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How to bring your dog when moving to Costa Rica

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

How to import your pet when moving to Costa RicaHow to bring your dog to Costa Rica, just like us. 

As promised, this week’s blog is dedicated to my experience in how to bring your dog to Costa Rica. Those of you who could care less about dogs, or pets in general, can have the week off.

There is lots of information out in the ether about how to bring your dog or pet to Costa Rica. Much of it is incorrect or, at best, incomplete. The reason has little to do with incompetent contributors. It has more to do with a moving target—changes, frequent changes.

Hence, what you are getting was my experience of how we took our dog. This is not a “how-to” treatise on getting your pet to Costa Rica, because things change once in a while. Use this as a warning in your pet transport planning to be vigilant. Check your facts and, then, double-check your facts getting them verified by multiple sources.

For pet transport information, I checked with

  • The airline (grade C, missing info),
  • U.S. and Costa Rican embassies online (grade D, vague, out-of-date, missing and conflicting info),
  • Several online sites with info on moving to Costa Rica with your pet (grades D to F, all of the above),
  • Our vet (grade B-, accurate, but missing some critical info) and
  • The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture—online and by phone (grade A, sometimes you had to dig the info out of them. But they were extremely helpful, accurate, surprisingly friendly. And they supplied the vital information that no one else provided).

How to import your pet when moving to Costa Rica

Pet Transport Services

If you want to take the easy path, you can have a pet transport service take the lead. The easy path, however, is also an expensive path.

Our dog could have been moved here by a service for $2,895. It would still have required my involvement. And the quote did not include some of the investments I had already made. Those include the carrier and other items (among them, a hook-on water dish that is also required).

For purposes of rounding to the nearest thousand, let’s say the easiest way would have cost $3,000. As it was, I ultimately spent over $1,600 to do it all myself. It really sounds much better when I say, “I saved almost 50% by doing it myself.”

The size of the dog and plane size restrictions

If your dog is under a certain size, it can be taken aboard the cabin in a carrier that must fit under the seat—a much easier solution. Our dog is over 70lbs. and under the seat was not an option. Note: your dog must be older than six months to make the trip.

Our dog actually required the largest carrier available for pet air travel. The good thing about how we took our dog in the carrier is it now doubles as his evening sleeping venue. The bad news about the kennel size is it didn’t fit on the small turboprops, regional jets, or even some of the smaller jets used on the major routes. Be sure to check on your plane’s size restrictions. If you have a larger dog it can make travel reservations even more complicated.

Travel with your pet

Most airlines have a division dedicated to arranging and caring for animal baggage. You must make your pet’s travel arrangements with this group. And your pet must travel with you in the pressurized baggage section aboard the same flight.

If Fido misses the flight or gets put on a plane other than the one you are aboard, it becomes a completely different type of “import”. Then you’ll be involved with completely different paperwork and different rules. You really don’t want to go there.


Your pet’s fare will be determined by its weight and size. Your flight is scheduled to land late in the afternoon? Or is it delayed and lands in Costa Rica late in the afternoon? Then it is possible that your pet will do an “overnight” adventure in a warehouse. This warehouse is just off the airport grounds. This will incur an extra fee.

Like one of the highest levels in an Internet video game, your degree of difficulty increases when trying to book a flight based on it landing here in the morning or early afternoon. Add in buying your ticket with miles and you can have an avatar created in your likeness.

How to import your pet when moving to Costa Rica

A Pet Broker in Costa Rica

The airline I used, changed its policy just before I booked our dog. They were requiring a “pet broker” to receive our dog in Costa Rica. Then, the pet broker could take him through Costa Rican customs and agriculture inspection at the airport. I set about to find a pet broker and was directed by GoDutch agents to a couple that had recently arrived on the same airline with their pet.

Luckily, they were pleased with the service and the price. I wound up using their pet broker to bring your dog in. We were so happy with the result. I am not in the habit of throwing out endorsements, but it isn’t easy finding someone you can trust with a member of your family.  We decided that this was how we took our dog and that he should arrive safely.

We had a great experience with Pet broker Jorge Villalobos, (506) 8822 3497,

Use a Certified & Registered USDA Veterinarian

There is another logistical challenge. The required veterinary exam certificate cannot be issued more than ten days before landing in Costa Rica. Note that the issuing vet must also be certified and registered with the USDA. This is a special USDA form specifically for forwarding animals to foreign shores.

When we left, we couldn’t find that little tidbit of any instructions or advice. In addition, if any part of the form is filled out incorrectly, it will be returned and a corrected form will have to be re-submitted.

The certificate must be sent to a regional USDA office in between the exam and landing within ten days. Then it has to be certified by a vet from their animal export division. My ten-day window included two weekends and one national holiday. And the USDA staff doesn’t work on weekends or holidays.

My solution was to call ahead and explain the problem. I was advised to get a pre-approval by faxing the paperwork to them before I sent the original. And then send the form via next-day air with a next-day air return envelope enclosed.

The Computer System is down

Our arrival was 1 ½ hour before our dog was supposed to be ready to exit customs. So to fill in the void, we arranged to have our driver take us for a little grocery shopping after we arrived. We returned to the broker’s building only to find that the C.R. Custom’s computer system was partially down. Everything was supposed to lock up tight right at 5 PM, but at 5:20 we were reunited with our dog. I don’t think anyone liked the idea of leaving an animal already in a kennel for 18 hours locked in an empty warehouse overnight.

I expect that the way we did this shows you some options if you have to bring your dog to Costa Rica yourself.

The Author

The writer of this blog, Ticonuevo, is a US expat who moved to Costa Rica. He and his wife used the services of GoDutch Realty to purchase a property in Costa Rica. In his blogs, Ticonuevo describes his own experiences of taking the step of moving to Costa Rica and getting a new life started.

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