“It’s easy,” they said. “Take your dog to Central America. No problem,” they insisted. “We do this all the time,” they blogged.
They didn’t tell the whole story!
Bringing our 65 lbs. (29.5 kg) 12-year-old Siberian Husky, Tiki, to Panama has been one of the more stressful undertakings of our travel adventures.
One part of the problem is the internet, including the website for the Panama Embassy. There’s inconsistent information everywhere. Another part of the problem is that we were traveling from a rural state where resources, such as consulates, simply do not exist. Finally, our dog is large, creating transportation problems we never imagined.
Should you decide to relocate to Panama with a pet, no matter what type or size, there is a process to follow.
Beware: The procedure for transporting pets could change from time to time.
The Steps To Transporting Pets
- Ensure your pet has the necessary vaccinations and that they are administered within the time requirements.
- Confirm your crate meets airline requirements. The pet needs to be able to stand up with head room to spare and comfortably turn around in the crate.
- Make your travel arrangements about two to three months ahead of when you want to arrive. (Because Tiki required an extra-large crate, we could not travel out of Albuquerque, our usual airport, so we had to drive to Denver for her to be able to fly internationally.)
- Discuss the health certificate with your veterinarian.
- Have the health certificate completed by your vet 10 days before you travel.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture must certify the health certificate.
- Have the Panamanian Consulate or the U.S. State Department Office of Authentications issue an apostille for the health certificate. (This is a document which verifies the certificate is legitimate and authentic.)
- Apply for home quarantine three days before you travel.
- Have exact cash, US$16 for an import fee and US$130 for the home quarantine, to pay what you need at the airport.
- Check in with the pet three to four hours before your departure and know that all the paperwork travels with the animal, not with you.
Now, take a deep breath…
Some Handy Tips To Help You Through The Process
- Know What You Need: Panama does not require a parasite check. However, it does require a leptospirosis vaccine. It just so happens that our rural veterinarian did not have it in stock. We had to go to a vet in the big city of Albuquerque to get it, which required additional time and the added cost of yet another health check for the dog. Additionally, our dog had a three-year rabies shot but Panama only accepts one-year shots for the health certificate. Of course, she had to get one of those, too. And even at age 12, she had to have a vaccination for parvo, which is generally considered a puppy disease.There are deadlines associated with all of these shots, so make sure you get them within the required times.
- Details, Details, Details: Thankfully, our vet keeps great records, so we had information on all of Tiki’s shots going back the 10 years since we rescued her. The health certificate requires the vaccine manufacturer and expiration date. Make sure your vet is aware of that.
- Hire An International Pet Shipper: Although we were flying on the same plane as Tiki, our airline required a certified pet shipper make the air freight arrangements for the dog. We are glad we did!We used Jackie’s Pet Services out of Albuquerque, NM. She is certified with IPATA, the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association. She not only made the dog’s flight reservations, walked us through the paperwork maze, and made phone calls to bureaucracies on our behalf, she kept us calm whenever we got a little panicky.
- Use Every Minute Of Time You Have: From the day your pet’s veterinarian signs the health certificate, you have only 10 days to get into Panama, and the certificate must be signed off by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and either the U.S. State Department Office of Certification or the Panamanian Consulate in that time. For us, that meant shipping the certificate with multiple overnight envelopes. New Mexico doesn’t have a USDA office or a Panamanian Consulate, so we shipped everything to California. They overnighted it to Washington, D.C., and had it overnighted back to us. We felt we had built a couple of extra days into the process, but there is no getting around the fact that 10 days includes a weekend. After the State Department sat on our paperwork for two days, we got really stressed.In the end, the paperwork came back the day before our departure, so we made it.Whew!
- Don’t Be Afraid To Make Phone Calls: I don’t know about you, but when I envision offices in Washington, D.C., my mind is filled with pictures of faceless bureaucrats inhabiting acres of cubicles. It’s not really like that. The woman at the Panamanian Consulate in D.C. who takes care of pet paperwork is friendly, helpful, and was willing to take the time we needed to get answers to our questions.Our pet shipper, Jackie, worked with the State Department office, and also found helpful employees who could get things done—even if it wasn’t quite on our timetable.
- Don’t Believe Everything You Read: Unlike many European countries or island nations that are working to keep out rabies, Panama does not require a kennel quarantine. A home quarantine is allowable, meaning the pet has to stay with you for some number of days. Some websites will tell you 30 days, some will say 40, some won’t offer any explanation at all. You do have to apply for home quarantine, though. Some websites say apply 10 days ahead of time. The Panamanian Embassy website says three days is enough.We went with the three days, and had no problem getting the dog through that part of the process. Working through the maze of contradicting information is time consuming and sometimes frustrating.
- Plan To Arrive At The Airport In Panama During The Vet’s Working Hours: Generally, a veterinarian who approves the health certificate and home quarantine at the airport from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. For us, this meant breaking the trip into two days so that our early morning flight from Houston arrived just in time.Be aware of holidays, too. There are many in the month of November, for example, and you don’t want to spend hours waiting at the airport for someone to come approve your paperwork.
- Be Prepared To Answer Lots Of Questions: Prior to departure, we had to go through two pages of fine-printed questions with the airline. These ranged from could the dog be pregnant to would the dog be used for fighting. It’s a long part of the process and one reason you should check in several hours before the flight.
- Know Your Neighborhood: Like many big American cities, Panama City is a series of distinct neighborhoods. We knew some of them ahead of time, but we did not make note of the one we’d be staying in when we first arrived in country. When I told the airport officials our address was on Calle 44, they looked at me bewildered, since many neighborhoods have a Calle 44.You can’t just say you are staying in Panama City. You need to let authorities know if you will be in El Cangrejo, Bella Vista, San Francisco, or one of the myriads of other barrios that make up the city.
- Make Copies Of Everything: I was shocked that after all we went through to get it and to make sure it was valid, we did not get the health certificate back from the veterinarian at the airport. Thankfully, for my own piece of mind, I had made copies of everything before turning it over to the airline. We haven’t had anyone—apartment managers, security, police officers, or park officials—ask for the dog’s papers. Still, I keep the little stamped OK/receipt we received from the vet at the airport in my purse, just in case.
- Don’t Be Surprised By… Anything: The vet at the airport in Panama didn’t even look at the dog, just her paperwork. Airport personnel in the United States asked me if we were transporting our 12-year-old, retired show dog to use for dog fighting. They also mentioned no toys are allowed in the dog’s crate during transportation. These are just a few of the things we found surprising. Living overseas, and traveling with a pet helps you learn to “go with the flow.”
Tiki has been part of our family a long time. When we decided to travel, we had a vague expectation that she would go with us but had no idea of the level of detail, time, and money that would require.
Panama, though, is just one country. We’ll have to see how she—and we—adjust to traveling to and living in others.