Carry-On, Baggage or Cargo: How Will You Move Your Pet Overseas?

one of our 3 PapillonsWe have three furry companions, small Papillon dogs who will be moving with us to Panama. We are not alone in wanting to bring our pets with us overseas.

Expat forums and message boards are full of questions about moving a pet abroad. The information can be confusing, to say the least. Websites, even official ones, don’t necessarily have complete information, but at least they give you a place to begin.

Start at the Embassy or Consulate

If you want to move Fido or Whiskers abroad, the best place to start looking for information is the official consular website for your country of choice. The State Department provides a list of Foreign Consular Offices.

I googled “Panama Embassy” and came up with a link.

Under the heading “Consular Services,” I found a link titled “Traveling with Pets.” Bingo!

Well, not quite. After reading it through several times I felt the information was sketchy at best. So I started following links from this page. These included a

  1. Quarantine for Domestic Animals Form
  2. Mention of a USDA form
  3. Suggestion to check with the airline for their guidelines
  4. Quarantine Form

    The Cuarantena para Animales Menores, or Quarantine for Domestic Animals form is printed in both Spanish and English and is available on the Panama consular site.

    It asks for information about the pet owner, including a passport number, as well as information about the pet. Various other documents, as well as a $30 fee, must accompany it. Fortunately it also includes relevant addresses and fax numbers.

    USDA Sanitary Certificate

    The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) will be your first bureaucratic stop on the pet-moving journey. Your USDA-approved veterinarian fills out the USDA Sanitary Certificate and sends it to the USDA Veterinarian-in-charge for your state. Here’s a list of state vets .

    Check with the Airlines

    Each airline’s requirements are different. Some (Spirit, for example) won’t transport pets at all.

    Many airlines will transport your pets in the passenger cabin, as checked baggage or as cargo. You should familiarize yourself with what each of these means.

    The IATA (International Airline Transportation Association) has some guidelines for shipping your dog or cat from the US.

    Pets in the Cabin

    Your dog or cat (no other types of pets are permitted in the passenger cabin) must be in an approved kennel which has to fit under the seat in front of you. This places obvious limitations on the size of the pet you can bring on board with you. If you carry your pet with you, it counts as one of your allowed carry-ons. The airline will also charge you for each pet.

    Pets as Checked Baggage

    Seriously, that’s how they refer to your beloved companion — baggage. You can check your pet if you’re traveling on the same flight. Otherwise, they become cargo. No, I’m not making this up.

    Requirements vary widely. Some airlines will allow two animals of the same species and similar size to travel together in the same kennel, some will not.

    Our preferred airline for travel to Panama is Copa. Their rules prohibit any pet under 20 pounds traveling by itself in a kennel, but they only allow kittens and puppies to be crated together. Does this mean our dogs, which weigh 9, 11 and 15 pounds respectively, can’t travel on Copa at all? None of them will fit under a seat. . .

    Pets as Cargo

    Some airlines also classify relocating pets as cargo. If you are unable to travel on the same flight as your pet, this would be the way to ship them.

    Hire a Pet Mover

    If you really don’t want to deal with the logistics of moving your pet, you can hire someone to do it for you. Here are a few international pet moving companies. Any company you consider should be a member of IPATA, the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association.

    You can also find companies specific to the country you’re moving to, like Panama Pet Relocation.

    Unanswered Questions

    I’ve seen mention in several forums about a 10-day window from the day your pet gets her checkup and shots from the local vet until you actually import the animal into your new country. However, I found no timetable mentioned on either the consular or the USDA site.

    I’ve also seen reference to an examination by a vet at the airport in the new country, but again, no official information about that did I find on the Panama consular site.

    Obviously these are questions we’ll need to answer before we put ourselves and our pooches on the plane.

    I’ll keep you posted as I find out more.

    Have you brought a dog or cat overseas? What was your experience with it? You can leave a comment below.


  1. thanks for the overview.

    i have two house rabbits who’ll be moving with me to Spain next year so i’ve been researching too. to add a few more details for other humans and their companions, both Delta and Copa airlines take pets in-cabin (including rabbits).

  2. I would love to hear more about Quarantine because I’ve heard that in some places they keep your pet for up to six months or a year? That’s unacceptable. :/

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