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How to Import a Dog: An Essential Guide

How to Import a Dog
Ready to import a dog? Not sure where to begin? The checklist in this handy guide is easy to follow and answers all of your questions regarding how to import a dog.
USA Customs Clearance
July 21, 2020
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Last Modified: November 7, 2023

If you are a dog person, you know that dogs bring endless joy to the lives of their owners. However, not all dogs come from the United States, dogs come from all over the world. Sometimes, both owners and breeders are looking to import new breeds into the country.

If you want to import a dog into the United States, you need to obtain an import permit from both the CDC and USDA along with following their guidelines. Also, if your import is $2,500 dollars or more, you are required to purchase a customs bond per the CBP. The importation of pet foods requires FDA approval and permits.

Our guide below details everything you need to know to import a dog, including permit requirements, health, and vaccination records, and how to travel with a dog internationally.

Why Import a Dog?

The question, “how to import a dog” is asked often by breeders and private owners. The market for purebred dogs is and has been, incredibly large and popular. This market is not only fixed but growing every year in order to meet the demand of consumers.

Imagine owning an English Bulldog truly from England, a Belgian Malinois from Belgium, a German Shepherd from Germany, or a French Bulldog from France. These dogs enhance the unique pedigrees of the breeding stock in the U.S. 

If this is your first time importing a live animal into the U.S., you should consult with an expert regarding the various details, regulations, permits, and more that are required. Our team of experts is standing by, ready to assist you anytime.

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What are the Requirements for Importing a Dog?

According to information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are several requirements for importing a dog. All imported dogs must meet these requirements, regardless of whether they are entering the country for the first or fiftieth time.

The CDC requires that all imported dogs must be in good health. Additionally, dogs imported to the U.S. must be vaccinated against rabies and have a valid certification of their rabies immunization.

Imported dogs must have a current rabies vaccination or health certificate to prove the vaccination. The health certificate must include information, such as:

  • Importer Information: The dog owner’s name and contact information.
  • Breed Information: The dog’s breed, color, markings, sex, age, and other identifying information.
  • Vaccinations: The date the vaccine was given and the name of the vaccine administered and the date on which the vaccine expires.
  • Veterinarian Information: The name, contact information, license number, and signature of the veterinarian who gave the dog the vaccine.

Dogs will likely be denied entry to any port of entry if proof of rabies vaccination is unavailable or insufficient. Dogs refused entry to the U.S. may be sent back to their country of origin.

Dogs will also be denied entry if they appear sickly at the time of arrival. Dogs that appear unhealthy at the time of arrival in the U.S. may be subject to further veterinary inspection by a licensed veterinarian at the owner’s expense.

States like Hawaii require all imported dogs to have a blood test within 36 months to 120 days of arrival. Requires up-to-date flea and tick treatment; and quarantining for five days or less.

Dogs and puppies can receive rabies vaccinations when they are three months of age. Puppies are required to be vaccinated at least four months prior to importation into the U.S. The reasoning is it takes 30 days for the first rabies vaccination to take effect and protect the dog.

Is a Permit Needed to Import a Dog?

According to information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), you are required to have a permit in order to import live animals - including dogs. To obtain an import permit for a live animal, you’ll need to complete an application for VS-129.

This form asks for data including the importers’ contact information, the animal’s country of origin, a physical description of the animal, the reason for import, and more. You can either mail or email the completed application.

This form is required for importing a dog, in addition to meeting other CDC requirements. Besides these requirements, it’s wise not to ship a dog that suffers from the following issues:

  1. Snub nose breeds: These dogs can have trouble breathing on airplanes or in confined spaces at high altitudes.
  2. Elderly Dogs: Senior dogs can have health complications deriving from the stress of shipment.
  3. Extended confinement: Not used to being crated for long periods of time.
  4. Aggressiveness: Shows aggressive behavior towards strangers.

If you are shipping your pet by air, you will need a crate or kennel. It should be big enough for the dog to stand up, turn around and lie down. Make sure the following items are packed with your dog prior to shipping:

  • A collar with ID tags and registration information.
  • A leash for transport outside of the container or cage.
  • A small bag of dog food to ship with the animal.
  • A small dish with ice for the animal.
  • A picture of your pet with your personal contact information.

Most airlines and shipping companies require proof of health and vaccination for dogs traveling by air. Paperwork should be accessible, up to date, and signed by a licensed veterinarian. Working with a logistics or shipping professional can help you manage to ship a dog.

Importing Dogs From Mexico

Every year, thousands of dogs are brought into the U.S. from Mexico. Many are brought in temporarily from visitors coming from Mexico, while a large number also enter for good after being purchased in Mexico by U.S. citizens.

Generally speaking, bringing a dog from Mexico to the U.S. shouldn't be too challenging. Since the U.S. and Mexico share many of the same animal health regulations, dogs can typically cross the border with just a general inspection.

You are still responsible for complying with individual state regulations, as well as airline policies if you're traveling by plane.

Importing Dogs for Commercial Sale

When considering importing dogs for sale, adoption, and any other commercial purpose, it is regulated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Congress passed this legislation in 2008 and the USDA published its specific rules around the AWA in 2014.

According to AWA regulations, all dogs imported for commercial sale or adoption must adhere to the following stipulations:

  • Healthy
  • At least 6 months old
  • Vaccinated against rabies and diseases including parainfluenza virus (DHLPP), distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis, and leptospirosis.

Additionally, dogs imported for commercial sale must be accompanied by detailed documentation. This paperwork includes a health certificate signed by a licensed veterinarian from the country of origin and an import permit issued by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

The application for the permit requires the name and contact information for the person importing the dog, the number of dogs, the reason for importing the dogs, and the date of purchase. To obtain the required permit, dog importers will need to contact the USDA or APHIS.

You are not required to have a license if you plan to sell the imported dog at a place where you, the buyer, and the dog can be together. Situations in which you might need a license to sell imported dogs might include the following:

  • Importing dogs wholesale for breeding, security, or hunting.
  • Retail sales of dogs where the buyer, owner, and dog are not present together.
  • Sales of dogs for medical research purposes.

If you plan to resale the imported dog, you will need to follow other necessary rules under the AWA. Depending on the circumstances around the sale of dogs, you may still require a special permit.

The USDA issues three kinds of permits for the resale of dogs. A Class A License is for breeders; a Class B License is for brokers, and; and a Class C License is for exhibitors who show dogs.

Importing Dog Food and Other Products

can I import dog food

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  oversees the import of animal feed and pet food into the U.S. Dog food shipments must be examined and approved by the FDA. Dog food will be detained if the examination proves that the imported food is in violation of FDA rules regulations, and general safety.

According to FDA rules and regulations, pet food imported to the U.S. must be wholesome, safe, and truthfully labeled. The food must also not contain harmful or unapproved ingredients.

Additionally, imported pet and dog food are usually subject to the rules and regulations of the USDA because pet food is often made of animal and plant products. A USDA permit is generally required to import pet food into the U.S.

You’ll likely find fewer regulations when importing dog toys and pet supplies. Some commonly imported dog supplies include the following:

  • Dog crates
  • Dog collars and leashes
  • Dog toys
  • Dog bowls and feeding accessories
  • Dog travel accessories
  • Dog grooming brushes
  • Dog beds and sofas
  • Dog clothing

Though there are few federal regulations in place for imports of dog supplies, some states have proposed regulations. These laws might require that dog supplies and toys abide by the following circumstances:

  • Free of heavy metals and other dangerous materials
  • Appropriate labeling clearly marked in English
  • Tested in laboratories and approved

You might need a customs bond to import dog food or pet products. You can choose between a single entry or a continuous bond, depending on how often you plan to import. It is best to speak with a Customs Consultant in order to identify if you require a bond and which bond is needed.

Is a Customs Bond Required to Import a Dog?

You might need a Customs Bond to import a dog to the U.S. According to information from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), you are required to obtain a customs bond when you are importing at least $2,500 in goods or when the imported items are subject to another agency’s requirements.

Purebred dogs can be pricey, so it’s possible you might reach this monetary value when importing a dog. Additionally, imported dogs are subject to the rules and regulations of the CDC and USDA. This means a customs bond will likely be required when importing a dog.

A customs bond is an import bond that promises the payment of duties and taxes to the U.S. government upon the import of goods and commodities. You can choose between two kinds of customs bonds. The option you select will likely depend on how often you import goods, in this case, dogs.

Custom bond types include:

  • Single entry bonds
  • Continuous entry bonds

The differences between the bonds are fairly straightforward. A single entry customs bond covers one import shipment into the U.S. A continuous bond is valid for one year and covers all imports into the U.S. within the year. The type of bond you choose to import a dog depends on how often you plan on importing.

If you are working with a licensed Customs broker to import a dog, it’s important to note that you might be eligible to use the broker’s bond. A Licensed Customs Broker can answer any questions you might have about single entry and continuous bonds.

Traveling Internationally With a Dog

If you are leaving the U.S. with your dog, you’ll have to follow CDC import regulations when returning to the country. There are many circumstances in which you might cross the border with your dog.

Maybe you are planning a family trip to Canada and would like to take the dog. Maybe you need to bring your service dog on an international trip. The CDC recommends checking with the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country you are visiting to make sure you are following all rules and regulations of the country you will be visiting. Additionally, the CDC recommends checking with the USDA to follow proper export procedures before you leave the country with your dog.

These rules are in place to protect your pet and prevent the spread of disease. If you are driving across U.S. borders into Canada or Mexico with your dog, you will need to follow the same import rules set by the CDC regarding proof of rabies vaccination and a health certificate upon your return.

When flying with your dog you will need to also follow the same CDC regulations regarding rabies vaccines and certification. Dogs that travel by air are usually transported as baggage. If your dog doesn’t require quarantine at entry, you would pick up your dog with your luggage at baggage claim.

Once you pick up your dog you will then go through customs and if necessary, recheck the dog and baggage for the flight to the final destination. You must declare your dog on your declaration form when going through customs.

Registering Imported Dogs with the AKC

If your purebred imported dog meets special qualifications, your dog might be eligible for registration in the American Kennel Club (AKC) studbook. This studbook can help breeding dogs maintain pedigrees.

According to the AKC, dogs can be eligible for certification if they meet the following criteria:

  • Were registered in their country of birth with an approved Foreign Registry Organization.
  • Their application is accompanied by an official copy of the dog’s three-generation pedigree.
  • The foreign registration and AKC registration shows identical ownership.
  • The dog has been identified with either a microchip or tattoo before it can be registered.

The CDC does not have any additional regulations for dogs to be used for breeding or commercial purposes. However, the use of all regulated vaccines that are determined as necessary must be administered regardless.

Health Concerns for Imported Dogs

dogs imported to the us

Dogs from countries where screwworm is present have special guidelines to follow in order to import them into the U.S. Screwworms, sometimes called New World Screwworms (scientific cane Cochliomyia), are blowfly larvae that affect warm-blooded animals, including livestock, dogs, and even people.

These worms are generally found in South America. Screwworms are a serious health threat to animals and people, as they can eat flesh and cause severe infection. Imports of animals that might be impacted by screwworms have been regulated since the 1950s, with a hard barrier established by the U.S. and Panamanian governments since the 2000s.

If you are importing a dog from a country where screwworm is present, the dog must be inspected for screwworm within 5 days of the desired shipment to the U.S. The inspecting veterinarian must provide certification and clearance.

There are two certificate options, depending on the circumstance. If the dog is found to be free of screwworms, it must be certified. If the dog is found to be infested with screwworms, it must be certified that the dog was held in confinement once screw worm has been treated and cleared before the dog leaves the region for the U.S.

According to the USDA, there are additional rules for importing dogs from countries where tapeworms are present. Shepherds, collies, and other dogs used to handle livestock that is imported must be inspected and quarantined following the same rules listed above.

This is to ensure they are free of tapeworm before they are allowed to enter the country. This rule does not apply to dogs coming from certain countries in Central America, Mexico, Canada, and the West Indies.

Importing Unimmunized Dogs

dog permit online

An unimmunized dog can be imported under certain circumstances.  According to the CDC, an unimmunized dog has not received the rabies vaccination, was initially vaccinated when less than three months old, or was vaccinated less than 30 days before arrival in the U.S.

You must apply for a special import permit to bring an unimmunized dog into the U.S. The CDC might issue an unimmunized dog permit only if certain conditions are met. The permit allows unimmunized dogs to enter the U.S.

According to the CDC, the special import permit includes a confinement agreement. This agreement makes the permit a legal document stating that you will keep your dog confined until he is fully vaccinated against rabies. Confinement, as defined by the CDC, means keeping the dog indoors and isolated from people or other animals.

The dog must also be kept on a leash and muzzled any time he leaves isolation. You can apply for an unimmunized dog permit online through the CDC. You need to file for one permit per dog imported. You must apply at least 10 business days before your dog’s arrival in the U.S.

No permits are issued upon arrival, so it’s a good idea to request the permit when you arrange travel for your dog. Make sure you allow enough time to receive the permit. The CDC will only grant the permit for an unvaccinated dog if certain conditions are met.

Criteria include where the dog lived before, the number of dogs being imported, the frequency at which the importer imports dogs, the length of time the dog will stay in the U.S., and other factors.

It is important to know that the CDC will only grant permits for unvaccinated dogs to U.S. residents and visitors staying in the country for more than 30 days. The CDC will not issue a permit for dogs staying in the U.S. less than 30 days, as it takes 30 days for a dog to become fully vaccinated against rabies.

If the CDC approves your unimmunized dog permit, they will email the certificate to you. Note the expiration date on the certificate. If your travel or import itinerary changes, you must notify the CDC so they may change your certification.

Importing Dogs from Rabies-Free Countries

The U.S. government outlines all regulations for importing dogs under 42 Code of Federal Regulations 71.51. There are some countries that are considered free of rabies by the CDC. In these countries, studies show that rabies does not exist in land animals.

You’ll find more than 100 rabies-free countries across the globe, including countries like the following:

  • Africa
  • America and the Caribbean
  • Asia and the Middle East
  • Europe
  • Antarctica

On June 14, 2021, the CDC announced that they're temporarily banning the importation of dogs from over 100 countries. This announcement was triggered by a significant increase in dogs being illegally imported with fraudulent rabies certificates.

It is possible to obtain an exception to this ban, but there are specific rules surrounding it. To learn more about the ban and how to obtain an exception check out our article on the dog import ban.

An Import Guide That’s For The Dogs!
Everything you ever wanted to know about importing dogs into the US is packed in this compact but comprehensive eBook.
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A HUGE state-by-state rundown of requirements for dog imports
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A complete list of companies that physically transport animals all the time
And who was it written by? The premier licensed professional experts in importing into the US.
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Start Importing Dogs Today With USA Customs Clearance!

USA Customs Clearance does not supply the clearance to import a dog into the U.S. However, we can help you navigate the importation process for dog supplies and accessories. We can ensure you have the proper documents in place to make the import process seamless and easy.

We have experienced consultants standing by ready to help make your importing efforts a piece of cake. We offer a wide range of services like the following:

  • Customs bonds & brokerage
  • Importer of Record service
  • Importer Consulting

Our value-added services can simplify the importing process and make importing a headache-free experience. Call USA Customs Clearance at (855) 912-0406 and speak with an expert consultant today.

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17 comments on “How to Import a Dog: An Essential Guide”

  1. How old does a puppy have to be to import to USA from UK? I want to bring a Chesapeake Bay retriever to the USA.

  2. Hello,

    Is this e-book up to date? I heard there was some changes with the dog import procedures recently (1-2 months).

    Best regards

  3. Hi All,

    I will be travelling with my 26months old Beagle from India to US. I have all the paper work completed including the CDC permit. The pet will be travelling with me as checked-in baggage.In this case I don't need USDA permit and form VS-129?

  4. How can I bring a 5 year old 5 lbs chihuahua dog from Canada to the US? My dog has all the vaccinations and the rabies vaccine.
    This is unaccompanied pet travel, however, I’m planning to use the transporting agency from Canada to transport my dog in the US.
    How much the US custom bond/fees for a single entry? What is process?

    1. Hi Divine,

      We offer a helpful and informative e-book with all of the information that you're looking for! You can use the link below to learn more about and purchase it directly on our site.

      How to Import a Dog E-book

  5. I'm buying a puppy from Russia It will be shipped to Los Angeles.. What must I do in Los Angeles to get my puppy thru customs. All paper work will accompany the puppy upon arrival... ( This is the first puppy I'm importing and have no idea what I need to do.. )

    1. Hi Lana,

      We actually have an ebook that contains all of information you're looking for! You can use the link below to learn more about and purchase a copy of it. Good luck and congratulations on your new puppy!

      Guide to Importing a Dog

  6. Hi!
    My dog will be flying from China to San Francisco. Is it difficult to clear the customs by myself or I need to hire an agent? If I need to hire a Custom clearance agent, can you recommend me one in San Francisco? Many thanks!

    1. Hi Catherine!

      When it comes to how difficult it is to import a dog into the U.S., this depends on a number of factors. The country that the dog is being imported from, breed of the dog, and more will dictate how complex it will be to import. If you follow the guidelines listed in our article, you shouldn't run into any issues importing your dog. At this time, we don't have any customs agents that we can recommend for personal imports of dogs. Our company handles imports for commercial purposes only. However, we're in the process of working on an in-depth guide for importing dogs includng a list of recommended companies that can help you. When this is ready, we'll provide you with a link where you can purchase this!

  7. How can I bring an 8 week old puppy from Canada to the US? Is Canada a rabies free country so it would be considered ok if it didn’t have this vaccine but had other health certificates?

    Thank you

  8. Hello ,starting new business to bring dogs from Europe to USA ,is it any chance to pass 6 month old puppy,to get here 3-4 month old puppy with all ppw ,please send answer to email

    1. Hi Vadyn, I would recommend you contact USDA APHIS directly to ensure you know the exact rules and regulations and abide by them.

  9. Can you provide me with an email address to send my completed VS-129 application please. Thank you.

    "According to information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), you will need a permit to import live animals, including dogs. To obtain an import permit for a live animal, you’ll need to complete application for VS-129. This form asks for data including the importers’ contact information, the animal’s country of origin, a physical description of the animal, the reason for import and more. You can either mail or email the completed application. "

    1. We help businesses get their customs bond for their commercial imports and don't handle the submission of APHIS forms. You can follow these instructions on the APHIS website for completing and submitting your VS-129. If you find you're still having trouble, we offer consulting services and we'd be happy to help you out!

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