Master The EU Pet Health Certificate Process Before Your Move to Spain

In Moving to Spain by Susan2 Comments


As soon as we knew that we were moving to Spain with our dog Lizzie and her four cats, Jamie started researching the paperwork that we’d need to bring our pets into the European Union.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website has the best information available on what you need for the EU Heath Certificate. You’ll need:

  • An ISO compliant microchip (one with 15 digits),
  • A rabies vaccination a minimum of 21 days before arrival in the EU with validity through the date of arrival,
  • Forms filled out by an accredited veterinarian, and
  • USDA APHIS endorsement.

You can read about everything we learned concerning the European Union’s microchip requirements and download a handy check list at The Microchips and Paperwork You’ll Need to Bring Your Cats and Dogs to Spain.

Why YOU should master the paperwork process

So if an accredited veterinarian fills out the EU pet heath form, why should you be the one to master the paperwork process?

First, based on our experience, the Spanish veterinarian who clears your pet through customs is going to be very nice and very(!) fussy about all the paperwork p’s and q’s. Details follow.

Second, your U.S. veterinarian isn’t likely to be super familiar with the particular form for your destination country or exactly how the form should be filled out. Each EU country uses the same format but in their own language, so most US vets won’t be able to read the directions on the pet health form you need.

Finally, when you take responsibility for your own paperwork you can double -check everything, down to the color of the ink (which should be blue). It’ll be much easier to get any mistakes fixed before you leave than when you’re standing in a cargo warehouse in a foreign land, tired and literally worried sick about your pets. Believe me on that. It’s NOT an experience you want.

One Mistake We Avoided

When it came time to get our pet’s EU Health Certificates ready, we weren’t able to use our regular veterinarians who were informed of our impending move and ready to help us. We sold our Salem, Oregon house the day it hit the market and ended up spending our summer 2,000 miles away with Jamie’s sister and brother-in-law.

Jamie’s sister recommended her veterinarian and a quick call to the USDA APHIS office confirmed her accreditation.

The exam went great but when she presented us with the travel documents, we knew at a glance they were all wrong. She had prepared everything for a domestic flight. Her office was totally unfamiliar with the EU paperwork. It was an inauspicious beginning for our transatlantic sojourn.

Fortunately, I had studied the requirements. We pulled up the form online and proceeded to complete it together. I thought we had it mastered. It turns out we were only close.

One Mistake We Failed to Avoid

We thought we had done everything correctly, and yet one little glitch kept our pets from being released to us for an additional six hours. We did not update our dog Lizzie’s rabies vaccination AFTER she had a new ISO microchip implanted because the APHIS website said you didn’t have to. In hindsight, it would have been the simple thing to do.

If you’ve read our post about booking our pets transport in cargo, you know we were underwhelmed with the cargo experience in the US. It was just as difficult in Barcelona. When we arrived in Barcelona, we had to rent our vehicle first and drive to the cargo warehouse that serves all the major airlines. Fortunately, our Barcelonan friend, Jenny, was there to help us.

Just like Chicago, we tried several doors before finding information and were then instructed to deliver paperwork in another building to the international veterinarian. This necessitated moving the vehicle to a parking garage. The veterinarian walked us back to the warehouse but permitted only one of us to accompany him to do the microchip screen. We elected Jamie and he got to see the holding location for our pets, one other dog, and some tropical fish. Fortunately, they were in a separate isolation room and not on the busy and noisy warehouse floor. This was especially important since they remained locked in the warehouse for about six hours while we sorted through a microchip snafu.

Before we left Oregon I had all our pets implanted with EU approved microchips. The cats were then given their first rabies vaccines. (As housecats, I did not believe they needed this vaccination up to this point.)

Our dog Lizzie was not due for her rabies booster and the guidelines on the APHIS website clearly covered this contingency:

If your pet had a non-ISO compatible chip implanted at the same time as or before your pet’s most recent vaccination, your pet will not have to be re-vaccinated even if it had to be re-microchipped with an ISO compliant chip to travel to the EU.

Remember, the number and implantation dates of both microchips must be documented on the EU Health Certificate and at least one of these microchips must have been implanted before your pet’s most recent rabies vaccine.

The EU Health Certificate process requires certification at the USDA-APHIS office within 10 days of travel. Because we were staying only an hour from the closest office in Madison, Wisconsin, we decided to get our approval in person. I’m glad we did. During our visit, they asked us to get a revised rabies vaccination document from our veterinarian in Oregon that showed both microchips implanted in our dog. We did all that by phone and fax and thought we were good to go.

It turns out, the workaround that the USDA APHIS staff in Madison recommended didn’t work for us in Barcelona.

In hindsight, a simple re-vaccination for our Lizzie dog after her new microchip was inserted would have saved a lot of grief.

Once we got to Barcelona, the Spanish Veterinarian immediately noticed that Lizzie’s new microchip was inserted after she’d received the rabies vaccine (both dates being listed on the EU Certificate). We showed the original rabies certificate to the Veterinarian and told him how we had it prepared with both microchip numbers but that wasn’t good enough because his microchip scanner could not detect the original microchip.

As the clock ticked on we tried to get around this several ways. We called the Madison, Wisconsin APHIS office to ask them to contact the Spanish Veterinarian, but a seven hour time-zone difference meant business hours barely overlapped. Simultaneously, our friend Jenny put out requests to both her veterinarian and an NGO she used to work for to bring other microchip readers to the airport on the off chance that one might read the old microchip.

One of Jenny’s associates brought another microchip reader to the airport and we were all anxious to try it out but finally the Wisconsin APHIS office patched in the Washington DC office on a conference call and the Spanish Veterinarian took their word. To this day I am not sure who to thank for all this effort, but we were so grateful.

When Jamie finally came out of the veterinarian’s office waving a piece of paper I thought we were done. Alas no, we had to drive back to the airport with the veterinarian’s clearance, get a customs stamp added to it, drive back to the warehouse, return to the exact same line we’d begun in six hours earlier, pay an additional €91 warehouse fee, be sent to Dock 25, and wait another 45 minutes until our pets were brought out to us.

But that’s another story…

We understand that the USDA APHIS staff did the best they could. It’s not possible for them to know all the ins and outs and quirks of every port of entry in every country all around the world. But, in hindsight, I can only repeat that the best solution would have been to do a simple rabies re-vaccination for Lizzie dog after her new microchip was inserted. It would have saved a lot of grief. 

Susan Carey retired in 2017 after a long business career.  She writes about her experiences as a vagabond in Europe.  Susan shares her gentle life with her husband, Jamie.


  1. In 2014, we shipped our 10 year old GSD with us on the same direct flight from EWR in New Jersey to Madrid. We had all of the correct documents but after we landed, no one seemed to know where our dog was or where to pick him up. Finally, someone told us that he was off site at SwissPac. We rented a big van, (we were going to be driving to our house in Galicia with our 7 pieces of luggage and the dog) and one of the guys who helps you with the luggage, agreed to go with us to SwissPac (for 50€) because we had no clue where it was. Finally after the back and forth to different buildings like you did, we got our dog. It took 5 hours but worth every minute. Together with Lurpi, our dog, we enjoyed 4 wonderful years here playing on the beach and walking in the mountains. He died in his sleep in August.

    1. Author

      We are sorry for your loss we know how losing a faithful friend hurts. It sounds like Lurpi happily shared those final golden years with you.
      Thank you so much for sharing your story.

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