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Guest post: Traveling with Holly the Cairn Terrier across Latin America

Normally, I don’t accept guest posts — partly because I don’t want to betray your trust (there’s too much advertising masquerading as content out there) and partly because I like to maintain a consistent “sound” for the blog — but when I heard from Tamara Murray, I knew it was time to make an exception.

Tamara writes a travel blog of her own, called Our Leap Year, about the year-long adventure she and her husband and Holly, their 15 year-old Cairn Terrier, embarked on in October 2013. “We’ve brought Holly to Mexico, Chile and Argentina so far,” Tamara told me, “and we have some lessons learned about doing so — especially since we’re traveling so long that our USDA health certificate has long since expired. We’ve had to navigate getting a government-certified health certificate in Mexico and even had a close call (‘Sorry, but we can’t let her through’) coming from Chile to Argentina.” Dog Jaunt helped Tamara and her husband Chris prepare for their travels, she said, and now she wanted to give back to the community. Was I interested in a guest post? I certainly was, and here it is — Tamara’s post about bringing Holly to and around Latin America:

When my husband Chris and I decided to take a career break and travel Latin America for a year, we were confronted with a big question: But, what about Holly?


Holly is our 15-year-old Cairn Terrier and best friend in the whole world. (I’m sure you can relate!) Ultimately, we decided not to put off our dreams and take Holly along for the ride.

We set out in October 2013 with her and two backpacks. So far, she’s traveled across Mexico, Chile, and Argentina with us, acting as a goodwill ambassador and bringing smiles to locals’ faces.

Holly Volcan Osorno 400.jpg

We get a nearly universal reaction when we tell people we’re traveling Latin America with our dog. First, total disbelief. Then, a hearty chuckle. And lastly, lots of questions!

We’ve compiled some common questions and our lessons learned so far to share with Dog Jaunt readers. We hope they will help if you’re thinking about taking your small dog to a Latin American country!

Getting There and Back

How did you prepare to bring your dog to Mexico?

One of the first things we learned is everyone will tell you something different. That’s why we’ve learned not to rely on vets or consulates, except to help point us in the right direction. The ultimate keeper of regulations for bringing a dog to Mexico is SENASICA, a division of the government department SAGARPA, which is Mexico’s USDA-equivalent. Trust SENASICA’s guidelines and the USDA’s guidelines. Here’s exactly what we did:

45 days before leaving

  • Got Holly up to date on her rabies, bordedella, leptospirosis, distemper, parvovirus, parainfluenza, and canine hepatitis vaccinations (Note: only a rabies vaccination is required for entrance into Mexico based on SENASICA’s guidelines)
  • Took care of additional things for our year-long trip:
    • Had her tested for internal parasites
    • Got a one-year supply of flea and worm preventative
    • Got one dose of deworming pills to bring with us, just in case

5 days before leaving

  • Took Holly for a health exam at a local USDA-certified vet, who filled out the official health certificate (Form 7001)
  • Brought the certificate and vaccine documentation to the USDA’s local office where an official veterinarian signed and sealed it
  • Made print and electronic copies of everything

What was the process like going through customs?

Once we arrived at the airport in Mexico (we flew into Los Cabos, Baja California), we proceeded through immigration and picked up our bags normally. When we arrived at the customs area, we declared her to the customs officer who directed us to a desk off to the side with a SENASICA official. He reviewed her health certificate, didn’t look at the dog, and kept the official copy. Then, off we went!

[I’m interrupting Tamara’s post, briefly, to add some info about their flight to Mexico: They flew on Alaska Airlines from California to Baja California.]

Does your U.S. health certificate work for your whole, one-year trip?

No. Form 7001 is only valid for 30 days, and most countries (and airlines) require an official health certificate from your country of origin within 7-10 days of travel. However, keeping the copy of our U.S. health certificate was helpful for vets and other officials to review when completing documents.

Since we were going from Mexico to Chile next after three months in Mexico, we had to get an official health certificate from SENASICA before departing for Chile. Every time you cross an international border, you need an official health certificate from your country of origin.

What’s the process like for other Latin American countries?

We can only speak to Chile and Argentina so far. Chile is notoriously strict when it comes to bringing in animals and food products, so we took extra care to follow every procedure. I even had an email exchange with someone from SAG, their USDA-equivalent, to confirm we were following SAG’s guidelines and had the appropriate paperwork. When we arrived in Chile, we had a similar experience as in Mexico, although we had to sign a document saying we would do our best to keep Holly away from other animals for 10 days.

When going from Chile to Argentina, we broke our own rule and listened to a vet’s advice. The vet in Chile said our vaccination records coupled with a health certificate on his letterhead would be sufficient for meeting SENASA’s guidelines in Argentina. When we got to the border, the customs agent told us he couldn’t let Holly through because we didn’t have an official, government-issued health certificate. We stayed calm, put on a smile, and walked him through the documentation we had. Because she had the appropriate vaccinations and was deemed healthy, he took pity on us and let us through. However, it was important that we were conversational in Spanish. I’m not sure what the outcome would have been if we tried to convince him in English.

Does your dog have her own passport?

Nope. We keep all of Holly’s original vaccination documentation and health certificates in a manila envelope, as well as copies in a separate envelope in case we lose one of our bags.

One thing I wish we’d done was get the equivalent of a “yellow card” for her. (If you don’t know what a yellow card is, it’s a small yellow document that lists all of a person’s immunizations in one place.) Holly’s documentation is in the form of print-outs from the vet that look more like invoices, so they’re difficult for non-English-speaking officials to review for pertinent details. In Mexico, they provide pets something called a carnet de salud, which is like a yellow card. Ask your vet if they can provide everything to you in a single (signed!) document or booklet if you can.

On the Road

How do you travel with your dog within the country?

While within Mexico, we flew from Baja California to Mexico City, but we only needed a basic health certificate (on the vet’s letterhead) to satisfy the airline’s regulations. She traveled in-cabin on that trip, as well as the flight from Mexico City to Santiago.

[One last interruption from me, to add flight info: Tamara and Chris and Holly flew from Baja California to Mexico City on Volaris (“you can book your space for your pet right on the website! no need to call”), and from Mexico City to Santiago on Copa Airlines (“note, they only allow pets to fly Monday-Thursday”). They will soon be on another Copa flight, from Buenos Aires to San Jose, Costa Rica.]

Traveling within Chile and Argentina has been interesting, since long-distance buses are the norm and small dogs are sometimes a gray area. We keep Holly in her soft crate on the floor by our feet and try to keep her incognito. So far, no one has stopped us to ask if we’re carrying a pet….

Are these countries dog-friendly? What about street dogs?

In the countries we’ve been to, attitudes towards dogs are different. I equate it to how people on farms in rural areas sometimes see dogs: as friendly creatures, but also as animals who live outside.

That said, Mexico City and Buenos Aires have off-leash dog parks and you see people walking dogs at all times of day. It was no problem to have Holly on leash while eating at a cafe outside in Chile. Just use common sense.

If you can believe it, the street dogs in Mexico, Chile, and Argentina have all been super friendly and docile. They either keep their distance or come up to Holly for a quick and friendly sniff. It’s other people’s pets that tend to be more aggressively playful, or will bark excessively.

Is it easy to find dog-friendly accommodations?

In Mexico, small hotels/bed and breakfasts had no problem with us bringing Holly because she was small and quiet. In big cities, U.S.-based hotel chains such as Holiday Inn are sometimes pet-friendly. We’ve had the most luck using Airbnb: even if places say pets aren’t allowed, they are sometimes willing to make exceptions if you contact them ahead of time. Also, since we have positive reviews from other hosts about Holly, that helps us a lot.

Many smaller hotel chains, especially in Chile, explicitly said that pets are not allowed without exceptions. Like in the U.S., make sure to plan ahead when looking for dog-friendly accommodations.

How does it work to go to the vet or groomer?

So far, vets are plentiful and their rates are inexpensive. We paid US$20 for a basic vet exam in Mexico City. Some allow you to just drop in, while others might ask you to come back a certain day or time. Pet stores, vets and groomers are often combined into one location. Grooming is also inexpensive; it cost just US$15 for a corte-baño (cut and bath, including nail trimming) in Mexico and Argentina. If you’re picky about hairstyles, bring a photo or learn to live with it. Some breeds are less common in Latin America, so Holly usually ends up with a Schnauzer cut.

What did you bring with you? Did you have to bring all her food?

Mexico, Chile, and Argentina have a lot of the same pet products available: major food brands, basic toys and treats, brand-name flea treatments. We brought the following items, and have just purchased things along the way to maintain the supply.

  • 1 soft-sided travel carrier, 1 spare carrier-bedding liner
  • 1 ID tag, 1 collar, 1 harness, 1 leash
  • 1-week supply of dry dog food, 1 pack of treats, 1 collapsible food/water bowl
  • 2 toys, 2 rolls of waste pick-up bags, 1 portable hair trimmer, 1 mini bottle of shampoo
  • 12 months supply of flea and heart worm prevention pills, 1 dose of deworming pills

I find this post so inspiring, and so reassuring — I love how thorough Tamara is, and how she’s thought of all the questions someone just starting their planning process is likely to have. Thank you so much, Tamara, and please write to me/us again! I have no doubt that you’ll cover a lot of ground before your year is up, and it would be tremendously helpful to hear about the additional places you go and what you learn along the way.


  • Suki F

    This was really helpful! It is intimidating to try to travel with a doggie, but these tips will help me a lot.

  • Tamara

    Suki, I totally hear you about the intimidation factor. I should mention that I start to get really anxious every time we’re about to go to a new place, just because there are so many things out of my control and I start to envision every worst-case scenario. It’s not pleasant, but in the end I think the worrying helps you make sure your bases are covered. And hopefully my worrywart ways will help make sure you don’t have to worry! Mucha suerte with your travels.

  • Tamara

    It was so great to come back across this post. We continued to travel with Holly in Costa Rica, then back to Mexico, and then by van across the United States. But she was diagnosed with lymphoma about a month ago and we said goodbye to her earlier this week. I hope our friendly adventurer’s travels continue to inspire others to travel with their dogs. It creates such special memories. Thank you, Mary-Alice, for letting us share our girl’s story and helping other forever friends see the world together.

  • Dear Tamara — I was so sorry to read your comment. I know how hard it is to let go of a piece of your heart. The warmest hugs to you, and applause from all of us for sharing your life fully with Holly, and sending her on her final trip with love and dignity. This is SO HARD. Every, every good wish to you guys.

  • Suzan

    Great informative post. Believe it or not, I have been living and traveling as a “modern day” nomad since 2003, having traversed some of the most remote corners of the globe over the past twelve years. Now, however, I’m looking for a base (as I’ve not had a home or place to put my stuff for too long)… I’m clearly an experienced and intrepid traveler (and travel writer), but I sort of accidentally adopted a dog I was fostering in LA… — and traveling with a little pal is something I am NOT experienced with. We are heading to Roatan in about two weeks, and while I had much of the info, you certainly educated me about so other issues. Did you ultimately travel through Central America, and if so, any specifics you can share. I plan to hang in Honduras, then head to Nica and perhaps Belize. I used to live in CR and not sure if I will return there. But if I learned anything throughout this expedition, it is to never.say never … thanks again for the post. Happy Trails

  • Carolyn

    I’ve got a medical assistance dog and have taken him to 18 countries so far, including Chile and Argentina so was interested to read your article. We are from Australia so know all about the paperwork.
    Sorry to hear the sad new about Holly.

  • Erin

    So grateful I came across this blog post! I’m currently planning a 12 month trek through South America & Mexico with an 11 year old Yorkie, and have been growing increasingly anxious about various regulations from country to country. Like you, we will also be traveling to Chile, Argentina, and Mexico. Any advice on how you found your various vets?

  • Tamara

    Hi Erin: So, so glad to hear you’re taking your best friend with you. 🙂 As for finding vets (and groomers), we usually went to whomever was closest to where we were staying. Sometimes we’d get suggestions from locals with pets, like an Airbnb host for instance. If you’re going to a bigger city, you’ll have no trouble finding vets and they often have websites or are listed on Google. In smaller towns, there might only be one or two vets so you should look into it before going. For instance, the small town we went to in Costa Rica only had one vet but she was amazing! Small towns with lots of expats often have at least one vet, and if you do some searching around expat forums you’ll get a sense of the recommendations. But sometimes you need to be creative. For instance, in Tulum in Mexico, we knew there were vets but they weren’t listed in any directories. So we picked up a cab and asked the cab driver to take us to the best one he’d heard of. It worked! Another vet had a Facebook page for his business and not a website, so we communicated with him there and via Whatsapp. Or you can always just duck in when you’re walking by and explain that you’ll be traveling with your dog soon and ask if they provide health certificates. (Getting the government paperwork for crossing borders usually requires a visit to the airport or a government office too.) Hope this helps. Let me or Alice know if you have other questions. Happy travels.

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