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Interstate travel and health certificates, including U.S. airlines’ requirements

I have updated this post (which originally appeared on 7/30/09) to reflect a couple of important changes in airline policy. Alaska and United now no longer require that travelers with in-cabin pets present a health certificate to the ticketing agent. They take a more hands-off approach, like the rest of the major U.S. airlines (Alaska’s site now states “The customer is responsible for complying with all state entry requirements which may apply,” and reader Pooja received an e-mail from United that confirmed “A state health certificate is not require[d] for travel within the 48 US [sic] and Alaska”). That leaves only Hawaiian Airlines requiring a health certificate for in-cabin pets, and then only for travel outside the state.

The first thing to know is that individual states make their own rules about the movement of pets across their borders. The USDA’s APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) website makes that clear: “USDA APHIS VS, our agency, does not set requirements for the movement of pets across state lines. The requirements are actually set by each individual state. Therefore, you should contact the State Veterinarian of the state you are traveling to. They will provide you with the requirements.”

Oh, great, you’re saying — I have to figure out the rules for each state I’m flying to with my dog. And what if my flight is diverted to a state I hadn’t researched? Officially, you’re right. Here are the things you need to ponder (please note that Hawaii is horribly complicated and will get a separate post):

  • Nearly all of the states require that dogs over 12 weeks old be vaccinated against rabies, so it’s simplest to have your dog vaccinated at 12 weeks, put the rabies tag on her collar, and hang on to her most current vaccination certificate. A handful of states allow you to wait until she’s 4, 5 or even 6 months old, so if you’re anxious about vaccinating, you’ll want to look at each state’s rules.
  • Nearly all of the states require a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (typically called a “health certificate”), signed by a veterinarian and saying that your dog is fit to travel and up to date on all of her vaccinations. Some don’t, including California.
  • If you’re driving between states, or through several states, you may want to consider how likely it is that the issue will ever come up. Will I get a health certificate for Chloe when we drive to Eastern Oregon to visit my uncle later this year? Probably not, even though Oregon would like me to.
  • Flying is a different story. All U.S. airlines require you to obtain a health certificate before flying to another state with your checked dog, and you’ll be asked for that document by the ticketing agent. Most U.S. airlines don’t require that an in-cabin pet have a health certificate. (As you’ll see in the chart below, the only remaining exception is Hawaiian Airlines — and again, you should expect that the ticketing agent will ask for documentation.) Since it costs about $30 to get a health certificate, if you’re flying on a carrier other than Hawaiian, you may decide it’s worth it to do some quick research and see whether your plans are taking you between states that don’t have a health certificate requirement. (You may, in fact, decide that even if the states on your itinerary do have a health certificate requirement, you’ll take the risk. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t, myself.)
  • One final twist is that a health certificate is only good for 30 days after your vet signs it. Keep in mind that both ends of your journey need to be covered by the certificate, and don’t strand yourself in another state with a just-expired certificate. As you’ll see in the chart below, some airlines require that the certificate be issued within 10 days of travel, and others require that it be issued within 30 days of travel. If you’re going to get a health certificate for your dog, it’s simplest to get one within 10 days of travel.

What happens, you ask, if your certificate does expire while you’re still on vacation? One airline, Allegiant, has thought about the problem, and offers a solution. [2/4/12 Allegiant no longer requires health certificates, so the airline's neat solution ("If a certificate is accepted on the originating flight, it will be accepted on the return flight if it is within 180 days of the originating flight and if the return flight was booked with the same itinerary as the originating flight. If a current veterinary certificate is not available, a current shot record on appropriate veterinary letterhead will be accepted.") no longer appears on Allegiant's website]. Otherwise, you’ll need to locate a vet and schedule an appointment, have your dog’s records faxed over, and get a new certificate issued for your return trip.

If you want to dig into specific state and airline requirements, you’ll need USDA APHIS’s handy link to each state’s import regulations. And here’s a chart showing which major U.S. airlines require a health certificate for your dog (and which don’t), and when a certificate needs to be issued. Table last updated April 15, 2013. This is the kind of information that rapidly goes out of date, so be sure to check the current rules for the airline you’re planning to use, using the links I’ve provided in the first column.

Airline
Where can pets travel?
Health certificate required?
Dated
AirTranIn-cabin onlyNo (says AirTran customer service)
AlaskaIn-cabin, checked and cargoNo (proof of certain vaccinations are required for pets going to Kotzebue and Nome)
AllegiantIn-cabin onlyNo (says Allegiant customer service)
AmericanIn-cabin, checked and cargoNo for in-cabin, yes for checked"Within 10 days of originating travel, and within 60 days of return travel on the same ticket. Return travel on a separate ticket will be subject to the 10 day restriction"
ContinentalSame as UnitedSame as UnitedSame as United
DeltaIn-cabin, checked and cargoNo for in-cabin and checked, yes for cargoWithin 10 days of transport
FrontierIn-cabin and checkedNo for in-cabin pets traveling within the U.S.; yes for international travelWithin 5-15 days of transport, depending on the country being entered
HawaiianIn-cabin (not to HI), checked and cargoYes, except for travel within the state of HIWithin 10 days of travel (leaving HI); within 14 days of travel (going to HI)
JetBlueIn-cabin onlyNo
SouthwestIn-cabin onlyNo
SpiritIn-cabin onlyNo
Sun CountryIn-cabin and checkedNo for in-cabin (says Sun Country customer service), yes for checkedWithin 30 days of departure
UnitedIn-cabin and cargo onlyNo for in-cabin (says United customer service); yes for cargo and international travelWithin 10 days of travel
U.S. AirIn-cabin onlyNo (says USAirways customer service)
Virgin AmericaIn-cabin onlyNo (says Virgin America customer service)

20 comments

  • Nicole

    I have been studying your blog night and day! Thank you again for all the work you’ve put into it – it is a wealth of information! (more helpful than the many other places I’ve looked)

    I wrote to you (on another post) about traveling from the UK …. Thank you for your helpful advice! We’re making arrangements to travel to the USA from Paris now. :)

    However, do you know what the airline/state is looking for exactly, when they ask for a “health certificate”? We are traveling with our little Yorkie from Paris to LA (via Chicago) on United, and no one has been able to tell us what a “health certificate” is! (United told us that the state defines it ….. Chicago told us that we have to ask California, since that’s our final destination ….. California said to ask our vet here in the UK …. and our vet doesn’t know!) I’ve seen the link you posted for traveling to France (the health certificate form to fill out – which, I only knew about because of you …. no one told us about that for when we fly back to France) but I can’t figure out what I need to travel from Paris to LA (via Chicago). Could you help me with this?

  • Terri

    Just an FYI…I was told by Continental that I don’t require a health certificate for in cabin travel.
    I will call again to verify this…but thought I’d send the info your way so you can update your list here.

  • EcoDog

    To get a health certificate or not to get a health certificate!

    I have always traveled with a health certificate in hand. And, in the past, the ticket agents at Allegiant have made a photocopy of it when I checked in. Now Allegiant says they don’t require me to have a health certificate. However, both the departure state (Iowa) and the arrival state (Florida) require a heath certificate for a dog to enter. I am undecided about whether I will spend the $$ to get a health certificate for my upcomming trip.

  • Jade

    It’s great to hear that some airlines are leaving up to the destination state to enforce health certificate. We just traveled from CA to WA 1.5 months ago with Alaska air and they did require health certificate and the checkin agent did ask for it. Looks like they’ve changed their policy pretty recently. We’ve been traveling more often lately, about once every two months, and it can get expensive getting a health certificate every 2 months!

    On a side note, we just traveled with our Yorkie to South Korea recently. Intl health certificate has become very costly and requires endorsement by the state (which cost us $121) after we get a health cert from our vet. Also, the vet has to be certified to write the intl health cert! Just getting the health cert with requirement of a rabies Titer already cost us > $370 not including her airline ticket. But I still wouldn’t give up traveling with her! I just wish somehow there would be an easier way to travel with our pets!

  • Hi, Jade! Thanks so much for the comment — you’re right, assembling your packet of international documents and treatments is a pricey deal, and then you add in her plane fee, and wow. The comfort I took, when we went to France for two weeks, is not only that we had the pleasure of her company, but the cost of a petsitter/kennel (for us, it would have been a petsitter) in Seattle for that long was very comparable. In fact, I think we saved money. It all depends on the length of your trip, of course. But no, I don’t see the price going down anytime soon! I wanted to ask you what you did while your girl was in quarantine? Did you hang out in the airport to pass the time? Is there a lounge there?

  • Jade

    Actually the whole quarantine process at the airport took no more then 15min! They just checked all her documents, scanned and verified her microchip, checked the health cert, took her out of the carrier and looked at her, and that was it! It’s stated on their website as long as you meet all the requirements, your pet can be released immediately.

  • Jackie

    Hello! I looked over your site and found some of the answers i need, but i still just wanna make sure, im flying with my Pomeranian from LA to Philidelphia and back, on Virgin America and she will be my carry on, do i need any type of health certificate? Or will proof of rabies be enough?? HELPP!

  • Hi, Jackie — Here’s the thing. I can’t tell you that you don’t need a health certificate, because PA officially requires a health certificate with a special note about rabies. All I can tell you is that if it were me, I wouldn’t get one: I am confident that Chloe is up to date on her rabies vaccination (and all other vaccinations), that she is blooming with health, and that she poses zero risk to man or beast (and that includes a biting risk — if I owned a more aggressive or anxious dog, I’d get the health certificate in case she bit a person or dog and the police or some other authority became involved). I’d carry her shot record with me, just in case we encountered any kind of emergency situation where she needed to be boarded, but that’d be it.

  • Jenny

    Hi! I’m traveling with my little morkie who’s only about 3 pounds and traveling to Baltimore through Southwest. I know that Southwest does not require the health certificate but what are the chances that she’ll be stopped by security in Maryland upon my arrival and I’ll have to show them one? And if I don’t end up getting one do you know what would happen?

  • Okay, Jenny, then all I can say is what I said in my earlier comment to Jackie: I can’t tell you that you don’t need a health certificate, but would I get one for Chloe, knowing what I know about her health and behavior? Nope. You’ve flown yourself, no doubt, between states, and so you know that there just isn’t a mechanism in place to query dog owners getting off flights. Do take a look at my 7/11/13 reply to Jackie for my take on it.

  • Jessica

    Hi there, excellent post! I just have one thing to add, I cross the US border from Canada quite frequently, along with calling them ahead of time to confirm, and they do not require the dog’s health certificate to be within 30 days old. As long as it states their vaccination of rabies is not expired, and they have no been bitten since, the health certificate is good until the next year, or three years which every shot you got.

    I check your website quite frequently and appreciate all of the informative topics! :)

  • Interesting, Jessica — and it makes sense, too, because all the U.S. wants to know (from someone entering from Canada) is that your dog’s rabies vaccination happened more than 30 days before you enter the U.S. Even an out-of-date health certificate will provide evidence of that. Thank you!

  • Ashley C

    HI Mary-Alice! September 2014 will be the first time that I am going to travel with my pet. I have researched online, called the vet, and called the airline – it seems like everyone has a different answer. My main question is who makes the laws with regard to the requirement of the health certificate and vaccines? Is it the state or the airline? It is my understanding that you do not need vaccination records in order to fly domestic. We are going to be traveling from New Jersey to Florida (and back)on United airlines as an in-cabin pet. The vet says I do need current vaccination records and heath certificate and United Airlines (i called twice) told me all I need to to make sure that my carrier is small enough to fit under the seat. The last thing I want is to have trouble at the airport the day of our departure.. Has anyone ever traveled with no documents at all? Any advise would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

  • Hi, Ashley — It used to be that several airlines required a health certificate for interstate travel, but that’s gone by the board. For the past few years, we have always traveled without a health certificate (but I do pack a current shot record for Chloe, in case I suddenly need to board her — or in case I happen upon one of the rare hotels that wants that info).

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