Pets Without Borders: How to Prepare for an International Move

U.S. Passport

Scenario #2: Moving to the U.S. From Overseas

Just like all those other nations, the U.S. has specific regulations for importing animals mandated through Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

You can visit and search for "importing pets" to get the most up-to-date information on requirements.

There are specific paperwork requirements for importing a purebred pet from another country, for example, and all birds from a non-U.S. origin must spend time in quarantine upon arrival in the U.S.

In general, pet cats and dogs must be “free of evidence of diseases communicable to humans when examined at the port of entry,” and dogs need to have been vaccinated against rabies — unless they are puppies who are under 3 months of age or the dog is arriving from a region designated by the U.S. Public Health Service as being rabies-free.

If dogs are being brought into the U.S. to work with livestock — such as shepherds and other herding breeds — they are subject to quarantine upon entry into the U.S.

As is the case when you're moving a pet abroad, there are many variables, so you should treat every requirement as fine print to study carefully before you start packing. It's also a good idea to contact the specific state or county where you'll be residing to see if there are requirements unique to that area — rabies vaccinations are required in many cities, for example, to get your pet’s registration license.

Scenario #3: Bringing Home an Unexpected Friend

Some of us return from a trip to Mexico, Morocco or the Caribbean with souvenirs that can sail through a U.S. customs check — clothing, artwork, knickknacks. Others come home with a furry friend in tow.

But how exactly does this work?

First of all, bringing your new buddy home means complying with the overall rules already discussed for importing animals into the U.S., but you should also check if the country where you’re vacationing has specific export requirements — preferably before you’ve fallen too hard for that adorable pup or friendly kitty.

Some countries have pet adoption organizations that can help you with the move and export/import requirements, such as Potcake Place, which works to find U.S. homes for "potcakes," the stray dogs of the Turks & Caicos islands. They place around 500 potcakes a year and assist adoptive pet parents in bringing dogs back to their hometowns.

Check if the country where you’ve found your new friend has an organization that's similar to Potcake Place to help guide you through the process — or even match you with the perfect pet.

In all of these cases, varying rules apply to the way you move your pet into the United States. Airlines, for example, have requirements for the type of pet carrier you can use, as well as health considerations that may include vet certificates and proof of vaccinations.

Important Measures for Any Move

You should always start the process of gathering the necessary paperwork, setting up appointments for vaccinations and talking to your vet as soon as possible. In some parts of the world, the process may take only a few days. In others, it could take months.

Farris also emphasizes the importance of crate training pets as far in advance of travel as possible: “A crate is a pet’s home during transport. Getting them used to it early can help relieve stress.”

You may also wish to contact a vet in the country where you’re moving, so you’re starting your pet’s new life on the right foot. Crossing all of your T's is essential, but nothing is more important than making sure that your pet is healthy and in good shape for the adventures ahead.

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