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Requirements for entering the U.S. with your pet dog

Just before we left for Paris, I wrote a post about the requirements for bringing a dog to France. One of the pieces of paper you need to leave the U.S. is a state health certificate (unless, presumably, you’re not taking a domestic flight before departing the country). A Dog Jaunt reader, planning to bring her Yorkie from Paris to Los Angeles, via Chicago, on United flights, sent me the following message:

[D]o 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?

That sounded grim, so I started by called the California state veterinarian’s office (I could also have called the Illinois state veterinarian’s office, since the reader’s domestic flight starts in Chicago, but as you’ll see, it wouldn’t have made a difference). That office told me that a state health certificate is not required in the situation the reader described. They (incorrectly, it turns out) told me that the USDA handles incoming pets; I called the Washington USDA office for more information, and learned from a helpful and knowledgable USDA official that I should be speaking to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

While pets leaving the U.S. are governed by the USDA’s rules, pets arriving in the U.S. are governed by the CDC’s rules, which simply say that your dog “must have a certificate showing they have been vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days prior to entry.” I called the CDC, and learned that the CDC does not have any particular form in mind for that rabies certification. My reader should, it appears, talk to her U.K. or Paris vet and get them to give her a form indicating that her dog has been vaccinated against rabies (with the particulars of the vaccine used) on X date, and showing that the signatory is a veterinarian.

The CDC site mentions that some airlines may also require “a general certificate of health,” even though the CDC doesn’t require that — and sure enough, the United rep I talked to confirmed that United requires a general certificate of health for incoming pets. The rep didn’t have a form of certificate to refer me to, but said that it should, generally, indicate that the pet’s health is good and his vaccinations are current. Here’s what I suggest: Take a look at the USDA-APHIS’s Form 7001 and at the American Veterinary Medical Association’s proposed model Certificate of Veterinary Inspection and make sure that your U.K. or Paris vet provides the same information (and, of course, makes it clear that the information is being provided by a veterinarian). I’ve only seen portions of the E.U. pet passport form, but it sure looks as though it handles both the CDC’s need for a rabies certificate and United’s need for a statement about a pet’s general health.


  • Susan

    First, let me just say that your blog is so super helpful and well researched/organized. I am in the process of planning for an extended stay in Europe (mainly France/UK) with my Chihuahua and I have read through much of your information in the past couple of days.

    With regards to the topic of this particular post, I did want to let you know that I did a little further digging and thought I would point you to a particularly helpful publication issued by the US Customs and Border Control on the importation of pets into the United States.
    This publication confirms your legwork: the CDC requirement for a rabies vaccination is all that is required at a federal level. Of particular helpfulness, see pages 10-11 of the CBP publication for the exact requirements for information to be set forth in the required rabies vaccination certification, as well as applicable expiration dates/time periods for getting the vaccine done and certified. Also of note, the publication confirms that there are no customs requirements or forms other than as noted above. However, the CBP publication does make a general and vague (!!) reference that the animal must be inspected for general health at the port of importation. Not sure what this means, exactly, in terms of logistics at the airport?? Did you experience anything like this on your return to the US?

    Finally, note that the CBP publication speaks**only** to regulations imposed by the US government at a **federal** level and these regulations are not exclusive. It is still required that you comply with any state and local laws as these are not superceded by the federal regulations (sorry, I’m a lawyer! and the CBP publication even makes a point of saying this very thing at the beginning). So, to be completely safe, I would comply with all additional requirements for any state that you are entering into. In the reader’s example above, that would be Illinois and California (which we know is nothing). Following your very helpful links on the US interstate travel blog page, I determined that Illinois has no importation requirements for cats but for dogs, Illinois requires a “Certificate of Veterinary Inspection issued within 30 days, showing freedom from disease, originate in non rabies quarantined area, and dogs 16 weeks of age and older vaccinated against rabies. Rabies vaccination to have been administered within the time period published in the current Compendium of Animal Rabies Vaccines prepared by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, Inc.” I’m sure that anyone going to Illinois can contact the State Veterinarian if they have questions about the form of such certification and maybe they could provide a form for use. My guess is that any form that meets the airlines standards would probably meet this standard and the Model Form suggested by you would probably be sufficient.

    Hope that helps!

  • Hello, Susan! Thanks so much for your comment — you are my kind of gal, clearly. I will study the publication you reference closely. When we returned to the U.S., no one inspected Chloe — indeed, I don’t believe anyone even glanced at her. If you have the time, I would love to hear more about your upcoming trip, as it’s happening or after it’s over, whatever works for you. It sounds marvelous, and, like I say, you strike me as an excellent, thorough roving reporter 🙂

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