Doggie Travel from Africa to the U.S.

Now that the movers are packing our boxes, I’ve turned my attention to getting our doggies back to the U.S. safely.  I’ve researched the issue in depth and have come to the conclusion that the most economical as well as safest way is via KLM.  Beginning in May of this year, KLM started Lusaka-Amsterdam direct flights three days a week (before that, the only Lusaka-Europe direct flights were British Air, to London).  Someone I met in obedience class just used KLM and said her dog had a wonderful experience with them and arrived safe and happy.  Here’s the lowdown on bringing dogs back to the U.S. from Lusaka.

It’s best if the animals can fly on the same flight as you (cheaper), otherwise they have to go as cargo which requires you find a shipping agent.

If your dog is small enough (usually 15 lbs or smaller), you can bring them on the plane with you on KLM only (Kenya, South African, and British Air do not allow non-service animals in the cabin).  I thought about doing this with Buddy, but know from experience (when we lived in Italy) that it’s actually quite stressful for them to be hauled around airports, shoved under seats, go through security, etc.  I actually think that it’s less stressful in a nice roomy crate where they’re kept in a quiet, heated place in the hold (and I’m one of those obnoxious travelers who asks to speak to the pilot before taking off to make sure they know there’s a live animal in the hold).  It may be stressful to them not to see you during the layover but layovers I think are more stressful inside the airport with all the people wanting to pet your dog (‘sorry, he bites,’ and then they reach to pet him anyways) and all of the commotion and lack of places to do one’s business.

So, here is information for traveling with your pet in the hold.

Avoid South African Airways or any routings through Johannesburg.  Your dog risks a 6 week quarantine and they are very strict about it.

Our vet suggested Ethiopia Air, but having spent a good portion of my professional work life in Ethiopia and knowing the airport, I wasn’t as confident with their ability to handle dogs for the layover in Addis.  Also, Europeans dote on their dogs and Ethiopians not so much, so I thought the handlers on a European layover would be better for the dogs.

The two safest airlines for international travel for your pet, in my opinion, are KLM and British Air.  The problem with British Air is that they charge cargo rates for all pets (which for our small Westie was over $1000 alone; our large dog would have been about $3600) whereas KLM charges a flat fee of $200 plus a fee of $200 if you have a layover of 2 hours or more, which means the dogs get to go to their doggie hotel (given our flight from Lusaka to Amsterdam is 10.5 hours, I’m glad for once to have a long-ish layover so the dogs could be exercised and have a chance to relieve themselves).  So, for two dogs we’re paying $800, compared to well over that for just one small dog when we used British Air for our flight from the states into Lusaka.  Both British Air and KLM have award-winning doggie hotels so your dogs will be well cared for during a layover in either place.

Now, the problem using British Air and KLM is the Europe-U.S. leg.  If you want the cheapest, smoothest, safest flight for your pets, you’ll need to stick with BA and KLM operated aircraft.  If you have a BA or KLM flight but have to switch to a partner-operated flight, then the hassle factor and cost skyrocket in some cases.  In the case of KLM, Delta has strict rules banning any pet travel from May 15 – September 15 each year.  Also, Delta does NOT do what they call “interline” transfers (i.e., switching airlines), even if it’s their #1, lovey-dovey, super-duper, BFF code sharing partner (like KLM has been for decades).  They require you to contract with a handler, like Zoo Logistics (, which makes your price and length of stay in Europe increase exponentially.  I’m not sure about BA and interline transfers as even though we were on an American Airlines coded flight all the way out here, we traveled on BA-operated flights.  However, I do know that United and Continental (BA’s partners), have very restrictive travel clauses over the summer too, so if you do have to switch from BA-operated to United or Continental-operated, you could have problems.

What this means is you need to check who operates your flight and not go by which airline the flight is coded to. Because of this, I have to fly into Chicago, and not Detroit, because KLM does not operate any aircraft to Detroit.

Here’s a state dept  site giving links for information on international travel by airlines (this site makes it sound like United Airlines and Continental, the ones who connect with British Air, are difficult to work with).

Once you’ve chosen your airline, you have to make sure that the craft they use accepts your crate.  If you’re using a size 500 crate or smaller you’ll be fine.  Some aircraft do not take size 700 crates (the size Coco is in) but KLM and BA do.

If possible, buy your crate in the U.S. on your next trip back and bring it with you as luggage.  It’ll cost you half in the U.S. what it would cost you here.  Further, if you have a large dog, you can’t even get size 700 crates here.  Here’s KLM’s site describing approved airline carriers (hard plastic) with associated required bowls (see this).

In terms of paperwork, various state department, CDC and airline websites say all you’ll need for travel to the U.S. is a health certificate no more than ten days in advance of the trip from your vet (for the airlines), proof of rabies vaccination more than 30 days prior to the flight, and deworming within 5 days of departure.  In the U.S. they also require your pet to be microchipped, which is probably a good idea anyways.   Best I can tell you don’t need any special import papers (beyond the rabies and health certificates) and indeed, this was my experience in bringing Buddy back and forth from the U.S. and Italy (see this and this).

There appears to be a whole raft of paperwork for export from Zambia but if you go to our favorite miracle vet, Dr. Liza Oparaocha at the showgrounds, she has it down to a science and her staff will complete it all for you, she’ll examine your pets and do what needs to be done to them (for our dogs she de-wormed them, gave them Frontline, & micro-chipped Coco [Buddy’s already chipped]), and then a few days later before departure you go back and pick up your documents.

Well, I think that about covers doggie travel from Zambia to the U.S.  Dr. Liza said travel to the U.S. is the easiest, travel to Japan is the most difficult, and Europe is somewhere in between in terms of the hassle factor.  She’s a pet export expert so you can rely on her to steer you right.

Yesterday I prepared the doggie crates for travel.  They have their airline approved bowls for food and water (oh, and Liza said to freeze their water in their dish the night before so they don’t lose it all on take-off) and if you look carefully in the back of Coco’s crate, you’ll see the holes I had to drill (the airline websites state there must be breathing holes on all four sides; fortunately, we have a drill here and after having one of the movers change to bit to the 1/2 inch size I drilled away!).  I’ve labeled their crates in markers and in three days I’ll put treats and their leashes/collars in zip-lock bags and tape them to the top of the crate.  Oh, and I also wrote a little note from each dog to the airline handlers (giving their names and saying they’d like to be placed next to each other on the airplane and in the kennel).  I’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief when I see them Wednesday afternoon, in the U.S.

Here’s the pet travel site for Delta.
Here’s the pet travel site for KLM.


About Kimm X Jayne

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18 Responses to Doggie Travel from Africa to the U.S.

  1. Maureen Witte says:

    They look so cute in their crates. The experience here with Alex’s dogs in the crates at our house sold me on those crates. Pretty decent way for them to travel or stay put for a few hourse when you need them to. Hope all goes well as you are homeward bound!

  2. mbasil says:

    Oh, what a headache. You even gave me one!

  3. jerriderwood says:

    We’ve just done this the other way around from Paris to Lusaka with a dog and a cat. In spite of a great deal of worrying and lack of information from the French side, both arrived as expected and thanks to your wonderful vet here, the paperwork was all in order and we were whisked through customs. Good luck!

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      Thank God for Liza!!! Which airline did you use? Did you have to have a layover somewhere? How did that go? (you can see I’m anxious about this too!)

      • jerriderwood says:

        Sorry, I did not see this in time to put your mind at rest! We used KLM and stopped for 1.5 hours in Amsterdam. Apart from the dog clearly needing to relieve herself (after which she was back to her usual loopy self), I would say they arrived in surprisingly good spirits. Glad to see you made it home safely. Good luck with the house!

        • Kimm X Jayne says:

          Thanks! I was shocked at how ours were in surprisingly good spirits too. Maybe it’s easier on them than I’m projecting. (hmmmm….does my worry about them traveling reflect my subconscious worry about travel…nah, I never worry about travel!) 🙂

  4. Brooke Goode says:

    good luck! when are you back in Lusaka? I’ll be back there end of october.

  5. Hi! Total stranger here, but I am in a similar situation. My wife and I are doing Peace Corps in Sierra Leone and we want to return to the US (in July) with the dog we got here. Since there are no direct flights between Sierra Leone and the US, we must fly through Europe. The big question we have that no one has been able to answer is: for just a short stop in Europe, like to to change airlines / planes for example – with no intention to leave the airport, do we need to get bloodwork and all the other crazy stuff the EU requires? Or can we get by with what the USA requires? Thanks!!
    ~ Corey

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      No, you don’t need to meet any european requirements if you’re in transit. (This includes even Great Britain.) The only thing you’ll have to do if you use KLM is that you have to use a KLM operated flight to the U.S., because Delta doesn’t do interline transfers (as they call it). British Air is good but super pricey. I’ve heard good things about Lufthansa but am not sure if they charge pets as excess baggage (like KLM) or cargo (like British Air, even if they’re on the same flight as you). Let us know how it goes!

      • Wow- quick reply! Thats exactly what we wanted to know, thanks! Unfortunatly only Air France, British Air, and Air Brussels fly out of Sierra Leone. We’ll get back to you on our experience.

        • Kimm X Jayne says:

          Air France might be similar to KLM since they’re the same company now? (Though I don’t know anything about their doggie hotel – I know for a fact that BA and KLM have fantastic doggie hotels.) Good luck!

        • rapfrank says:

          Just saw this post on a google search, and trying to do the exact same thing (take a dog from Sierra Leone to USA). Any luck? Seems like quite a headache but hoping it works out.

    • rfrankfu says:

      Just saw this post on a google search, as I’m trying to do the exact same thing (taking a dog from Sierra Leone to US). Any luck with the airlines that travel through Freetown? Seems like quite a headache but really hoping it works out.

  6. heather says:

    HEY! Thanks for the info- it’s great!

    I’m taking a rescue pup from Korea to the U.S. I was made aware that when coming into Korea from the U.S., microchips were required- but, that the reverse was not true.

    Do you know for sure if microchipping is required to enter the U.S.?

    For some reason I’ve had a harder time getting a crate that’s a good size. My little best of many breeds beast doesn’t fit the standards!

    This is going to be the longest, worst flight of my life!

    Thanks again!

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      Hi Heather – yes, microchipping is required for entry to U.S., as well as a rabies vaccination MORE than 30 days prior to trip, deworming 5 days or FEWER before the trip, and a healthy dog certificate. I could not find a size 700 crate in all of Zambia, so I had to bring back an empty one from one trip to the U.S. (I clamshelled it, top to bottom, and then wrapped in cardboard and plastic wrap). I have no idea what things are like in Korea! Good luck! Let us know how it goes.

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