Have you ever walked passed a dog park and seen French Poodles playing with Irish Setters and thought, How do dogs from other countries get to the US? I wondered this myself recently when a client told me the story of having to put her beloved dog in quarantine when she first immigrated to the US. I decided to look into it.
While humans need visas to immigrate to the US, there is no visa per se for animals (although if there were a visa, for dogs at least, it would almost certainly be called a K-9 visa. (Yes, prepare yourself for more puns.) The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that controls human immigration does not contain a clause (or should I say “claws”) for animals. The rules for bringing pets to the US fall under the “purrview” of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and are enforced at the port of entry by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). There is no actual PETition needed to bring an animal to the US, but there is plenty of paperwork that may need to precede and accompany the pet’s trip to the US.
As with most things in the immigration world, planning ahead is always the best way to avoid a “hairy” situation with a pet. Our firm does not handle issues dealing with pets, so a person traveling to the US should always do their own due diligence when bringing an animal to the US; however, to get a sense of the hurdles, below are the CDC rules for different types of pets. It should be noted that in addition to CDC rules, most airlines have their own requirements including the need for general heath certificates. Typically, airlines require pet health certificates that are no more than ten days old. Those traveling to the US with a pet should check with their specific airline for details.
For travelers to the US bringing their Portuguese Water Dog, for example, vaccinations will be a big factor in determining whether they will be able to enter. Dogs imported from areas where screwworm is present must be accompanied by a certificate signed by a veterinary official of the region of origin stating that the dog has been inspected for screwworm within five days of their travel to the US.
Dogs that have never been vaccinated against rabies must be vaccinated at least thirty days before entering the United States. This requirement does not apply, however, to puppies less than three months of age or to dogs originating or located for at least six months in areas designated by the US Public Health Service as being rabies-free. Travelers, however, should be sure to check with the rules of the particular state that the dog will be residing in to see if that state has additional requirements. (This is especially true of Hawaii which has very strict regulations when it comes to pet immigration.)
The following procedures pertain to dogs arriving from areas that are not free of rabies:
- A valid rabies vaccination needs to be presented. If no expiration date appears on the certificate, it is acceptable if the date of vaccination is within twelve months of arrival;
- Dogs not accompanied by proof of rabies vaccination, including those that are too young to be vaccinated (less than three months of age), may be admitted if the owner submits a confinement agreement and confines the dog until it is considered sufficiently vaccinated against rabies. (The vaccine is not considered effective until thirty days after the date of vaccination);
- If the vaccination was performed less than thirty days before arrival, the animal may be admitted but must be confined at a place of the owner's choosing until at least thirty days have passed since the vaccination;
- Young puppies must be confined at a place of the owner's choosing until they are three months old, then they must be vaccinated. They must remain in confinement for thirty days after the vaccination.
In addition, dogs may be denied entry if they look sick at the port of entry. They may need to be examined by a licensed veterinarian at the owner’s expense if this occurs.
An H-1B visa holder bringing his Burmese short hair? If the cat’s health is all but purrfect, there may be issues. All cats must have no evidence of communicable disease at the port of entry. If the animal is not in apparent good health, further examination by a licensed veterinarian may be required at the owner's expense. There is no requirement for a rabies certificate but most airlines require a veterinarian’s health certificate. Cats arriving in Hawaii or Guam, both of which are free of rabies, are subject to locally imposed quarantine requirements.
Friend of the firm (and Joseph’s girlfriend) Radford Lathan reports that when she brought her cat, Bernardo O'Higgins (aka Higgy), from Chile she simply filled out a few forms for the airline and brought vaccination records to present to CBP. She says: “His vet gave me records of all of his shots as he grew up because she knew that I would eventually take him home to the States. We traveled on Delta and he was able to travel in the cabin with us from Santiago. When I arrived in Atlanta, I presented the vaccination documents to the customs agent before continuing through to Los Angeles. It was really quite painless.”
Radford’s experience was relatively smooth because she “purrused” the regulations before traveling and brought all the needed paperwork. This should be the takeaway for all pet travelers: do your research and speak to your vet so you will come prepared.
Have an African Grey parrot? All birds imported into the United States must be inspected by a USDA port veterinarian at the first US port of entry.
All non-US-origin pet birds coming into the United States (except from Canada) must be quarantined for thirty days in one of three USDA animal import facilities at the owner’s expense. Birds may only enter the US at international airports located in Miami, New York, or Los Angeles.
Monkeys and Turtles and Rabbits Oh My
Monkeys may not be imported as pets under any circumstances. Live turtles with shells less than four inches long are allowed if the importation is not for commercial purposes, and the importation includes less than seven live turtles, less than seven viable turtle eggs, or any combination of turtles and eggs totaling less than seven. There are no Public Health Service restrictions on the importation of live turtles with a shell longer than four inches. Rabbits, Guinea pigs, hamsters, ferrets, and other pet rodents have no CDC restrictions if brought in as pets.
After delving into the realm of the regulations of pets, I’m happy to stick with US Citizenship & Immigration Services’ (USCIS) regulations of humans as those are complicated enough. But those that have additional questions on what it takes to bring their pets to the US should contact their airlines and thoroughly review the CBP guidelines to make sure they are not barking up the wrong tree. Safe travels with your pet friend!