South America Living

Traveling Abroad With Pets

I often get asked why I do not write about traveling with pets, considering we went from Mexico to Argentina with our Rat Terrier in tow, while picking up the mini-nightmare we fondly call ‘Tiger’ in Quito, Ecuador (Christmas puppy present, 2008).

Buster & Tiger Waiting Patiently to Fly out of Ecuador

The reason is I don’t want to promote it in any way. We lived abroad for over nine years, so where our family went of course our four-legged family members went too. But for the average traveler planning an adventure abroad it is best to leave your pets in the safe care of someone at home.

What You Need to Travel With a Pet Abroad

The basic documents required by all countries we traveled through (Mexico, Guatamala, San Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay) are as follows:

Veterinary Clinic in Salto, Uruguay. Here is One Place to Take Your Pooch to Get an Updated Health Certificate!

  • Health Certificate by a Licensed Veterinarian – every single country required a health certificate. All accepted documents from other countries (i.e. traveling through Colombia with a certificate obtained in Panama) but some were picky about the dates, only accepting cerfiticates dated within a year.
  • Proof of Rabies Vaccine – don’t even think of trying to cross a border without a form documenting your dog or cat has been vaccinated against rabies, sometimes requiring the vaccination had been administered within 30 days prior to traveling.
  • Photocopies of Documentation and Cash – we were not required to provide photocopies, or pay a fee, by most immigration officials but there are instances depending on where you are traveling and how you are entering the country (unexpected fees at land border crossings are to be expected) where they can ask for photocopies or make you pay and try not to get all riled up… just be thankful they are letting you in the country as if they wanted to, they could say ‘no’.
    Border Etiquette – Tips For Traveling Through South America
  • Research in Advance What the Country Requires – I can’t emphasize this enough… research what documents are required by the country you are visiting before standing face to face with the immigrations officer or ticket counter clerk. Not only does it change often, some countries require things you would never expect.

Lastly, be prepared for delays and the unexpected, no matter how well you have prepared in advance.

As an example, we recently were not told by American Airlines – after repeated phone calls beforehand verfiying what documents we needed to fly back to the U.S. with our two small dogs such as when the rabies vaccination had to be given, etc. – that Ecuador required a ‘piece of paper’ from the Agricultural office and to pay a fee.

We were refused boarding (had to fly out the following day) until we went down to the office at the airport with our pets, they checked our health certificate, passports, rabies info, etc. and then gave us a piece of paper to take to a local bank and pay a fee (was around $30 USD I believe).

You had to pay the fee at the bank, they would not accept any money at the airport, why we could not fly; it takes a half-day minimum to complete this process. We then had to go get photocopies of the document, bank receipt, etc.

You then return to the airport office, sit while they type the information into the computer, get a new ‘piece of paper’, and you can leave Ecuador with your pet. Key point in all of this nonsense… they collected more money from you for no reason.

Be prepared to hand-over cash, and experience an unexpected delay, regardless of how thoroughly you prepared in advance.

Photographs by Molly McHugh, all rights reserved.

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