When we decided to move to Brazil for five months, we knew that leaving our dog behind was not an option. He’s a part of the family, and we travel with him as often as possible. In fact, he’s flying with us to Oklahoma today! Plus, the idea of not seeing him for five months was unbearable. So we decided to throw caution to the wind and take him with us on the adventure of a lifetime. But figuring out how to travel internationally with a pet was a big task. Instructions for how to get your pet out of and then back into the U.S. are pretty nebulous. For us, it was a lot of trial and error and last-minute stress but luckily everything worked out in the end.
I thought I would detail how we made it work in the hopes that it will provide guidance to others who are hoping to travel with their furry companions.
How to Travel Internationally with a Pet – Overview
First of all, every case is going to be unique depending on where you are leaving from and where you’re going. These tips are a general overview of how we made it work and what I wish we had known before we started. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Cats, dogs and rabbits are the easiest and most common pets to travel with, though I did see some regulations for traveling with your bird.
- For in-cabin pet travel, your pet must fit in an airline-specified carrier (something like this
should work) that will fit under the seat in front of you. If your pet is larger, they will have to be shipped as cargo.
- Travel will be taxing on the animal, so if they have any health or anxiety issues, it may not be worth it.
You’ll definitely want to start planning for your pet’s travel as early as possible, as there are several steps you’ll have to take.
Step 1 – Get Educated ASAP
First, you’ll want to call the embassy of the country you’re traveling to understand what regulations will need to be met in order for your pet to be allowed into the country. A list of embassy phone numbers can be found here.
Be aware that many countries require animals to be quarantined upon arrival, even if the animals are properly vaccinated (Panama for example).
We were lucky that Brazil does not require quarantine on animals with current rabies vaccinations and has no extraordinary regulations we had to meet.
Step 2 – Meet With Your Vet
The most important thing is making sure your pet is healthy enough to travel. You’ll probably need to meet with your vet twice. Once, to go over a plan to meet all of the requirements, have your pet examined and to administer any vaccinations that are necessary and again to obtain a Health Certificate that will be the main document used for travel purposes.
Although not always required, it’s also a good idea to consider having your pet microchipped at this time if this hasn’t been done already. Many countries require it, and it’s a good thing to have in case your pet is lost during your travels.
Additionally, you should consider stocking up on your pet’s medications, like heart worm and flea/tick treatments, that may be difficult to obtain overseas.
Step 3 – Certification
The process for this will vary depending on where you’re leaving from and where you’re going, but regardless of the circumstances, the timeline will likely be very tight for obtaining a health certificate – especially if it needs to be accredited by the USDA. For more information, this is a good place to start.
In our case, we had to obtain the certificate, signed by our licensed vet, within seven days of our departure and then have it accredited by the USDA in Richmond, Virginia. The timing of this was a bit stressful. We sent the paperwork FedEx, and included a prepaid envelope for them to return everything to us as quickly as possible.
We went to the vet exactly seven days out to give us the maximum amount of time, which I would definitely recommend.
Step 4 – Preparing to Travel
Whatever method you choose to get your pet to your destination country, do plenty of research ahead of time to make sure you have the required carrier, in-cabin requirements can vary by airline so be sure to check their policies.
Many airlines also require that you make a reservation in advance for pet travel, as there are a limited number of pets who may be transported on each flight. Be sure to take care of this in advance as well.
If it’s a long flight, it’s a good idea to restrict food and water so they will have a more comfortable experience.
Step 5 – The Big Day
On the day of your travel, the most important thing to remember (besides your pet!) is your paperwork. Take everything you think you might possibly need, including the Health Certificate as well as proof of rabies and other vaccinations.
We brought a gallon sized ziplock bag of Ashton’s food with us so that we could transition his food slowly once we arrived in Brazil if they didn’t have the type of food we feed him in the states (they didn’t). You may or may not get through customs with this, but it’s worth a shot.
Getting onto the plane should be easy, as long as your carrier meets specifications and your dog appears healthy. However, when you get to customs, be prepared to wait if you arrive off hours. We got into São Paulo after midnight, and there was no agricultural worker on duty. We wound up waiting over an hour while one was called in. Once he arrived, he glanced at our paperwork for two seconds and we were off, but depending on your country of arrival this process could be much more arduous, especially if a quarantine is required.
For us, this was the most challenging part of our international pet travel experience, mostly because of the language barrier. I highly recommend figuring out your travel country’s regulations for exporting the pet out of the country as soon as possible.
Step 1 – Start with the Easy Part
When we were preparing to leave, we first made a call to the CDC in the U.S. to understand the requirements for getting Ashton back into the states. I would recommend this be your first step as well. Then, call the state for which you will be clearing customs and make sure you understand their regulations for re-entry.
Step 2 – Learn the Travel Country’s Requirements
Next, you’ve got to figure out how to get your pet out of the country you’re visiting. This may require hiring a translator or sucking up to a friend you’ve made on the road who can make some phone calls for you.
In Brazil, for example, anything that has to be done with the government can be incredibly nebulous and take a lot of time. Again, start early, just to be safe.
Most likely, you will need to go to a local, licensed vet who can examine your pet’s health and ensure they are ready for travel. It is also likely that the U.S. will require tests to make sure your pet hasn’t picked up any local diseases or parasites, like screw worm. The local vet will need to fill out their own certificate of health, such as a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection.
Step 3 – Get Certified
The tricky part will be discovering what then needs to be done with the certificate. In most cases, it will need to be certified by a local agency like the Ministry of Agriculture or similar.
Again, there are rigid timelines wherein this will all need to happen. For us, we had to have the vet inspection completed within six days of departure, and the Ministry of Agriculture in Brazil had to certify the paperwork within three days. Keep in mind, this location may or may not be located within the airport you will fly out of, so make sure to work this errand into your itinerary.
In our experience, all of this paperwork that you’ve hustled around to obtain is barely glanced at by officials, but it’s much better to be safe than sorry.
When you return home and go through customs, show them the certified CVI or other documentation. I would also recommend carrying the original certification and all vaccination records, just in case.
That’s about it! If you give yourself plenty of time and follow these steps, you and your furry travel companion should arrive safely at your destination.
Have you ever traveled internationally with a pet? Do you have anything to add?
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