How to Immigrate to the US With Your Pet


With some planning upfront, you’ll be set up for success when you immigrate with your four-legged friend

Jul 1, 2021


A pet dog immigrating to the US

Your pet is one of the most important parts of your travel checklist when you’re getting ready to immigrate to the United States. Like many good things in life, it pays to plan ahead. The exact process will vary depending on the health of your pet, the country you’re coming from, and the type of animal you’re bringing. This guide will point you in the right direction to bring dogs and cats to the United States, as well as find resources for other species of pets.

Keep in mind that there may be additional animal health requirements specific to your final destination. As soon as you know where you’re headed, check with local officials for more details about importing your pet. Start with the state’s Department of Agriculture website.

What you need to move your dog to the US

A dog getting a vaccine before immigrating to the US

Dogs are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That means these departments may issue specific requirements that limit the transmission of infectious or contagious conditions. For the most updated information, visit their websites before you make your travel plans.

1. Health certificate

Your dog should appear healthy, and you can document their health with a visit to a licensed veterinarian. Some states and airlines require a dedicated health certificate. There isn’t a single template for this health certificate, but at its most basic level, it should include the following details:

  • Breed, weight, and age
  • Date of a recent examination that confirms your pet is free of infectious or contagious diseases (such as screwworm) and is healthy enough for travel
  • Vaccination record, particularly rabies
  • An English translation of the health certificate

2. Rabies vaccination certificate

Even if you’re not traveling from a high-risk country for dog rabies, it’s a good idea to gather a valid rabies vaccination certificate, as this information is required by some states and airlines. CDC also requires that you provide a written or verbal statement that your dog lived in a country that is not high risk for at least 6 months, or since birth. Written statements must be in English or have a certified English translation.

Normally, if you’re coming from a high-risk country, you can apply for a CDC Dog Import Permit. However, as of July 14, 2021, CDC issued a temporary suspension which prohibits the entry of dogs into the United States arriving from high-risk countries. That suspension includes dogs that have been in any high-risk country during the previous 6 months.

3. Proof of screwworm

If you’re traveling from a region where screwworm is known to exist, ask a licensed vet for a certificate that states your dog has been inspected for screwworm. This exam must occur within 5 days before you travel to the United States, so plan accordingly. The certificate should either state that your dog was found to be free from screwworm or has been quarantined, treated, and is now free from screwworm.

What you need to move your cat to the US

A cat getting ready to immigrate to the US

Cats are a bit easier to travel with. CDC and USDA do not require proof of rabies vaccination or additional animal health requirements. That said, you’ll want to double-check the local requirements of your final destination.

It’s recommended to gather the following documentation before you travel:

  1. Health certificate: This document should be issued by a licensed veterinarian and state that your cat is healthy and fit to fly. It should also list your cat’s breed, weight, age, and vaccination record.
  2. Proof of rabies vaccine: Some states and airlines require this vaccine for cats.

How to travel with other animals

What about your ferret, hedgehog, or snake? Some animals aren’t regulated by CDC, but are still subject to state or local regulations. For example, ferrets are prohibited in California. Additionally, not all animals qualify as pets: USDA regulates some birds as poultry, which are subject to different travel requirements. For more information from USDA, check out their website and select an animal from the drop-down list.

Here’s what that means for you: If you’re traveling with a pet that isn’t a dog or cat, check to see if your animal is regulated by CDC and USDA. Then, confirm any additional requirements with your airline and local officials at your final destination.

Other considerations before you travel with your pet

A boy and his dog

We’ve covered the documentation you’ll want to compile based on CDC, USDA, and some state regulations, but your travel plans can also be affected by your airline and home country. Here’s what you should know.

Check with your airline

Some airlines only allow dogs or cats, and only certain species of those animals. Major airlines will generally list this information on their website, or you can speak with a representative directly.

Airlines may require information like:

  • An original health certificate signed by a licensed veterinarian, translated in English
  • A photo of your pet
  • Information about their crate, if you’re shipping them (Note that some airlines have temporarily halted pet cargo shipments due to the COVID-19 pandemic)
  • Vaccination records

If your pet is traveling with you in the cabin, confirm the size of the crate you’ll need to bring.

Look up regulations with your home country

It’s important to check the export requirements for your pet from your country of origin, too. Export requirements are set by each country, so start with your country’s Ministry or Department of Agriculture to understand travel details before you fly.

Not sure where to start? Organizations like IPATA and PetRelocation can connect you with an agent to help coordinate your pet’s international travel safely from your point of origin or destination.


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