WHAT IT APPEARS TO BE
Of all the
newsletter articles I have written, this has
been the most frustrating. While doing
my research, I talked to people who actually
provided pet moving services, airline
personnel both in the U.S. and Costa Rica as
well as people who have brought animals with
them on their journey.
solid information I was able to takeaway
from this exercise is THERE IS NO SINGLE
SET OF RULES THAT ANYBODY ADHERES TO.
That is what made writing this so damn
My goal was
to provide the expat with a succinct roadmap
of what is necessary to bring your furry
family member with you when you relocate.
But sadly, I failed in that effort.
line is, this article will provide some tips
but it is NOT the definitive roadmap I had
intended. You will need to exercise
caution and ask a billion questions.
Should you decide to
relocate overseas, leaving your pet behind is as
unthinkable as abandoning one of your children.
Therefore, as you think about where you are going to
live, what things you are going to bring, how you are
going to get here along with 1001 other bits of
relocation minutiae, attention must be paid to how
safely, efficiently and cost effectively, you can bring
your pet with you on your expatriation journey.
EVERYTHING YOU HEAR AND READ
There is much confusion
out there regarding the rules, regulations, processes
and practices on bringing animals into Costa Rica.
This confusion stems from the fact that Costa Rica's
rules are vague and interpreted differently by each of
the airlines. The problem is also amplified by the
fact that much of the data the airlines use is out of
One of the most difficult
things I encountered while researching this article is
that nobody does anything in a consistent manner; that
includes the airlines as well as the Costa Rican
government. I wish that I could write a simple set
of rules, that when followed exactly, would result in a
consistent outcome, but unfortunately, such is not the
case. Depending on what airline you take, what
time of the year you travel, the temperature that day,
what Customs or Immigration official you encounter...
your results may vary. That sucks, but
there is little you can do about it other than be
flexible and keep a sense of humor.
When traveling with your
pet to Costa Rica and most Latin American countries,
STRICT QUARANTINE RULES DO
NOT APPLY. But rules do change
and are usually very inconsistent in the way in which
they are administered.
Dogs or cats must be
accompanied by a health certificate issued by a
licensed veterinarian, and endorsed by a USDA vet in
your State capital. If you are traveling
from another country, their processes may be
The certificate must
attest to the fact that the animal was examined and
found to be healthy and free of any clinical signs
infectious disease. This examination must be
conducted within 10 days of your departure date.
The animal (if over 4
months of age) must be vaccinated against rabies.
The vaccination must have been administered at least
30 days and one year prior to travel. This information tends
to change so please check before travelling.
For Costa Rica... no other vaccinations are
Dogs and cats imported
into Costa Rica must have an
APHIS form 7001 (made out in duplicate) issued no more
than 10 days before travel. This document DOES
NOT need to be signed by a notary, "apostilled" by
your State officials nor does it need to be stamped
by the Costa Rican Consular office.
When an animal is
traveling unaccompanied (transported as cargo),
an import permit is required. This
also includes situations arising from the inability for
an animal to make the connecting flight, e.g. did
not arrive on the same flight as the owner.
HUGE TIP: Utilize only non-stop or direct
For dogs and cats
traveling in cargo, an import permit is required,
import taxes must be paid and the proper customs
form must be provided.
WARNING: A customs broker may be required to
process the custom's clearance of your pet when
they travel as cargo. There is a huge
difference between pet brokers and custom's
broker. Pet brokers arrange transportation
and clearance and all your ancillary needs.
They are a one stop ship and therefore are
likely to be very expensive.
An import permit
is NOT REQUIRED
for dogs and cats when transported in the cabin
or as checked baggage and accompanied by the
owner on the same flight. The owner must be able
to demonstrate the pet arrived on their same
flight as checked baggage.
There are three major
North American airlines that fly into Costa Rica's two
international airports San Jose (SJO) and Liberia (LIR).
They include, American, United (Continental) and Delta.
Note, this number was four until American and
USAirways announced their merger in February 2013. I contacted each of these airlines, on multiple
occasions, and spoke with representatives from both the
Reservations and Cargo areas. Delta and American
provided consistent information, while United kept
changing their story.
There is a huge difference
between having your animal fly as "baggage" or as
"cargo." In one instance, I talked to
representatives at United (Continental) in order to
ascertain the steps necessary to bring an animal into
Costa Rica. They told me that if I was traveling
to San Jose (SJO), the animal would be able to fly as
baggage. They quoted me a price of $400 (crate not
included) from Houston to SJO. Seconds later they
recanted and said the animal MUST fly as cargo and
required the services of a pet broker.
They said it was a
Costa Rican law. But after talking to
representatives from other airlines (Delta and
American), they knew of no such law. I even spoke
with two readers of this newsletter who just recently
moved to Costa Rica with their pets. Both flew United. Both
accompanied their pets on the same flight. In both
cases the animals flew as baggage. Neither
required a cargo airway bill nor the services of a pet
broker. Yet when I talked to United
representatives (both in the US and Costa Rica) they
told a different story. So just as the man with
two watches is never sure of the exact time, speaking
directly to multiple airlines will not guarantee true
and accurate information.
SHIT HAPPENS! -
ONE TRAVELERS STORY
Last year, a couple from
the Dallas area was moving to Costa Rica. They
were flying American out of DFW. They did copious
amounts of research and did everything right (so they
All their paperwork
was in order and signed off by the proper
They had the correct
crate for the size of their animal (standard #500
They were traveling at
the right time of the year thereby mitigating any
weather related issues
human and pet) were made and paid for well in
advance of the trip
They arrived in plenty
of time, three hours in advance of departure.
They checked their
animal, according to procedure. Passed through
security. The dog went his way while the
humans went to the lounge area to await their
boarding call. SO FAR SOGOOD!
But now the story takes a
bizarre turn. Just before boarding, the travelers
were notified of a problem. It seems that the size
of the #500
crate would not fit into the cargo bay of the airplane.
WTF... how could this happen? Doesn't anybody
check? Why would an airline say YES and issue a
boarding ticket for the animal when their plane was
physically incapable of accepting the crate? This
makes no sense!
As it turned out, the
original equipment designated for this flight was a
Boeing 757, fully capable of receiving a #500 crate.
However, for some unknown reason, American stopped using
the 757 and switched to using the smaller Boeing 737.
Unfortunately, it's cargo bay doors were too narrow for
this size crate. The travelers were presented with
this dilemma. Their plans to travel to CR with pet
in tow was getting ready to crash and burn. Their
tickets were non-refundable. The airlines were not
going to allow them to cancel their reservations or to
take a different flight without imposing Draconian
financial penalties. So they did the only logical
thing there was to do, they decided to travel to Costa
Rica without the dog. They called a relative and
asked them to come to the airport and pick up the poor
pooch. New arrangements would need to be made.
The story had a somewhat
happy (albeit more expensive) ending. Since flying
out of Dallas (direct) was no longer an option, they
made plans to fly on United out of Houston. But to
fly the animal, unaccompanied, would have resulted in
paying huge sums to the airline and a pet broker.
They opted instead to buy a ticket for a relative so
they could travel with the animal. This resulted
in saving hundreds of dollars but still cost more than
twice what they had already budgeted (flying out of
A few weeks later, the big
pooch arrived at LIR. The animal was picked up at
Baggage and cleared Customs a short while
later and was reunited with their owner
just a few moments later. So in the end, all's
well that ends well.
WEBSITES THAT WILL MAKE YOUR RESEARCH MORE COMPLETE
DESIGNED TO REDUCE YOUR TRAVEL ANXIETY:
Every time your plane
takes off and lands, it adds more stress to the
traveling animal. Only take direct (non-stop)
flights that connect with your destination. Be
prepared to drive (one-way) to an airport that
provides such a connection.
reservation before flying. Don't simply show up at
the airport with your pet.
The airlines are also very specific
about crates and the size they need to be in
relation to the size of the pet. Make
absolutely certain that the plane will be able to
accommodate your crate.
It is important that pet owners talk
extensively to several airlines to inquire more about the
travel conditions their pet will experience.
Not all airline personnel are up to date on all the
current rules and processes regarding animal
transport, so it would behoove you to talk to
several people from each carrier. Somewhere
amongst your various conversations the facts will
have taken extra steps to the welfare of ensure pets
through their Pet safe program. However it is
a bit more expensive so traveling with the other
carriers I mentioned is also a viable option.
I would like to thank Jacqui Monacell, President and Owner
Costa Rica Contact, in San Jose, for providing much
of the background information for the writing of this
article. For more information about Jacqui and her
company, please visit their website.