You've decided to take that first step on the long, bumpy, and twisty road that is legally immigrating to another country. So you've contacted the consulate for your area and they've sent you the long, frustrating, and confusing list of requirements and you're wondering how the hell you're ever going to get through it. But wait! There's more - your pets also have their own separate list of chores that need to be checked off before they can immigrate along with you.
Now what I'm going to describe to you is relevant for cats, dogs and ferrets in regard to Portugal - if you have another species of pet like birds or other rodents, you'll need to check and see if you're even allowed to bring them with you and what the regulations are concerning this. That being said, the experiences I'm detailing regard flying on TAP and I'm not sure what their ferret regulations are. Also, if you have a breed of dog that some government folks have deemed "dangerous", you may not be able to take them with you to certain countries.
Time is your friend in this case, so make sure to make the most of it. There are mandatory waiting periods required in between the different steps, so if you're pretty sure you're going to move, get started now. First thing - call your vet and ask if they have or can order 15 digit European microchips. If they don't or can't, order your own sterile 15 digit microchip online and ask them to implant it (about $25 - $30). American microchips have a different number of digits and will not respond to scanners used by the vets abroad. Get documentation from the vet with your microchip number and the date it was implanted. This must be done minimally 90 days before your flight to Portugal.
Once your furry friend has his/her European microchip, you've got to take him/her back to the vet 21 days or more after the microchip was implanted to get a rabies vaccination ($25 - $30). Make sure to get a copy of the paperwork verifying this because you'll need it later. Go online, purchase and print your Pet Passport documents and put these aside ($15). I kept everything in an ever growing folder labeled "Cats" to maintain a semblance of organization.
If you haven't done this yet, it's time to buy plane tickets for your pets. We purchased them at the same time we bought our own tickets, though the customer service rep I spoke to repeatedly said I could wait until later to do so, but I really just wanted to get it done since there are only so many pets allowed per flight. We flew TAP (see here for rules and regulations) which like most airlines knows you couldn't possibly leave your furry friends behind and charges you royally for the privilege of taking them with you (€150 and up per pet each way).
The €150 I quoted above is for one pet to travel in a carrier under your seat. The entire package must be less than 8 kg/17 lbs. If you've got a pet who weighs more than this, as most dogs and some fat cats may, they've got to go below in the hold and you get to pay even more money for this service. Also, if you've got a vast empire of cats and dogs, unless you have the money to pay friends to travel with you and put them all under their seats, they're going to have to go below also. Now, these are just TAP's rules: different airlines have different weight limits, policies, and fees and it's best to research them thoroughly.
Once you've bought your friend his/her ticket, it's time to start researching where to get a carrier that fits the size and weight requirements of your airline. After days of online searching, the only options I was able to find to meet TAP's teeny tiny size requirements were what was essentially a child's shoe box made of cardboard masquerading as a "pet carrier" and a rather pricey, but well-made carrier from Kobi (which is sadly no longer being made). We went with the latter and now my cats have nicer luggage than I do.
After you've booked your ticket, you need to contact the veterinarian's office at the airport you are flying into to make an appointment at the end of your trip to have your pet examined (€50 or €60 cash). They are called the Direção Geral de Alimentação e Veterinária and as of my most recent conversation with them, their email was firstname.lastname@example.org, which is different from the non-functioning email on their website. Don't forget to also ask them for the forms you'll need for the vet if you haven't gotten them already - called the Modelo de Certificado - Anexo II da Decisao 874 2011 UE. Upon arrival in Lisbon, you'll find their office in the baggage claim area.
Your next step is to find a USDA certified vet. Ask your current vet if they are certified, if not, contact the USDA in your area to find a list of certified vets. Once you've found a vet, book an appointment to have them fill out both the Pet Passport and the lengthy Modelo de Certificado - Anexo II da Decisao 874 2011 UE you got from the Direção Geral de Alimentação e Veterinária or the consulate. They should be familiar with this 5 page document, but not everyone is. Make sure you have enough time just in case they have questions and need to contact either the USDA or the consulate to resolve them. After you make this appointment, call the local APHIS branch of the USDA to make another appointment to have the Modelo certified by their agency after your vet appointment.
The kicker regarding the Modelo is that it MUST BE FILLED OUT AND SIGNED BY A VET WITHIN 10 DAYS OF YOUR FLIGHT. Because we left our hometown 2 weeks before our flight to drive to Connecticut (we were flying out of LaGuardia), we had to find a vet in Connecticut who was both willing and able to do this for us (thank you Torrington Animal Hospital!). Then we had to take a long drive up to APHIS in Sutton, Massachusetts to get our form certified.
As we were trying to get this all together and prepare for a road trip across country to my sister's house, we were told by the consulate in San Francisco that we would need to send our certified Modelo to him for a consular stamp in order to bring our cats with us. I was almost in tears after this conversation - there was no way we could send the cats' paperwork from Connecticut to California and have it back in time for our flight a couple days later. Because I had never heard of this requirement the entire time we'd been researching our move, I was suspicious and began calling every other Portuguese consulate in the US.
It isn't easy to get in touch with these folks - you'll find a lot of your voicemails go unanswered and when you do get a response, it doesn't tend to be helpful or polite. However, I eventually heard from one of the other east coast consuls that the man at the San Francisco branch was incorrect - this was an old requirement that was no longer relevant or necessary. She said she had no idea why he didn't know this and why he was telling me otherwise, but that he was wrong. So the lesson I learned from this was check, recheck and then check 5 more times, because you can't be sure of anything until you've received a consensus from several people.
So we finished all our paperwork - the microchip info, rabies vaccination, the Modelo, the APHIS certification - and stuck it all in that folder I mentioned before that I wedged into my carry on so I'd have it even if my luggage went missing. I also brought some bottled water, cat food, kitty pee pads, rubber gloves, paper towels, and a pet odor removal spray just in case. Waiting in line to board the aircraft, I was armed with everything for the gate agent to review, but they just waived me onward without even looking at the cats' carriers or paperwork, let alone weighing or measuring them like they said they would.
After 8 miserable hours during which the cats behaved as though they were being led to their doom, we finally arrived in Lisbon. After collecting our suitcases, backpacks, duffels and cat carriers, we headed to the airport vet. She was waiting for us and scanned the cats' microchips, then started going through their paperwork. She stopped, frowning, and said we didn't have the rabies vaccination info from last year. Knowing we didn't need last year's vaccination records, I explained to her that we had the current year's. She disagreed and despite knowing she was wrong, I dug into my backpack for all the cats' prior medical forms which I had brought just in case something ridiculous like this went down. As I presented them, she finally realized she was wrong and apologized, saying I was correct and all she needed were the current vaccination records. Phew! We left with the cats after paying the €50 or €60 in cash to obtain the document we needed to exit the terminal with her signature and certification.
We headed for door which would lead us out to the officials we'd need to show the document to before exiting. They were deep in conversation and didn't even look at us as we slowly walked by, trying to catch their eye. I took the document, packed it away in my cat folder, readjusted my bags and headed for our new home. Traveling internationally with pets is a pain in the ass, but they're a part of my family and if I had to do it all over again I gladly would.
If you have any questions for me regarding traveling with your pets, please don't hesitate to ask!