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How To Move To The USA With Your Pet

Moving abroad can sometimes bring with it a host of worries – from getting your paperwork sorted to planning your journey. If you’re travelling to the United States, fortunately there is a lot of information that can help make your journey more easy. Almost everything you require is listed on government websites or public portals. However, if you’re planning to take your pet along with you, there’s still a lot more you need to know.If you plan on taking your pet to the US with you, the best thing to do is prepare well in advance. Although the most important part of the process seems to be the paperwork, that’s not the only thing you need to consider. A lot of factors come into play when travelling with your pet and it is best to be ready for each one of them.

Documentation regarding your pet's health

Although this might seem obvious, it is often overlooked until the very last moment before travelling abroad. This can be difficult, as some countries require blood tests done as early as six months prior to your departure.

Since dogs constitute a majority of the pet population, the US government has separate guidelines in place for them. For dogs, the biggest cause of worry is rabies. Rabies being a viral disease that can also affects humans, governments have strict guidelines when it comes to vaccinations against it.

All dogs entering the US need to be declared immune or vaccinated against rabies before being allowed into the country. The United States recognizes a list of foreign countries as rabies-free. If you and your pet have lived in any of these countries for more than six months, the chances are your pet won’t require a rabies vaccination for entering the US. These countries are:

American Samoa, Albania, Anguilla, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Antartica, Aruba, Argentina, Ascension Island, Austria, Australia, Azores, Balearic Islands, Bahamas, Belgium, Barbados, British Indian Ocean Territory, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands Cabrera, Chile, Christmas Island,Channel Islands,, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Corsica, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominica, Estonia, Easter Island, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Faroe Islands, Formentera, Finland, French Polynesia, France, Germany, Galapagos Islands, Gibraltar, Guam, Guadeloupe, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ibiza, Isle of Man, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jamaica, Kiribati, Lichtenstein, Latvia, Luxembourg, Majorca, Macau SAR, Malta, Maldives, Martinique, Micronesia, Minorca, Marshall Islands, Montserrat, Monaco, Netherland Antilles, Nauru, Netherlands, New Caledonia, Niue, New Zealand, Norfolk Island, Norway (except Svalbard), Northern Mariana Islands, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Pitcairn Islands, Portugal, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts (Saint Christopher) and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Martin, San Marino, Samoa, Soloman Islands, Singapore, South Georgia, Spain (except Ceuta and Melilla), South Sandwich Island, Switzerland, Sweden, Tahiti, Tonga, Tokelau, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Turks and Caicos, Uruguay, United Kingdom, Virgin Islands (US and British), Vanuatu, Wake Islands, Wallis and Futuna Islands, US Pacific Islands.

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However, it is always best to get your pet vaccinated, as a few state ordinances do demand it. If your dog has never had a vaccination for rabies, you must make sure to get them vaccinated at least 30 days before entering the United States. Adult dogs, i.e. dogs older than 15 months, can be imported without any delay following the booster vaccination. This requires that the dog must have previously been given a rabies vaccination on reaching three months of age, that has since expired. Such dogs do not need to wait for 30 days before being approved entry in the United States. Fortunately, the United States of America holds 3-year rabies vaccinations valid. The US government requires that the expiration date of the vaccination be shown on the health certificate of your dog. In this case, it is important that the date that you got your dog vaccinated be within a span of 12 months before you enter the United States.

Dogs need up to date vaccinations and certificates of health before arrival

© Andrew Branch on Unsplash

Dogs also need to be free of screwworms before they can be allowed into the US. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires that dogs be treated against certain screwworms between one to five days prior to entering the US. These additional screenings are generally mandatory for shepherding breeds or dogs coming from a country that the US lists as prone to screwworm. Shepherds, collies and other dog breeds from particular countries that are used as herders for livestock are generally inspected and quarantined at the point of entry until declared free of worms.

Your veterinarian needs to certify that your pet has been tested for screwworm with negative results. If you are sure that your dog does not have rabies or screwworms but lacks the proper documentation to support your claim, be sure to file a request that has to be approved in advance.

Rabies vaccinations for cats are not required to enter the country, but requirements may be subject to state and local ordinances. Aside from paperwork, it’s also important to monitor your pet’s health to make sure your pet is ready for the journey.

If your pet is not canine or feline, it can fall under a completely different set of rules and regulations. Remember to get in touch with the consulate and check with the USDA to find out what regulations you need to follow to take your pet to the United States. For example, you can carry only up to six baby turtles to the States.


Your choice of port of entry into the US and your mode of transport play a vital role in the comfort of your pet. If you are flying to the US, the first thing to do is identify if you are going to carry your pet as cargo, extra check-in or carry-on baggage.

Cats and smaller dogs are allowed into the cabin as carry-on baggage. If this is the case, then the pets must be kept comfortably stowed beneath your seat. The responsibility of looking after the comfort and behavior of your pet rests with you. Most airline carriers let you carry your pet in the cabin and keep it beneath your seat provided it weighs less than 100 lbs.

There are restrictions on certain animals, meaning you can only bring a few with you

© Lukas Bornhauser on Unsplash

If you do check-in your pet as cargo or baggage, make sure they have a strong and sturdy container that has enough room for them to sleep, sit up or stand. Your pet should also be able to turn around comfortably without being restricted by the confines of the container. This also calms the pet in addition to ensuring that their limbs don’t cramp during long journeys.

If you have checked in your pets as baggage, be sure to spend some time with them during layovers and check that they aren’t in any sort of discomfort.

If you plan to ship your pet to the US using a shipping carrier, your shipping agency probably has a handler on board who will take care of your pet during layovers and even in-flight in the case of an emergency. Be sure to download CBP Form 7501 as this is mandatory if you want to go through a pet shipper. In order to ship through a shipping handler, you would have to scan the form with the information and send it along with the health certificate papers and a copy of your driver’s license or passport to the shipping agency. They can then deliver this form and the other certificates to the customs office at the airport prior to the pet’s arrival. This is a great way to transport your pet as it saves on having to hire a customs broker. A friend can collect and clear your pet from the airport.

Whatever your choice of transport, always consult the airlines before making arrangements to avoid any last-minute issues. All airlines are very transparent about their pet policies and you will generally find them accommodating of your pet’s needs. Typically, most airlines demand health certificates for your pet no older than 10 days. Make sure you verify these details with your preferred choice of airlines beforehand.


If you’ve figured out how your pet is going to travel and you have the necessary paperwork in place, you’re almost there. What remains is making sure your pet has a good time travelling with you. The most important aspect of your pet’s comfort during travel is determining what situations are most likely to cause stress to your pet and eliminating these factors. For example, loading and unloading your pet from the baggage area to another plane or vehicle can be really taxing. Thus, it is imperative that you choose a flight with a limited number of layovers. For the same reason, many international airlines prohibit carrying pets in-cabin for overseas flights.

Another thing you can do to keep your pet comfortable is to choose flight schedules that will keep your pet away from extreme temperatures. For example, it is better to plan a night time journey if you are travelling to a warmer part of the United States as this will introduce your pet to a more neutral environment than the harsh heat. You might think it is a good idea for your pet to sleep peacefully while flying, but sedatives are usually not the solution. Since the cabin is pressurized, the use of sedatives or tranquilizers is discouraged by the International Air Transport Association as it can prove harmful to animals.

Birds can only be brought in through two airports

© Rachel Omnès on Unsplash

Feed your pet a light meal before leaving the house so that their body is warmed up for the flight. You should do this approximately two hours before boarding the flight. Also make sure that your pet has a little exercise or a short walk before leaving the house and again before departure.

While most pets move abroad with ease, it is always good to have a backup plan of action in case of an emergency. If your pet falls severely ill during the flight, US public health officials need to quarantine it to check for contagious diseases. This process can be emotionally draining for both you and your pet. Thus it is recommended that you make travel plans with your pet only if you are confident about your pet’s health before undertaking the journey. If any complications arise before the journey, it is better to consult your veterinarian for advice on how to deal with this.


Birds can only enter the United States through New York and Miami international airports. All birds entering the United States are subjected to quarantine for 30 days. It is therefore essential that you gather all the information regarding pet travel before you start your journey. The United States also keeps a tab on animals protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). If your pet is listed in this document as an endangered species, you will need to apply for additional permits. However, since over 180 countries participate and enforce CITES regulations, it shouldn’t be too much of a hassle getting these permits in order.

Also, as a general rule, always keep in touch with your veterinarian. If possible, locate a veterinarian or shelter at a short distance from where you will be staying in the United States. This will help you be ready for any unfortunate situation that may present itself. While there are no laws demanding micro-chipping pets before entering the States, it is highly recommended in the off chance that you get separated from your pet. The tracking device on the chip can help you locate your pet and save you a world of worry.

Have you moved to the USA with pets? Share your experiences in the comments!

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