If you’re in the United States and planning to travel internationally with your pup, chances are you’ll need a health certificate endorsed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). An endorsement means that the USDA has reviewed your documents and given them their official stamp of approval. Here’s how to get one, so you and your dog can travel abroad.
Step 1: Do I Need an Endorsement?
Not all countries require USDA endorsed documentation for entry (like Mexico!), however, most do.
Check your destination’s policy. They’ll let you know if you need one, and within what time frame.
Step 2: Get Organized
Each destination country has a different set of requirements. This may include vaccinations, tests, and/or treatments, import permits, or pre-travel waiting periods.
There are specific timeframes that must be followed for some vaccinations and tests, and health certificates usually carry with them a validity period set by the destination country, meaning each certificate can be used only for travel within a designated period.
You’ll want to create a list of what you need and a schedule of when to fulfill each requirement.
Step 3: Go to the Vet
Schedule an appointment with a USDA accredited veterinarian.
Depending on your destination’s requirements, you may need to schedule more than one appointment (for example, if you need vaccination updates, or specific treatments and/or tests).
The health certificate must be completed, signed and dated by a USDA accredited veterinarian. Be sure that the health certificate is filled out within the validity period set by the destination country.
Step 4: Get the Health Certificate Endorsed
Once the health certificate has been completed by the veterinarian, it must be submitted to a USDA APHIS Veterinary Services Endorsement Office.
There are six primary endorsement office locations in the United States, each responsible for administering to neighboring states. There are also affiliate offices available throughout the country.
There are two ways to get your papers stamped: you can mail them in or schedule an in-person appointment.
- Find the location that governs your state.
- Mail the documents (USPS, UPS, FedEx, DHL), and include a pre-paid overnight return label, so the documents can be returned to you.
- Return label must be pre-paid, meaning charges are incurred at purchase, not at time of pickup.
- Be sure to include all documents requested in your submission. This may include things like rabies vaccination certificates, test results, an import permit, and/or a Pet Export Checklist.
- Include payment. Acceptable payment methods include: APHIS credit account, check or money order made payable to the USDA, or credit card. See here to learn about fees.
- Keep a record of your tracking numbers (both for the outbound package and the pre-paid return package).
- Each office has different rules (for example, accepted payment methods may vary). Be sure to read your location’s requirements.
- Processing time is quick, but keep in mind that offices are closed on the weekends and on national holidays.
- Some couriers will charge extra for a Saturday delivery. Inquire about this if necessary.
- Always make copies of important documentation before sending it through the mail – better safe than sorry!
Some offices will allow appointments or walk in, so you can get an endorsement in one day and not have to go through a mail service.
- Find the location that governs your state. Ask them for the closest affiliate office to you (for example, for those in New York City, the office for New York State is in Albany, but there is an affiliate office for endorsements much closer to NYC at JFK airport).
- Call the closest office and confirm their in-person rules.
- Some will allow a certificate to be dropped off for endorsement without an appointment, whereas others require that you schedule an appointment.
- Confirm the methods of payment allowed in person.
- Go the office with all of the required documents and pay the fee.
Certificates are generally processed and returned the day they’re received, as long as nothing is missing and everything is correct.
I have personally gotten my USDA endorsements using both methods: in person and via mail. You can read about my experience getting the endorsement done in person here.
Step 5: Extra Documents
Depending on your destination country, there might be an extra step or two after your health certificate is endorsed. For example, to travel to Guatemala, you’ll have to get your certificate stamped at the consulate after it’s been endorsed, and to go to Ireland, you can still get your dog’s tapeworm treatment post-endorsement. Check the rules for your destination country and plan accordingly.
Want more tips about flying with your pet? Click here.
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