and move away from the crowd as you retrieve the rest of your carry-on belongings.

I know that Katie will need a break somewhere at the airport. We plan to use a family bathroom to let her out of the carrier, give her a chance to use the portable litter box, and stretch her legs and body for a few minutes. For dogs, plan on using the nearest available pet area prior to boarding the plane.

Paperwork Needed to Move Your Pets to Portugal

An important thing when you move your pets to Portugal is to be sure that the required paperwork is in order.

Cats and dogs must be vaccinated against rabies. There is no other vaccination requirement. Be sure to have an updated rabies vaccination certificate.

Your dog or cat will need an EU-compliant health certificate. This must be filled out by a USDA-accredited veterinarian. Your present vet may not be USDA-accredited; mine wasn’t. You can find a USDA-accredited veterinarian on this website.

The health certificate must be filled out no more than 10 days before arrival in Portugal. I had my vet do Katie’s check-up exactly 10 days before our arrival in Portugal so that I had time for the next step.

Once you have the health certificate filled out by a USDA-accredited veterinarian, you then need to send the certificate to the USDA APHIS office that serves where you live. For instance, my office is located in Albany, NY. This office serves the entire east coast as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Most accredited vets can electronically send this form to the APHIS office for you.

Once you have your certified paperwork back from the USDA APHIS office, you will need to notify the vet at the airport you will be flying into. You’ll send a letter stating your name, email, and phone number, the breed of animal, the country you’re flying from, which airport you’re flying into, the flight information, and the time of arrival.

For the Lisbon vet’s office, located near baggage claim area 9, email this letter and any required paperwork at least 72 hours before your flight. The email address for the vet in the Lisbon airport is piflisboap (at) dgav (.) pt. You can find an updated list of requirements to travel with your pet in the Facebook group “Americans & FriendsPT” under the “Files” tab.

My experience

Unfortunately, I was in a bit of a time crunch. Although we had the appointment 10 days in advance of arrival, on July 2nd, the following day was Sunday, and the Monday after that was a federal holiday. On Tuesday, the computer was down at the APHIS office so the vet couldn’t submit the paperwork. I panicked. I was running out of time.

The vet suggested that I just drive the paperwork down to Albany myself. The office is only an hour away from where I live. Little did the vet know that the USDA APHIS office does not take walk-ins. I don’t know why they accepted my paperwork anyway, but they did. Maybe it was because I’m cute. Ha!

Regardless, DO NOT GO IN PERSON TO YOUR USDA APHIS OFFICE. If you are short on time and the vet is unable to electronically send the health certificate, overnight it to the USDA APHIS office. Be sure to include a return address overnight label with your paperwork.

Emotionally Prepare Pets to Move to Portugal

If you know that your fur baby will be overly stressed during the move, you may want to consider getting a pet sedative. Talk to your vet and get his or her recommendation based on your pet’s personality. My cat is generally easy-going, but she does get stressed when around strangers. Perhaps she would do better with a sedative. Maybe your fur baby would, too.


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