Sign pointing to United States Customs

How to Clear Pets for United States Customs

Traveling anywhere with your pet is often challenging, but international travel introduces a level of complexity that many people do not realize. Instead of just dealing with airline staff, you also deal with United States customs officials and public health. If you do not comply with their rules and regulations, United States customs and border protection or public health could deny your pet entry upon arrival.

Imagine being jet lagged from traveling from halfway around the world and then finding out that your furry friend cannot continue the journey with you. We know you would be absolutely devastated and upset about this new dilemma. This is why you must know how to clear your pet through customs, so there isn’t an issue when you land.

It’s important to understand that each country has its own rules about importing animals, even if temporary. The United States is no exception, and it has strict rules for pet owners to follow when they enter the country with their animals in tow. Here we’ll go over the United States customs process in detail regarding your pets.

Why Do Pets Need Clearing from United States Customs?

The United States Customs enforces the guidelines from cooperating agencies to protect the health of U.S. citizens, domestic pets, and livestock animals. Multiple agencies have guidelines for importing animals, as do each state. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) maintains the health guidelines for animals and plants entering the United States from foreign countries. The CDC also has its own set of guidelines, mainly regarding rabies.


You should be aware that there are specific instructions and requirements to bring a dog into the United States from countries with high risk for rabies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes a current list of countries that are high risk and a list of approved ports of entry. Make sure to read carefully through the CDC requirements for importing dogs from high-risk countries.

Other Diseases

APHIS monitors for screwworm and foot and mouth disease in dogs if they originate from a country not declared free of these ailments. To meet the requirements of APHIS, dogs must have a veterinary declaration that states they are free of or have been treated for screwworm. To combat foot and mouth disease, dogs must have clean bedding to enter the United States and receive a bath upon reaching their destination. Dogs must remain separate from livestock for five days upon entry.

Do Your Research

Every country has different requirements for importing pets. If you are traveling into the United States, be aware of all health guidelines for your pet, and find out what types of documentation you require to bring your pet with you. Knowing what you need for travel is the first step toward entering or relocating to the USA with a pet. Many states have their own set of guidelines to follow that you are responsible for upon entry to the United States. In addition, many airlines also have specific guidelines related to pet health and the size of their travel crate.

Collect Your Documentation

Your pet must have a current health certificate, rabies certificate, air waybill, and meet the disease requirements above to enter the United States. Some states have additional requirements. You must do your research before booking a flight. We need to point out that your dog must be old enough to receive its rabies vaccine. If your dog is too young and a rabies vaccine is required for entry, customs will reject your dog at the port of entry.

What is a Air Waybill

The Air Waybill or AWB for short is the tracking number of your pets shipment. It contains a tracking number corresponding to the documentation attached to the crate your pet travels inside. The only way to clear your pet through U.S. customs is to provide a physical copy of the air waybill, health certificate and rabies certificate  . Officials will match the consignee’s name on the airbill with your passport, so if someone else is flying with your pet, their name must be listed as the consignee on the air waybill.

United States Documentation Requirements

Officials with U.S. Customs only care about correct documentation. If your pet does not have the proper documentation, it will be rejected at the port of entry. To avoid this, you must provide the following:

  • Health certificate dated within ten days of arrival from a government-approved veterinarian
  • Current rabies vaccination from a US-licensed veterinarian
  • Airbill that matches the name of the person accepting the animal
  • Negative screwworm screening if entering the USA from a country where it’s endemic

Common Reasons for Pet Rejection by Customs Officials

Customs agents in the United States have the authority to reject your pet at the port of entry. Below we list some common reasons why customs could reject your pet.

  • Your pet appears ill.
  • You do not have the correct documentation.
  • The name on the air waybill is different.
  • The health certificate is not dated within ten days of the flight.
  • Your pet is less than six months old.
  • Your pet does not have their rabies vaccine.
  • The veterinarian providing the health certificate is not government-approved.
  • Forged Documents
  • Shipping from a High Risk County 

What It’s Like Clearing United States Customs with a Pet

Going through customs can be a nerve-racking experience, even more so if you don’t know what to expect. Going through customs can take two to four hours, depending on the time of day and the day of the week.

After the airplane lands, you would have to go to the cargo facility for the airline your pet is traveling with to claim the required documents. Once you check in, the airline will hand over the paperwork with the tracking number and your required documentation. The owner then must then take the documents to the US Customs office and hand the paperwork to a customs official who stamps it if accepted. Once stamped, you can return to the cargo facility and claim your pet. If rejected, your pet will be sent back to the country of origin.

The Easy Way to Transport Your Pet Into the USA: Via a Customs Broker

The other option for flying your pet into the United States is through a customs broker. A customs broker’s job is to make sure your pet makes it through U.S. customs. The broker receives all of your documentation for review ahead of time and books the flight for you.

Using a customs broker makes navigating customs easy. They make sure you have the correct paperwork so that your pet isn’t rejected at the port of entry. Using a broker simplifies the process, and all you have to do is send them the paperwork and then pick up your pet after the flight.

Costs Associated with Customs Brokers

Customs brokers cost an average of $300-$400, but the costs can vary significantly worldwide. During regular business hours, costs are on the lower end, and after-hours fees can range close to double, so be sure to check with your broker to see what their hours are before transport.

Choose the Easy Way to Bring Your Pet Home from Abroad

We make traveling into the United States with your pet look easy with our VIP level of care. We offer customs broker services, but with a unique twist. We handle every aspect of transporting your pet while coming home from abroad. We’ll book the broker, handle the health certificate, and pick up your pet for boarding at our facility near LAX after the flight. 

Why do things the hard way when your pet can have world-class care through Tailwind Global Pet? We genuinely care about the health and well-being of your pet and can’t wait to provide a smooth arrival experience. Request a quote for your pet’s next travel experience.