In all of our years of traveling, we’ve almost always mailed in our health certificates to get endorsed. The only other time that we physically went to an office was when we lived in Brazil and were transporting our cat to the US, many moons ago. That was one of our first ever international trips with a pet, and it was before we even adopted our two dogs.
Recently, we found ourselves in a situation where time wasn’t on our side. Because of restrictions related to Sam’s research grant, we had to wait for a green light from the Department of Education before buying our plane tickets. This means that we only found out for sure when we would be flying a few days prior to departure. With only a few days notice, we didn’t have much time to purchase tickets, make vet appointments, and get our health certificates endorsed by the USDA.
We usually fly with enough notice to have things prepared well in advance. We schedule our vet appointment eight to ten days before flying, giving us plenty of time to overnight our documents to the USDA. This time, we had only five days to do it all, and two of those days happened to be a weekend. Since the USDA doesn’t process paperwork on weekends, we in reality had only three days to get this done. We didn’t want to take the risk of mailing the documents in, so we decided to go to the nearest USDA office to do it all in person. Here’s how it went down.
Step 1: Make a List
I might come off as super anal for suggesting this, but get yourself organized and make a list of what you need before you start making moves. At the USDA office, we saw not one, but five people ahead of us get turned down for an endorsement. Luckily, most of these people were able to hustle and get the information they needed in time to get all of their paperwork stamped, but we did see one gentlemen leave empty handed. Do your research, make a list, and stay organized so you can be in and out with no problems. If you have any questions about a country’s policies, call or email their embassy.
Here was our list:
- Double check the animal entry requirements for the country we were visiting
- Buy our plane tickets
- Notify the airline that we’d be flying with animals
- Go to the vet and get the health certificate
- Make an appointment with the USDA
- Go to the USDA
Steps a – c were easy. We like to email the airline so we leave a paper trail, but if you’re new to this I would suggest calling.
Step 2: Go To The Vet
We did our research beforehand and found a vet that would take last minute appointments and who didn’t cost an arm and a leg. When choosing a vet, be sure to ask for the cost of the appointment (the check-up) and the cost of filling out a health certificate. Every vet is different, and while some may fill out the form for free, others may charge you an extra fee.
We have found vets in New York City that charged anywhere from $50 to $300 just to fill out the health certificate, and have heard stories of others doing it at no cost.
Vets will also require an formal checkup so they can look over your dog before filling out the form.
Step 3: Call the USDA APHIS Office
We got our health certificates filled out on Thursday night, and called APHIS to make an appointment first thing on Friday morning.
The office will only give you an appointment if you are flying within two business days. Our flight was on Tuesday, and we got an appointment for Monday at 9:15am.
Things To Consider
The APHIS offices hold weird hours, and close very early. They are also closed on the weekend. Be sure to call within the window that they’re open.
I recommend calling early, because it’s very likely no one will pick up the phone the first few times you call. Luckily, we only had to call twice before we got an answer.
Be prepared to answer the following questions once you get someone on the line:
- Where are you flying (destination).
- When you are flying (exact date).
- What animals you are flying with (number of animals, and species).
Step 4: Go To The APHIS Office
The office is close to JFK Airport, but it is not actually in the airport. There is also no real way to walk from the airport to the office because of highways. Driving is the easiest way to get there, and there is plenty of free parking right out front. If you don’t have access to your own car, get a taxi or Uber. You can also take the subway or airport bus to JFK, and then take a taxi from there.
Step 5: Get Your Health Certificate Endorsed
The APHIS office is located in a large building. It’s Suite 100, on the ground floor. The first door to the suite should be unlocked, but you’ll need the security guard to verify your appointment before giving you access to the actual office.
We gave the security guard our name and appointment time, and were told to sign in. Then we took a seat and waited for our name to be called. Our appointment was scheduled for 9:15am, and we arrived about 10 minutes early.
The office is small, and it was packed when we arrived. We took a seat, and watched as people were called up to the window. Those who had paperwork or information missing were allowed to step outside of the office to call their vets, who could subsequently email or fax the information directly to the office.
At 9:30 our name was called and we turned in our paperwork. We returned to our seats, until our name was called again 15 minutes later. The agent asked us to clarify some information about Marcelo’s microchip number.
At 10:40 our name was called once again and we were handed our endorsed health certificates. We paid using a credit card. The process took a total of one hour and 35 minutes, from the time we walked in to the office, to the time we exited.
Things To Consider
- There are no phone calls allowed in the office. You must step into the entryway to make or receive a call.
- You do not have to bring your pet with you to get the endorsement.
- You can pay with either a credit card or money order. Cash is not accepted.
- Reminder: you can only get an appointment if you are flying within 2 business days.
- In person endorsement services are available by appointment only – walk-ins are not allowed.
- Bring a book or something to keep you occupied while you wait.
All in all the process was pretty simple, but time consuming. We took photos of our endorsed health certificates, made copies and were set to fly.