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Can You Bring Your Pets to Costa Rica?

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The short answer: Yes, usually.

The long(er) answer: Only certain pets. And you’ll have to meet some basic requirements.

Here are the important details on bringing pets to Costa Rica:

Cats and Dogs Welcome

Bringing cats and dogs to Costa Rica is a relatively simple process: if they’re up-to-date on vaccinations, you’ll get a health certificate and will be ready to go.

Pet Import Requirements

If you’re bringing a dog or cat to Costa Rica, you’ll need to comply with the following requirements:

  1. Dogs must have proof of vaccination against hepatitis, leptospirosis, distemper, parvovirus (DHLPP), and rabies. Note that rabies vaccines must be given 30 or more days before arrival in Costa Rica, and are valid only for the period of the vaccine (1 or 3 years).
  2. Cats must have proof of vaccination against calicivirus, feline viral rhinotracheitis, panleukopenia (FVRCP), and rabies. Again, note that rabies vaccines must be given 30 or more days before arrival in Costa Rica, and are valid only for the period of the vaccine (1 or 3 years).
  3. All pets must have a pet health certificate, issued no more than two weeks prior to travel, completed by a licensed veterinarian and endorsed by a USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Veterinary Services (VS) veterinarian. This endorsement must be done by the APHIS Veterinary Services Area Office in your home state; your licensed vet will have more information.

Exotic Pets

But if you have “exotic” pets, it’ll be more difficult. Possible but hard-to-bring pets include birds, horses, snakes, ferrets, and other uncommon-to-Costa Rica pets.

If you are a bird owner, you should know: For years, it was impossible to import birds to Costa Rica. In January 2008, the law changed and pet owners could bring birds (see requirements). However, birds cannot be exported from Costa Rica. Ever. Even if they were first imported. So, do not bring your bird unless you plan to stay in Costa Rica for the duration of your bird’s life.

Your Airline Matters

Surprising but true: Not all airlines will fly pets to Costa Rica. So, before you make any plane reservations, call your airline to discuss their pet policies. Do they allow small animals in cabin (the least expensive option)? Do they fly pets as cargo? Are there restrictions, for example on certain months or outside temperatures?

Importing Pets as Checked Baggage or Airline Cargo

Here’s where it gets a little sticky: If you’re bringing a larger pet (a cat or dog over 10-15 pounds), then chances are you’ll have to fly her either as checked baggage (we know, it sounds terrible) or as cargo (even worse).

The reality is better than it sounds: Airlines that fly large pets have spent years developing procedures and policies to protect pets. However, this evolution has led to fewer airlines accepting pets as checked baggage, thus requiring pet parents to fly their furry friends as cargo.

And cargo, in Costa Rica’s eyes, changes everything:

  • If you own a registered, purebred animal, you must provide documentation of their current market value.
  • You must also secure a pet quarantine permit, issued by the Costa Rican Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganaderia (Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Control). At the time of article publication, these permits cost $25 and are issued within 72 hours of request.
  • Finally, if your pet flies cargo, you are required to hire a pet broker. Your broker will handle all aspects of import (or export), including Customs handling and required paperwork. Brokers also see to your pet’s safety and comfort, for example making sure she has access to well-ventilated air and is in a climate-controlled environment during layovers.

Note that cargo shipment and pet brokers are not inexpensive: Expect to pay $500-$1,000+ to import a pet as cargo.

For current requirements, more details, and questions on importing pets to Costa Rica, please contact the Costa Rican Embassy.

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