We’re going on a trip! While we’re excited, we know it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the thought of an international trip with your dog. There are airline policies to check, country requirements to research, consulates to call, and vets to visit. Just thinking of the trip can be daunting. But fear not! With time on your side, your trip should bring only feelings of excitement and adventure. Here is a step by step guide of how we traveled to Guatemala with both of our dogs flying in cabin for the first time. We break it down so you can see that it’s totally doable, with no stress and on the cheap.
Step 1: Choosing a Destination
In mid-October it was decided – we were going to Guatemala! My family is originally from Guatemala, and I visit once a year. This trip would be special though, because it was the first time I was bringing my dogs, Boogie and Marcelo. Both dogs have traveled internationally before, but it would be their first time in Central America. I knew that they could handle the travel distance and that I’d be able to find pet friendly accommodations. All signs pointed to yes, we’d be heading to Guatemala for three weeks come January!
Step 2: Country Requirements
Every country has their own policies and requirements for entering with your pet. I checked Guatemala’s policy, and then double checked the information on the Guatemalan embassy website. I then triple checked, by calling my local Guatemalan consulate to verify the information.
Triple checking?! Isn’t that overkill?
No way! Better safe than sorry. Websites aren’t always up to date, and policies can change at any time. It’s best to call your local consulate to verify information before beginning the process.
In this case, I was super glad I did. The Guatemalan embassy website states that dogs entering the country require vaccines for rabies, distemper, leptospirosis, parvovirus and hepatitis. That’s a lot of shots! When I called the consulate, they told me that rabies was sufficient and the other vaccines weren’t necessary. Phew!
We would need a health certificate endorsed by the USDA and our rabies vaccination paperwork. Then we’d have to get the documents stamped at our local consulate and pay a small fee. All good!
Step 3: Finding a Flight
Not all airlines are created equal, and some are easier to fly with than others when it comes to pet travel. Check airline policies and choose one you feel comfortable with. We’ve flown with our dogs on American Airlines a number of times, and have always had a great experience, plus we had loads of miles saved up. We found two AA round trip flights from New York to Guatemala for dates that worked for us. It’s important to contact the airline with your flight information, since many limit the number of pets allowed on board. We booked our tickets, notified the airline that we would be flying with pets, and got the green light that there was room for the dogs. Total cost? $60!
Step 4: Calling the Vet
Now that our flights were confirmed, we needed to schedule a vet visit. Your health certificate must be issued by an accredited Veterinarian within the 30 days prior to the animal’s entry into Guatemala, so we knew we had to make an appointment to get the forms filled out no later than four weeks before our departure date. We called the vet, told them about our travel plans, and scheduled an appointment. Done!
Step 5: Vet Visit + USDA Endorsement
Our vet visit went smoothly. We arrived at the vet a week before our departure with our dogs and their vaccination records in hand. The vet filled out the health certificate and we were done!
Next, our health certificated needed to be endorsed by the USDA. That means they would need to review our documents and stamp them. Per USDA instructions, we used FedEx to overnight the following:
- Rabies vaccination certificate
- PRE-PAID return label
- Pet Export Checklist
It’s important to make a copy of all documents before mailing them in case anything gets lost. We sent the documents on a Wednesday, and they were returned to us by Friday.
Step 8: Visit the Consulate
A few days before our flight, we visited the Guatemalan consulate in New York City with the health certificate and vaccination records in hand. We were given a number, and asked to sit in the waiting room. When it was our turn, we approached the desk and handed them our paperwork. The people were incredibly friendly, and the entire process took less than 20 minutes. There is a small fee of $10 per health certificate and payment is accepted in either cash or by check. We paid $20 in cash and were ready to go!
Step 7: Flight Day
Our flight left bright and early at 8am. We woke up super early, gave the dogs a bit of food and drink, and took them for a walk before heading to the airport. We arrived three hours before our flight. When you’re traveling with an animal, it’s required that you check in at the airline counter. We handed the agent our stamped health certificate and vaccination records, and they looked over the dogs and their carriers.
Step 8: Arrival Check
After landing, going through immigration, and getting our bags, we stopped into the Pet Inspection offices in the Guatemalan Airport. A vet quickly looked at each dogs’ teeth and ears, and then checked our paperwork. All of our documents were stamped and made officially valid for one month – that means, if we returned home within a month we could use the same paperwork without needing to return to a vet. Score!
The Way Home
When we checked in at the airport, an animal inspector was called to stamp our exit paperwork. He informed us that our paperwork was valid for one month from the date of our USDA endorsement stamp, not one month from the date of our Guatemalan entry stamp (as we had been told when entering the country). We were still within that time frame (by one day!) so all was good. The inspector said had we not been within that time frame he would have let us go anyway since we were already leaving the country. This is something to note, and to be aware of when traveling from Guatemala.