The Pet Import Process: Our Experience So Far

Before starting this adventure, we were a little nervous about sailing with our two pooches. It wasn’t living in a small space or on water that worried us. We knew our pups would adapt to their new home with us by their sides. It was navigating the pet import process in each country that made me uneasy. We researched and worked with our vet prior to setting sail to ensure we had our ducks in a row. We gathered the following paper work:

  1. International Heath certificate—filled out by a veterinarian who is accredited with the USDA.
  2. Rabies Certificate
  3. FAVN Titer Certificate—This document is required when entering rabies-free countries (like the British Virgin Islands). The vet sent our pups’ blood samples off to a lab in Kansas to be tested to ensure they had a sufficient amount of rabies antibodies following vaccination. As you can imagine, this test was expensive ($250 per dog) and it took us awhile to get the results (4 weeks).

Despite having this paperwork in hand, we still had our concerns. People cruise with pets all the time, but we struggled finding the requirements for each country. A lot of the information out there is outdated or is specific to plane travel; however, we did find LahoWind’s blog posts to be current and exceptionally helpful.

Several countries also have breed restrictions and Pitbulls are on that list. Although all of his paperwork states his breed as a generic “Terrier Mix”, anyone that knows anything about dogs can recognize that at least one of Baxter’s ancestors was a Pitbull. We hoped that “Terrier Mix” wouldn’t raise any eyebrows and we could pass Mr. B off as a cattle dog mix.

After discussing the requirements with our vet, we decided that we would have to skip Turks and Caicos. In addition to forbidding Baxter’s kind, T&C requires a Lyme disease vaccination and specific tick and tapeworm preventatives. Their documentation states that failure to comply with these requirements will result in the animal being deported or euthanized after 48 hours of holding. It appeared that the T&C requirements were too stringent, so we planned to sail from the Bahamas directly to the Dominican Republic. Thus, we opted to not vaccinate our pups for Lyme disease.

We did a lot of up front research and planning, but as it turns out, importing pets via boat is a lot easier than we were led to believe. Everything really is more laid back in the islands. Here is our experience so far in each country.

Bahamas

The Bahamas requires a pet permit and we applied for ours 3 months in advance. It’s lucky that we did, because it took us 2 months to receive our permit. It worked out well for us, but here is what you need to know:

  • The pet import application must be filled out and mailed to The Bahamas Department of Agriculture along with the required fees. We also included a copy of the rabies certificates.
  • The fee is $10.75 per pet. Yes, the website says $10, but you must send a money order for $10.75. This includes a $0.75 VAT.
  • We highly recommend paying the extra $5.00 to have the permit returned via fax. We did not do this, which is one reason why it took 2 months to receive it via snail mail.
  • We mailed our application and money order via USPS for less than a dollar. It took about 10 days for The Bahamas to receive it. You can mail it FEDEX or UPS for a quicker turn around, but it will cost considerably more.

In addition to the pet permit, The Bahamas also requires rabies certificates and an international health certificate filled out by an accredited veterinarian. A USDA endorsement is not required on the health certificate. Even though the documentation states that the health certificate must be completed within 48 hours, this time requirement does not apply when traveling with pets via boat. Ours was completed 3 weeks prior to declaring into The Bahamas.

Getting the paperwork together was the hard part. When Rob checked us into the country, the officials barely glanced at it. I guess they were more concerned about getting our $300 for a cruising permit. Just like the cruising permit, the pet permit is valid for 90 days after entry.

IMG_2236

Turks and Caicos

We didn’t plan on visiting T&C, but we ran into some bad weather after leaving Mayaguana and were forced to make an unexpected stop. We arrived at the South Side Marina in Providenciales and were quickly informed by other cruisers to leave our pups below deck while we checked in with immigration and customs. They arrived 3 hours later (the officers stopped by on their way home for the day) and never asked us about pets. Since they didn’t ask, we didn’t volunteer the information. To avoid paying an additional $150 for a cruising permit, we opted to leave the country within seven days.

We’ve talked to other cruisers that successfully declared their pets in T&C. But for our short stop over, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” process was our smoothest option.

Dominican Republic

Rob spent the morning in and out of 5 different offices (Agriculture, Immigration, Customs, Tourism, and Port Authority). Each office collected their portion of entry fees (we paid $140 total), but none of them seemed to care that we had pets aboard. Agriculture glanced at the rabies certificates and then informed us that she offers a laundry service. Absolutely no issues here, but we did avoid walking the pups in town. Several stray dogs roam the streets in Luperon and they can be a little terrriortial. There were better places to walk the pups outside of town anyway.

Puerto Rico

When we check into Puerto Rico, we did so via phone in Boqueron. The official welcomed us back to the United States. They asked if we had pets aboard, if they had rabies certificates, and what their country of origin was. And that was that. No issues, no meeting with customs and immigration. Easy.

US Virgin Islands

Again, with the USVI being a US territory we had no issues.

IMG_3100

British Virgin Islands

In addition to the paperwork we collected prior to setting out on this adventure, we also needed a USDA endorsed Health Certificate. It’s the same health certificate that our vet had previously filled out, but it has to be signed and stamped by the USDA. The certificate says that it’s only valid for 30 days. I don’t know if the BVI are stringent about that timeframe, but we didn’t want to take any chances, so we did not get the USDA endorsement while we were in Florida. We waited until we were in Puerto Rico. We rented a car from Salinas and drove up to San Juan, PR for a few days. If you are traveling with more than one pet, their information can (AND SHOULD) be on the same health certificate. The USDA charges per certificate. To avoid paying $121 twice, we had our vet combine our pup’s info onto a single health certificate.

Once we had the USDA endorsed health certificate, we scanned and emailed it along with the rabies titer results, rabies certificate, and BVI pet import application to bvigov_vet@gov.vg. I applied for the permit about 3 weeks before our arrival, but it only took 2 days for Dr. Deveaux to respond with our permit. He asked that we text him 24 hours before our arrival and then again 1 hour before our arrival in West End.

When we arrived, he had all of the paperwork already printed out. He asked to see the pups, so Rob brought him to the boat in our dinghy. He glanced them over without getting out of the dinghy and we were good to go. We paid him $10 per dog and then an extra $10 to immigration for the pups.

We know some people who were able to get around the FAVN titer requirement, but we have also heard some horror stories of others that tried and failed. It’s an expensive test, but because we had it, our check in process was very smooth.

IMG_3353

I’ve said it dozens of times…cruising with dogs certainly complicates things, but we couldn’t imagine not sharing this life with our furry family members.

7 thoughts on “The Pet Import Process: Our Experience So Far”

    1. I hope it was helpful! We’ll continue heading down island in the winter and I’m already researching the requirements for the countries south of the BVI.

  1. Thanks for sharing this info. We’ve debated how our dog would do as a sailing pup, and wondered how complicated it would be to travel with her… we’re just now learning to sail, but dreaming of the days when we buy a boat & take off!

    1. That’s awesome. Keep the dream alive. People seem to have different experiences with pet import, but so far it’s been smooth sailing for us. And we love having our pups on board with us.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this information. We are planning on heading to the Bahamas and down south around November with our aussie. So nice of you guys to share your experienced.

    1. That’s wonderful! You’ll have such a great time. We’re going to continue heading south in November, maybe we’ll cross paths at some point!

Let Us Know Your Thoughts!