Three years ago I made good on a dream, packed up everything that mattered (mostly leather boots) as well as my miniature poodle, Kona and we moved to Spain. You see, my name is Bernadette and I love my dog. For two years, from Murcia to Madrid, we lived a good life. In case you are like me and you’re considering moving to Spain with your pet, there are some things you should know. First and foremost, it’s doable and not terribly complicated. Secondly, it’s doable but it is going to cost you. Still interested? I hope so, because I swear, it’s worth it!
Now that you’ve decided to make the jump as a pack, you should know some things, so you can prepare appropriately. I remember after I made my “I’m moving to Spain” announcement, I was constantly met with two reactions to which I wasn’t really expecting:
“Are you taking Kona with you?” To which I would respond, “OF COURSE I’m taking Kona! He’s my dog, not a houseplant.”
“You’re taking Kona?! Won’t finding an apartment/traveling/enjoying life in Spain be nearly impossible?” to which I would wish I had actually voiced along with a slow blink, “Yes, I’m taking Kona. He’s a dog, not a giraffe, I think we’ll manage.”
You love your pet, not everybody gets that, but I do. And Spain, hard as it tries, it is not a third world country. If you’ve managed to live on your own and care for you pet, you’ll manage to do the same in Spain without much additional effort. So let’s get right to it.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no quarantine required for companion animals brought from the United States into Spain (and vice versa). Yaaas! There is, however, a required paper trail... and most of that paper will be leaving your wallet. To successfully bring your dog or cat into Spain, you will need, in this order:
1. An ISO compatible microchip for your pet, which is a 15-digit microchip that can be accurately scanned in Europe. There are only two brands of microchips sold/utilized in the US that meet these requirements:
a. Home Again (What Kona has)
Before you chip, explicitly confirm with your vet that the appropriate chip will be implanted. If your pet already has a microchip that doesn’t meet the requirements, they will need to be re-chipped.
2. A rabies vaccination, after microchip implantation, at least 21 days before you will arrive in the EU.
This order is imperative. God smiled upon me with respect to this process. Kona had been chipped a year prior to me starting my research, and he was due for his three year rabies shot the summer we left for Spain. May the odds be ever in your favor.
3. A signed and sealed USDA APHIS International Health Certificate within 10 days of your departure to the EU. You will need a vet who is certified to perform an International Health Verification Exam, who will then complete the health certificate. The vet will then send the health certificate to the USDA office—in Virginia—by way of FedEx. Now’s when you stop counting them dollars, because expensive. The USDA will certify your papers with a seal, and Fed Ex it back to your vet, where you will retrieve it. You’ll need to present the certificate to your airline in order to board your flight that’s now less than 10 days away, exciting!
Make copies and keep everything neatly filed in a folder. I’m surprisingly Type A from time to time, ‘cuz Type A people get paperwork done right, so you should be like me.
Airlines are quickly ascending the list of corporate entities with direct ties to Satan. With that said, choosing your airline with which your pet will fly is important. Now is not the time to try out some discount box with wings. For the sake of your sanity and your fur baby, even if it means driving two+ hours in an expensive AF one-way rental to JFK from your mom’s house in South Jersey, FLY DIRECT if you can. It’s just less stressful for you and your pet if you don’t have to make any connections. In the event that you must make a connection, schedule it, to the best of your power, to allow time to find a relief station for your pet if they’re flying in-cabin. When flying with your pet, there are multiple variables to be aware of:
1. Pet fees. Don’t nobody fly for free. Fees vary by airline, by in-cabin transport vs cargo hold transport, and sometimes by itinerary.
2. Size/weight restrictions. There are limitations for both in-cabin and cargo hold flight transport. Unless you’re bringing Mamaduke, this shouldn’t be much of an issue.
3. Breed restrictions. Some airlines refuse to transport certain “attack breeds” of dogs or have travel restrictions/conditions for short snouted breeds of dogs and cats. Be sure to read all the fine print.
4. FAA approved travel carriers. Whether in cabin or in the hold, your pet will need to be in an appropriate travel carrier. Carrier size requirements may vary by airline. Note that Amazon is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
5. Flight reservations for your pet. You must call your airline, prior to purchasing your ticket, to reserve/confirm your pet’s spot on your flight. Most airlines allow you to “reserve” your ticket online for 24 hours before actually purchasing. I suggest you reserve your ticket, then call to reserve your pet’s spot before you purchase.
6. You can find a comprehensive list of airlines pet policies HERE. We flew with Iberia both years, btw.
Finding a Room. Finding a Home
So remember how I said that Kona is a dog and not a giraffe? Well, yeah that’s still true today; I just wanted to make that clear. Your biggest challenge will probably be in finding temporary housing. Pet friendly hostels are few, especially outside of big cities like Madrid. Finding a temporary home early is key, and having a plan B is crucial. Hostel World, Hostels.com, Booking, and Airbnb all have pet friendly filters to help you find a temporary place to while you hunt for a piso. I suggest you book two places if you can, and cancel the backup before the penalty.
Finding a piso is a bit less stress inducing. Apartment search sites in Spain are not all created equal, or well, for that matter, but I had the best experience with pisocompartido. There’s also idealista and enalquiler, among others. In small cities or pueblos, you can also go to the town or university plaza for old-school paper postings. No lie, I didn’t search online at all for my piso in Murcia in my first year.
Have a list of must haves & deal breakers for your search, and I can’t emphasize this enough, but go with your gut with respect to roommates. I’m not just talking about whether or not they have a murdery vibe, but whether they have a carelessly irresponsible, might leave the window/terrace door open vibe. Would you trust them for 24 hours to not lose/accidentally kill your pet? I’m being serious. I had one roommate in Murcia, who I wouldn’t have asked to watch my goldfish crackers. Thankfully, my other roommates were less of a disaster. I promise though, you’ll find a place easier than you think you will. You will not be forced to live in a cardboard box!
One you find a place, and I promise you again, you will find a forever home without too much trouble, relax and settle in.
You’ll want to make sure you locate your nearest vet, pet supply store, and depending on your breed, a groomer. These are all very easy finds in a city; in a pueblo they’re probably a one-stop shop.
One of my favorite things about Spain is that is significantly more dog friendly than the U.S. Señor Perro is an awesome website that lists all the dog friendly businesses in your area. Most of the participating establishments will also display a sticker on their door, which serves as an open invitation for you and your pooch. I swear, there’s nothing I loved more than having a coffee…or cocktail with Kona at my feet…or on the barstool next to me.
Once you settle in and get to know your neighborhood, you’ll want to start finding/building your pet support community. Why? Because you just moved to Spain with your fur baby, and you’re going to need a sitter at one point or another, especially if you plan on traveling. Your community can be anyone from your pet safe roommates, to people from the “Americans/teachers/Morenas in Spain” Facebook groups you should join, to your (responsible) friends and other Americans who’ve brought their pets, to even one of your colleagues at your school. In Murcia, the guidance counselor at my high school was my go-to sitter.
She knew Kona because I privately tutored her at my piso. She and her husband were empty nesters, and as such, were eager to lavish Kona with love and up to two weeks of free poodle-sitting while I ran all over Eastern Europe and Morocco during spring break. Ask and ye shall receive. Fun fact: the smaller/cuter your pet is, the more eager people are to pet sit for you. Just ask Kona and at least 10 of my friends who’ve poodle-sat for me in Spain. In the event you must employ the services of a professional sitter, Gudog has got you covered. You can search for a pet sitter in your city, and specify the level of care you’re looking for—from drop in visits/walks, to pet sleepovers. Their services totally saved me from having to turn down a summer camp job and I was at complete ease the entire week he was with the sitter, as she would check in and send pictures regularly.
I know it’s a lot to take in, but that about covers it. Moving to Spain with your pet in tow is literally the best thing that will happen to you both. There will be challenges and hiccups along the way. But I promise you, bringing that piece of your heart and home with you, will at one point be the glue that keeps you from falling apart on a bad day. You will both thrive through it all, and at the end of it all, you’ll both have a story to tell.
Have you moved abroad with a pet before? What dog-loving stories do you have for us?
Bernadette is true Jersey girl — impatient, unfiltered, and infamously averse to mayonnaise. Her affinity for the finer things in life include high-end leather boots, jamón ibérico, and all things bourbon. She and her miniature poodle Kona, currently reside on the wrong side of the Atlantic in Baltimore, MD. But Madrid is their spirit city, and they plan of finding their way back in the future, this time for keeps. You can find more of her work here.