Are you planning to move with pets to Costa Rica? If so, then you have lots of questions. Even more questions, if your pet weighs over 15 pounds and therefore does not qualify as an airline carry-on.
The good news is that pet import to Costa Rica is fairly simple and straightforward, as international regulations go. For all intents and purposes, there are no quarantine requirements. Many times, you can bring your pets on the plane, either as a carry-on or checked “luggage.” The vaccination requirements are likely similar to your home country’s vaccination schedule. And the paperwork – well, most will be handled by your home country vet.
All that said, there are requirements. This post will fill you in on what you need to know – and point you in the direction of where you can verify everything before you move.
Speaking of… Before we begin, know that this information is accurate as of publication (October 2022) but is always subject to change. We strongly recommend speaking with a relocation professional, your country’s embassy in Costa Rica, or a pet shipper or broker about current requirements and regulations, for the exact month (and even day) your pet will arrive in Costa Rica.
Move with Pets to Costa Rica: The Basics
Before we get into the requirements and other details on moving to Costa Rica with pets, let’s talk about a few of the basics. Can your pet travel on the airplane with you? Can you bring your bird, your ferret, or your cat? Read on…
Airline Carry-On/Checked or Pet Broker?
There are three main ways to move with pets to Costa Rica:
- Airline Carry-On: Some airlines allow small pets (typically, under 15 lbs.) to travel as carry-on luggage. They must travel in a carrier that fits at your feet, under the seat in front of you.
- Airline Check–In: Some airlines allow larger pets – often, restricted by size and/or breed – to travel as checked baggage.
- Pet Shipper + Broker: For many dog owners, the best (and sometimes, only) option is to use a pet shipper + broker to transport their pets to Costa Rica.
Note: If your pet is traveling as cargo (rather than as your carry-on or checked luggage), you will likely also need proof of Pet Customs Duty payment (if applicable) and a pet quarantine permit, issued by MAG, Costa Rica’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.
Always verify additional requirements prior to arrival.
What Pets Can Be Imported to Costa Rica?
Cats and dogs account for the vast majority of pets imported to Costa Rica.
This comes down to more than just their popularity; Costa Rica has strict laws surrounding what animals can be kept as pets. For example, some pets – think sugar gliders, ferrets, etc. – cannot be sold or kept as pets in Costa Rica, and therefore cannot be imported, even if they were acquired legally in your home country.
Additionally, it is usually impossible to import any animal that is native to Costa Rica. This also comes down to the law: In Costa Rica, you cannot legally own a wild animal native to the country. Again, it does not matter whether this animal is legally acquired in your home country.
Costa Rican law also changes (fairly frequently) regarding importing birds. For years, it was legal. Then, it was illegal. Then, it was legal again. Now, as of 2022, birds may not be imported to Costa Rica. This may change again, so be sure to ask a pet broker. Note that, even when birds were allowed, it was a one-way trip: Once imported, they could never again be exported.
Finally, large animal imports (e.g. horses) may be legal but can present major logistical challenges. Again, your best bet is to ask a professional pet broker, who will be able to advise you on all the current laws, ins and outs, quarantine rules, and other related regulations.
Requirements for Pet Entry to Costa Rica
There are a few hard and fast requirements when you move with pets to Costa Rica. Here’s what you need to know.
Requirement: Pet Vaccinations
Costa Rica requires full vaccination (according to its animal vaccination schedules) for cats and dogs. These include:
Required Vaccinations for Dogs:
- Rabies – applied 31 to 364 days prior to travel to Costa Rica (= over one month, less than one year)
- Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parvovirus, and Parainfluenza (DHLPP) – applied within 30 days of travel to Costa Rica
Required Vaccinations for Cats:
- Rabies – applied 31 to 364 days prior to travel to Costa Rica (= over one month, less than one year)
- Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia (FVRCP) – applied within 30 days of travel to Costa Rica
Requirement: Pet Health Certificate
A pet health certificate for Costa Rica must be issued within 14 days of travel to Costa Rica. Note that not all vets in your home country will be equipped to issue this certificate; you must find a veterinarian who is USDA-certified.
When you make your vet appointment with a USDA-certified vet, you should still mention the purpose of your visit. There’s extra paperwork involved in this type of vet visit and you want to make sure they have everything on-hand for your arrival.
Timing can be tight, given that the certificate must be issued less than 14 days prior to travel AND must go through a process at the USDA (see the next requirement, below). Our best advice is to schedule your vet appointment at the 13-day mark, so you can maximize your paperwork time without stepping over the outer limit.
Note: Timing can come down to the hour. For example, if your vet appointment is at 10 a.m. on Day 14 and you arrive at 2 p.m. to Costa Rica, you’d technically be over the 14 days, as counted in 24-hour increments. This is your beloved pet, so it’s better not to risk it.
Requirement: USDA APHIS Endorsement
Your USDA-certified vet should handle this step, but we want you to still be aware of the requirement. Note that this is where the timing gets tight.
You can acquire this endorsement either by mail or in person. Before proceeding, it’s best to identify your nearest USDA APHIS Veterinary Services Endorsement Office and call in advance to ask about current turn-around times. If the timing is particularly tough, consider making an appointment to acquire your endorsement in person; if you have enough lead time, mail-in endorsement (with the fastest shipping possible) often offers sufficient turn-around.
Note: Once you have your dated, signed, and USDA-endorsed health certificate, you’re technically ready to move with pets to Costa Rica.
Warning! Pets arriving as manifest cargo must have an import permit. Individuals (including pet owners) cannot apply for this permit; you MUST work with a pet broker or similar professional. The import permit application will be made to Senasa (Costa Rica’s National Animal Welfare Service) 4 days prior to arrival and MUST include the full vaccination record.
Warning! ALL pets over three months in age MUST have a current rabies vaccine no more than one year old. (Even if it’s the three-year rabies vaccine, it must have been given within the past year.) There are no exceptions, period.
Considerations Before & After the Move
In many ways, when you move with pets to Costa Rica, not much changes. Your pet is still your four-legged baby. You’re going to have snuggles and walks and all the other standard bonding.
A few things will change, though – from weather and preventive treatments to culture and leash walking, here’s what you’ll want to keep in mind, before you arrive.
Costa Rican Pet Culture
It’s easy to forget that Costa Rica is, indeed, another country and a different culture. Depending on where you’re from originally, the culture shock may hit anywhere from hard to barely at all.
For many people, there’s at least a hint of culture shock with regard to pets – especially dogs. The first thing you’ll notice is that there are lots of street dogs. (Know that most are not neutered or spayed.) They’re not necessarily “strays,” per say – many are fed regularly and some even have homes – but they do run free at all hours of the day. This can pose a challenge when you’re walking your dog (leashed or otherwise), if your dog isn’t accustomed to being around unleashed dogs.
Additionally, Costa Rican pet culture is evolving and improving, but just as an FYI, you may see dogs chained up in yards, or outside in the rain, or in other conditions you may not expect (or like). There are several government departments and ministries charged with animal welfare, and they are working to improve conditions locally.
Consider the Climate
Bear in mind that Costa Rica can be hot, especially along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
Dogs and cats from cool-weather climates, as well as snub-nosed dog breeds, long-haired cats, snow dog breeds, and heavy-coated dogs, will require extra considerations in adapting to Costa Rica; consider renting or purchasing a home with central air-conditioning, to allow your pet time – and by this, we mean months, not days or weeks – to gradually adjust to the change in temperature and humidity.
You may also consider having your long-haired pets groomed for hot water. Additionally, be sure that they always have access to fresh drinking water and shade when outdoors.
If your pet requires specific medications, especially for chronic health issues, you should verify medication availability with a local vet. (A relocation professional can help you with this.)
If your pet’s medications are not available locally, you have a few options: 1) You can bring several months of supplies in your luggage (and bring more in periodically). 2) You can speak to your home country vet regarding switching to a medication that will be available locally. (Though bear in mind that your home country vet may not be familiar with vet medications available in Costa Rica.) And 3) You can discuss comparable medications with a local Costa Rican vet.
Fleas, Ticks, Deworming & Other Preventive Medications
The tropics are wonderful for so many reasons. But many of the reasons that we humans love Costa Rica – sun, year-round warmth, and abundant rain – are also appealing to pests.
When you move with pets to Costa Rica, you will want to prep them with flea & tick treatment, plus a deworming and heartworm treatment. When you arrive, speak to your local vet and get them on a regular treatment plan (typically once monthly), paired with yearly vaccinations, per Costa Rica recommendations.
Want to Talk About Moving to Costa Rica?
So many people make Costa Rica a dream but not a reality. If you’re determined to be one of the lucky few, then relocation services are a sound investment.
Please, reach out. Give me a chance to earn your trust. And let’s discover what makes you feel comfortable, where you might like to settle, and what lifestyle decisions will best suit your needs and priorities.
For years, I’ve made it my job to help people just like you to make their own successful and dream-fulfilling transition to life in Costa Rica. That’s because I offer honest advice rooted in real, hard-earned expertise. I don’t sugar-coat the truth or side-step the tough stuff. I’m here to share the whole picture – not just the carefully curated, postcard-perfect bits.
I hope you’ll find that the real Costa Rica is still your Costa Rica. Download my free eBook. Reach out on socials. Sign up for updates. And look into our Costa Rica relocation services. I look forward to your getting in touch and can’t wait to get started!