How to bring a pet into Costa Rica: Simplified

Okay, so a while back I was having kittens (pun intended) about bringing Asia into Costa Rica. Mostly because I simply could not seem to get a straight answer from anyone about the proper process. It was driving me batty.
So, to anyone bringing in their (small) dog or cat (this might also work for rabbits, but don’t expect success with gerbils or hamsters or any form of rodent; and it’s a one-way trip for all birds, you can’t take them out again) into Costa Rica, allow me to present the (current) process. It’s really easy.

  1. Check with your government’s agricultural agency (the Ministry of Agriculture in Canada, for example) and find the International Health Certificate. (There is an American equivalent from the Department of Agriculture, but I’m not sure what it’s called.) Print it out.
  2. Go to your vet, and ensure that your cat/dog has all their most recent vaccinations. Get documentation about all of it. It’s important, you’ll need it when you arrive. You’ll also need the vet to fill out the specifics of the aforementioned International Health Certificate, which they also need to sign.
  3. In Canada (I can’t say for certain with the United States), you’ll need to schedule an appointment with the Ministry of Agriculture to have them sign the document as well, and stamp it to make it official. This is necessary — without this form, your pet will not be joining you.
  4. Bring the pet with you on the plane in a carrier that fits under the seat. Not all airlines will do this anymore — Continental Airlines still does. Air Canada does not. This way, you can be assured that the pet is with you when you arrive, and does not go automatically into quarantine.
  5. When you arrive in customs, you need to go to the Agricultura desk (it’s easy to see) and have them look over the papers. Provided you are not bringing the animal in for resale (e.g. it’s not merchandise), it’s a quick stamp, a scribble in the register, and you’re free to go — no duty required.


  • If your pet does not fit under the seat and/or must travel cargo (with you on the same flight), the process might be the same, provided you can collect your pet with your luggage. I’m not sure, as I didn’t see any other pets there.
  • If you’re bringing in animals for resale, expect to pay a duty.

21 thoughts on “How to bring a pet into Costa Rica: Simplified”

  1. thank you very much this is exactly what I was looking to find.. I have a small dog and I am hoping everything will work out.. I will visit the vet tomorrow and ask who to talk to about an international health certificate.. ( I am from the U.S.)

  2. ok
    just how difficult is it going to be driving from ny
    to costa rica w/12 cats??????
    i would never consider putting them in the cargo hold of a plane and besides i think it would bankrupt me!
    do u need different documents to cross different countries borders?

  3. 12 cats? Driving? Not sure which is going to be less painful for you — the loss of money or your sanity after being locked in a car for 6,000 kms with 12 cats!
    And yes, you’ll need papers for every border you cross. I imagine you won’t have an easy time of it, either.

  4. Hi,
    Can you clarify something for me please ?
    The CR consulate in Ottawa are telling me that I have to send the International Health Certs to them to be authenticated (with fees of course) and then they will send them back to me. Iam worried about not getting the certs back in time.
    Doesn’t the cert only last for 10 days?

  5. Hi Rita!
    I’ve heard a rumour that the rules changed recently (especially if you’re going through the States), so you might have to send to the consulate/embassy.
    Ask them to see if there’s a way to expedite the validation (there’s usually a way) and make sure items are sent via Purolator or Fedex. It costs more, but you won’t be at the mercy of Canada Post to get your documentation on time.

  6. I want to bring my cat with me to Costa Rica coming from California. I talked to my airline and they have room for my cat as a carry on but they said check to see about quarantine. They said they would possibly quarantine the cat for 6months??!! Where do I go to find out if that information is true or not?

  7. Daniella,
    You do NOT have to quarantine your cat if it’s carry-on, and you have supporting health documentation. Basically, if you follow the same specifications as bringing your cat into the US, you should be okay. So far, everyone I know has had no trouble.


    1. Hi Jeanne,
      A monkey, eh? Hmm. That’s a tough one. I know birds are a one-way deal — you can bring ’em in, but they stay. Period. I wouldn’t be surprised if the monkey requires a mess of paperwork to validate that it’s fully inoculated against pretty much everything, that it’s not a Costa Rican animal, has registration, and I wouldn’t be the LEAST bit surprised to find out that you need to clear it through embassies, first, for legal purposes. In fact, I’d suggest you contact the Costa Rican embassy and find out. It’s the best way to be sure.

  9. thanks Geoff, this is exactly the info i needed! did you find there was a problem bringing your cat BACK to canada? i’ve been travelling around a few years but have always missed having a feline friend. now i’m hunkering down in Victoria for a bit and of course want to get a cat. but knowing i’ll be going to costa rica in a year, i was trying to talk myself out of it, thinking it wasn’t very responsible to have to get rid of the little guy so soon. but now i know 🙂

  10. Run the same rules in reverse: make sure you’ve got the appropriate clearances, and you’re pretty much golden.
    Mind you, never hurts to sanity-check with the Canadian embassy in Costa Rica (who are fantastic!) to make sure.

  11. what if my plane lands at 1 am…. ? My poodle is flying under the seat with me and we have all the proper paperwork… but will anyone be at the desk that late?

  12. Good question, Melissa. In all honesty, I don’t know. My understanding is that the staff are there to handle flights whenever they arrive.
    In my experience (I arrived at 10pm-ish), I had to identify to one of the security staff that I had a pet, and they directed me to an empty desk. One of the staff then came over to handle the paperwork.

  13. Thank you for your post!!! The other question I have is this: Does the rabbies shot need to be done 30 days PRIOR to date of travel? I have been getting mixed messages on this question.

  14. My biggest worry is getting our fur baby back out of Costa Rica. We do a lot of 2 week holidays and I would love to take Zoey with us as it is cheaper to have her fly Westjet with us. Do we need a vet in Costa Rica to sign off there before coming back to Toronto? We almost took her this past June but I was told by the Costa Rican embassy that I needed the CFIA vet form to be naturalized by an office on Bloor street. I am totally confused. We bought a condo in Playas del Coco and love that everyone there seems to have a dog…it’s so hard to find firm straight answers. Any help would be welcomed!!!!

  15. Hello, I am having a hard time finding the answer to the following: Can I bring my pet Sugar Glider with me to Costa Rica?


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