Moving Cats, Dogs, Birds, and other Animals to Costa Rica

Bringing Birds?  Click Here

Planning to bring your pets to Costa Rica?  Of course you are!  They're family too, right?  I brought my two cats when I moved to Costa Rica.

Read all of this first to make sure you do it correctly. 

As these rules can change, I strongly urge you to contact the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR), a moving advisor or a relocation specialist no less than two months before your move.!  They should always have the most current info.  Note:  Often relocation firms outside Costa Rica are not current on laws and enforcement.  Costa Rica specialists and moving advisors are usually a better bet. 

If you follow these rules and do the final check back with ARCR, you will breeze through customs and immigration without any problems! 

Quarantine and info on cats and dogs

Cats and dogs are not quarantined. You walk right through customers and immigration  with the proper paperwork.  You will need a certificate from your vet, and this form MUST comply with the US Dept of Agriculture format. Your vet should know all about this.  Mine did. If he/she doesn't know, get another vet because THIS is critical stuff. Wrong form... no pets or long quarantine.  Period!

This paperwork may also need to be validated by the CR embassy in the US nearest you. Currently it does NOT, but at any time and without notice, this can change.  Check with ARCR for the current rules.

Shots (except rabies!) must be current within 30 days of transporting the animals. One day over? No pets.

Rabies shots must be over 30 days but less than one year.

Your vet will know the immunizations required for shipping pets internationally.  If he/she doesn't, get another vet.  This sounds cold and it IS.  Your vet MUST know this stuff.


Airlines and Travel

Be VERY careful of airline blackout periods. These are NOT the same blackout periods for people around the holidays! These are SPECIAL blackout periods where animals will not be accepted by the airlines at ALL -  with or without papers. Many airline employees do not know these dates. They are REAL and they are cast in stone. Ask until you find someone who knows these dates. Plan your departure to avoid these dates.

Suggestion! Travel ONLY from the USA or any country when your local (or closest) Costa Rican embassy is open. NO night travel! Airlines are often NOT current on the rules of importation of animals, especially those that work the counters at airports. They CAN and WILL deny boarding for the DUMBEST of reasons, and often they are completely WRONG. Your only recourse is to contact the CR embassy which you cannot do if they are closed.  These airline employees can be stunningly ignorant, but they are like travel gods.  They can prohibit your travel completely. You can be completely and totally RIGHT and still have no travel and no pets.  Sounds bad and it is.

Travel WITH a passport. Costa Rica will NOT allow entry without one. No passport, no YOU or your animals.  Further, your passport must have at lest six months remaining before expiration. This is from your date of entry. You will also need a round trip ticket or some other form of proof that you will be leaving... like a bus pass..  You cannot enter Costa Rica with only a one-way ticket if you are not a resident or citizen. You will read stories of folks who did not have a round trip ticket and got through. They are telling the truth. Now ask yourself... WILL I? Your call... but I would urge you not to feel lucky!

IMPORTANT!  Some airlines will no longer ship animals at all, and many require the animal sit with one fare paying passenger. One animal per one passenger.  Some require a full fare paying passenger.  These rules are arbitrary and are by airline.  Pick an airline that is up to date and will treat you and your animal correctly.  Airlines do differ so pick the one that is most "pet friendly".

Finally, a reminder.  Five weeks before you are ready to travel, recheck the current rules with ARCR or your relocation specialist to make sure they have not changed.

These lessons were hard earned (by me and by many others) as you can imagine. Very hard learned! 


As of January 2008, Costa Rica is now allowing importation of birds after many months of not allowing any to enter the country.  There is, however, a catch!

You may now bring your birds to Costa Rica but you will NEVER be permitted to export them.

Therefore, you better be 100% sure that Costa Rica is for you as you will not be able to change your mind later and take your birds with you to ANY other country.

The new rule sort of reminds me of the Eagles song, Hotel California.  "You can check in but you can never leave".

A good source of current information are the ARCR Forums.  If you are an ARCR member, they are tracking this, so contact them.

Other Animals

Often folks want to bring birds, snakes, rodents (ok... rats, gerbils, etc.) and these often require an entirely different set of policies and rules.  They also change more frequently. Some birds, especially the hook bills, parrots, or ANY endangered species may require a variety of permits.  Some may even require an export permit.  Check with ARCR  or your relocation advisor for current information well before travel time.



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