The requirements to travel to the USA with a dog, as long as you’re not heading to Hawaii or Guam (where quarantine applies), are relatively short and simple. While the regulations are controlled by multiple departments and the state that you’re travelling to, meaning you need to check multiple sources of information, it’s generally an easy process to bring a dog to the USA, both in terms of vet visits and paperwork.
The same rules and regulations apply regardless of whether you’re returning home from travels, visiting from abroad or relocating with your pet (although additional requirements apply for resale, including adoptions, and working dogs). Here’s what you need to organise before taking your dog to the USA.
Note: As of July 2021, there is a temporary suspension of the import of dogs into the USA from high-risk rabies countries. Dogs may only be imported from these countries by US citizens and residents with an import permit, which will only be granted on a limited basis. For more information, see the CDC website. There are also reports of some airlines having blanket bans on flying dogs to the USA, regardless of initial country.
1. The Main Rules for Dogs Entering the USA
The two US government departments that control the regulations for dogs entering the USA are:
- US Department of Agriculture Animal and Planet Health Inspection Service (or USDA APHIS for short): See https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel/bring-pet-into-the-united-states/pet-travel-dogs-into-us
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC for short): See https://www.cdc.gov/importation/bringing-an-animal-into-the-united-states/dogs.html
2. Be Healthy and Vaccinated Against Rabies
The main requirements for dogs entering the USA (as stipulated by CDC) are that they are healthy and are immunised against rabies. If a dog appears to be sick at entry, further inspection by a licensed veterinarian at your expense may be required.
Up until recently, all dogs entering the USA required a rabies vaccination certificate. However, this is no longer the case. As of December 2018, the CDC only requires a rabies certificate for dogs travelling from high-risk countries, as listed here. Travelling from Canada, Mexico or most European countries? You don’t need a certificate.
If your dog still requires a rabies vaccination certificate, check out the CDC requirements. It needs to be in English or have an English translation, with an EU Pet Passport being sufficient. Also note that your dog should be at least 3 months old before being vaccinated and at least 30 days should have elapsed since the shot, except in the case of booster shots for dogs older than 15 months.
Note also that technically dogs arriving from a rabies-free country (such as Australia or the UK), aren’t required to be vaccinated, but all states require dogs to be vaccinated. It’s also possible to apply for an unimmunised dog permit in some cases. I recommend reading through the full rules if are considering this option or you have any questions about whether your dog is fully vaccinated.
3. Extra Requirements for Some Countries
For dogs entering the USA from many countries including Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Western and Central European countries, these are the only requirements, unless the state you are travelling to has additional requirements. But for many other countries, two additional requirements may apply.
Firstly, USDA APHIS Veterinary Services requires that dogs travelling from countries where screwworm is present are certified to be free of screwworm by a vet within five days of their arrival. For more details, click here and scroll down to the relevant section. The full list of affected countries is listed here (scroll down and expand the relevant section), including most countries in Asia, Africa and South America.
Secondly, there are some simple requirements for dogs arriving from countries that are not free from Foot and Mouth Disease. These include that their feet, fur and bedding is free of excessive dirt or straw, they are bathed as soon as possible and kept away from livestock for at least five days (see here). The list of countries deemed to be free of Foot and Mouth Disease is listed here (scroll down and expand the relevant section). This requirement doesn’t apply to Canada, Australia, and most countries in Central America, the Caribbean, and Western and Central Europe.
4. Check For State Requirements
It’s also necessary to check the requirements for the state that you are travelling to in the USA. To easily view these requirements, the USDA APHIS Veterinary Service has provided a simple dropdown menu on their page. Select the state and you’ll be re-directed to the relevant state website.
In my experience though (after checking the requirements for multiple states), most of these regulations only apply for the commercial transport of pets or pets permanently relocating, although always carefully check.
For example, I flew into New York. Here’s the rules for New York State. In addition to requiring dogs to be vaccinated against rabies and free of heartworm, they require a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection. However, this is not required for stays of less than 30 days (something I nearly missed!)
States and territories that require additional steps for all dog owners include Hawaii and Guam (due to their rabies-free status), and Alaska.
Read more about the preparation required to take your dog to Hawaii (and skip on a stay in quarantine)
5. Is a Health Certificate Required?
If you’re flying to the USA, in many cases a health certificate is required by the airline. Additionally, a health certificate is required by some states, depending on your circumstances.
However, there is no blanket requirement for a health certificate for dogs entering the USA, unlike for many countries. Naturally, though, your dog should be healthy, as required for entry, and often a combined health and rabies certificate is issued by vets.
6. Our Experience Entering the USA
We flew into JFK Airport in New York from Paris with our small dog in the cabin in October 2018. This was prior to the relaxation of the blanket requirement for a rabies vaccination certificate, but our arrival was still very simple. After picking up our baggage, we walked through the customs area with our dog in his carrier, not seeing any signs about “something to declare”. We actually nearly walked out the exit with no check of our dog – it would have been easy to do!
However, we instead turned around and spoke to the nearest officer, letting him know we had a dog. The officer simply asked for his rabies certificate, and checked it over in a matter of seconds, then we were good to go! We had also filled out a customs declaration on the plane, but no-one looked at it or took it.
7. Bringing Dog Food into the USA
We had also heard before arriving in the USA that it wasn’t possible to bring dog food into the country, unless it was labelled as manufactured in the USA or Canada. However, I had trouble finding definitive information on this.
Due to this uncertainty, we only travelled with a small amount of food (we were nearly at the end of our bag of dog food anyway), with it packed into our hand luggage. That way it was easy to feed our dog on arrival (before passing through customs, in case it was taken off us) and it was easy to declare.
When we spoke to the customs officer about our dog, I also said we had dog food, holding it in my hand. However, he didn’t even glance at it. That being said, it’s probably best to not bring in too much (especially if entering by road) and there’s a chance it could be confiscated.
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