Moving Your Pets to Spain? Five Things You NEED to Know

In Moving to Spain by Susan & Jamie4 Comments


When we decided to spend our retirement in Spain, our biggest worry was how to get all five of our pets from the U.S. to Valencia. We spent hours on-line and made who knows how many phone calls, chasing down regulations, comparison shopping different airlines, and we even checked out transatlantic sailings of the Queen Mary II, the last passenger ship that takes animals.

Along the way we learned several lessons about moving to Spain with pets.

  1. Master the EU Health Certificate process.
  2. Choose your airline and flight carefully.
  3. Understand what cargo, excess baggage, or carry-on baggage mean when it comes to pets.
  4. Crates are great when your pets are comfortable.
  5. Patience and kindness make a difference.

We hope our experiences will help you decide how to transport your beloved pets to Spain.


The veterinarian was unfamiliar with  international pet transportation and needed help filling out the forms.

We’ve already written about the microchips, rabies vaccination, timing, and paperwork you will need for the EU Pet Health Certificate using an accredited veterinarian. This story builds on those steps with the actual interactions with airline, immigration, and customs officials.

You'll be under a tight 10 day timeline to have your paperwork approved before you travel. We chose to drive to the local USDA office in Madison, Wisconsin because we wanted no delays with mail delivery. That gave us a chance to correct a few things in person but we still didn’t get it quite right. Here's why you should learn to master the EU Health Certificate process.

Choose Your Airline & Flight Carefully

We said goodbye to the U.S. at Chicago O'Hare

We try to save money on every flight we take, knowing it will likely contribute to our travel time and possible discomfort. Wanting…needing a direct flight for this relocation trip with pets was likely to be expensive. And with no direct flights to Valencia, we knew we’d be adding some ground transportation. With lovely help from family using banked points on American Airlines we were able to book a direct flight of 8 hours 20 minutes from Chicago O’Hare to Barcelona.

We liked that American Airlines allows you to attach up to two pets to each booked flight for just an additional cost of $200 per kennel. With our pet family of five, that meant we would have to book cargo for possibly only one pet. Or, should we just book cargo for all five? All the gory details of how we selected the airline and flight for moving our pets to Spain might help you select your flights more wisely.

What kind of cat is that?

We spent two hours and the cargo depot before the airline accepted our pets.

I can’t speak for all airlines, but on American Airlines you cannot make a reservation when attaching a pet to your ticket – pets traveling as checked baggage are on a first come, first serve basis. You show up four hours before the flight and if there is room for your pets, you are good to go. That may work for a family of one pet, but it is scary to try that approach for a family of five pets.

We spent a lot of time on research and got a lot of different answers. Even the pet transport companies were not very helpful. Our ultimate decision was to book all our pets in cargo, a decision I’ve second-guessed ever since I made it. Fortunately we all arrived safe and sound but maybe our story about sending pets as cargo will help you make better-informed plans.

Heavy duty pet kennels for international transport

Our pets were in their kennels for nearly 24 hours.

We knew our pets were in a for a long flight and wanted them to be as comfortable and safe as possible. Besides meeting the airline requirements for kennel size and strength, we spent considerable time in creating an inviting space and getting our pets used to their temporary nest.

If challenges force you to grow mentally, then patience helps you endure emotionally.  When you're moving your pets from the U.S. to Spain, don’t leave home without a double dose of patience.

Despite all our preparation, we had a “little trouble” when the Spanish customs veterinarian wouldn’t release our dog Lizzie and her four cats for several hours because of a paperwork glitch. It wasn’t the end of the world, things just didn’t go as planned.  A process that should have taken an hour ended up taking nearly six hours of scrambling and worrying.  Here’s Jamie's story about  the day Lizzie  and her four cats moved to Valencia

Jamie Wyant is a retired American.  After living in Valencia, Spain, he set out on a long, slow journey with his wife, Susan.  He writes about the joys and tribulations of living and traveling gently.  Jamie also manages the technical aspects of
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.
Happy to be in Valencia


  1. 1. More info, please, about what / why you learned / decided re QM2. We’re thinking about how to get 2 adults + 5 cats (one geriatric) to Spain without using cargo, and without having to deal with rules for transiting UK.

    2. Have seen conflicting info re QM2 to Hamburg — Cunard site says there’s a NY-Hamburg trip which stops in UK, other sites imply there’s no NY-Ham, trip ends in UK.

    3. Damn that BoJo…

    1. Hello Ken,
      We sure do understand your plight in trying to get across the Atlantic with five pets. It’s been a long time since we dealt with that particular decision. The Cunard website has changed since then and doesn’t seem to offer up as much information. If I remember correctly (fat chance) we decided against crossing on the QM2 because there were only very limited opportunities to visit our pets during each day, each pet required his or her own kennel, and a seven day crossing meant our family would be split up for too long. The fees were pretty darned high too.

      In addition, these days you’d have to go through two “importations” and the logistics would probably require two different veterinary exams, though the microchips and rabies inoculations would be fine.

      I do not believe it is necessary to go the cargo route. That was a major mistake we made.

      We recently flew back to the States with our two surviving senior cats. Ricco is nearly 19 and Teej is well past 20 yrs old. I’d recommend considering Lufthansa. We called their customer service group in Spain and received plenty of good information and help. On the flight the cabin crew were also exceptionally helpful and understanding. They might have better advice for you than we can offer at this time. We’ll be heading back to the EU in September.

      Meanwhile, best of luck to you and your feline friends

  2. Wow! You moved FIVE pets from the U.S. to Spain??? This gives me some inspiration as we continue to try and decide what warm place to retire to. Spain has been a dream for about 10 years. Thanks for your site full of great information! I’ll be perusing probably all of your “move to Spain” posts so I will thank you in advance for them!!

    1. Thanks for reading Life on GentleCycle. I hope you find our posts useful.

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