This is my blog entry in "How To Bring a Dog or Cat Into the United States"
I apologize for the rambling nature of this post, but at the moment I don’t have time to rewrite it. There are actually four different posts, in reverse chronological order, which I posted as I learned how to do it. Basically, I list the resources and information you will need to import a dog or cat out of China and into the USA and then describe my own experience in doing so. I made each posting as I got the information, and then I updated it as I learned more.
It was much easier to do than I had anticipated, and also it was definitely much cheaper to do it myself. If you have any particular questions, please feel free to send a message and I will tell you if I know the answer or not. Also, my information only applies to pet dogs and cats, but the resources listed below will help you figure out how to import other pet animals.
We made the decision to only bring the dog, mostly because we didn’t think our cat would do so well on the trip and we were able to find a really good home for the cat. She was very skittish and got upset easily. In hindsight, it was so easy to bring the animal and I really miss her, and I wonder if it was the right decision. However, the person who has her now is giving her a great home and assures me that she is happy. So, I’m happy. The dog is doing fine and has adjusted amazingly well. She’s a little chihuahua who loves her family and is happy wherever we are. She hasn’t seemed phased in the least by the universe that seems to keep changing around her. She is perfectly happy as long as she’s with us, which is almost every minute of every day since she’s so small and easy to carry. (The only time we leave her at home is when she isn’t allowed to go with us or when she’d have to wait in a hot car.)
Anyway, as you read, bear in mind that there are four posts in this one entry, and you may want to begin with the first one (far below) which was way back in late May or early June, as we were preparing to leave Guangzhou:
Update on June 27, 2008:
We carried Fido in a carry on bag onto the plane and brought her back into the USA with zero trouble at all. Here’s how it worked. I double checked with the airline ahead of time to make sure we were set to take the dog. When we got to the check-in counter at the airport, the clerk had to call the manager. He took the white certificate from the Chinese government (official document saying the dog had all vaccinations and was free from disease) and then he created another document which he called a "security clearance". Then he sent us on our way. We just walked through departure and customs. Then at security, they had us take the dog out of the carrier and carry her through the metal detector while they xrayed the carrier bag (which I learned is required to be soft sided for interior cabin use).
When we arrived in Tokyo, we were paged and met by an airline or airport representative when we got off the plane. He looked at our documents and asked if we had an extra copy. We didn’t know if we did or not, so we asked him to make a photocopy, which he did. This added maybe ten minutes to our transfer time. Then, we walked through the airport security again (again, taking dog out of kennel and walking her through the metal detector) and went to our departure gate.
None of the airports or places had any place for the dog to relieve herself. Fortunately, she is paper trained so we were able to take her to the rest room and use newspapers for that purpose and then clean them up.
When we arrived at USA Customs, we checked the box where it said we had a live dog. Then we had to go to a special Agriculture Department counter. The guy there looked at her immunization records and then looked at her to ascertain that she was, indeed, alive, then flagged us through. That did not add much time, either, maybe ten minutes.
Home free! We were already past security checks and didn’t have to do any more of that prior to boarding our last flight.
Finally, the vet had given us a sedative to use if needed, but we didn’t need it. The only time she ever whimpered was when she was out of our sight, and that was only a few times when we set her carrier down and we were not in her line of visibility.
Good traveler, good experience, and I’m so glad it all worked out okay.
Update on June 3, 2008: My regular vet, John Wu in Guangzhou, returned from a trip to the USA after I wrote this. He explained things and rescued me from the translation issues and red tape of the Chinese
He explained to me that the "red passport" was a
Guangzhou City registration. Ten days prior to departure, his staff
will carry that little red book — along with my pets’ vet records, a letter from him certifying good
health, two passport style photos of each pet (one from front and one
from side), and my passport — all to the appropriate government agency. For a fee of course, they will take care of getting the official certification from the Chinese agency that will allow
my pet to travel out of China.
I threw the burden on my travel agent
to make the plane reservations for the pets. The airline instructed
them to tell me that I will just need a rabies certificate to get into
the USA (I plan to have the letter of good health and complete
immunization records on hand as well).
The cost per pet to travel as
carry on luggage (both are small) is $130 per animal. Taking a larger pet as air cargo has different issues, involving both cost and climate control on the airplane (it gets pretty cold at 35,000 feet) and in airports (it gets pretty hot in cargo areas of airports during summer weather). Portability is one reason we chose a chihuahua as a pet!
Packing, moving, saying goodbye to friends, shopping for and buying the few things we want to take back with us, locating a new place to live in the USA, . . . the list of what needs to be done five weeks prior to departure is very long.
That "to do" list includes figuring out how to get Fluffy and Fido — a cat and a dog — back into our home country. For some strange reason, I never imagined that I’d ever become an expert in the regulations governing import and export of pets into and out of the United States. But, it brings to mind something my Great Grandmother once told me. She said that in her life, at age 90-something, she had learned the truth of the motto: "Never say never."
Sure enough, I’ve had to figure out how to get Fluffy and Fido back into the USA. It seems like such a common issue that I decided to share the information as I obtain it. (If anyone who has more experience with this has better information, please notify me and I’ll change the post. I note also that the requirements for dogs are not the same as for cats; and the requirements for fish, birds, rodents, etc., are altogether different. If you are researching for pets other than dogs or cats, these pages will help you but my post specifically relates to dogs and cats.)
A web page that seems to have a fairly succinct summary for many types of animals is the brochure "Pets and Wildlife: Licensing and Health Requirements" published by the U.S. Customs Service, Publication 0000-0509 and available at this link: http://www.cbp.gov/linkhandler/cgov/newsroom/publications/travel/pets_wild.ctt/pets.pdf . Unfortunately, it doesn’t give enough detail to be particularly helpful.
One pet relocation company says, "Sure, we’ll relocate Fido for you," but they want 10,000 RMB per pet. In various years, I’ve head prices ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 per pet. Some people pay this, or their employer pays it. It’s a legitimate part of the cost for what it takes to place an expat family overseas (and back). No doubt about it, moving a family and leaving the pets behind is traumatic. The presence of pets provides comfort and continuity for children and adults alike. Considering that something like 70% of failed expat assignments are related to poor adjustment of the expat’s family, the expense can be justified as a business expense. By contributing to the well being of the family, the pet relocation contributes to the success of the expat assignment. Nevertheless, this price is pretty steep. It’s more than many Chinese people earn in a year of work. In some countries, it’s more than several years worth of average wages. I decided to look around a bit more.
It’s not like the GOVERNMENTS are charging that much. If one can do it for themselves, surely it’s a lot cheaper. I’m also told that the process of import and export isn’t that hard, either. If all your paperwork is done properly, I’m told it’s a piece of cake. I’ve met people in airports who tell me that meeting the requirements is simple and that they take their dog everywhere they go, all over the world. Getting the right paperwork is simply a matter of dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. But the risk is high. What if we got to the airport, tickets in hand two hours prior to departure, and we were told Fluffy and Fido couldn’t get on the plane with us? What’s the fallback plan for that? Worse, what if we arrived in the USA and were at the counter at Customs and were told Fluffy and Fido couldn’t come into the USA? What’s the fallback plan then?
So, here’s the flow chart. First you have to figure out what’s required to exit the exporting country. Second, you have to figure out what is required by your airline. Third, you have to figure out what’s required to enter the importing country. Fourth, you have to figure out what’s required to enter the particular state, district, or city that is your destination. Here’s what I’ve found so far:
To leave China. I was told today that there is a special red passport which is issued when the animal gets its rabies shot. One veterinarian wanted 150 RMB for this passport. Another wanted 1,500 RMB. However, neither veterinary office had an actual, licensed vet in the building. Because of requirement #2 (below), I did not want the shot administered by a non-licensed vet, so I did not get the shot today.
Find this out by looking at the web page for your airline. A hard carrier meeting certain specifications will certainly be required, as will special reservations and handling arrangements. During the hottest summer months, airlines do not allow animals to be stored in cargo holds. Bear all of this in mind as you are planning your travel.
To enter the United States. Import of an animal into the USA appears to be governed by three, separate U.S. Agencies:
A. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes a regulation at 42 CFR 71.51.( "
Title 42–Public Health, Chapter 1 — Public Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services, Part 71 — Foreign Quarantine," http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2005/octqtr.pdf/42cfr71.51.pdf )
B . The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 9 CFR 93.600 requires every dog to have been examined fewer than five days prior to departure and certified by a licensed veterinarian to be free from screwworm:
C. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has a web page which basically requires most dogs to present with proof of rabies vaccination certified by a licensed veterinarian. ("Importation
of Pets and Other Animals Into the United States,"
D. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention publishes its own regulations. But at least they’re on a FAQ web site ( at CDC "Importation of Pets, Other Animals, and Domestic Products into the United States," http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dq/animal.htm ).
E. The penalty if you don’t get it right is pretty stiff: According to the CFR, an animal denied entry into the USA must either be destroyed or sent back to the country of origin. As hard as it might be to leave Fido behind, imagine the trauma to one’s children of having Customs confiscate the animal and kill it. In other words, DON’T MAKE A MISTAKE!
The final step is to get your animal into your state, territory, or any other city that has jurisdiction over you. For regulations governing your particular state, see this link: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/sregs/
Anyone considering importing their animal by themselves needs to create a chart which lists the requirements of every agency / party / airline involved, and make sure they have complied with every requirement by every agency. In my case, this means I need a certificate from a licensed veterinarian saying that the animal is in good health, along with a rabies vaccination showing a sticker from a recognized vaccine and signed by a license veterinarian at least 30 days prior to departure. To be safe, I’ll also show evidence of Bordetella vaccine (don’t let your pet be around other animals unless it’s had this vaccine) and deworming. I’ll also be sure to have all this translated into English, and in the little red passport that I was shown today. The kennel must meet size and hardness specifications, and it also must be clean and free from organic material such as straw bedding (which is forbidden for import). If I get any more information, I’ll post.