What are the requirements to bring a dog into the U.S.?

Bringing Pets into the U.S.

By | 2023-11-08T00:05:48+00:00 September 21st, 2019|Forms and Documents, U.S. Customs|

Do you plan on traveling with your furry friend? Or maybe you’re interested in buying a little companion from overseas. Either way, you probably have some questions about getting pets over the border. There are a few things you’ll need to understand about bringing pets into the U.S. before you try to do it.

General Guidelines

Despite what many people believe, you probably won’t need to quarantine when bringing pets into the U.S. from another country. However, your pet will be visually examined when entering the U.S. through a port of entry. This will be in addition to the paperwork and international pet passport you’ll be required to provide. If your pet appears infected or sick, you may be refused entry or have to undergo a secondary inspection at your own cost. If you are bringing pets into the U.S.  that appear to be physically abused or neglected, you risk having the pet seized from you at the border. If your pet is not well enough to travel, leave it at home or in the care of a professional. 

If you’re bringing pets into the U.S. by car, remember that the state you are entering may have their own regulations on pets. For example, states like Ohio and Iowa have many cities where pit bulls and other bully dog breeds are outright banned. 

If you’re flying or coming by boat, be aware that airlines and shipping lines have their own policies on transporting pets in addition to the requirements of the federal, state, and local governments. Check with your airline or ship representative to determine what requirements they may have.

Bringing a dog into the U.S.

Importing a dog into the U.S. might sound daunting, but it’s actually easier than most people think! The first thing you need to determine is whether the dog you’re importing is a pet or a “commercial import”.

If your dog is a pet, it is a personal import and does not require an import permit. However, you will need a valid health certificate. You can get one of these from a licensed veterinarian. This health certificate must state the dog owner’s name, the dog’s breed, color, markings, sex and, age. It should also include all vaccination information.

If the dog is for resale or adoption, it is a commercial import and will require an import permit. You can find more information on obtaining an import permit from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website. In addition to this permit, the dog must be accompanied by a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian and a rabies vaccine certificate (if the dog comes from a rabies risk country). The dog must also be at least 6 months of age and vaccinated for distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, and parainfluenza virus. 

If your dog is coming from a country that poses a rabies risk, whether it is a personal or commercial import, your dog must have a documented rabies vaccination. You can find a list of these countries on the CDC website. It takes 28 days for the vaccine to be effective, so your dog must have been vaccinated at least 28 days prior to importation. Because puppies cannot be vaccinated before 3 months of age, you will not be able to bring a puppy younger than 4 months from one of these countries. As per CDC requirements, border patrol will not accept rabies titer values or veterinary exemption letters. If you bring a dog from a rabies risk country that is not or cannot be vaccinated, even if it’s a service dog, it will be refused entry. 

These rules apply whether you are just visiting the United States with your dog, importing a new dogs into the United States, or simply traveling out of the United States and returning after a temporary visit. 

Bringing a cat into the U.S

Importing a cat to the U.S is even easier than importing a dog! There are currently no requirements for a cat to be accompanied by a health certificate or a rabies vaccination. It is still recommended that you vaccinate your cat against common diseases, as there will be a visual examination at the point of entry. If the cat appears to be ill or neglected, it will either be turned away or seized. 

The only exceptions are the state of Hawaii and the territory of Guam. You can find more information about these exceptions on the CDC website.

Importing other pets

Birds: Importing birds into the U.S. is quite complicated, more than any other pet. The importation of birds is regulated by the USDA APHIS Veterinary Services, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). You must meet the requirements laid out by all three agencies. Additionally, the regulations change depending on the type of bird and the origin of the bird. Check the APHIS website for regulations by species and country. 

In general, birds such as geese, chickens, and pheasants, are considered poultry. Even if you are keeping a poultry bird as a pet, it will be considered as livestock. Additionally, if you import more than 6 birds, it is considered a commercial import.

Rodents: Neither the APHIS or the CDC have any health requirements for the importation of pet rodents. However, rodents (including rabbits, mice, rats, and ferrets) that originate from the content of Africa are not allowed to be imported into the United States. Be aware that some states have their own regulations on rodents. For example, many states ban ferrets as pets. You can use the APHIS website to access specific information for rabbits, ferrets, other various rodents

Hedgehogs and tenrecs: You will need a veterinary services (VS) import permit, an original health certificate issued by a veterinarian officer from the  country your pet is traveling from, and an examination at the first U.S. port of entry. You cannot import hedgehogs or tenrecs from New Zealand or any country that is known to be a ‘Foot and Mouth’ Disease risk. You can find all the information you’ll need to import a pet hedgehog or tenrec on the CDC website.

Reptiles and Amphibians: Neither the APHIS or the CDC have any health requirements for the importation of reptiles or amphibians. However, there are a few species of tortoises which are banned from import altogether. You may not bring a Leopard tortoise, an African spurred tortoise, or a Bell’s hingeback tortoise as per these restrictions. Additionally, small turtles with shells less than 4 inches in length are also banned from import. According to the CDC website, you can import up to 6 turtles or eggs at a time.


We hope this quick guide on bringing pets into the U.S. was useful. For most imports of pets, you won’t need to worry about anything other than the paperwork. If you have any further questions or require assistance with import forms, get in touch with a Clearit Representative. We have a team of customs brokers who are prepared to help you with all your import needs.